When I’m right, I’m right: Geraldine Ferraro and “The day after”

Geraldine FerraroThe Obama campaign’s response to Geraldine Ferraro’s attack perfectly illustrates several things I talked about last week in The day after. Campaign strategist David Axelrod emphasizes the pattern:

Axelrod said Ferraro’s comments were part of a “pattern” of negative attacks aimed at Obama. He pointed to Clinton’s former New Hampshire co-chairman Bill Shaheen, who questioned whether Obama ever sold drugs; supporter Rober Johnsen, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, who raised the specter of Obama’s past drug use; and Clinton’s own “unwillingness” to “definitively” shoot down rumors that Obama was Muslim in an interview this month.

[All of these, and others, are documented on the Clinton attacks Obama wiki. See, I knew it would be important :-)]

Susan Rice brings up a variant of the “reject and denounce” standard:

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Cognitive diversity and the 2008 US election

Originally posted as a comment about The Day After.

There’s an interesting thread started on Feb 8 in the One Million Strong for Barack group on Facebook, How many Political Cards Hillary has played and whats more to come? I went back and looked at it today seeing how accurate it was; here was my summary:

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Facebook flakiness: reliability problems, or an attack?

Facebook once again is in the middle of major flakiness right now: links to nowhere, spontaneous logouts. The best thing to do when something like this happens is to treat it as a sign that it’s a good time to take a break from Facebook for a little while. So I decided to write this blog post.

Given the high tensions on all sides, the ongoing troll infestation in the group, and examples in the election campaign of what certainly seem to be some Republican dirty tricks being played, it’s natural to wonder whether this is some kind of attack like those described in “How to Rig an Election”. Speaking as somebody who’s had a lot of software engineering and computer security experience, my initial answer is probably not.

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The day after: narrative through the lens of strategy

original essay March 5, 2008

see the comments for updates

Back on February 7, Catherine Dodge and Alex Tanzi of Bloomberg News broke a story on an Obama campaign spreadsheet, “inadvertently” released by the campaign, with their projections (or maybe predictions) of delegates. Ben Smith on Politico has a nice screenshot, and even better a link to the version of the spreadsheet that Catherine and Alex shared. Barack Obama said he hadn’t seen it; his press secretary Bill Burton had a great quote: “This ‘newsy’ spreadsheet is basically an electronic piece of scratch paper with a dozen scenarios blown a little out of proportion.”

As far as I can tell, the press, media, and pundits covering the election responded with a collective “oh okay” and went back to talking about more important topics like their own prognostications, their importance to the electoral process, their responsibilities, their inadequacies, and the threats to mainstream media from blogs and social networks.

From both a strategy and a narrative perspective, this is fascinating on several levels. So building off my past “narrative as strategy” experience with Ad Astra, I’m going to wrap up my month of being a full-time political activist and blogger with some thoughts on these subjects.

Impressively, the Obama campaign’s projections in early February for delegates from yesterday’s voting likely to be within 1% of the actual results, which I bet is a lot more accurate than any professional polling firm or pundit was at the time. Until yesterday, though, they were off-target in most of the other primaries and caucuses. Interestingly, they were always off in the same direction: consistently underestimating their actual performance.

Saying it another way, the Obama campaign’s results between Super Tuesday (when they first said they thought they would have a pledged delegate lead at the convention) and yesterday consistently exceeded their own projections: +3 (three more delegates than expected) delegates in Louisiana, +4 in Maine, +6 in Hawaii and Wisconsin, and so on — including the jackpots of +14 in Virginia and + 15 in Maryland. If I did the math right, it’s +60 overall, for a swing of 120 pledged delegates from Clinton to Obama. From a strategy perspective, this is substantially exceeding expectations, and making success far more likely.

Yesterday, with the aid of a timely leak from the conservative Canadian government that has already provoked questions in their Parliament; equally-timely help from Limbaugh along with an appearance on right-wing talk radio by Bill Clinton, a proposed lynching by O’Reilly, and a Drudge misinformation campaign that manages to be simultaneously racist, anti-Somali, anti-African, anti-Muslim, anti-Democratic party, and anti-Obama; an attack on Obama’s qualifications by McCain coincidentally enough on the same issue as the Clinton campaign’s Rovian “fear over hope” 3 a.m./red phone campaign video (certain to be recycled by Republicans in November no matter who is nominated); some brilliant political theater “live from New York”; and a press and media justifiably ashamed of its sexism and misogyny playing lapdog for a few days while engaging in narcissistic self-analysis about how horrible they are for not doing a better job of covering newsworthy events …

With aid of what they describe as “the kitchen sink,” the Clinton campaign came out tactically slightly ahead: somewhere between four and ten delegates out of the 370 in play. Kudos to them. Even so, yesterday’s results are almost exactly what the Obama campaign had projected a month ago, a likely +3 or +4 over projections in Texas balanced by a likely -2 or -3 in Ohio. The Obama campaign continues to have a huge cushion: 120 pledged delegates over their early-February projections. With less time for a Clinton turnaround, Obama’s strategic advantage has grown … guess they were prepared for the kitchen sink, or something like it.

