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

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Washington's blame game

The House of Representatives vote to reject the $700 billion bailout, by 228 votes to 205, has sent shockwaves through the financial markets, hitting London this morning following the dramatic fall in the US in response yesterday.

Efforts are being made to rescue the rescue, but almost as much energy seems to be going into the blame game. House Republicans split two to one (65 to 133) against the bill, though 95 Democrats also opposed it, with 140 (60%) of Democrats in favour. That was about ideological aversion to government intervention - but it was also about electoral politics. Nate Silver's analysis shows that representatives in competitive races voted heavily against.

Still, Republicans want to blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for making a partisan speech, though it is hard to credit the idea that this could have swung a dozen Republican votes.

Few have taken John McCain's dramatically erratic interventions in the bailout negotiations seriously - not least because he didn't manage to find time to read the original three page Bill, still less to express a clear view on it. But McCain had already claimed the credit for bringing the House Republicans on board, somewhat prematurely.

And John McCain's latest response - its time to leave the politics out of it, as long as everybody realises that this is the fault of Barack Obama and the Democrats!

Our leaders are expected to leave partisanship at the door and come to the table to solve our problems. Senator Obama and his allies in Congress infused unnecessary partisanship into the process. Now is not the time to fix the blame. It’s time to fix the problem.I would hope that all our leaders, all of them, can put aside short-term political goals and do what’s in the best interest of the American people.

Shameless. But at least it isn't working. The economic crisis has significantly damaged McCain's prospects of winning the White House.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Debate verdicts round-up: Few minds changed

If there was no clear winner, most people seem to have ended the night thinking pretty much what they did when they began. A debate transcript is available from RealClearPolitics.

One of the most interesting pieces of analysis is from The Plank at The New Republic, arguing that the pundits don't understand why voters put Obama ahead.

The CNN poll [detail] suggests that Obama is opening up a gap on connectedness, while closing a gap on readiness ... Specifically, by a 62-32 margin, voters thought that Obama was “more in touch with the needs and problems of people like you”. This is a gap that has no doubt grown because of the financial crisis of recent days. But it also grew because Obama was actually speaking to middle class voters.

But here are the best of the pundits' verdicts anyway ...

Ezra Klein says that McCain's passion came from contempt for his opponent and a failing ideology.

McCain has every right to be angry: He would have been an excellent, maybe unbeatable, candidate in 2000 or 2004. Instead, he's facing down the excesses of his own ideology in 2008. And that's what McCain doesn't understand. He's not behind because he doesn't deserve this, or because he's not served his country honorably. He's behind because events have disproven his agenda. Because the success of the surge does not outweigh the blunder of Iraq. Because the appeal of tax cuts does not outweigh the costs of deregulation and wage stagnation. And even the best debate performance can't obscure that.

Joe Klein says McCain was tactical where Obama was strategic.

Obama emerged as a candidate who was at least as knowledgeable, judicious and unflappable as McCain on foreign policy ... and more knowledgeable, and better suited to deal with the economic crisis and domestic problems the country faces ... Neither man closed the sale, and I don't think many votes, or opinions, were changed.

Matthew Yglesias says McCain failed to gain the ground he needs.

All things considered, it’s about a draw. McCain got a couple of good punches in and so did Obama. Insofar as the idea is supposed to be that McCain has a domineering advantage on national security he certainly didn’t prove that point. And for the candidate who’s losing, a tie amounts to a loss.

Jim Geraghty of National Review thinks it was a surprisingly strong night for John McCain, after a bad week, perhaps proving his own point.

My guess is, everybody thinks their guy won tonight. From where I sit, McCain had a surprisingly strong night — it'll change the storyline from "uh, what was he thinking?" ... it's really hard to say McCain had a bad night, and I think Obama seemed a little shaky at times tonight - his performance didn't boldly and clearly say, "I know I'm new on the scene, but you can trust me; I am ready to succeed in the hardest job in the world."

Andrew Sullivan - an Obamacon - believes the Democrat was more focused.

It strikes me as a mistake for McCain to end the debate on his commitment to staying in Iraq indefinitely. Obama's emphasis on the broader global conflict and our broader responsibilities will reach more people. His vision seems broader, wiser, and more focused on ordinary people. A masterful performance tonight, I think. Obama's best ever debate performance. McCain was fine, but it's wrong for him to attack his opponent at the end. And then he gave a slightly rambling defense of his experience. I give Obama an A - and I give McCain a B.

