As the Washington clocks strike twelve on 20th January 2009, listen carefully and you might just hear a swooshing sigh of relief travel around the world.
But a critique of what should have been done differently since 2001 is not enough.
This blog is about the new ideas that can change our world and how a 'new multilateralism' can tackle the global challenges of our age.
Change the World, Reports from the Fabian new year conference

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Obama as McGovern?

You are a Democrat on the brink of your party's Presidential nomination, as long as you can calm down any late fears about electability. Which previous Democratic Presidential nominees would you be keenest to avoid being compared to?

I would suggest, in reverse order ...

5. Adlai Stevenson
4. John Kerry
3. Walter Mondale
2. Michael Dukakis
1. George McGovern

This is a pretty competitive race. I've let Adlai Stevenson pip Al Gore for the final spot. Stevenson lost twice. And, whatever the weaknesses of his campaign, Gore won. Sort of. Hubert Humphrey has faded from the frame.

EJ Dionne was worrying about whether Obama resembles Adlai Stevenson on Tuesday. Now John Judis asks if he has something of the McGovern factor.

if you look at Obama's vote in Pennsylvania, you begin to see the outlines of the old George McGovern coalition that haunted the Democrats during the '70s and '80s, led by college students and minorities.

Is Obama turning from a candidate with the ability to transcend the usual electoral blocs into a classic latte liberal insurgency Democrat?

Jonathan Chait has fired off a response to Judis, the most important point of which is that "Extrapolating from primary dynamics to general election dynamics is very dicey business".

However, it was not a good idea for Obama's campaign strategist David Axelrod to make a similar point in a way which could sound as though the campaign is conceding the white working-class vote to John McCain.

The white working class has gone to the Republican nominee for many elections, going back even to the Clinton years. This is not new that Democratic candidates don’t rely solely on these votes

Jay Cost's analysis suggests that Hillary Clinton's Pennsylvanian numbers don't change the voting dynamics enough from previous primaries. Still, the victory gives Clinton the opportunity of gaining momentum. The TV news narrative is about who won and who lost, rather than the expectations benchmarks of inside the beltway. That could make some difference in the next primaries. But she is some way short of giving the super-delegates reasonable cause to change the result.

Clinton's problem is that probably means turning up the volume again. But the charge that she went too negative in Pennsylvania was not confined to the media, and seems to have cost her votes.

The Clinton-supporting New York Times editorial page criticism of her 'low road to victory captures the fears of many Democrats that the last few weeks have made both candidates less attractive:

Voters are getting tired of it; it is demeaning the political process; and it does not work. It is past time for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to acknowledge that the negativity, for which she is mostly responsible, does nothing but harm to her, her opponent, her party and the 2008 election.

There was a fascinating set of interviews with the 'white house losers' - including Dukakis, Mondale and McGovern - in the Guardian's Weekend magazine at the end of last month. The next month may have a crucial impact on whether Obama can avoid joining their 'misery circle'.

Organising the movement

One of the themes of the Democrat primary has been 'the movement against the machine'. A Time Magazine piece back in the Ohio primary did a good job at capturing the two campaigns different philosophies about the politics of organisation.

The Obama method involves giving away the tools for supporters to campaign for him. For the conventional campaign, this means a significant loss of control. But the gain to Obama has been clear - in his fundraising advantage, his ability to engage and mobilise new voters, and his striking victories in each of the caucus states.

But it would be a mistake to think that the politics of inspiration and engagement does not need organising too, as Noam Scheiber's fascinating profile profile of Obama's campaign manager David Plouffe shows.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The marathon continues

It's something of a relief that the voters are finally getting another say in the Pennsylvania primary. The six weeks since the last primary have not been good for the Democrats, as the race has got more negative, and more trivial (not helped by the much critcised ABC candidates' debate)

Obama has firmed up as favourite for the nomination. But the long slog has exposed some weaknesses: his 'bitter' comments could prove a storm in a teacup or, in retrospect, seem like a clear clue about a Dukakis or Kerry style weakness. (EJ Dionne puts it well in a column asking whether Obama is JFK or Adlai Stevenson, or perhaps both. (It is an interesting contrast to today's politics of self-destruction to think that the Democrats ran the same candidate twice against Eisenhower).

Hillary Clinton is expected to win tonight. But the expectations game has her needing something like a 10 point victory. A race where she is favourite is more dangerous for her, since her campaign depends on achieving an 'away win' - overturning the odds in a state which Obama would have won - both to try to catch up on the popular vote, or put the issue in doubt for the super-delegates.

Obama seems to have weathered the storms without looking like imploding.

The excellent Jay Cost looks at the conventional wisdom and challenges some of it, defending Hillary Clinton's decision to stay in until the buzzer sounds.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Globe and Mail: The waiting game

As Gordon Brown prepares to head to the United States, Doug Saunders in Canada's leading quality newspaper, The Globe and Mail, says a good deal of international diplomacy is on hold in an analysis piece published on Saturday.

Around the world, Jan. 21, 2009, has become the key date in politics. Diplomats and senior officials in a half-dozen countries have told me frankly that little of any significance is going to happen until that fateful Wednesday when either Hillary Clinton, John McCain or Barack Obama is inaugurated into office.

I am among the various think-tankers quoted in the piece - and there's even a plug for this modest blog.

"I think everyone's agreed that there is not going to be a literal Love, Actually moment — though there are certainly lots of people at Number 10 who would like to see that — but there is a real sense in this government that many important items on the international agenda are just going to have to wait until after Jan. 21," says Sunder Katwala, head of the Fabian Society, a venerable think tank with very close ties to the Brown administration (and keeper of a blog titled "Life after Bush").

As the Washington clocks strike twelve on 20th January 2009, listen carefully and you might just hear a swooshing sigh of relief travel around the world. The Bush Presidency will not leave the legacy its architects intended. But a critique of what should have been done differently since 2001 is not enough. This blog is about the new ideas which can create a 'new multilateralism' to tackle the global challenges we face.