The common wisdom on the day after the March 4 voting seems to be along the lines of “the kitchen sink worked!”, portraying the Clinton campaign’s comeback in having (somewhat) blunting the Obama campaign’s momentum — Chris Bowers goes so far as to say “Obama has to win Pennsylvania!“. Looking through a strategy lens, that’s not how I see it at all.

What I see is the Clinton campaign having thrown everything they had into a last-ditch effort, barely managing to get a small tactical victory out of it while their overall situation worsens dramatically. In the process, they repeated their disastrous strategic mistakes from South Carolina of going negative and aligning with racists:

  • despite having vowed not to split a party they have been leaders of, and the magic moment in the presidential debate where she described herself as “proud” to be in a presidential race with Barack Obama, they still appear to have collaborated with the Bush-backed Republican candidate in an attack on Obama’s fitness to be commander in chief.
  • The Clinton campaign’s potential role in the Obama-in-Somali-garb photo will call more attention to earlier “Obama is a Muslim” email from Clinton staffers, the series of racially charged attacks documented on the Clinton attacks Obama wiki and elsewhere, and the Clinton campaign’s earlier “playing along” with Drudge. At the same time, the “denounce and reject” standard she proposed in the debate will get continued attention thanks to McCain and Lieberman’s welcoming of virulently anti-Catholic anti-LGBT anti-New Orleans anti-Palestinian (and anti-so-much-more) John Hagee’s support. How many volunteers, staffers, supporters will the Clinton campaign “denounce”? How many contributions will they reject?

As for the press and media, well, props to Saturday Night Live (Al Franken for Senate!); well done indeed, and this is going to keep the spotlight trained the coverage of all the candidates. Has the press really been harder on Hillary? Or, have they been ignoring what appear to be Clinton’s repeated exaggerations of her “experience” and (as Obama put on the table today) the more general issue of judgment and fitness for commander in chief? Will attention to the sexism in the mainstream media’s coverage continue and be followed by attention to the racism and anti-Muslim biases? Will Hillary’s attempt to distance herself from Bill’s NAFTA policy be followed by scrutiny on this and other issues (Iraq sanctions, welfare “reform”, warrantless searches, HIPPA, etc.) to see what she advocated at the time — and what, if anything, she did to persuade the administration of her views? We shall see; I think at least some of these cards the Clinton campaign will played for short-term tactical advantage that will come back to bit them.

Speaking of which: are they truly blind to the huge costs (to their claims of “electability” and to the Democratic party) of focusing attention on whether or not Bill Clinton is there in bed with her when the phone rings at 3 a.m.? He’s a huge drag on her popularity, and a reminder of the past in a time when she’s trying to embrace the rhetoric of change. And I’m as tired of hearing about Monica as everybody else, but it’s folly to ignore the persistent stories that Bill’s partying on the campaign trail this year: whether or not it’s true, the Coulters, Roves, Drudges, Limbaughs, and other “fair and balanced” right-wingers will make hay with this video (and at some level, who can blame them), and so will a million comedians of all political stripes trying to outdo SNL. Where’s the judgment in handing a loaded weapon to opponents who will enjoy profit from and enjoy using it against you, and are very good at what they do? For that matter, since these names are all familiar ones, where’s the learning from all this “experience”?

From a strategy perspective, the Clinton campaign in desperation threw everything they could into March 4. (You can only align with Drudge, Limbaugh, O’Reilly and McCain so many times before voters and superdelegates start to ask whether this is good for the party — and there aren’t a lot of other friendly foreign governments they can call on these days.) At the cost of substantially damaging their campaign as well as their individual reputations, they managed to claw their way to an inconsequential and Pyrrhic “victory”. Mathematically, they’re now very close to elimination. Not a good result for the Clintons at all.

And in terms of the narrative, go back to the spreadsheet. The projections going forward leave plenty of room for overperforming in some states (such as Mississippi, North Carolina, Oregon, Montana) — and the projections already factor in potential losses in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Puerto Rico, so (as we strategists like to say) “the downside is capped.” The likely do-over primary in Florida and caucuses in Michigan (not included in the spreadsheet) offer Clinton a chance to pick up a handful more delegates, but nowhere near enough to outweigh the 120-vote cushion so far. When the convention comes around, Obama is going to have a substantial lead with pledged delegates; superdelegates who decide to reflect the will of the voters will follow that. Superdelegates who instead base their vote on electability (see above), party unity, or future party growth (do they really want to alienate the 30-and-under generation to pick the candidate who’s favored by the same 65-and-up crowd as McCain?) will come on board as well.

So, while it’s not over and anything can happen, once all the hard work is done and the votes are counted, I predict that March 4 will be seen as the day that the voters in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Vermont — and the grassroots volunteers for Obama all around the country and the world — virtually assured Barack Obama’s nomination as Democratic party’s candidate for President of the United States of America.


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Choosing hope over fear: Obama ’08

A lot of people have written great posts on why they support Barack Obama and his campaign; so I’ll keep it quick, and link out to others who have taken the time to give more details and say things better.

