accountabilitybloke (old blog)

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A perplexed cynic….

I am typically unfazed by what happens in US political campaigns — after all, I am a political scientist and I try to live up to my wife’s description of the field (“advanced cynicism and general despair”).

But at this moment (3 PM or so on Wednesday, September 24) I am baffled and perplexed. What in the world is the McCain campaign up to?

Win or lose, someone has ot to write an insider analysis of this someday — I mean a really “inside” the “insider” memoir, one that can give us some insight into their collective thinking. The Palin selection was interesting enough to warrant such a book, but the effort to postpone Friday’s debate (even though I was unlikely to watch it given other things on my plate) seems bizarre.

The only thing one can conjure up to make sense of this is as act of desperation given the latest polls. This might be the closest thing McCain folks have to an “October surprise” — and considering that they are coming to the realization that another 9/11 is unlikely to come their way over the next 40+ days, this might be their effort to create the moral equivalent. That is probably what Bush is going to try to do tonight in his address to the nation.

But if that is idea behind this cynical maneuver, they have a number of problems. First, there is the problem that JM is on record ten days ago noting that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. Second is the growing chorus of economists and politicians from both right and left who are raising questions about the plan and the pros/cons of letting the market do its thing without interference. Third is the general tone of public opinion which is not conducive to some manipulative effort to mobilize fear and anxiety. The “tone” or mood right now is more like anger and suspicion, and assuming the Obama folks don’t fall for the bait, all they have to do is point out just how manipulative this move is.

Must worrisome is that all this will backfire — and whatever justification there is for the “bailout” plan will be lost in the process….

September 24th, 2008 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments

Indignation and politics — Obama’s tone….

Maureen Dowd‘s column this AM is an interesting dialogue in which she (with assist from Aaron Sorokin) is able to give advice via a rant by fictional “The West Wing” President Josiah Bartlet. I think they have it half right — what Obama needs to do, they imply, is to ratchet up the current, more angry tone of his campaign rhetoric. But I think they are misreading that tone….

In recent weeks Obama has shifted from inspirational orator to a classroom lecturer and, most recently, to a lecturer with the capacity to toss in some good one-liners that are certainly designed for the sound-bite hungry mass media. The “tonal” nature of these presentations is not (as Dowd/Sorokin think) anger, but rather indignation — a much more suitable approach for a person who cannot afford to be seen as angry if he is to succeed in this campaign.

The line between anger and indignation is often a very thin one. (Wikipedia, in fact, treats the two as synonymous.) McCain crossed that line to (I think) good effect for his campaign in his “I’d fire him” (in reference to SEC chair Cox) speech this past week. This is the “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” approach made famous in Paddy Chayefsky‘s “Network” (listen here), and it is a real crowd pleaser when coming from McCain.

But Obama can’t really cross that line without seeming to fall off the perch he constructed that differentiated him from the widely held image of the “Raised Fist” angry black American (thanks to friend Domonic for highlighting that image…). Nor can he become too steeped in the image of the stand-up comic who can deliver a zinger and get a laugh — another image that knocks him off the elevated platform as the “leader (change) we need” that he has been able to construct over the months. Rather, he has to maintain a tone of serious indignation about what’s being said about him (something he is doing well at the moment with the well crafted one-liners) as well as what is happening in the country (“enough is enough” seems to have done the trick there).

The power of indignation and similar “reactive attitudes” is of serious consequence in our social and political lives — a view implied in 18th century Scottish Enlightenment examination of “moral sentiments” [David Hume (see here)Adam Smith (see here) and all that) and articulated most effectively by 20th century British philosopher PF Strawson (read here). It is central to our sense of being accountable — and drives the central role of accountability in politics, governance and all sorts of others social endeavors. For present purposes, it can be used to sharpen a campaign that needs to keep moving forward….

September 21st, 2008 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments

Webb or Clark….

Now that Clinton has done what’s expected, we are back to speculating about the VP with a clear slate of options.

That was a very good speech on Saturday, and as the pundits on at least one panel note (we tend to favor MSBC these days; if you are going to have to endure that crap it might as well be moderated well) she has come along way as a speaker and campaigner. One has to think that is due in large part to the opposition she faced — Obama is pretty hard act to go up against if you can’t do the rally speech. (In this case, McCain is in fact too long in the tooth  to catch up….) If campaign speaking and dynamics matter, then she might be the one to go for.

Electoral College wise, however, she really brings nothing much to the table. Even if you approached this election as a traditional battle for the same old swing states (and I think that is not the case here), the fact that she did well against Obama in places like Ohio and West Virginia and Florida does not mean she can deliver them in November against McCain….

With one exception all the Senators and Governors speculated about bring little or nothing complementary to the Obama ticket, and some would be so boring as to threaten to take the steam out of the movement.

The one exception seems to be Senator Jim Webb from Virginia, and my son makes a pretty convincing argument that he is the one. He is certainly able to shake things up with the media (e.g., where are those tattoos that everyone asks about?), and he brings a heck of a resume and personal story to the ticket as well — including a biography as compelling as McCain’s (see Nightingale’s Song). Since I think Obama needs to go for someone to offset his vulnerability in military and national security, I think my son may be right.

But if Webb is not the one, then there is also Wesley Clark who has already tried a run for president (in 2004, with very little success) and comes from the Clinton camp. His low visibility and lack of public persona in recent years means very few are paying attention to him now, but the name will surface along with Webb because of his military credentials (top of his class at West Point, 4-star general) as well as his qualities as intellect (Rhodes Scholar), diplomat and someone who has proven really comfortable with operating in the public sphere (that is, on the media hot seat).

My bet is on either one….

June 7th, 2008 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments