Monthly Archives: June 2009

Dems Decide to Win

Creigh Deeds victory in the Virginia gubernatorial primary has been described as “stunning.”  An afterthought to the battle between better known names in Democratic circles, Deeds is still being dissed by The Washington Post’s Roz Helderman:

Deeds lives in a sparsely populated county on the West Virginia border, a heritage that brings with it a stammering, unpolished earnestness. His adversaries have been poking fun at recent TV commercials featuring him staring silently into the camera — suggesting that Northern Virginians might be turned off merely by his heavy drawl.

A drawl and roots in rural America didn’t exactly make Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter or LBJ unelectable.  And remember that the opposite of unpolished is slick, rarely spoken as an attribute by voters.

The breath of Deeds victory is astonishing.  A quick review of the results show that he won all but five counties and six cities.  His margin of victory in northern Virginia must give the Democratic establishment pause.  Conventional wisdom is that only hardest core Democrats vote in primaries and vote for the most liberal of candidates.

Northern Virginia wasn’t “turned off merely by his heavy drawl.”  ANd he had an advantage in a three-way race as the two front-runenrs attacked each other, a strategy the country bumpkin had already previewed to Waldo Jaquith.  Patience, as Bob Holsworth noted, worked.  Voters didn’t like what they heard about the two other guys.  As since when is “earnestness” a character flaw?

But importantly, even the most liberal Virginia Dems decided, to their credit, to vote with their head, not their heart.  In short, they decided that more than anything, they want to win the governor’s mansion one more time.  Neither McAuliffe, who frequently came off as a used car salesman, or Moran, who mistakenly went even farther left during the campaign, had much chance of winning in November.  Deeds does.

One challenge Deeds will have is to overcome his “conservative” label that the media will inevitably tag him with, as if the man still supports Jim Crow laws.  He was fearless in advocating for transportation soplutions, including a gas tax, that probably weren’t paramount in his neck of the owods.  People in  Bath County don’t have hour long commutes generally.  Constantly calling him a conservative might surpress Democratic voter turnout.  They need enthusiasm.

Another challenge will be to redefine Bob McDonnell.  It’s not hard to do, but is Deeds up for negative campaigning?  CAn he redifine McDonnell as teh right-wing zealot that he is, and will that be enough to energize Democrats and pull in a number of independents and moderate Republicans.  If he can, it will be a huge advantage.  People who attend Regent University, Pat Robertson’s law school, are surely among the nicest, but you don’t want them running your government.  I remain hopeful that Deeds, in his “stammering” style, will be able to cut MCDonnell down to size, with a smile.

And it’s apparent that the gun issue has lost its attraction to liberals.  Many may feel as I do.  I don’t want guns in bars, or AK-47s sold in bulk to anyone with cash.  But the bigger problem is keeping out of the hands of criminals, and I no longer think stricter gun laws can achieve that.

I’m not sure that after so much of the Democratic Party establishment ignored Deeds, he will do well to ignore them in crafting his general election campaign.  All the slick brochures in the world won’t overcome major flaws.  And maybe he has a more sophisticated way of getting to voters than leaders of the party, who still save all their pennies for direct mail, and can’t think strategically.

Obama Bucking the Trend

This raises the question whether the U.S. is out of step with the rest of the Western world, where conservatives are on the rise.  One interpretation is that whoever is in power during these economic times gets the boot from voters.  But conservatives may not be winning as much as the fringe groups. 

The vote also saw the all-white British National Party pick up two seats in the EU assembly — joining far-right parties from the Netherlands, Hungary and Austria that excoriated Muslims, immigrants and minorities.

…In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ anti-Islamic party took 17 percent of the country’s votes, winning four of 25 seats.

Three of 22 seats in Hungary went to the far-right Jobbik party, which describes itself as Euro-skeptic and anti-immigration. Critics say the party is racist and anti-Semitic.

Voters or Reporters “Just Tuning In”?

