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Archives for 2008 Election

Obama Plays Right, The Left Faints

Dec
29
2008

Amazing isn’t it? The Obama administration is pretty much in place and no where – no where – was anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan’s name even considered for Secretary of Defense! And how is it that anti-poverty activist Jeffery Sachs wasn’t asked to run the Treasury Department? As for Noam Chomsky – I find it incredible that he was overlooked to run the state department. And how is it that Rep. Barbara Lee languishes in Congress instead of being sent to the U.N.? Or that President-elect Obama hasn’t taken the time to throw his support behind Sen. Al Franken’s election?

I’m joking of course. None of these quasi-academics or gadflies are even interested in joining the administration. But the point – that President-elect Obama is no liberal – is increasingly obvious. Obama is a politician and a good one; probably better than the much-praised Bill Clinton. Unlike Clinton, Obama’s got almost everyone except his foresworn enemies in the tent.

How’d he do it? Well, unlike pretty much every other Democrat running for the White House, Obama drew and kept drawing a stark distinction between his campaign and the current White House. George W. Bush is so disliked that anything different was going to seem better. Obama was really different so he, by extension, had to be a whole lot better.

Many of the assumptions made about this administration – it’s tilt to the left – were made not, I suspect on anything Obama said but more on a set of assumptions made about one policy stance. His opposition to the Iraq war was hailed as proof of his hard-core liberalism. As Vice President Al Gore made it clear he would not run and as the Democratic left looked long and hard for a suitable candidate, it settled on Obama because of his opposition to the war and the color of his skin.

Liberals used to love Obama because he wasn’t Hillary Clinton, who voted in favor of the war and spoke no nonsense about pulling out tomorrow. Then, about three-quarters of the way through the campaign they started loving Obama ’cause he was against the war and is black. Even bobbles like Obama’s support for a Bush Administration eavesdropping measure only created minor outrage which quickly died down.

Why? A black man, figured the lefties, will stand up for their values, representing and supporting any and all “Liberal” causes. This is a new version of what conservatives like to call the “soft bigotry of lowered expectations.” Only, of course, the expectations in the minds of the hard-core left aren’t “lower” they’re “higher” as in morally superior.

So much of the campaign against that ballot initiative assumed that Obama’s supporters – whites, gays, minorities – all thought the same on all issues and would, of course, vote against the same-sex marriage ban. Democratic turn-out was expected to be high; Obama would win the state, Prop. 8 would be defeated.

Only that’s not how things turned out. Prop 8 passed and much of its support came from minorities opposed to the very idea in part because of their religion or the teachings of their churches. (Disclosure: Spot-on’s Pinpoint Persuasion Ad Network did some work for “No on 8″ but was not involved in any strategy or campaign decisions).

Fast forward to the inaugural where Rick Warren, the evangelical preacher, has been asked to say the invocation at Obama’s swearing-in. Like a lot of evangelicals and political conservatives, Warren has likened gay marriage to child abuse and molestation; his views on same-sex relationships are hardly liberal, let alone tolerant.

Still, his speaking at the Inaugural is a bit of fancy foot-work on the part of the president-elect. It’s a bit of a returning-a-favor since Obama was asked to appear – and did well – at Warren’s Saddleback church, in a showcase designed to speak to the religious right. It’s a little bit of a wink to the black church and Rev. Jermiah Wright whose pulpit shenanigans created such a distraction for the Obama campaign over the summer. Controversial preachers come in all flavors, now don’t they? The invitation is also a nice bit practical politics, bordering on the cynical. Obama’s playing to a crowd that he took special care in his victory speech to single out and ask for support of his presidency.

All of which means that Barack Obama is one skilled politician. But unlike former President Bill Clinton, Obama’s working on getting the folks who aren’t in the tent inside. He’s let his supporters make assumptions about what he’ll actually do with the understanding that he’s a raging lefty so that group has almost no where to go – now that he’s elected. More importantly, unlike the Clinton administration, the left didn’t hold its nose and vote for Obama. They got behind him and, for better of worse, they’re going to stay there.

Whether Obama actually manages to do accomplish his stated goal – turning his detractors into supporters – remains to be seen. But it’s gonna be fun to watch.

Posted by Chris Nolan at 9:35 AM | Permalink

Atlas Shrugged….