A lot of people say “they’re no different on the issues”. I disagree. There are major differences on four issues I care about a lot: civil liberties, the war, immigration, and LGBT rights.

  • civil liberties: Obama’s good — not perfect, but better than any president we’ve ever had. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, supports garnishing wages and presumably other enforcement for her mandatory health insurance plan, wants to censor videogames, and did not object when her husband signed the CDA and COPA, expanded wiretapping, and approved warrantless searches. He supports net neutrality; she opposes it.
  • the war. He advocates a firm timeframe for withdrawal, and his opposition from day 1 will help restore American credibility; he also, in my opinon, has a more accurate analysis of the situation. I also think he’ll make future wars less likely (for example his willingness, unlike Hillary Clinton, to engage personally with “hostile” leaders); Chris Bowers discussed this well. She still won’t admit that she was wrong when she voted for the war; for that matter, neither she nor her husband has ever disavowed the sanctions policy that led to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths and did nothing to prevent the war.
  • LGBT rights: while far from perfect (both candidates oppose gay marriage and support the military’s exemption from campus anti-discrimination policies), Barack Obama is distinctly better than Hillary Clinton. He supports a full repeal of the federal “Defense of Marriage Act”; and he supports an inclusive Employee Non-Discrimination Act. More here.
  • immigration: He’s marched on May 1; she opposes drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants. And this is as good a place as any to point out that she never spoke against her husband’s “welfare reform” policy.

There are some other important differences as well, but come on … isn’t this enough?

Of course it’s not just the issues. The Clinton campaign’s repeated racist speech is appalling, as is the voter-suppression lawsuit in Nevada and her decision to break the agreement with her opponents and campaign in Florida are classic Rovian — and Clintonian — maneuvers; I’m tired of politics like that. Obama’s ability to galvanize involvement from younger and first-time voters has a chance to rewrite the political map, starting with the 2008 election and building on it. His strategic and out-of-the-box thinking during the campaign (the use of social networks; his head speechwriter is a 24-year-old; actively going on Spanish-language radio after the Kennedy endorsement; going on The Billerico Project) has really impressed me. I think his ability to work across partisan divides, trans-partisan as well bi-partisanship, will help him be very effective at making progress on his platform.

Oh, and I like and respect his wife a lot better than I like her husband.

Ever since my first election, I’ve looked forward to being able to vote for a candidate who’s not a straight white male who’s got a real chance at becoming the President of the United States of America. And in November, I’ll have a chance to. How cool is that? But that’s not enough.

If Obama’s the Democratic nominee, I’ll also have a chance to vote for somebody who I think can really change the world.

A change is coming. I choose hope.


PS: A few of the many other posts I read that had an influence on me: Matt McGinty’s letter to friends and family in the Facebook Obama discussion group, danah boyd, on the new/old media distinction; Jack Turner’s The Clintons , Black Folk, and America: A reckoning on Jack and Jill Politics; Michael Chabon’s The Phobocracy; Meteor Blades and DHinMi on Kos; the New York Times civil rights editorial; the many great analyses in the Women of Color and anti-racist blogospheres of Gloria Steinem’s “oppression olympics” piece in the New York Times; and endorsements from Oprah, Caroline Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, and Maria Shriver.


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The Super Tuesday thread!

To avoid overflowing the blog, I’ll use this thread to collect various snippets about Super Tuesday. Stories and threads elsewhere:

Update, 6:40 p.m.: I’m having intermittent problems getting to the Facebook threads, so they may be having a hard time keeping up with the load.


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“Yes We Can” do grassroots campaigning for Obama on Facebook

The Yes We Can/Sí Se Puede video’s already got at least a million hits on YouTube — 566,000 for the one I linked to here, a couple more instances with 285,000 and 140,000, and then a long tail curve …

How many people will watch it if we get it all over Facebook? I dunno, but it seems worth trying to find out. So after some consultation with a friend, late last night I put a message on the Obama discussion board with these suggestions:

Here’s how you can help:

1) post it (using the “posted items” link in your applications list on the left hand side). This way, it’ll be on your profile and in your feed.

2) tell your friends about it, and ask them to do the same

3) if you’re in any Obama groups on Facebook, please post these instructions in their discussion boards and wall.

4) if you’ve got a blog, blog about it


I also send a handful of PMs, including one to a 20-person “friend list”, and put it in the One Million Strong for Obama group. [In the process, I ran into a couple of people with complementary ideas — I’ll add those to the comments here.]

Within fifteen minutes, two people replied in the thread saying “done”. By the time I woke up this morning, there were ten replies in the two threads … as they say in election season, “early returns are promising”.

So please: take a moment to get involved and help!

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Democratic candidates’ positions on trans- and LBGTIQ issues

All the Democratic candidates have shown a willingness to discuss LBGTIQ issues, and there are some very clear litmus tests. The Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy mandating discrimination against gays in the military and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) restricting marriage to heterosexual couples are great lenses for discovering the candidates’ views on LGB issues, and last fall’s craven decision by Democratic leadership (endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign) to advance a non-inclusive version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act [ENDA] has added an equally good one on the trans front. So it’s unusually clear where they stand — and there are some significant differences.

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