Posts Tagged ‘Election 2008’

Oklahoma Is Doing Pretty OK, Actually

Monday, January 19th, 2009

As a wonderfully menacing Christmas card sent out by the Oklahoma GOP last month reminded us, Oklahoma was the only state in the Union to go completely and utterly red: Not one county–and only one of the state’s 2249 precincts–voted for the Obama/Biden ticket in November. (“It was god, guns, and gays with a little bit of race thrown in there,” a local Democrat quipped bitterly.) And yet, two months later, a crowd of 800 Oklahomans merrily rang in the Obama presidency on Sunday night at the Museum of the American Indian. A sense of marvelous good luck (for some) and of smirking at the gods (for others) permeated a crowd that had as many Native Americans as ten-gallon hats and bright blonde coiffures. Tribal chiefs and Air Force ROTC high schoolers mingled with state representatives, local business people, and young couples around piles of jalapeño corn bread and chicken pot pie. One Oklahoma architect, bopping his head towards the merry crowd, snipped, “These are all the people that voted for Obama in Oklahoma. That’s it. They’re all here.”

One of those voters was a reluctant one: Oklahoma’s lone Democratic congressman Dan Boren, a vocal board member of the NRA and scourge of environmentalists. In July, he made news for refusing to endorse Obama because of his “liberal Illinois voting record,” before finally coming around. “I had reservations about him,” he told me as a soft jazz band inexplicably sent strains of “Georgia on My Mind” up to the rotunda’s ceiling. “But the President-elect’s early moves have signaled that he isn’t going to govern from the left, that he won’t govern as an ideologue, that he’s going to give tax cuts to small businesses, and that he won’t try to stifle growth. So we’re very hopeful.”

The state’s other professional Democrats were, for the most part, Obama-backers from Edwards’s departure and got behind him to the best of their hobbled abilities. Dr. Ivan Holmes, the state’s Democratic Party Chair, recalled how Obama called him to say that he would not be coming to the state and that Holmes was not to spend a dime on his campaign after initial polling suggested that Obama could only scrape together 35 percent of the vote. (He ended up with 34.) But the state party did as much as it could: State Representative Anastasia Pittman beamed with pride as she recalled how many voters her team had registered: 2,000. Holmes, in spite of the party nominee’s diktat, disbursed $50,000 to buy 50,000 lawn signs.

This was like shaking a fist at a rain cloud, however, and the November returns were devastating. “I completely understand why Obama didn’t spend any resources here,” Democratic governor Brad Henry told me. “It’s a waste of time.” But when their candidate pulled through because of the other 28 states in the win column, Oklahoma Democrats’ relief was tinged with more than a little embarrassment. Many whispered of an undercurrent of racism in the rural areas. Linda Edmondson, the wife of the state attorney general who plans to run for governor in two years, said some of her friends held firm to the belief that Utah was actually the reddest state. “It’s pretty depressing,” she said. Holmes, the otherwise feet-on-the-ground state party chair, repeated a similarly soothing, if inaccurate, factoid: “I think there were three states that were actually redder, percentage-wise,” he insisted over a plate of chocolate-covered strawberries. “I can’t recall which ones, but I’m pretty sure there were three that were worse.”

But the mood was so infectiously happy–the rotunda was still packed when the security guards threatened to lock the doors on a crowd that wouldn’t go home until it had shouted through the entirety of “Oklahoma,” a capella–that even the few Republicans in the crowd seemed to be warming to the changing of the guard. Everyone was simply trying to make the best of a situation that hadn’t gone anyone’s way: Oklahoma Democrats hadn’t delivered the state for their candidate, and the others hadn’t gotten their candidate at all. And though the most stalwart Republican members of Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation were in absentia (most had timed their returns to D.C. for the last minute before the inauguration; others, like Senator James Inhofe, promised to come, but, held up by mysterious delays, never showed), the ones that were there wouldn’t badmouth the incoming president. “It was a fair election and nobody’s sulking,” Representative Tom Cole told me later, echoing the mood of his constituents back home. “It’s clearly an exceptional moment for the Democrats, and it’s preeminently their celebration. We’re just pleased to be invited.”