Nov
13
2008

It’s been a lot of fun watching Silicon Valley this past election year. It’s quite a contrast to political apathy and almost religious faith in free markets – think Ayn Rand with a laptop – that once carried the day.

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The realization that things around here had changed came when finance, tech folks, start-up CEOs and reporters watching Obama’s victory speech said, almost in unison: “Hey look, Sam Perry’s on TV …. with Jesse Jackson? And Oprah!

Even though he’s going to raise their taxes by a lot, Silicon Valley went for Obama in a big, big way. And Sam Perry – a former reporter, an investor and advisor to start-ups (even this one!) – was part of that effort. So was Netscape founder Marc Andreessen who’s taking credit for introducing Obama to the wonders of social networks.

It’s a change, make no mistake about that. Ten years ago as tech people and their financiers began to understand the reach and depth of the Internet, there was a lot of talk about how states would become less influential. There was a lot of babbling over at places like Wired magazine about how the web was going to give rise to individual action that would, eventually, do away with the need for government and nations.

One of the more articulate folks on this point was Avram Miller, then an executive at Intel and one of the smarter thinkers about where that company was headed. This year Miller has been a strong advocate of Barack Obama’s presidency. Which seems like it’s a contradiction. If you believe the state is less important, why do you care who runs the place?

“I don’t know that I’ve changed my mind,” says Miller. “For me this wasn’t so much about politics,” he said of the recent election. “It’s was very simply good people versus bad people.” Miller also makes another observation about Obama’s candidacy that shows him to be a member of the “one-man” school of historiography. “The right person has to have the right situation. But the right situation doesn’t create the right person.”

The high minded talk of the valley’s intellgentsia – and Millers’ a member in good standing – is usually reflected in how it conducts business. Make no mistake: there are practical aspects to all this enthusiasm. Silicon Valley has long been a cash register for the Democratic party but it’s leadership has often been happy to limit itself to that role: a dinner, a fundraiser and getting to drop the Leader of the Free World’s name in conversation. This time, they’re after bigger game.

Recently powerhouse venture capitalist John Doerr, suggested to his fellow Harvard Business alums that DARPA – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – be returned to its original purpose. Doerr’s idea was that DARPA, which created and fostered the initial growth of the Internet, could do something similar for “green” technology.

In other words, Doerr would like the U.S. government to get back in the business of incubating start-ups. They may well need the help. The credit crunch has hit many of these operations hard. When it comes to this new class of investment, there’s no such thing as “virtual.” Companies need to borrow money to finance construction and development of physical things.

Talk of the “green New Deal” that the Obama administration may create – public spending for the development and construction of clean energy source like turbine farms, solar panel displays – would amount to something of a bailout for firms like Doerr’s that have invested in these companies. So would the administration’s decision to lift federal funding bans on stem cell research. Both would funnel a river of money to high tech companies.

That’s not necessarily bad. But it’s different. And while many of those intimately involved in this volte face are going to insist that that they haven’t changed their outlooks or approach – the market is still the market, politics is still a dirty business, entrepreneurs are still marvels of independent thought and action – those of us who have watched politics for a long time know better.

The Bush administration outraged men in the valley like Miller who place a great premium on competence. Obama’s candidacy was able to capture their imagination and his intelligence gave them faith that he’d actually do a good job. But that still doesn’t mean the valley loves politics. “Politics has really become a means to its own ends,” says Miller. “I think most politicians are disgusting. I just thin of them as guys who’s primary mission in life it to get elected.”

That’s exactly right, of course. You can’t get anything done unless you’re in office. But what about the idea – one hardly original – that an involved electorate, voters who care, will elected better, more suitable politicians? Well, says Miller, perhaps. “I find it difficult to argue with that.”

Posted by Chris Nolan at 5:00 AM | Permalink

The Content of Our Character

Nov
3
2008

Let’s be clear: If Sen. Barack Obama is not elected president tomorrow it will indeed be because he’s black.

It won’t be because he’s not tough enough – that’s a euphemism that questions Obama’s judgement and suggests that the color of his skin makes his thought process somehow inadequate. And it won’t be because he’s a “graduate student” – that’s a jab that implies that Obama’s not really that smart – he can’t be, he’s black.

