Saturday, March 15, 2008

Some thoughts on Barack and his church

I was just reading this op-ed written by Cass Sunstein, and I think I had an insight into why Obama might have stuck through some 20 years of services at Trinity UCC in Chicago with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, even when he didn't agree with everything that might have been said at any given moment. I think this whole thing strikes us as so politically foolish, and we think it's hard to understand how Obama could have let this happen at all. The problem with this perspective, however, may be the difference between the kind of politics we're used to seeing from our politicians, and the new kind of politics that Obama claims to (and very well may) represent. I don't think any of us believe that Obama holds political views that are similar to that of his pastor, although the political problem for him now is that people may start to think that he does. The root of the problem, speaking for myself (and perhaps for others), though, is why he didn't foresee this as an issue? Is he really not as politically smart as he's been cranked up to be?

The context that Obama's tried to put forth is one in which Wright is a hugely popular preacher (his is the largest congregation in the entire UCC denomination) and is someone who clearly speaks to the heart of the African-American community in Chicago -- the same community where Obama got his start as a community organizer, and which he represented in the Illinois State Senate. Wright married Obama and Michelle, he baptised their daughters, and he "brought Obama to Jesus." Yet, Obama must have heard Wright say some controversial things from time to time. But if that was the case, would it not have been so much easier for Obama to conveniently move on to a less controversial church -- to one that might not end up becoming a thorn in his political side should he ever seek higher office, say, that of U.S. Senator, or beyond? If Obama is such a smart a politician (which I think he is), or if his ambition is so great (something which I think any presidential candidate must have), why then did he not long ago take what was clearly the more politically expedient path, and move on to another church at the slightest hint of potential future controversy?

I don't want to reduce his spiritual motivations to that of pure political calculation, but think about the current situation as you read the op-ed from Sunstein that I link to above. Think about the Obama that Sunstein describes here -- fiercely independent, not afraid to listen to the deep beliefs of those who think differently -- and you'll see that he's not someone who's always going to take the politically correct or "safe" path to success. (Of course, one could also explain his remaining in Wright's church as a sign of pure loyalty -- but his public distancing of himself from Wright over a year ago, just as he announced his candidacy for the presidency, as well as his recent statements, surely underscores the limits to that hypothesis.)

So what strikes me about Obama's sticking with his church is that, given where Obama came from, I can imagine that he felt it was important not to lose touch with this Afro-centric perspective -- he wanted to be challenged, not just uplifted, when he went to church. And given his general inclination to think for himself, perhaps he got caught up in his own self-confidence, not thinking that he was going to have to "denounce and reject" the political views of someone from whom he had received a great deal of spiritual insight and comfort. Is this really all that inconsistent for a guy who's made a point of saying that he would sit down with dictators as a means of resolving political tensions!

So let's call him wildly naive, politically stupid, or unreasonably loyal, but we might also entertain the notion that he's actually practicing what he preaches -- namely, that the idea of accepting "the possibility that the other side might sometimes have a point" is not something that you toss aside on your way to political power, rather it's what you embrace as the only possible way to get there.

WOLA and the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center in Mexico

I'm glad to see that my old outfit, the Washington Office on Latin America, is starting to use youtube and videos.

Here we have Ana Paula Hernandez, fundraising consultant for the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center, based in Guerrero, Mexico, talks to the Washington Office on Latin America about the relationship between the two organizations and WOLA's role in helping the Center achieve its mission.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Hillary's Math Problem

I haven't played around with the Slate delegate calculator, but Jonathan Alter at Newsweek has, and finds that Hillary could win the next sixteen contests handily and still not catch up in terms of pledged delegates.

So why, assuming wins Ohio today, will be forced to continue underwriting the Democratic mudslinging contest that is sure to unfold over the coming weeks, all to the benefit of John McCain?

GOTC (get out to caucus)

Things have slowed down quite a bit, but there's a steady trickle. It's actually nice for us, because then we have time to talk to (usually self-identified) Obama supporters, to explain the inexplicable -- i.e., why they MUST vote twice today. As Bill Clinton says, Texas is the only place in the country where you can vote twice without getting arrested.

Turnout in this very Republican area is running 2-to-1 for the Democrats (oh, forgot to mention there is a GOP primary going on as well!) That's a total turnaround from the traditional numbers. Hard to know, but I will not be surprised if this precinct goes 2-to-1 for Obama, many of whom say they will come back at 7 pm tonight to caucus.

