Sunday, October 5, 2008

Friends of Obama

Why is it that Obama's relationships with a convicted felon, a terrorist, and a rabid preacher is off the table for analysis and discussion? The main stream media has spent days and weeks dumpster diving in Wasilla, Alaska, to dig up dirt on Sarah Palin. But Obama gets a free pass on Bill Ayers, Tony Rezko and Reverend Wright.

Let's take Ayers. He was a member of Weather Underground, a domestic terrorist organization that planned attacks on the Pentagon and the Capitol, set off bombs and killed a policeman in San Francisco. Ayers has never apologized for this and in fact said he "didn't do enough".

All this happened while Barack Obama was a child. So there's his defense: "What that man did Barack Obama has condemned. And by the way, he did it when Barack Obama was 8 years old. Come on," Democratic senator McCaskill said.

But consider this: While Obama was a child during the bombings, he was certainly a grown up when he held his first political fund raiser -- in Ayer's private home! What kind of judgment does this show? And where's the "condemnation" McCaskill refers to? Are we supposed to believe that Obama first used Ayers to raise money, then later condemned him?

There is a long chain of bad judgment calls in Obama's political life. He bought his house in a shady real estate deal from a man who was later convicted for fraud and is now in prison. His pastor for 20 years calls for God to "damn America" and claims that white people intentionally inflicted AIDS on blacks. His first fund raiser was held in the house of a terrorist, and he served on the board of an organization founded by this terrorist for years afterwards.

There's no doubt Obama has given many inspiring speeches and has a charming and charismatic personality. But Americans should consider his actions, not just his lofty words. They don't add up.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Pathetic Press

For someone who came to the US from Europe and thought European press was biased and one-sided, the recent developments in the presidential campaign have been absolutely astonishing. The US press has thrown away any pretense of balance and fairness. It has morphed into an almost unanimous mouthpiece for Obama while questioning every minuscule statement made by republicans.

Consider this. The press had an absolute field day with Sarah Palin's 17-year old daughter's pregnancy. Yet the same press almost completely ignored the persistent rumors about John Edwards' affair. Only the National Enquirer, which in any case is not a good standing member of the "official" press, investigated this for about a year. Yet no one bothered to check. Only when Edwards revealed the facts himself did it become clear that the democratic presidential candidate had an ongoing affair while running for president. Yet Palin's daughter got so much scrutiny you could fill an entire year's worth of newspaper clips.

Journalists and democratic lawyers are now rummaging the archives of the Wasilla town hall in the hopes of digging up dirt on Palin. Yet nobody has apparently looked into the earmark that Obama steered to his wife's employer, shortly after becoming a US senator. He got the hospital $1m, and shortly after that the hospital roughly tripled Michelle Obama's salary, from 121k to 316k. In most other countries this would be considered illegal, but few journalist in this country seem to care.

At the same time the media is castigating Sarah Palin for mentioning that she put the Alaska governor's jet up on eBay. Ah, the outrage goes, but the jet wasn't actually *sold* on eBay. The governor had to use an airline broker to sell it. The Associated Press devoted several pieces and coverage to this "revelation" and it was picked up by mainstream media.

This pettiness is truly unbelievable. Who in the world cares whether Palin sold the jet on eBay, or the local swap meet? The fact is, she put it on eBay, it didn't attract enough buyers there, so they got a broker to sell it. Bottom line: the jet is gone and Alaska's tax payers are better off.

I simply cannot recall a coverage more biased against the republican ticket than what we're witnessing now. I wonder if most Americans are tuning out at this point, resigned to the fact that they will have the last word in the voting booth on November 4th.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Change? What change?

The Obama camp's change message has basically two components.

One is a call for "post partisanship", an end to "politics as usual", and a farewell to cronyism, special interests and corruption.

The other part of that change message is about *policy* change. Obama wants to take the US in a different direction. There's talk about nationalizing health care, tax changes, global warming initiatives, pulling out of Iraq asap and so on.

Lately Obama has been emphasizing the second kind of change, the policy change, and for good reason: His track record doesn't back up the post partisanship type of change. He's got the most inflexible liberal voting record of any member of the senate. He grew up in Chicago politics and yet his campaign cannot point to a single instance where he challenged the old corrupt Chicago ways. For all his talk about ending politics as usual, Obama has zero track record to back this up.

McCain is now starting to eat Obama's lunch and it could get interesting. Simply put, McCain has a real authentic claim to the first kind of change. McCain demonstrably fought earmarks (he's never requested a single one), corruption (he led the charge against Abramoff, a republican lobbyist who's now in jail), and he's reached across the isle and worked with democrats on numerous issues, often infuriating his own party: Campaign finance reform, immigration, global warming etc.

The brilliance of McCain's choice of Sarah Palin is that it allows him to stress his independence. Voters always knew that the Obama claim that McCain was just "more of the same" was a stretch, but with Palin securing the conservative base, McCain is free to remind voters of his track record. If anything, Palin reinforces the reformer image, herself a political maverick who threw out the incumbent governor from her own party.