WTF Else R We Gna Do?

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Earlier this week, David Frum and his wife, Danielle Crittenden, invited some of their (conservative) friends to fete the inauguration of a man they didn’t vote for. “We’re going to watch and have a few drinks–well, maybe more than a few–and discuss how we’re going to deal with this,” Frum, a fellow at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, told me. He sounded chipper, almost wondrous at how the conservatives had gotten to this point. At the bottom of the invitation, he and Danielle wrote “celebrate/commiserate cuz wtf else r we gna do?” “That’s short for ‘What else are you going to do?’” says Frum, laughing.

“Seriously, though,” he continues, “never, ever, ever go to an inaugural ball. They’re terrible. First you get in a taxi and instantly hit terrible traffic. Then the taxi drops you off at some cavernous space, like the Air and Space Museum. Then you get in a long line to drop off your coat. Then, once you’ve dropped off your coat, you get into another long line to get a drink and the whole time you’re surrounded by people you don’t know, and people who don’t know each other.”

Frum’s event was supposed to be an antidote to such anonymous elbow-rubbing, a low-key gathering at his Glover Park home–but it seemed to tap into a hidden demand and was soon overrun. “We just hung out the shingle a couple days ago and over 100 people responded,” he said. “Most conservatives live in Virginia and feel cut off by the bridge closings.” Though Frum is keeping the guest list close to his chest, the party, co-sponsored by Laura Ingraham and Marty and Byron York, will be attended by Frum’s AEI colleagues, Giuliani campaign veterans, mysterious-sounding Canadian and Norwegian parliamentarians, as well as many other alienated DC right-wingers looking for a stiff drink before heading out into the Democratic blizzard.

Incidentally, the event is doing double duty as a launch party for NewMajority.com, which will go live at 12:01am on Inauguration Day. The site, Frum says, will serve as a platform for reform and renewal of the GOP and will feature what he called “a cross-section of conservatives.”

An axis of opposition, perhaps?

“No,” Frum says, souring. “That gag has had its run. This is just a group that’s not so hopeful about the change.”

On The Trail And Off Their Rockers

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

CNN political correspondent Candy Crowley has taken to running through a checklist before bed. Every night she travels with the Obama campaign, she orders a wake-up call, sets one regular alarm and one back-up on her cell phone, which she places strategically out of slapping distance across the room. Then she writes down her vitals: What city is she in? What time zone? What time does she have to be out of the hotel room the next morning? What day is it? With that, she can drift off before the next day’s campaign coverage. Most of the time, though, Crowley is so scared to oversleep that she’s awake and waiting, long before the alarm–any one of them–ever rings.

“After the previous campaign, it took me a good month to stop waking up in the middle of the night in a panic that I’ve missed something,” Crowley says.

On most days, adrenaline is enough to get her through the “The Situation Room” and “Anderson Cooper 360,” but it’s all she can do not to zonk out in the car between events. At campaign rallies, Crowley, a self-described loner, is mobbed by “CNN junkies,” all of them clamoring for a picture or an autograph. (“That’s why I love my iPod,” she says.) Crowley was with Barack Obama when he declared his candidacy in February 2007, and has been going nearly non-stop ever since. She has heard all the speeches, covered all the campaign ads. She can’t remember her last furlough and her “strategic nice reserve” ran out two months ago. Now in the final lap, Crowley just wants to go home.

“After a while, you just miss your house, you know?” she said from Chicago on Monday. “I miss my back yard. I miss going to the grocery store.”

She’s not the only one pining for a more mundane life. “I haven’t seen a movie in about a year,” said New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny, also in Chicago with the Obama campaign. “I’m looking forward to getting reacquainted with civilians.”