Why the heck does Texas have both a primary and a caucus?

I've been asking that question for days, and had not yet gotten to the bottom of it. But I think the New Republic primer on the Texas primary explains it well:

Why The (Ridiculously Confusing) Hybrid System Exists
Up until about 30 years ago, Texas was a strong Democratic state, and presidential caucuses--the preferred system prior to 1976--were little more than local turf wars between the liberal and the conservative wings of the party establishment. According to Dr. Patrick Cox, Associate Director for Congressional and Political History at the University of Texas, prior to the 1970s, the Texas Democrats used the "unit rule," meaning that all delegates--often under the guidance of the governor--supported one candidate at the national convention. From about 1950 until the mid-'70s, the conservative wing dominated, most notably in the persons of governors R. Allan Shivers and John Connally, Jr.

But in the lead-up to the 1976 presidential nominations, conservative Democrats were concerned that the liberal faction was better organized--and that this would hurt the presidential aspirations of one of their own, then-senator Lloyd Bentsen. They made a forceful push for a primary, which they believed would give an edge to the more popular candidate, instead of the one with the best organization. Unable to roll the liberal wing of the party, the conservatives eventually settled on a compromise, where two-thirds of the pledged delegates (126 total) are decided by primary, and the remaining one-third (67) are decided in caucus. (Bentsen lost to Jimmy Carter anyway.)

Read the whole post for a good summary of further aspects of the primary/caucus system.

The joys of phone-banking

I got this email from a friend on Sunday:

Omg-a lady just cried to me & told me that she knew God made me call because she was undecided & she is now going to vote for Obama!

From NBC's First Read today

*** Other things to watch: Here are a few very plausible scenarios: Obama could net more delegates out of Vermont than Clinton does out of Ohio. Clinton can win both Ohio and Texas, 52%-48%, and lose the overall delegate battle tonight, thanks to how both Texas and Ohio award more delegates in African-American heavy areas as well as those crazy Texas caucuses. Speaking of Texas, Obama likely has a five-point cushion on the delegate front, meaning he could lose the state by five points and still net delegates. How will the media handle Clinton winning two states but Obama winning the most delegates tonight? Who wins the night? Bonus question: Who do we reward the state of Texas to if Clinton wins the popular vote in the primary but Obama nets the most delegates? And finally, for all the talk of bias against Clinton's campaign in the media, does anyone believe any other candidate could have lost 11-straight contests, be this far behind in delegates, and be simply two victories away from being back in the game? One thing the media has done is they've given Clinton every chance she wants to write her own comeback story. She gets another shot today.

Tuesday morning, 8:30 am

So, we've got 4 people hanging out right now in front of the school
for Obama. Hillary: zero presence, not even a yard sign. So that's
positive!

I'm pleasantly surprised at the number of people interested in
caucusing tonight for Obama. And it's great when some short-haired,
redneck-looking guy in a pickup truck waves at you in support. To a
person, every African-American I've met is for Obama, and most are
planning to caucus tonight. I have a feeling the energy tonight is
going to be electric.

Organizing by email

This is an example of the kind of go-get'm emails I've been receiving from our stellar organizer:

Fort Worth Warriors –

Time to shine…it’s Election Day! Before my official send off, I want to answer 3 quick questions:

  1. Question: Should we switch the names on the sign-in sheets if someone from a non-viable group (ie. a few Edwards supporters) decides to switch their vote to Barack? Answer: We are working on it…for right now I wouldn’t mess with the sign-in sheets. I’ll try to get more info, though.
  2. Question: What do we do if someone comes to the wrong location? Answer: Get them to the right location!!! They can’t caucus at your location – they’ve got to get in their car and drive as fast as they can to the new one!
  3. Question: Where’s the party? Answer: 8:00p (or when your caucus gets out) at BoomerJack's Grill & Bar, 2600 West 7th St., Fort Worth 76107 Come join!

Remember – enjoy today, breathe (frequently), and don’t forget that you’re part of an incredible team that supports you. And in the midst of all the craziness, take 5 seconds to remind yourself that you part of one of the most incredible campaigns in American history. That’s pretty remarkable.

Good luck, go get ‘em, and know that…

WE CAN!

All right, now off to the polls!