In Sunday’s Washington Post, the Virginia gubernatorial Democratic primary race got page A1 placement, apparently because voters are just becoming aware of the race.

The three Democrats seeking their party’s nod for governor of Virginia have launched a final, frenetic push for support in advance of Tuesday’s primary, a contest that remains remarkably fluid because vast numbers of undecided voters are only just tuning in now.

So voters are “just tuning in?”

I’ve asked The Post for some explanation of how they made that determination.  Could it be that there is a large undecided segment of voters?  They could be undecided because they can’t tell much difference between Terry McAuliffe, Brian Moran and Creigh Deeds.  Or perhaps they are unimpressed, frustrated, disappointed or still doing their research.

That newspapers cover state races only at the last minute is often attributed to their perception that people don’t tune in until the last week.  Certainly, the campaigns think that.  Why else would they wait until the last week to send us sometimes multiple mailings in a day, overflowing our mailboxes with dead trees we throw away without reading.

The Post has had articles about the race, of course.  My own quick Lexis Nexus search show nearly 40 article in the period March 1 through Memorial Day.  But only two could be remotely called issue articles. One was about New York Mayor Bloomberg running an ad about Virginia gun sales and another about teachers being skeptical of McAuliffe’s promises.  All the rest were about process:  Dems worried about voter fatigue, power of big names in race, a “drizzle” of ads, squabbles over fundraising, courting Facebook users, ties to lobbyists, etc.

It’s hard to tune in if newspapers aren’t telling you where the candidates stand on key issues.  You can argue that the three in the Virginia race are cut from the same cloth.  But there are key difference, some of which The Post has lately covered.  But would the months leading up to the primary be a good time to raises some of the more complex issue early enough so that voters could ask for more detail than we usually get at rallies?

At the very least there could have more substance and less process to the more than three dozen articles before Memorial Day.  After all, finding out about a key issue the weekend before the election doesn’t give you much time to do a little research, leaving you with the reporters’ takes on those issues.  But maybe that’s what they want.

21st Century Political Communications

Among all the analysis you will read about President Obama’s Egypt speech, nothing is more important than this:

For Obama’s nearly hour-long speech, the State Department opened telephone lines for callers worldwide to register for free text messages of the speech in Arabic, Persian, Urdu and English. The also were posting the speech in nine other languages.

False News

In a  previous post, I alluded to the New York Time piece that attempted to establish the conflict that the Times obviously hopes it can follow over the coming days and weeks:  Israel feeling short-changed by Obama’s even-=handedness.

Here is the L. A. Times “analysis “ of the speech.  The headline “Muslims not sure speech means real change.”  The sub-head: Obama’s speech in Cairo is eloquent, the rhetoric soaring, but many [emphasis added] in the audience are left wondering whether the charismatic president can follow it with new policies and actions.

How many Muslims feel that way?  Well, there was this, ah, one blogger

But many in this region want deeds and progress much sooner, and believe that the speech was more of a balancing act than an aggressive agenda. "He’s speaking in the right direction, but we need to see what follows," Ibrahim Hudaiby, a blogger and member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. "It’s time for action. . . . The devil is in the details."

I’m not sure how one blogger equals “many in this region.”

And then there were the undefined “activists and dissidents.”

His remarks on expanding democracy drew applause from the audience, but they were couched in too much diplomacy for Egyptian activists and dissidents whose voices have been squelched for nearly 28 years by Obama’s host, President Hosni Mubarak.

That’s it, folks.  This reporter, a one Jeffrey Fleishman, who, I’m judging by his name does not have a direct line to Muslim thinking, somehow makes the conclusion that “Muslims not sure speech means real change.”  Granted, Fleishman didn’t write the headline, but then a the very least, someone need to talk to the copy editor, for the head is thin gruel.

The Blowback Begins

Eight minutes ago, the New York Times posted this article about Obama’s speech today in Egypt.  The Israeli lobby has already made its mark, as the article accuses Obama of being too harsh on Israel.