No, if Obama loses it will be because a large number of Americans can’t bring themselves to vote for a man with dark skin. They may feel Obama is not “ready” – code, like all these other phrases, for “not a white person we can trust”. They may not like the idea of a First Lady – silly title, really – who is very dark-skinned and “angry” – which is how whites often describe black folks who aren’t obviously grateful for the “opportunities” they’ve had.

Each of these euphemisms ignores a simple fact: African-Americans who have done well at the nation’s top law firms, its Ivy League universities, its corporate boardrooms have had to demonstrate perseverence, judgement, diplomacy, intelligence and toughness and fortitude. More so, much more so, than their white counterparts.

That’s on top of the the obvious insults. For the past few days, the Republican Trust Political Action Committee has been airing a television commercial here in San Francisco that neatly sums up all the criticism of Obama, imagined and otherwise. It claims Obama’s “power base” was built in the church run by Rev. Jeremiah Wright and accompanied by pictures – and some audio – of Rev. Wright talking about the “KKK” and “god-damn” America. The ads end: “Barack Obama, too radical, too risky.”

What’s interesting about this ad isn’t what it says – same old, same old from a political party that’s happily scared the daylights out of white folks for a generation – it’s where it’s running. San Francisco is one of the most liberal cities in the U.S. But it is not a white city; it’s Asian, mostly Chinese. The ad I’ve described is aimed at instilling fear in those immigrants, taking a racist stereotype that many may know and imposing in on a man they may not.

It’s scurilous, it’s racist and well, it tells you what many, many people really think about Obama. The Wright ads are a slightly more sophisticated version of the scenario concocted by that Texas college student who dreamed up an attack by a tall black man who was supposed enraged by her John McCain bumper sticker. The subtext: Be afraid of Obama because, given the chance, black people will inflict deliberate harm on whites out of anger, jealousy or revenge.

This nonsense is not confined to the stupid or the politically naive. How else can you explain the speculation that Gen. Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama was motivated by racial solidarity? Or silly Monica Crowley’s dismay that Jet and Ebony magazines had gotten better treatment on the Obama campaign plane than writers from the New York Post and Washington Times? This nonsense is nothing more than a variation on another theme: It is very hard for people of different races to truly see one another but, for crying out loud, they don’t all think alike.

This is one ugly mirror of race relations in this country, a mirror that not very many white folks like to look at. Which is something that – if Obama does win – will start to change.

Everyone has their shopping list on this one. My great hopes is that Obama’s election will do away with a lot of nonsensical chatter about “post-racial.” This is a stupid phrase that’s code for “do they know?” as in “Does Michelle know she’s the only black woman in the room?” The answer to that question is obvious: If you were the only white woman in a room of African-Americans would you “know”?

“Post racial” is how people in power describe a world they think welcomes black folks. This is a world that many of them – as Time columnist Joe Klein put it awkwardly – don’t really understand. With reason. The most amusing thing about the Charlie Rose show where Klein made his comments was also the most appalling. In an election year that has seen two historic candidacies, a black man and a white woman run hard for the Democratic Party’s nomination and break our concept of what it means to be a successful politician, Rose’ guests, all talented journalists from “major” outlets, were all men and they were all white. I guess the “qualified” female commentators are still bitterly weeping over Sen. Clinton’s loss so they didn’t have time for Rose. And, of course, the black reporters are all on the Obama campaign plane, reveling in their new found status.

This would be a very different election if, as Obama has suggested, this country had a conversation about race and race relations and not just between white guys talking to themselves about themselves. Events – the stock market crash first and foremost – have taken the urgency of that exchange off the table. But in a nation where whites will soon be a large minority, not a majority, it’s one that’s needed, regardless of who wins tomorrow.

Posted by Chris Nolan at 7:48 PM | Permalink

The Minor Fall, The Major Lift

Oct
1
2008

It’s always hard to watch when politicians and business people collide – and they almost always collide – because their frames of reference are so, well, far apart. Wall Street punishes to the maximum, as my friend Andy Kessler likes to remind us. And it usually does so quickly. In Washington, well, punishment is often meted out slowly, sometimes years after the initial offense. And politicians reinvent themselves all the time – without any ticker to display a record.