Election news slow tonight

The Politex blog at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram is one place to look for news, but it reports that results may be slowing in coming tonight:

Local election officials have told Politex that many polling places may not report their results until hours after the polls close at 7 p.m.

There are two reasons:

1) Polls officially close at 7 p.m. but those still in line will be allowed to vote. Local officials are bracing for the possibility that some polling locations may have more than 100 people still waiting to vote at 7 p.m.

2) Many election clerks and judges plan on participating in the precinct conventions once everyone has voted and polls close. That means some won't deliver the poll results to the county until AFTER the precinct convention, which could be hours later.

The Texas Democratic Party sent me a memo from the Secretary of State's office that said, "The responsible election judge or clerk must complete the paperwork, finish making out returns, and deliver the records and ballots to the custodian before he or she may attend the precinct convention."

In practice, at least in Tarrant County, this isn't going to happen. Tarrant County Elections Administrator Steve Raborn said he wouldn't be surprised if some polling places don't report their results to him until after midnight because the election workers were at the precinct conventions. By 11 p.m. tomorrow, he wasn't sure if he would have results from 50 percent of the county's precincts.

The Texas Two-Step

It's 6:15 am, and I'm at Starbucks in Fort Worth. I've been calling and walking and talking these past three days, and today's the big vote. I'll show up to my precinct in suburban southwest Fort Worth in about half an hour where, along with several other local volunteers, we'll maintain a "visibility" presence throughout the day, encouraging Obama voters (and, alas, surely a few others) to return to the precinct polling place (a local elementary school) later that night to caucus. Four of us met last night at the local Barnes and Nobles, and then participated in a conference call with our Obama Field Organizer, a very talented, articulate and detail-oriented 23-year-old (I'm guessing) Lily West, originally from the DC area. She's been in Iowa and Nevada, and lord knows where else for the past year, and she's a real pro. I'd hire her in a minute to organize just about anything.

I'd hoped to write some of my thoughts here earlier, but the "urgency of now" usually meant that I should make phone calls instead. Nevertheless, I'll try to do some mobile blogging today, in little snippets, whenever I have a moment's reprieve. We've got good weather for today, up to the 50s, after snowing briefly (and oddly last night) -- Saturday it was in the 80s!

I've been alternately depressed and inspired, and have absolutely NO idea what the day will be like. I did just hear that Texas's Secretary of State predicts a 3 million-plus turnout, breaking a record of some 20 years ago for a primary. What's for sure is that (1) many people are voting in their first primary ever, (2) probably 98% of those caucusing tonight will be doing so for the first time ever -- most people have never even heard of such a contraption!, and (3) I have no idea what kind of turnout the Clinton folks will deliver. Regarding the latter, they seem clearly less organized, in every conceivable way, but there is a bedrock of support for Hillary and Bill, and we'll see how that works out.

So stay tuned for the occasional, and hopefully not too mundane, observation throughout the day. Yes We Can!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Texas Diaries

So, I'm headed to Fort Worth, Texas this morning (waiting for that 4:30 am cab to National Airport), land of my youth, to vote -- and to organize. Well, if I'm luckly I'll get to organize a precinct caucus, or convention (as they call it in Texas. Caucus rhymes with "raucus", which sounds more appropriate for Cowtown, but convention better describes the conventionally conservative politics of Fort Worth.) Anyway, I think I'll have some tales to tell. I'm glad I'm leaving early, because as it turns out I've got a precinct captain training at Obama headquarters on the North Side by the Stockyards at 10 am. Hillary was kind enough to schedule a rally at 11 am just outside our door as well, so perhaps I'll get a glimpse of her.

I'll be blogging once a day (starting tomorrow morning) at Burnt Orange Report, and may or may not cross-post here. Internet connections are not so prevalent down Texas way -- gotta make a run for the Panera Bread up on University Blvd, or the Panther Coffee Shop over by TCU, or -- if I'm lucky -- I'll be able to hijack a signal from a neighbor of my brother or mother. Okay, I guess it's obvious now that I've only gotten three hours sleep.

Anyway, I'm glad to go and knock on doors for the Obama campaign. I've been telling people ever since Feb. 4th that he has a chance of winning Texas, mainly because I've been reading the very political science-y analysis of such a possibility at the Burnt Orange Report, but now it seems like it's going to happen. Maybe it'll be something to tell the grandkids about, er...., well, make that something to tell other people's grandkids about -- how I helped wrap up the Obama nomination in Texas.