There will be a ferocious fight now about who's the "real candidate" of change. Obama has, for the first time, been put on the defensive on this his most crucial message. Predictably, he's saying that the choice of Palin is just "more of the same", but that clearly won't fly: A woman governor, mother of five, with a strong reformer image and no Washington background, cannot credibly be relegated to "more of the same".

Obama knows this and that's why democrats are furiously trying to reign back the "change" mantel and put Palin back in the box. But the genie is out of the bottle and the wheels are starting to come off the Obama bandwagon. This will be a more exciting election than anyone had imagined.

The convention sensation

The best line in this year's Republican convention came from Mike Huckabee. Confronting all the gossip about Palin's lack of experience, Huckabee retorted:

"Sarah Palin got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, than Joe Biden got running for president of the United States".

In fact, Biden got some 9000 votes in this year's Democratic primary. (By the way, Hillary Cliton, who was passed over for the VP slot, got 18 million).

And Biden has run for president before, in 1987. Most people have forgotten (or never knew) about Biden's earlier run, but The Economist unceremoniously reminds us in the August 28 edition. In that race, Biden not only borrowed a speech from Neil Kinnock, the British Labor leader, and presented it as his own. He even plagiarized Kinnock's life story, claiming to be the first in his family to go to college and that his ancestors worked in a coal mine (both untrue). Of course, when this came out, Biden's campaign collapsed like a house of cards.

You've got to wonder when and how Biden will blow up in this race. It could get quite spectacular.

Apart from the Huckabee kick, Sarah Palin's own speech was quite a ride. She went after Obama in a way no one has done before, exposing the hypocrisy and self-aggrandizement. A couple of good ones off the top of my head:

- "Obama has written two auto biographies but not authored a single significant bill"
- "We prefer people who don't speak to us one way when they're in Scranton and then in another way when they're in San Francisco" (a dig at Obama's "bitter" comments)
- "Here's a candidate who can give an entire speech about the war in Iraq without once mentioning the word Victory, except when he talks about his own campaign".
- "I guess a mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except you have actual responsibilities".

The reason why the media and the left wing bloggers are going so hard after Palin is because she's dangerous. They all expected an Obama coronation in November, with the elections a minor nuisance on the path to glory. If you saw the Obama Europe tour earlier this year, you may even have thought he'd skipped the US presidential elections all together and was running for world president.

But now this woman comes along and throws a wrench in the plans. Palin is something very unusual in this campaign: She comes across as genuine, a fighter who has taken unpopular positions, fought corruption in her own party, and thrown out incumbents. She connects extremely well with ordinary folks. So clearly the left needs to discredit her achievements. They're throwing the kitchen sink at her and is looking to see what sticks.

The real danger to Obama's campaign here is that Palin is about to reveal what has been the case the whole time: Obama is not the agent of change he proclaims. In his first important decision as candidate, he picked Biden, the 35-year Washington insider, as his sidekick.

And looking at Obama's record, nothing points to the kind of post partisanship or change he talks about all the time. In fact, he completely squandered the opportunity to clean up Chicago politics when he was a state senator (something that would have provided real benefits but also earned him enemies in his own party). He never stood up to the old boys network in Chicago politics, and he has no significant achievements to talk about in the US senate. (By the way, he's been a member of the US senate for 3 1/2 years, half of which (at least) was spent campaigning for president. So I guess that gives him about 1 1/2 years of actual "experience" in the senate.)

The democrats are in trouble and they know it. If Obama loses the freshness and "change" veneer you've got to wonder what is left of his campaign.

Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain's Masterstroke

Today McCain selected Sarah Palin, a relatively unknown governor from Alaska, as his running mate. McCain had a difficult choice. He needed to achieve two things with this selection. First, he needed to add "change" to the republican ticket. With McCain as #1, he didn't need to add more experience; the ticket has plenty of that (in fact, if you believe the Obama line, McCain has almost *too much* experience!). Second, he needed to rally his conservative base. McCain cannot win this election without motivating his base the way Obama has motivated his.

Most of the usual suspects in the VP game - Romney, Pawlenty, Lieberman, Ridge - fulfilled one of these critieria, but not both. Lieberman would no doubt add change and unconventionality to the ticket, but he would infuriate rather than invigorate McCain's base. Romney would energize the base, but he would reinforce the "old / rich boy" image that democrat's are trying had to attach to McCain.

Palin, amazingly, achieves two purposes at once: As a young female governor she adds instant "change" to the ticket. And as a staunch conservative with a pro-life record, the conservative value voters will love her.

Of course the democrats are still saying that the choice of Palin represents "more of the same". But let's face, it they would say that even if McCain had chosen Mother Teresa as his running mate. The Democrats can do nothing but repeat this phrase and with the number of times they mentioned Bush at their convention this week you might think that the current President is running for a third term.