Chris Cillzilla of the Washington Post thought McCain gave his most relaxed debate performance to date and is not convinced that Obama pinned the Bush record on McCain.

Obama had a simple goal in this debate: tie McCain to the policies of George W. Bush. Right from the start, Obama sought to link the economic policies responsible for the financial crisis to Bush and McCain; he noted at another time that although McCain as casting himself as a maverick, he had voted with the current president 90 percent of the time ... It's a smart strategy on paper. But, will the average voter become convinced that McCain and Bush are one in the same? Remember that the lasting image most voters have of McCain is as the guy who ran against Bush in 2000.

Michael Tomasky of The Guardian wants more time to decide before accepting the instant reaction.

Let's watch what happens over the next two or three days. The McCain campaign, as I've written a hundred times, is geared toward winning news cycles. They will see the above numbers and go into overdrive to counter-spin. I don't think Obama's win, if that's what it was, was so decisive that the McCain team can't reverse spin it. It's McCain who's behind, and it's McCain who needs to change minds here.

First Presidential debate: McCain snark hands Obama slight edge

There was no great dramatic moment, certainly no knockout blow, in a close fought and reasonably substantive opening Presidential candidate's debate.

John McCain began shakily on the economic crisis, where Obama was better. However, the Democrat made a tactical error in allowing the discussion to remain so focused on a traditional 'cut government spending' debate about earmarks for so long. McCain's detailed view of what should happen on the financial bailout remains rather opaque, yet was largely untested.

On foreign policy, I felt that Obama had the better of the exchanges on Afghanistan, and probably Iraq too. McCain's strongest debating passage was on Georgia and Russia, where he projected his experience most effectively. However, his claim that he saw only the letters 'KGB' behind Vladimir Putin's eyes sat slightly oddly with, in more or less the next sentence, his assertion that he had no interest whatsoever in any new cold war. On negotiations with Iran, what Henry Kissinger has said is somewhere in between what both candidates claimed: he has been for direct talks, without preconditions, but preferably at Secretary of State level.

The most important question of the night was whether uncommitted voters who have not followed the race closely would think Obama as qualified to be President. McCain's strategy was to consistently say "what Senator Obama doesn't understand". This came across as snarky. When he finally decided to say outright in his closing remarks that Barack Obama was not qualified to be President, he muffed the line, with Obama barely even needing to retort.

By contrast, Obama was consistently gracious. The McCain camp have issued an instant campaign video drawing on the times he acknowledged points of common ground. But this was a foreign policy debate and that is a major part of Obama's claim to bipartisanship, which is supposed to be part of McCain's "reform" credential too.

So Obama passed the 'ready to lead' test comfortably, being Presidential, knowledgeable, fairly robust in his views and carrying off his somewhat Kennedyesque persona in a substantive way. Voters worried about the experience gap will probably have felt that Obama held his own on his opponent's specialist subject. And Obama was considerably better at connecting foreign policy issues back to their domestic impact, which is an important part of the framing of the final month.

The economy is back at centre stage, McCain has had an erratic week, and the Palin pick looks somewhat less smart as time goes on.

So a drawn debate would have been to Obama's advantage. And he may just have done a little better than that. The "snark" factor may well explain why each of the instant polls of debate viewers had Barack Obama ahead on the night, though not dramatically so.

If John McCain was seeking to get a major boost from the debates, this may have been his best opportunity. And if his response as the underdog is to become more aggressive in the next two encounters, it may well do him more harm than good.

Overall, last night's debate didn't change the Presidential race very much.

So this remains the Democrats race to lose on November 4th.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Great debate moments

It's game on. John McCain is going to turn up for the first Presidential debate.

Time has put together a good package of 10 of the most memorable debate moments.

The Obama campaign has put out an expectations memo which doesn't just talk up McCain's experience, but circulates reviews of their own useless candidate - "“Lifeless, Aloof, And Windy.

This is almost beyond satire - but Amy Sullivan of Time recommends a classic 2004 Daily Show clip which tries to keep up with reality.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Next Left

The Fabians have a new blog called Next Left, to which I will be contributing regularly.

Its at

Polarising America

Over at Liberal Conspiracy, Sunny Hundal thinks Obama needs to fight the culture wars, in response to the Palin nomination.

I disagree.

The Democrats should avoid being baited from the election they want to run.

And, Obama can't be Obama if he reneges on the message of his 2004 Convention speech and his campaign.

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.