Monday, July 30, 2007

The Achilles' Heel

Slate is running a three-part series examining the major weaknesses of the leading presidential candidates. The articles are worthwhile reads, brimming with interesting links.

Also for your consideration, today's cover story from the New York Times looks back on Obama's tenure in the Illinois State Senate.

Your comments are welcome.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Obama vs. Clinton, Round 1

Hillary Clinton wasted no time attacking Barack Obama after Monday night's CNN/YouTube debate. Answering a question about foreign policy, Obama said he would try to reverse the damage done by the Bush administrations bellicose diplomacy by meeting with the leaders of nations such as Iran, Cuba, and North Korea, without conditions, within the first year of his presidency.

In her ongoing campaign to appear tough, Clinton attacked Obama the next day, declaring his policy propositions "irresponsible and naive." According to Clinton, meeting with these renegade leaders without conditions and without initial diplomatic envoys would diminish the prestige and power of the American presidency.

Oh yes. Of course. The Office of the President is so prestigious and powerful these days.

Anyway, Obama was quick to clarify his intentions. "The notion that I was somehow going to be inviting them over for tea next week without having initial envoys meet is ridiculous," he said in an interview outside his office. "But the general principle is one that I think Senator Clinton is wrong on, and that is if we are laying out preconditions that prevent us from speaking frankly to these folks, then we are continuing with Bush-Cheney policies."

Hillary obviously didn't have many qualms with Bush-Cheney policies when she authorized the president's initial authorization to go to invade Iraq.

"But that was years ago," you might say. Well, when Clinton can demonstrate that her judgement has improved since that vote, maybe she'll earn some more credibility on the Iraq issue.

In the meantime, it's the same story with the former first lady: Act tough on defense and foreign policy. It's what she thinks the voters want, and so she is willing to play that role. It's what she was doing when she authorized the invasion of Iraq. It's what she is doing now when she criticizes Barack Obama for wanting to use diplomacy instead of sanctions and warheads.

Monday, July 23, 2007

CNN\YouTube Debate Challenges Top Candidates

I have to hand it to the folks over at CNN and YouTube who put together tonight's Democratic debate live on CNN--the event was a pleasure to watch.

The debate format, which allowed "everyday Americans" to submit questions to the candidates via YouTube, offered viewers the chance to see the candidates struggle with some of the most difficult questions put to them during this campaign so far.

YouTube viewers posed questions on a broad variety of topics from Darfur to gun control, gay rights to health care, and of course, Iraq. The best part about this innovate format? Most candidates squirmed when faced with this eclectic mix of questions from concerned and curious voters.

When all is said and done, the format underscored how voters want to be spared canned soundbites from the candidates. Unfortunately, most of the candidates, particularly those in the "top tier," struggled to deviate from their stump speeches.

If any candidates came away winners in tonight's debate, it was those in the "second tier." The CNN/YouTube debate allowed Biden, Richardson, Dodd, Kucinich, and even grumpy ol' Mike Gravel a chance to let their personalities and their ideas shine.

Was the debate as "historic" as CNN would like us to believe? Only time will tell. But one thing is for sure: The format nudged candidates away from their stump rhetoric and allowed second tier candidates an opportunity to be heard. That can only be a good thing for a democracy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Obama: What We Gain By Stopping the War

Barack Obama speaks to a crowd in Manchester, Iowa about what the Iraq War is costing the American people.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Money Talks: Obama's Record Fundraising

$32.5 million in the second quarter. It's an absolutely stunning number, especially when taken in its historical context. For your consideration: Bill Clinton's total during the same period in 2005, the previous Democratic record, was just $9.6 million.

So what do Obama's second quarter numbers tell us about the state of American politics? Well, now more than ever, candidates travelling the road to the White House must pay a steep toll, a toll that prohibitively expensive for "second-tier" candidates and, it seems now, for some "first-tier" candidates. Consider John Edwards, who with just $9 million in the second quarter seems strapped for cash next to Obama and Clinton.

It's enough to breed some serious cynicism, until we take a closer look at the numbers.

In six months, 258,000 people have donated to the Obama campaign. Thousands of those donations have been contributions of less than $50. Thousands more of those contributions have not been monetary donations at all, but instead, donations of time from folks who are testing their political voices, exercising political action, and placing their trust in a candidate for the first time in their lives.

When we speak of Obama's donors, we're not speaking about people who simply showed up to a fundraising dinner, cut a check for $2,300, and snapped a photograph with the candidate that they can hang in their corner office. Thousands of Obama's supporters have never donated to a campaign before in their lives. These are people who have finally encountered not just a candidate, but a man, and a family, who have inspired them to believe in America again, to believe that we can turn this country around. Barack Obama has inspired Americans across economic, social, and ideological lines to believe that we all have more in common than we think we have, and that a little bit of time and a little bit of hope, from a lot of people, will make an enormous difference in this nation and in this world.

Campaign finance is too often a depressing subject. It's not right that "second-tier" candidates have already been buried under the piles of money available to the "top-tier" campaigns. It's not right that candidates have to raise $32.5 million to have the establishment stand up and take notice. It's not right that 2008 is going be our first billion dollar presidential campaign.

But money talks. It's a political reality, and a dismal one at that. But what makes the Obama campaign special, and full of hope, is that the $32.5 million represents the voices of everyday Americans contributing what they can, when they can, be it $50, $5, or five hours of time at a grassroots event. Ultimately, the Obama campaign is winning the financial race because it is interested on more than simply monetary contributions. It is interested in contributions of time, ideas, and hope.

When you run a campaign like that, you discover that thousands of people have been waiting their entire lives to contribute to something bigger than themselves. That's the sort of campaign that breaks records, and makes history.