Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘morning in America

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Next President of the United States

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President-Elect Obama takes the stage.

Kerry v. Obama

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Kevin Drum has gotten a lot of people talking with his suggestion that the Left is better off having lost with Kerry in 2004 if it meant going on to win with Obama in 2008.

Back in 2004, I remember at least a few bloggers and pundits arguing that liberals would be better off if John Kerry lost. I never really bought this, but the arguments were pretty reasonable. Leaving George Bush in power meant that he’d retain responsibility and blame for the Iraq war. (Despite the surge, that’s exactly what happened.) Four more years of Republican control would turn the American public firmly against conservative misrule. (Actually, it only took two years.) If we waited, a better candidate than Kerry would come along. (Arguably, both Hillary Clinton and Obama were better candidates.)

Conversely, it’s unlikely that John Kerry could have gotten much done with a razor-thin victory and a Congress still controlled by the GOP. What’s more, there’s a good chance that the 2006 midterm rebellion against congressional Republicans wouldn’t have happened if Kerry had gotten elected. By waiting, we’ve gotten a strong, charismatic candidate who’s likely to win convincingly and have huge Democratic majorities in Congress behind him. If he’s willing to fully use the power of his office, Obama could very well be a transformational president.

Dana at The Edge of the American West and Hilzoy both make arguments that this is something a political partisan must never allow themselves to consider—you have to fight to win, every time, as hard as you can, because the future is uncertain and unknowable and the present is immediate. And yet it seems to me that Kevin is obviously right that the horrific Bush victory in 2004 could in fact turn out to have been better than a Kerry victory, given a successful Obama presidency and a long-enough time horizon. It depends what Obama does once he takes office, if he turns out to be the transformational president I have long believed he will be, and to what extent the disastrous policies of the last four years can be “undone” through wise policy in the next eight.

As it stands, alongside what evil he has done, Bush has nearly singlehandedly destroyed both the Republican Party and conservatism as an ideology. Republicans were driven from Congress in historic proportions in 2006, with 2008 looking to surpass it. Obama, the most progressive candidate for president in my lifetime, will nominate at least two, and possibly more, judges to the Supreme Court, while (again, in the best-case scenario) implementing environmental and social reforms that could come to redefine American capitalism in much the same way as the New Deal. 2008 could realign the country politically, in our favor, for decades.

Does a Kerry presidency match this? As much as I like Kerry and as hard as I worked to get him elected, this counterhistory seems much less successful. A Kerry who wins 2004 in a squeaker in Ohio still faces the disastrous consequences of the first Bush term, as well as Katrina and perhaps even, to some extent or another, this year’s bottoming-out of the post-Fordist culture of debt. In that universe we might well be watching Kerry go down to a nail-biter against Romney, a fight I’m not at all sure we’d win. Likewise, Republicans weren’t forced out from Congress in 2006, and don’t face crushing losses in 2008. The country, though spared four very bad years, has not been transformed.

The point is this: taking a longer view than the four-year election cycle, a very successful Obama presidency will have been better for both the Left and the country as a whole than the weak, “caretaker” Kerry presidency we likely would have gotten out of 2004. If Obama lives up to the hype, historically speaking it might have all been worth it. Let’s hope.

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November 4, 2008 at 3:00 am

Sports Determinism Watch

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Sports Determinism Watch: The Phillies only win the Series during realignment elections. That’s not me talking, that’s science.

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October 30, 2008 at 6:36 pm

‘America, 2008’

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They’re calling this photo “America, 2008.” Not quite, but closer than I might have thought a year ago.

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October 27, 2008 at 12:32 pm

Landslide Watch

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Obama is weighing broadening a map that already appears big and red into four more states. A top adviser, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, said Obama is considering expanding his active campaign back into North Dakota and Georgia, from which he’d shifted resources, and into the Appalachian heartland of West Virginia and Kentucky.

But if that makes you happy, Obama’s got just two words for you: New Hampshire.

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October 16, 2008 at 2:45 pm

More Intergenerational Warfare

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More intergenerational warfare: On July 15, 1979, Jimmy Carter gave his famous malaise speech. How much better would the world be today if we—by which I mean they—had just listened to him then?

Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite this Nation, and it can also be the standard around which we rally. On the battlefield of energy we can win for our Nation a new confidence, and we can seize control again of our common destiny.

In little more than two decades we’ve gone from a position of energy independence to one in which almost half the oil we use comes from foreign countries, at prices that are going through the roof. Our excessive dependence on OPEC has already taken a tremendous toll on our economy and our people. This is the direct cause of the long lines which have made millions of you spend aggravating hours waiting for gasoline. It’s a cause of the increased inflation and unemployment that we now face. This intolerable dependence on foreign oil threatens our economic independence and the very security of our Nation.

The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our Nation. These are facts and we simply must face them…

Instead we they elected a guy who tore solar panels off the roof of the White House for no reason at all.