Matt Bai, his colleague at the Times and himself a seasoned political reporter (who, with two young children at home, has mostly recused himself from intensive travel this year), speaks as if he’s watched his countrymen go off to battle. “There are guys who went out to the primaries in November, December, and thought they’d be done in February or March, and they just never came home,” he says with grave admiration. “They never came home.”

After the longest, most sustained campaign on record, political reporters are running on little more than the scant sustenance of yet another slice of pizza. Some are running out of energy; others are running out of ideas. “The one conversation I keep having with reporters is, ‘What the hell do we write about? What are the interesting stories left to cover in this election?'” says The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza (who used to be a senior editor for TNR). “There are a lot of people scratching their heads trying to find a new angle at the end.”

Others, like soldiers who have served one tour too many, are slowly losing touch with the world outside the candidate’s orbit. Bai, who is married to a Fox producer, has seen the strains of life on the road. “You lose contact with the outside world,” says Bai. “You call your spouse at home and talk about the trail and the person at home just doesn’t get it or care, because it’s the same story over and over again. It’s murder on relationships.” Every four years, Bai says, there’s at least one divorce or break-up. “It’s just not a normal human experience.”

And even if your relationship survives, your personality might not. Last week, Lizza, who was banned from the Obama plane in July, found his way back on and thought he had stumbled on a lost colony. “It felt like the Lord of the Flies in there,” he says. “The people who have been there for a long time have all of their little decorations and knickknacks all over the back of the plane. Everyone’s a little grumpy and territorial, and there’s this sense of people thrown together who have been with each other way too long. I got the sense that I was dropping in on a hostage-captor situation.”

“There is definitely a captives’ mentality on the plane,” Zeleny agrees. “These people eat together, drink together, work together, sleep together–in the same place, that is–every day for 18 months. Now that the campaign is winding down, they’re all taking pictures of one another, and you get the sense of summer camp coming to an end.”

Veterans point out that despite the length of this race, the reporters’ relationships to the candidates and to each other aren’t nearly as toxic as they had been in previous years. There’s been little of the high school cliquishness that plagued the Kerry press corps, and reporters don’t seem to loathe McCain or Obama the way they loathed Gore–who refused to hold a press conference for upwards of 60 days–in 2000.

Call it summer camp or Stockholm Syndrome, but some don’t want the madness to end.

“It’s so built into my system, that it’s going to be hard to stop,” says Politico’s Ben Smith. Smith, who started blogging about New York politics in 2005, is now seriously addicted to the pace and metabolism–a word many invoked to describe the election’s rhythms–of the blogger’s life. He finds himself especially energized by the intensity of his readers who, by 4 a.m. have posted dozens of comments to a 3 a.m. post and who are now some of Smith’s best sources, sending him scoops and stories and snapshots of a far-roaming campaign. His family, however, is eagerly looking forward to November 5th. Smith’s wife repeatedly threatens to flush his Blackberry down the toilet; his kids, jealous of his “running conversation” with his readers, regularly squirrel away the device in the off chance they find it unattended. But Smith can’t bring himself to stop. Recently, he returned at 2 a.m. from a fishing trip and “couldn’t not plug in after being off the grid for an entire day.” He stayed up blogging and answering emails until 6 a.m.

“It’s really pathological,” he conceded.

Like the lost souls in All Quiet on the Western Front who, home on leave, jump at the sound of a backfiring exhaust, campaign reporters eye the post-election lull with trepidation. “There is an inevitable come-down just in terms of the energy of the thing,” says Adam Nagourney, of The New York Times. “I mean, you’re going along at 100 mph and then all of a sudden it just stops. The transition to the White House is a whole different story than covering a campaign. It’s slower, more institutionalized. It’s going to be a big adjustment.”