How much longer before he is accused of being anti-Semitic?

The lede:

In opening a bold overture to the Islamic world on Thursday, President Obama confronted frictions between Muslims and the West, but he reserved some of his bluntest words for Israel, as he expressed sympathy for the Palestinians and what he called the “daily humiliations, large and small, that come with occupation.”

While Mr. Obama emphasized that America’s bond with Israel was “unbreakable,” he spoke in equally powerful terms of the Palestinian people, describing their plight as “intolerable” after 60 years of statelessness, and twice referring to “Palestine” in a way that put Palestinians on parallel footing with Israelis.

Good forbid that we should put Palestinians on “parallel footing” with Israelis.

It is, in order, the headline, the lede and the conclusion that you must care about in judging an article’s impact.  The headline, online at least, is neutral.  But in addition to the lede, the Israelis got the conclusion, too.

Although Mr. Obama strongly condemned those who would deny the Holocaust, many American supporters of Israel said they resented what they viewed as comparing it to the plight of the Palestinians.

“I understand Palestinian suffering, it is terrible,” said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “But it is not on the other hand to the Holocaust.”

Obama’s Egypt Speech

My first read of President Obama’s speech leaves a great impression with me, and I hope with the Muslim world.  He seemed to hit all the right themes, including one I didn’t think he would touch.

He put the conflict between Islam and the west in historic perspective.  He noted that Morocco was the first country to recognize the new United States and mentioned President John Adams’ appreciation of that recognition.  What he didn’t mention was Thomas Jefferson’s war against the Barbary pirates that helped inflame American-Muslim tensions early in our history.  But that can be forgiven as he acknowledged “centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars.”

Some on the right, searching for criticisms will accuse him of pandering, but for those unfamiliar with Islam’s cultural arc, he sought to enlighten.

It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar — that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.  It was innovation in Muslim communities — (applause) — it was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed.  Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation.  And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.

And bringing his own experience to bear,

Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance.  We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition.  I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

Obama did not hesitate to mention 9/11 early in his speech, unafraid to highlight a traumatic moment that while not justifying anti-Islamism, put America’s political environment in perspective.  He also strongly defended the U.S. against stereotyping.

The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known.  We were born out of revolution against an empire.  We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words — within our borders, and around the world.  We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept:  E pluribus unum — "Out of many, one."  

Now, much has been made of the fact that an African American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President.  (Applause.)  But my personal story is not so unique.  The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores — and that includes nearly 7 million American Muslims in our country today who, by the way, enjoy incomes and educational levels that are higher than the American average.  (Applause.)

Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion.  That is why there is a mosque in every state in our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders.  That’s why the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it.

The theme of the speech seemed to be: speak the truth, as he referenced the Koran, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth."  He spoke of the need to defeat extremism in the name of Islam, and made an argument that is made about criminality in the American black community, i.e., victims are often their brothers, and alluded to the African-American struggle as a model for Palestinians

[Muslim extremists] have killed in many countries.  They have killed people of different faiths — but more than any other, they have killed Muslims.  Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam.  The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as — it is as if he has killed all mankind.  (Applause.)  And the Holy Koran also says whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind.  (Applause.)  The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism — it is an important part of promoting peace.

…Palestinians must abandon violence.  Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed.  For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation.  But it was not violence that won full and equal rights.  It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding.  This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia.  It’s a story with a simple truth:  that violence is a dead end.  It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus.  That’s not how moral authority is claimed; that’s how it is surrendered.

He also, without mentioning him, directly took on Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, calling the denial of the Holocaust as “ignorant” and “hateful.”  But he also said the denial of a Palestinian state is unacceptable.

For more than 60 years [Muslim and Christian Palestinians] endured the pain of dislocation.  Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead.  They endure the daily humiliations — large and small — that come with occupation.  So let there be no doubt:  The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable.  And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own. 

Sixty years is the minimum we should consider in looking at the Middle East conflict.