Electoral College Watch

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Open Left has a map with Electoral College projections from aggregated state-by-state polling that looks pretty good to me, this far out.

That’s 242 EVs (Obama) to 206 EVs (McCain) with 90 toss-ups. The toss-up states are Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska-02, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. It’s pretty hard to imagine that Michigan won’t go to Obama in the end, so put those 17 EVs in his column. Now he’s at 259, and with Wiconsin a pretty obvious get as well he’s already at 269.

(This is why some people in the media are salivating over the possibility of a 269-269 tie, by the way; it’s not impossible.)

I think there’s actually a fairly sizable chance he could take Nebraska-02, even though that hasn’t ever happened, putting him at exactly 270 and in the White House—but let’s, you know, play it safe and campaign the hell out of Ohio, Missouri, and Virginia all teh same.

I’ve been an Obama-blowout-booster for a while now, and despite the difficulties of the Democratic primary I still am. I think Obama has a decent chance of crossing 300 EVs, including a victory in North Carolina if everything really comes together for us.

Obama’s people, for what it’s worth, agree; he’ll be fielding campaign staff in all fifty states.

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June 10, 2008 at 7:58 pm

The Case for Barack Obama

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Via Shankar and a few blogs, Chris Hayes in The Nation makes The Argument that I and others have been talking about all month. It’s short, only two pages; you’ve got plenty of time to read it before the big debate begins.

Insofar as the issues discussed during a presidential campaign are circumscribed by the taboos and pieties of the political and media establishments, they tend to be dispiriting for those of us on the left. Neither front-runner is calling for the nation to renounce its decades-old imperial posture or to end the prison-industrial complex; neither is saying that America’s suburbs and car culture are not sustainable modes of living in an era of expensive oil and global warming or pointing out that the “war on drugs” has been a moral disaster and strategic failure, with casualties borne most violently and destructively by society’s most marginalized and–a word you won’t be hearing from either candidate–oppressed. And yet, this election is far more encouraging (dare I say hopeful?) than any in recent memory. The policy agenda for the Democratic front-runners is significantly further to the left on the war, climate change and healthcare than that of John Kerry in 2004. The ideological implosion of conservatism, the failures of the Bush Administration and, perhaps most important, the shifts in public opinion in a leftward direction on war, the economy, civil liberties and civil rights are all coming together at the same time, providing progressives with the rare and historic opportunity to elect a President with a progressive majority and an actual mandate for progressive change.

The question then becomes this: which of the two Democratic candidates is more likely to bring to fruition a new progressive majority? I believe, passionately and deeply, if occasionally waveringly, that it’s Barack Obama.

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February 1, 2008 at 12:08 am

By Request, Yet Another Pro-Barack Polemic

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Earlier in the comments, john asked for “any succinct and direct argument that you could write to further solidify” votes for Obama. I’ve made my pitch a few times now, but most directly here; in a year where voters have completely turned on the Republicans, when the Left at last has the capacity to fundamentally redraw that political map in our favor, we need someone who hasn’t been tainted by fifteen years of vitriol and hate. To make the sorts of sweeping changes we need, we need a candidate who will enter office at the head of a popular movement, not someone who squeaks in after a nasty, ugly campaign with 50.001% of the vote, if at all.

That person at this moment is Barack Obama.

Jaimee sent me a link to George Lakoff at the Huffington Post, saying much the same thing much better than I can:

There is a reason that Obama recently spoke of Reagan. Reagan understood that you win elections by drawing support from independents and the opposite side. He understood what unified the country so that he could lead it according to his vision. His vision was a radical conservative one, a vision devastating for the country and contradicted by his economic policies.

Obama understands the importance of values, connection, authenticity, trust, and identity.

But his vision is deeply progressive. He proposes to lead in a very different direction than Reagan. Crucially, he adds to that vision a streetwise pragmatism: his policies have to do more than look good on paper; they have to bring concrete material results to millions of struggling Americans in the lower and middle classes. They have to meet the criteria of a community organizer.

The Clintonian policy wonks don’t seem to understand any of this. They have trivialized Reagan’s political acumen as an illegitimate triumph of personality over policy. They confuse values with programs. They have underestimated authenticity and trust…

If it would help, you might also point them to the National Journal’s ranking Obama today as the most liberal senator in America.

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January 31, 2008 at 10:00 pm

Today in Obama News

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Today in Barack Obama news, South Carolina’s largest paper endorses him for the presidency, saying exactly the thing I wish more people were saying:

The one most significant difference between them can be found in how they would approach the presidency – and how the nation might respond.

The restoration of the Clintons to the White House would trigger a new wave of all-out political warfare. That is not all Bill and Hillary’s fault – but it exists, whomever you blame, and cannot be ignored. Hillary Clinton doesn’t pretend that it won’t happen; she simply vows to persevere, in the hope that her side can win. Indeed, the Clintons’ joint career in public life seems oriented toward securing victory and personal vindication.