Hendrik Hertzberg, who covered the Dukakis vs. Bush campaign for TNR and has spent 2008 anxiously cheering for Obama in The New Yorker, isn’t too excited about the transition either. He has, after all, only started enjoying the game a couple of weeks ago, when Obama pulled ahead decisively in the polls. “I don’t want it to end, but I always want it to be about to end,” he says. “If the election were always a week away and I was feeling fairly good about it, that would be nice–sort of like Groundhog Day. Because after the election, things will start to get really serious. Then it won’t be the game anymore. Governance is serious business.”

Younger journalists who came of age in this election are anxious for more personal reasons. Andrew Romano came to Newsweek to do long feature pieces but was conscripted as a blogger. “I’m not one of these crazy political junkies,” he told me after another long blogging shift, in which he struggled not to say, “Obama is winning today, too.” “It’s not my life. It’s just a story I was interested in. For a long time I was feeling like I’m looking forward to this being over and going back to writing long-form journalism as opposed to writing multiple stories every day.” But then a funny thing happened. His blog, long buried on Newsweek’s website, started drawing nearly four million hits a month, making Romano the site’s most-read author. “It’s kind of like, this is who I am now, so the idea of the campaign being over and not doing a politics blog is a little bit like, who am I after this election?”

Candy Crowley, on the other hand, can’t think of a single thing she’ll miss about the campaign. She’s long ago sent in her Maryland absentee ballot, and November beckons with lush vistas of sleep and TiVO.

“Look, I’m a political reporter. I love politics,” she said. “But after the election, there’s going to be a lull where everyone’s talking about governance and who’s going to be the Secretary of State, and can the President do all the things he promised to do now that he doesn’t have any money. It’s all governance. But honestly, how long do you think it’ll be before politics kick in in Washington? A day and a half?”

My Friend(s)

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

My friends, in discussing the verbal tics of certain aspiring presidents, I would be remiss to pass over the punishing repetitions of that other aspirant to the throne, our friend Arizona Senator John McCain. Recently, the Times reported that McCain’s campaign minions have been struggling to massage his style and make it fit into the tight corset of general election speaking engagements. Before he learns to read the teleprompter, however, something’s got to give, and that something is McCain’s favorite phrase: “my friends.”

Though McCain’s doesn’t friend his listeners with quite the same range that Senator Obama asks them to look, he cakes it on just as thick. To wit: in a twenty-two minute victory lap after the Michigan and Arizona primaries (mostly applause and hooting), McCain globbed on the icing seven times. (“Well, my friends—well, my friends, here’s a little straight talk for you: What a difference a couple of days makes.”)

There are, to be sure, distinctions. There are the friends who endorse him, as when, early on, former presidential hopeful Kansas Senator Sam Brownback announced he was backing “my friend and true American hero, John McCain,” a platitude that solicited a reciprocal “my friend” from said American hero. This, however, seems to be a deviation from a pattern The Washington Post delineated in recalling McCain’s fist-pumping attack on Iowa Senator Charles Grassley in a 1992 meeting over the fate of American soldiers still MIA in Vietnam: “While the plural ‘my friends’ was usually a warm salutation from McCain, ‘my friend’ was often a prelude to his most caustic attacks.” (McCain apparently addressed Grassley as “my friend” before launching into such a friendly disquisition that Grassley stood up and demanded an apology.)

McCain has many friends and frenemies in Congress, yes, but his best and oldest friends are his voters, especially his Hispanic not-yet-voters. In a recent ad, McCain beckoned his Latino holdouts with his now familiar siren song: “My friends, I want you, the next time you’re down in Washington, D.C., to go to the Vietnam War memorial and look at the names engraved in black granite. You’ll find a whole lot of Hispanic names.” The Senator is also especially kind to his more tightly-wound voters, who worry that, should he win the presidency, he’ll keep the United States military in Iraq for a century. “My friends, the war will be over soon, for all intents and purposes, although the insurgency will go on for years and years and years,” he crooned. “But it will be handled by the Iraqis, not by us.” There. Feels better already, doesn’t it, friends?