The issue I did not think he would address was the role of women in Muslim societies.  He was firm in his beliefs.

I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality.  (Applause.)  And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now, let me be clear:  Issues of women’s equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam.  In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, we’ve seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead.  Meanwhile, the struggle for women’s equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons.  (Applause.)  Our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity — men and women — to reach their full potential.  I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice.  And that is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expan
ded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.

By challenging the principals in the Middle East conflict, and by being unafraid to speak truths, he showed courage and conviction.  Some have called it an “imperious lecture,”  He can leave that impression, but one might have made the same charge about Obama’s speech on race. And we know the general reaction that got.  The speech was also characterized as “scolding and combative.”  Intellectually combative I can take.  In fact, I welcome it when it comes to the Middle East, where we have been too cautious and accommodating for decades.

To those who would complain that there weren’t specific policy initiatives, I would argue that that would have been the height of imperiousness.

In fact, words do matter. One can only hope that setting a framework for his thinking will lay the foundation for specific initiatives later on.  You cannot read this speech and suggest that he left an impression favoring Israel or the Palestinians.  You cannot say that he apologized for America.  Not that everyone will find solace in the speech.  Rather they will find something they don’t like.

But much like his speech on race, Obama articulated the truth as both sides see it, without passing judgment.  That is the first step.

And as usual, he had a stirring conclusion, as he called on the wisest of us to lead – the young.

I know there are many — Muslim and non-Muslim — who question whether we can forge this new beginning.  Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress.  Some suggest that it isn’t worth the effort — that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur.  There’s so much fear, so much mistrust that has built up over the years.  But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward.  And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country — you, more than anyone, have the ability to reimagine the world, to remake this world.

It’s easier to start wars than to end them.  It’s easier to blame others than to look inward.  It’s easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share.  But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path.  There’s one rule that lies at the heart of every religion — that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  (Applause.)  This truth transcends nations and peoples — a belief that isn’t new; that isn’t black or white or brown; that isn’t Christian or Muslim or Jew.  It’s a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the hearts of billions around the world.  It’s a faith in other people, and it’s what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us:  "O mankind!  We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."

The Talmud tells us:  "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."

The Holy Bible tells us:  "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."  (Applause.)

The people of the world can live together in peace.  We know that is God’s vision.  Now that must be our work here on Earth.

Thank you.  And may God’s peace be upon you. 

Conservative MSM

As I was saying, before taking a few weeks off to graduate our second daughter and juggle more family visits than I had had in years…

E.J. Dionne, not one to generally slam the mainstream media, or to comment much on journalism at all, takes the MSM to task:

A media environment that tilts to the right is obscuring what President Obama stands for and closing off political options that should be part of the public discussion.

Yes, you read that correctly: If you doubt that there is a conservative inclination in the media, consider which arguments you hear regularly and which you don’t. When Rush Limbaugh sneezes or Newt Gingrich tweets, their views ricochet from the Internet to cable television and into the traditional media. It is remarkable how successful they are in setting what passes for the news agenda.

Complaining that progressives, especially those critical of some of President Obama’s decisions thus far, get little traction with the media, he asks, “But why are their voices muffled when they raise legitimate concerns, while Limbaugh’s rants get amplified?”

It must be a rhetorical question, though he doesn’t answer it.  It’s simple.  Obama was elected as a liberal, albeit a cautious one, overturning a far-right government.  Thus, the media, wanting confrontation more than anything, needs to find the polar opposite of him to fill in the narrative they want.  A progressive president fighting a more progressive element of his own party, especially one not willing to throw hand rhetorical grenades as the right is wont to do (“racist,” “socialist,” anyone?) is not the fight that offers the biggest sparks. 

I don’t suggest the MSM should ignore the Limbaughs of the world.  Because of their popularity, It is incumbent on the media to scrutinize a substantial element of our populace.  But the left shouldn’t be marginalized. 

I’m not sure what Dionne thinks the right is “winning,” but progressives are losing.