Freitag, 4. Januar 2008

Watching the (Democratic) candidates ...

I leave it up to my American friends to argue over who is best suited to win back the White House for sanity. But as a campaigner, I was struck by how the speeches by Obama, Edwards and Hillary after the Iowa vote summed up their campaigns. As a lesson on campaigning - on choosing messages and repeating them over and over - all candidates scored high marks. So, Hillary focussed on the long haul, on experience (a message which was reinforced by her being surrounded by Clinton "old timers" - including Bill but also Madleine Albright, who I had not really pictured to be the campaign trail kind a girl, but hey ...). Hillary kept her smile firmly in place and tried to exude confidence. Given how gutted she probably felt I would give her full marks for composure. Edwards, meanwhile, was surrounded by a very different bunch of people (than the Ex Secretary of State). He was surrounded by the working poor and people without health care. He made a lot of how Iowa had voted against the status quo. In that status quo he tried to include Hillary, making the most of being the underdog who had beaten her despite having been hugely outspent. Almost immediately, he moved back to the message he is running for: the need for universal health care, the needs of working families, the values of a "working America" that he tries to evoke and represent. I personally liked how he contrasted those values with "corporate greed"... Obama, finally, stuck to his message of unity and hope. His speech was probably the cleverest. On a night when the Republicans backed an evangelical christian, he somehow managed to make plausible, that Iowa had voted for national unity. He evoked the civil rights movement and stressed his background as a grassroots social worker. He eloquently talked of the power of ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things. All this will have gone down well with the Democratic activist base, I imagine. But the overall message was one of unity and patriotism. Of history being in the making - and him being the vessel of America's new, united, strong, moral age. As a self-confessed lefty, this unity talk worries me. Reality is: people have different interests - and they do clash. But as a political observer, you got to be impressed with how Obama pulls off sounding the most resoundingly American of all candidates - even though he is untypical - even for African-Americans! He got the votes of Independents and has attracted sympthies even of Republicans. So this unity message, more than anything, makes him the man to watch! P.S. A very interesting blog piece on Edwards and Obama here.


Brianfit hat gesagt…

Obama's Unity message has been ongoing since he made the keynote speech at the DNC in 04 -- and more power to him, sez I, since I'm a firm believer that the well was poisoned in American politics around the time of the Gringrich revolution: take an exclusively two-party system, add a killer dose of partisan politics and refuse to view any issue without a re-election lens, and you get the stalemate America has suffered since.

But I think the message Obama won Iowa on was change. He had a massive youth turnout, and I think Hillary has working against her the perception that the only choice in American politics is a Clinton dynasty or a Bush dynasty.

I'm an undecided absentee American voter, though the fact that Clinton voted for the invasion in Iraq is currently the biggest differentiator I make between her and Obama, and causing me to lean to the latter. I'm trying to ignore as insignificant the fact that he's probably the best American presidential orator since JFK.

Anyway, thanks for the thought-provoking blog, Daniel.

Anonym hat gesagt…

I watched those same three speeches in a bar during a conference of trade union officials, all of whom happened to be Edwards supporters like me. There was much cheering for our guy and beery pledges to fight on. Yet despite Edwards' admirable devotion to his message of social justice, his speech seemed to me to expose just why he finished in second place and is likely on a downwards trajectory towards defeat and dropping out.

Class rhetoric can't carry adequate support to win so long as unions and other social movements are in decline. The labor movement in the US is infamously weak. Today only 1 in 12 workers in the private sector (and 3 in 10 in the public sector)is a union member. Union people represent an effective political force that historically turns out in disproportionately high numbers to our proportion of the voting citizenry. But with low "density" of organization this impact can only go so far. With the main public union backing Clinton and an absence of other social movements on ths ground, my union and the various factory worker unions could not carry Edwards beyond 30%. His strategy of truning out loyal labor aligned democrats did not account for the rush of previously inactive young supporters who filled the caucus rooms and carried Obama to a strong win.

Obama's high morality, low specificity politics frustrates and occasionally troubles me for the same reasons that Daniel identifies. But it clearly has done a better job of challenging the centrist Democratic politics of Clinton than has the class-based Edwards appeal. Obama is now leading by 10% or 13% in New Hampshire, depending on which of this morning's polls you prefer. He is positioned to motivate the activist base of the Democratic Party while appealing to independent voters and even some Republicans. Unless he makes some grievous error, he is all set to win the nomination.

I hoped that Edwards would win through in Iowa and be a strong contestant in the upcoming contests. That is impossible now, even considering that his diehard supporters raised $1 million in 4 days. Now I want Obama to win, to relegate Clintonism to history and steam ahead to victory in November.

- Gabe