And then there are the friends who secretly don’t want to be friends. Take Todd Haupt, a Minnesota Republican who just lost his real-estate business and makes a living selling health drinks. “I hate when he says, ‘My friends,’” Haupt told a reporter. “McCain is not my friend.”

Right. Then there are the friends who never were friends, like those who presumed McCain’s guilt in the Keating Five Scandal almost twenty years ago. “If you don’t believe that a 354-page document, my friend, is sufficient after a nine-month investigation… then you are different than most Americans.”

Those so-called friends, however, should never be confused with the friends who know McCain had a point when he called the Supreme Court’s recent habeas corpus ruling “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.” “We made it very clear that these are enemy combatants, these are people who are not citizens, they do not and never have been given the rights that citizens of this country have,” McCain explained. “And my friends, there are some bad people down there. There are some bad people.” And, to clarify, these “people” are not friends who, obviously, do have such rights.

This speechifier seems to be a recent acquisition, however. McCain rarely used the phrase before his failed 2000 presidential bid and, back when he was a first-term Congressman, he was quite spartan in his use, referring to “my friends who didn’t return” in a 1985 Vietnam War special with Walter Cronkite called “Honor, Duty, and a War Called Vietnam.”

But I won’t leave you on such a dour note, my friends. Instead, please enjoy the following montage, courtesy of the Internet, which John McCain has yet to befriend.

Why, Looky Here

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Tired of justifying his slalom toward the center, fed up with endless charges of betrayal, Barack Obama finally rolled his sleeves up and put his foot down. “Look, let me talk about the broader issue, this whole notion that I am shifting to the center,” he told a town-hall-ish gathering in Georgia last week. “The people who say this apparently haven’t been listening to me…the notion that this is me trying to look” — he paused, flummoxed, waving his hands about his head — “centrist is not true.”

Look, he seemed to be saying, it’s obvious. I’m the same old beacon of hope, and if you can’t see that, well, you’re just not listening.

That’s the dismissive, frustrated “look.” During Obama’s jet-packed ascent to the Democratic nomination, there have been many others—small cues that word-happy journalists would do well to pay attention to. There’s the concerned and caring “look,” as when he pledged to defend American workers from outsourcing and NAFTA in a February Democratic Debate (“Look, you know, when I go to these plants, I meet people who are proud of their jobs.”); the let’s-everybody-just-calm-down “look,” as when another round of bloodying primary nights came to an end (“Well, look, you know, we just completed a very hard fought contest… I think all our supporters need to just sit back and let things sink in.”); the combative “look,” as when he challenged HRC’s resume back in November (“Well, look, you know, if this a resume contest, then she certainly doesn’t have the strongest resume of the people on the stage.”); the exasperated “look,” on display when he was asked to apologize for a donor’s attack on Hillary (“Look, you know, I can’t be responsible for the statements of every single individual who contributes to our campaign.”); the devil-may-care “look” (“Look, I can’t spend my time worrying about that.”); the self-assured “look” (“Look. You know, what we’ve done has been successful throughout.”); the rhetorical straw-man “look” (“Whoever is the nominee, I think the Democratic Party will say, ‘Look, we’ve got a big fight ahead of us in November, and we are going to be unified to take the country in a different direction.’”); and, of course, there’s the conspiratorial, cool-cat “look” (“Oh, look, you know, when I was a kid, I inhaled. Frequently. That was the point.”).

This one magic word offers such range, such depth, it’s no wonder become Obama’s rhetorical flourish of choice. While promoting Dreams from My Father way back in 2004, the juniorest senator from Illinois was already wielding it with confidence: eight times in one sitting. But perhaps no flavor can top my personal favorite, the getting-real “look,” as when he explained to NPR’s Michele Norris how he can truly “get” the plight of the hurting average American: “Well, look, you know, just listen.”