But there's more. Palin has a proven record as a reformer; she ran against the old-style politics of an incumbent governor on a reform platform in 2006 (and won), she has taken on Big Oil and refused to continue the pork-barrel projects and "bridges to nowhere" that became an embarrassment for her state.

Obama, for all his talk of "new politics", chose a 35-year Washington insider for VP. Joe Biden got 9000 votes in the democratic primary, yet Obama picked him over Hillary who got 18 million votes. Then democrats then tried to frame Biden as a Washington outsider because he took the train to work. Give me a break. In the swamp of Washington politics there's hardly an older or fatter alligator than Joe Biden.

Now McCain has completely turned the tables with Palin who comes from a state about as far from Washington as possible. What's more, Palin can credibly talk about energy and drilling, two of the most pressing issues on the public's mind. Her state borders Russia, and with Putin and Georgia on many people's mind these days she will likely add more weight to that discussion as well.

Ironically, the Democrats, who put a freshman senator on the top of their list, are now jumping on Palin's "lack of experience". But let's get this straight: Palin is not running for president. Obama and McCain are running. If she could grow and learn from a President McCain, she may carry on the Republican torch in 2012 or 2016 and become the next Margaret Thatcher of the free world. That would be change we can believe in.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Crutches for the Candidate

For all the praise that Barack Obama has received during the Democrat's nomination, you gotta wonder why the party was so split and tormented in the primary season. Judging from the raves from both Clintons, Obama has no shortcomings for the presidency. Bill Clinton forcefully announced today that Barack Obama is ready to be president. John Kerry stated that Obama is a patriot and that no one should question that.

Yet a mere four months ago, the Clintons were questioning just those issues. Hillary's 3 a.m. ad asked whether a freshman senator with literally no experience in foreign affairs would be right to lead America and be commander in chief. Now the Clinton's are backpedaling faster than Michael Phelps' Beijing backstroke.

As I wrote yesterday, this is not really surprising. The Clintons cannot afford to be seen as undermining Obama's presidential ambitions, if they want to preserve their legacy. However it is striking how many crutches they have to provide him. No one would think it necessary to endlessly reiterate that John McCain loves his nation or is ready to be commander in chief. McCain's life's story speaks for itself.

The sore point is, Obama's actions also speak for themselves, but the tale is not a good one. Reverend Wright, Tony Rezko, Bill Ayers are but a few in a long list of close Obama associates that seriously put the candidate's judgment in doubt. People will ask themselves: If Obama is so patriotic, why did he sit for 20 years in a church whose pastor called for God to damn America? Sure, we would not expect all of the 8000 church members to get up and leave. But should we not expect better judgment of the man who wants to lead our nation?

I suspect the questions surrounding this pattern of judgment lapses will keep coming up. No amount of Botox can smoothen out these faults. The republicans will remind the public of this long list of questionable characters in Obama's tailwater and ask the question: Do we really know this guy? Is he who he says he is? Can we trust him to lead our nation?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hillary's great moment

Hillary Clinton's speech today at the Democratic Convention was very well done and brilliantly delivered. Hillary was eloquent, forceful and on message. As expected, she urged her supporters to rally behind Obama. She was effective in delivering this message, insisting that supporters focus on democratic ideals and goals rather than on her person.

Of course, she needed to do this. If Obama loses in November, Democrats will be devastated, and if there are even the slightest Clinton fingerprints on the Obama loss she will be held in contempt by her own party. That's why she had to be forceful and convincing tonight.

Most of the media seems to endorse the speech and agree that Hillary delivered what was expected of her. However, some say that she could have done more to personalize her endorsement of Obama. She spoke of him in somewhat generic terms and didn't distance herself from the remarks she made during the primary season, where she said he wasn't experienced enough to be commander-in-chief. John McCain is now running ads reminding voters of how Hillary described Obama merely 4 months ago.

There's a simple reason why Hillary did not withdraw or distance herself from those earlier remarks. And that is, she still believes what she said then. Clearly, she ran for President believing she was the more experienced and ready of the Democratic contenders. She did not think Obama is ready for prime time, and she probably does not think so now, 4 months later. That's why she kept her speech in generic terms, preferring to endorse a generic democrat and focus her attacks on McCain as a "surrogate" and extension of Bush. (By the way, her remark on Bush / McCain in the twin cities was politically brilliant).

Democrats chose Obama's eloquence over Hillary's experience, and now we will see whether voters will buy the Obama package. The Democratic convention so far has gone a long way to re-introduce Obama to the American public as a devoted family man, father and passionate change agent. There is probably no doubt in anyone's mind that Obama is a caring and loving father and a charismatic and talented politician. But he's no post partisan change agent, having the most inflexible liberal voting record of anyone in the senate. The discrepancy between what Obama says and what he has actually done in his rather short political life is profound. The uneasy feeling and lingering questions surrounding him will remain with the American public and I doubt any amount of repackaging can remove them.