Friday, October 10, 2008

Forty-Four Years Ago

We're hearing quite a few references lately to what happened forty-four years ago. In discussing swing states, it's often said that the last time xyz state voted the Democratic ticket in a presidential campaign was forty-four years ago. It was also the year the Civil Rights Act became law and the last time a Republican Senator from Arizona served as the party's nominee for President.

While one of Goldwater's campaign themes was "America Needs A Change," consider also that the opposition painted him as erratic. Sound familiar? In three and a half weeks, history may repeat itself with a landslide victory for the Democrats. What's more, the promise of the Civil Rights Act may be realized far sooner than almost anyone would have ever predicted.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

McCain Ayers It Out

It's the politics of guilt by association, and it's been happening since the presidential campaign began nearly two years ago. Is it a valid point for criticism? I suppose in rare instances it could be, but in nearly all cases it's nothing but a desperate attempt at the kind of intellectual dishonesty that has scarred too many other campaigns during my lifetime.

Think about it in terms of your own life. Would you like to be tied to all the political views, bad judgments, or questionable actions of all your friends and family? How about with people with whom you may have sat on a not-for-profit board? You know, those people you saw maybe once every month or two, assuming you both attended all the meetings - people who you hardly knew other than to recognize them on the street. The result is you could be accused of exercising bad judgment for supporting a worthy cause. Nice. This is precisely the reason that a larger number of talented citizens don't run for public office.

The good news is that the more McCain "Ayers it out," the more the lead widens for Obama. That's not only good news for Obama, but with any luck, it's good for the future of American politics.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Listening and McCain's Disdain

Last night's town hall style debate was supposed to have been the forum in which John McCain would shine. Let's face it, he's held hundreds of them. I believe the Senator presided over 100 town hall gatherings in New Hampshire alone during the primary season. And it was his performance during those personal exchanges with New Hampshire voters that got him back into the race during primary season.

So why did post debate polls favor Obama? I believe in many respects it's less about what Obama said and more about how McCain listened. McCain's reference to Obama as "that one" only served to punctuate McCain's obvious disdain for his opponent - disdain made evident every time Obama addressed the audience.

You see, the difference between a town hall debate and a town hall meeting is that you have to share the stage with your adversary. How you well listen is just as important as how well you speak. And while it's important in any debate format, it's crucial in the more free-wheeling town hall setting. Over the course of 90 minutes, McCain was often disengaged when Obama spoke, sometimes walking aimlessly around the stage until it was his turn to speak again. There was a restlessness about him as he listened - a stark contrast to words about experience and being the steady hand during tough times. McCain was confident when he spoke but less likeable when he wasn't speaking, and it cost him with viewers last night.

To illustrate the point, I was driving home and had to listen to the debate on NPR. I thought McCain did pretty well in the scheme of things. It wasn't until I got home and watched a re-run on CNN that I realized why viewers sided so overwhelmingly with Obama in post-debate polls. I couldn't watch McCain listen on the radio. Seeing the exchange on TV completely changed my point of view.

It's a great lesson for all of us. While we may never have cause to participate in a nationally televised debate, it's important to understand that regardless of how well spoken one may be, people place a premium on listening. As well they should.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Rock 'em Sock 'em Politics

As rough as it can get in the primaries, there's nothing quite like general election nasty, particularly when (with 30 days to go) one side is looking at internal poll numbers and watching the election slip away.   You could argue that if McCain gets too rough, it could forever tarnish his reputation, and if Obama responds too harshly, it could impact his ability to govern in the bipartisan manner he's promised.  The history of past presidential campaigns has proven otherwise, and at this moment, the prospect of losing the race for the White House trumps all concerns of legacy or governance.   Sad but true. 

At a fundraiser over the weekend, Palin accused Obama of consorting with terrorists, and the Obama campaign plans to release a 13 minute documentary online at "high noon" today titled: "Keating Economics: John McCain and the Making of a Financial Crisis."  With the electoral map swinging in Obama's direction, look for 30 days of gloves off, no holds barred attack politics.  

What makes this year's general election Rock 'em Sock 'em affair more interesting is that there are still two debates left.  As early as tomorrow night, Obama and McCain will be face to face answering to one another as the American people look on.

We won't need John McEnroe for this one.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Where's John McEnroe When You Need Him?

Had John McEnroe been moderating the vice presidential debate, he would have taken a more, let's say, aggressive approach than did Gwen Ifill. When Sarah Palin expressly ignored the moderator's questions and chose simply to participate in her own debate, McEnroe would have exclaimed, "ANSWER THE QUESTION!!!" And if she continued to duck the questions, "YOU CAN'T BE SERIOUS!!!" Now that would have been entertaining television.

Early feedback from voters responding to who won the debate answered yesterday's question regarding what standard the public would set in evaluating Sarah Palin's performance. It's clear that they wanted to see if she were up to the job. And to be convinced of that, they wanted answers rather than rehearsed monologues. No knockout, but Biden clearly won on points and on substance.

The McCain debate prep team apparently operated under the time-honored philosophy that "spontaneity has its time and its place." The Rehearsed Talk Express continues - at least for another 32 days.

Pal-in Comparison

Well, the Dow is falling again today, but considering that the Senate didn't do anything that was unexpected, last night's vote had little effect on the reaction of Wall Street and companion global exchanges. We'll have to wait for the House vote for that. Of course the big story today is the Biden-Palin or Palin-Biden debate - depending on your political persuasion.

It will likely draw a bigger audience than Obama-McCain 1. First of all, it's not taking place on a Friday night, and second, people will be watching this for the same reasons they watch NASCAR or the Indy 500. People want to see the crash. They'll be watching and listening for the gaffe, stumble, or clever one-liner. Between the two candidates, the viewing audience likes the odds. Look for big numbers tonight.

Much has been made of the McCain campaign's efforts to lower expectations for Sarah Palin. Of course, recent Palin interviews have helped that cause as well. But tonight, it will be interesting to see what standard the viewing audience chooses when it comes to judging her performance. Does Palin have to be more substantive than Biden? Up for the job as Vice President? Show she has the capacity to step in as President? Of just perform better than she did during the Katie Couric interviews?

Given that we're a nation at war and confronting the most daunting economic crisis of our generation, I hope we set the bar high for both of them. I hope neither crashes. It would be terrific if we could simply hear 90 minutes worth of sound debate over issues that will shape America's future. Let's watch and see!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

From Client Service To Public Service

With only 34 days until the presidential election, it would seem that relevance trumps otherwise timeless conversation on the topic of client service. Since I've worked in dozens of campaigns, including two presidentials, my passion for public service and politics will move to the forefront - at least until the November election.

As I write this post, the Dow is down slightly after a record loss on Monday and a bit of a rebound yesterday, based largely on the hopes that despite the House vote against the bailout plan, there will be a deal in place by week's end. Let's see how the Senate steps up today and how the market responds.

This economic crisis has offered a rare blend of electoral politics and high stakes governance. There's nothing quite like watching the conflict between self preservation and doing what's truly best for the country. What's more, poor communication has been center stage as the public rages against a bailout plan that was horribly presented and so poorly explained to the American people.

Voters typically don't support bills (especially the $700 billion variety) when they don't understand the issue. Of course, since Capitol Hill doesn't trust the White House, voters don't trust Washington, and members of Congress (of which all 435 are up for re-election) need voters' support to get re-elected, therein explains the results of the House vote and the market's response.

It should be a fascinating week!


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