Sen. Obama’s campaign is an argument for a more unifying style of leadership. In a time of great partisanship, he is careful to talk about winning over independents and even Republicans. He is harsh on the failures of the current administration – and most of that critique well-deserved. But he doesn’t use his considerable rhetorical gifts to demonize Republicans. He’s not neglecting his core values; he defends his progressive vision with vigorous integrity. But for him, American unity – transcending party – is a core value in itself.

Can such unity be restored, in this poisonous political culture? Not unless that is a nominee’s goal from the outset. It will be a difficult challenge for any candidate; but we wait in the hope that someone really will try. There is no other hope for rescuing our republic from the mire.

Via TPM.

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January 22, 2008 at 8:43 pm

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Obama Republicans

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I’d thought I’d explicitly compared Obama to Reagan in this post on the morning of the Iowa caucus, but it turns out I merely referred obliquely to “the left’s best chance for transformative political realignment in over a generation.” But this is precisely what I’ve been talking about for the last month: what Obama (and to a much lesser extent Edwards) offer is the possibility of a political reconfiguation like the one that Reagan accomplished in 1980, only this time to the left. It can happen, but it can’t happen with Hillary Clinton as our nominee, who is loathed by fully half the country and will be lucky if she’s able to eke out a narrow victory in a three-way race.

I bring this up only because today Obama has finally made this case for his campaign directly:

(Here’s the full video.)

Predictably, Clinton supporters are already falling over themselves in an effort to mischaracterize what he has said, in much the same way that people confuse the claim that a terrorist is brave with the assertion that a terrorist is morally good. Obama is saying here that Reagan radically altered the political landscape in this country in a way Clinton simply did not—and I don’t any way in which that claim can possibly be debated. Obama supporters correctly see in Obama the chance for a similar swing back to the left—to not only reclaim the Reagan Democrats but create “Obama Republicans” from people who are not and will never be “Clinton Republicans”—and it is this singular opportunity that is at the core of my support for him.

I’m certain Americans are smart enough to see what Obama’s saying here, despite what will surely be heroic efforts from the Clinton camp to muddy these waters.* I think it’s a gutsy move, but one that will pay off.

By the way, he’s just opened up a lead on Clinton in North Carolina, so that’s a good sign…

* Note: I am not actually certain of this.

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January 16, 2008 at 10:53 pm


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It’s a brisk 56° in New Hampshire today, only adding to what will surely be record turnout for the Democratic primary. There are even reports that polling stations are already running out of ballots. None of this is good news for the old guard—and strong reports that the powerful Nevada culinary union will endorse Barack tomorrow are just another nail in the coffin. Stay tuned.

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January 8, 2008 at 7:12 pm

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The hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too

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Very good news from Iowa tonight for Obama supporters as Barack takes Iowa by a solid margin (at the moment it’s just about 7%). The turnout is the other huge story tonight—the Obama campaign is claiming over 200,000 people turned out, which if true is approximately twice the participation in 2004.

That the Republicans decided to go with Hucklebee is just the icing on the cake.

I already spoke a little bit today about the reasons why I support Obama, reasons I find echoed in this piece Bill Simmon sent me from the Carpetbagger Report.

So in honor of this historic occasion, let’s just skip all that and go back in time instead to the moment that started it all:

The site is long gone now, but I just checked my personal archives for the post I wrote on Three Guys after the speech in 2004. Here’s what I had to say back then:


That man really is going to be president.

But as usual it’s my good friend Shankar D who’s worth listening to:

Obama gave a simply great speech that will, I believe, be remembered for a very long time. Like Clinton, he evoked a belief in the essential unity of the American people, but with much more powerful rhetoric and moving imagery. It was a much-needed clarion call at a time when ideologues on both sides of the aisle seem to relish and cherish the cultural boundaries that separate us from each other. A call that had no more fitting author than a man whose very existence bridges that gap.

But for progressives, it should be remembered for more than that. In those powerful final paragraphs, Obama premised his call for unity on the fundamentally liberal ideals of brotherhood and compassion.

For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga. A belief that we are connected as one people. If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandmother. If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It’s that fundamental belief — I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper — that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. “E pluribus unum.” Out of many, one.

Martin Luther King Jr. is smiling from above, I suspect, at this young black man giving life to the abstract notion that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

By weaving this old-fashioned liberalism together with an embrace of the principles and people of “the other side” – individualism, a pragmatic view of government’s role, and an embrace of our Red State brethren – Obama fused the promise of the left with the promise of America.

The drunken reverie of the moment will undoubtedly wear off. But tonight, I feel a renewed sense of hope about the possibility of a New Liberalism that accounts for the poor, the isolated, and the marginalized in a way that brings us together, rather than pushes us apart. Idealism will always have to confront the reality of politics and life itself, but great leadership is its surest steward. And if nothing else, I am hopeful tonight about the future leadership of this country. Such is, I suppose, the audacity of hope.