But whenever there’s a collision, there are winners and losers; the windshield, the bug and all that. It’s always sort of fun to sort the sides out. And, just for today, we’re going to leave President George Bush out of this. At this stage, reciting the faults of this administration isn’t just beating a dead horse, it’s kicking a long-dead nag to the glue factory with steel-tipped boots.

So let’s get started.

Big losers: Anyone who espouses “pay-as-you-go” as a mantra for sound fiscal management regardless of the undertaking. Most people who know – really know – how financial markets work know that the idea that businesses live strictly within their means – that they never, ever, ever spend more than they bring in – is a lot of nonsense.

Overnight borrowing – in one way or another – keeps things humming along and has for a while. No one really pays as they go – that’s why you and I borrow money to buy houses and cars. And it’s about time we all recognized this as a fact of economic life.

Loser: John McCain. He was supposed to call the Republican Party rank and file to a deal; getting the folks who wanted to disassociate themselves from President Bush. McCain didn’t get the job done. And oh, yeah, he blew off David Letterman. That’s worse than picking a fight with Murphy Brown. And would someone please call Katie Couric up and ask America’s perkiest interviewer what Sarah Palin said – or didn’t say – to call forth a look that can only be described as thinly disguised disgust on Couric’s face?

Really Big Loser: Chris Cox, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission who’s had to acknowledged that lax regulation – again – by his agency contributed to Wall Street’s woes. If they’d been actually doing their jobs real disaster might have been avoided. Anyone working in Silicon Valley since the tech market crashed knows the commission hasn’t been up to its job in for the past 10 years but it was Cox – a big fan of minimal government regulation – to oversee it being proven without any ambiguity.

Sure to be Sore Losers: The TV business press. Covering the stock market as though it were a football game isn’t going to be as much fun – or as popular with shareholders – as covering a market that grows slowly. If you’re name is Jim Cramer you might wanna think about a new outlet for your energies.

Which brings us to winners.

Long-term Winner: The buy-and-hold crowd. That’s right, buying stock, holding on to it and watching it appreciate over oh, the life of your child, is coming back in a big way. Why do you think Warren Buffet’s on a shopping spree? A market where transactions are overseen by the government is one that will more more slowly, more deliberately. And yes, I do want to say I told you so.

Winning Politiician: Rep. Barney Frank gets big time points for his negotiating skills, so much so that’s probably a safe bet that he’ll be the next Senator from Massachusetts. Frank’s no diplomat – he’s got a hair-trigger temper, particularly at 2 a.m. which is when he once took my head off – but he’s determined, he’s smart and he’s been worried about the shadow banking system created on Wall Street since earlier this summer. He’ll lead the re-regulation of financial markets next year and it’ll be a set of hearings and investigations – and legislative drafting – worth watching.

Another winner: Barack Obama. A long career watching politics teaches that there are two things never worth second-guessing. One, the result of Supreme Court cases. Oral arguments are clues to what the justices may do but clues aren’t decisions. The other are the results – the final take away – that voters have of debates. On Friday, I thought it was tied. Today, it’s pretty clear that Obama’s stateliness and calm was more impressive than McCain’s short-hand Senate speak.

Possible huge winner: The U.S. Congress which, after eight years – and I’m being generous – of dithering, has finally grown a spine. They didn’t do everything the Bush Administration to fix the mess that’s Wall Street and they took their time about it. You might disagree with the outcome – this deal is taking way too long to get sorted out – but they’re moving. Which bodes well. The SEC isn’t the only thing that needs fixing (two words: health care) and now that Congress has got the hang of this decision-making stuff they’re supposed to do, well, we might actually have a government. You know, back and forth, balance of power and all that.

You get a sense Congress thinks so, too. Why? They’re pushing back. Go find the clip of Rep. Marcy Kaptur chastising a CNBC reporter as he accuse her of voting to bring down the U.S. economy: “You’re very anxious, I can hear your voice there,’ says Kaptur who gave one of the better speeches – as a Democrat – for why she voted against the Wall Street rescue plan. “For the sake of the country and even the sake of the markets I think you should operate prudently and with a little bit of calm in your voice today. What we want to do is be responsible not just for what happens on Wall Street but what happens to the American tax payer generations hence.”

Which is, in the end, what we pay them to do.

Posted by Chris Nolan at 9:17 AM | Permalink

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