Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Barack Obama Candidate

I'd like for a moment to ignore the political struggle that's presently obsessing Washington (that being the imminent and already historic presidency of Barack Obama), and do one final (no promises there) post-mortem on the political struggle that was obsessing Washington until about three weeks ago-- that being, of course, the Historic Campaign of Barack Obama (which, at this point, I don't think can even be referred to without the adjoined modifier). I'm moved to write on this outmoded subject by an essay I've just read written by the recently-dead David Foster Wallace, in which he covers part of the 2000 presidential campaign (which part he covered will be revealed, consequentially, in a moment) for Rolling Stone magazine. In particular, I find myself moved to advance a thesis that I think you might find attractively counter-intuitive (because who wants to hear an intuitive argument?).

Here you are: Candidate Obama's true forbear was none other than John S. McCain III, circa 2000.

Now, this should all be read with the caveat and understanding that, in 2000, like a still-curled fern, I didn't know what the hell was going on. I recall having enough vague awareness to ask Mr. Crandall, my 8th grade Social Studies teacher, when we might be rid of this bothersome electoral college and, after hearing his assertion that such a day would surely arrive when a candidate won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote, having the judgment to speculate that it would be entirely possible for George W. Bush to suffer such a fate that very November. (A flawed judgment, obviously, but in retrospect, I maintain that my prediction was a more likely outcome than the alternative we were forced to suffer)

As evidence, I'll just pull a few quotes from the opening of this Wallace essay, which he wrote around the time that John McCain became effectively obsolete in the 2000 election.
The next big vote is South Carolina, heart of the true knuckle-dragging Christian Right... and when McCain's chartered plane lands here at 0300h on the night of his New Hampshire win, a good 500 South Carolina college students are waiting to greet him, cheering and waving signs and dancing and holding a weird kind of GOP rave. Think about this -- 500 kids at 3:00 AM out of their minds with enthusiasm for . . . a politician.
To me, this sounds awfully familiar. There he was, a relatively obscure challenger, up against the party favorite, finding himself a sudden celebrity to a surprisingly diverse coalition-- one that skewed toward the young, the previously politically disengaged, and those yearning for someone who could bring Change to the White House.

He was also, evidently, the grandfather of Obama the Internet Candidate. Where Barack raised half a billion dollars and put together a social network two million strong over the internet in 2008, and Howard Dean rose from nowhere to prominence on the back of web-organized fundraisers and support from the nascent blogosphere in 2004, John McCain raised money on the internet in 2000. Not a lot of money, but enough that Wallace makes note of it as something unique about his candidacy. That may sound small, but it's not.

In 2000, I had only just gotten my first e-mail address, and the idea of ordering a book from still-unprofitable was pretty scary to most people ("But how do you know where your credit card number goes, once you click OK?!"). Wallace describes a fellow journalist this way:
A. Mitchell is trying to settle a credit card dispute on his distinctive cell phone, which is not a headset phone per se but consists of an earplug and a tiny hanging podular thing he holds to his mouth with two fingers to speak, a device that manages to make him look simultaneously deaf and schizophrenic.
Point being: 2000 was a very long time ago, and raising money on the internet back in that day was quite a feat. Without a doubt, he was the first candidate to use the web as a tool.

Ok, fine: Throughout the history of American presidential elections there have been reform candidates with broad popular appeal, some of whom even took advantage of new technology. And the Historic Campaign of Barack Obama was historic for other, bigger reasons than those it shares with McCain c2000, but I wanted to point out something that I hadn't read previously, that in the 2000 election, John McCain was the Barack Obama candidate.

Pardon my prolixity. Intrepid readers are rewarded with a picture:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

LdP in your NYT

When you open the Westchester section of Sunday's New York Times to page 10, you will find a profile of a local illustrator who is not only incredibly talented, successful, brilliant and beautiful, but also happens to be my mother (accusations of bias will be met with challenges to duel).

What's that? You don't receive the Westchester section in the local edition of your paper? Not to worry! You can read it online.

(Take careful note of the article's reference to her 23 year-old son. This marks the first time that our paper of record has acknowledged my existence. Ok!)

Monday, November 17, 2008

An Open Invitation to the President-Elect

I heard part of Barack's 60 minutes interview on the radio this morning, and this part bummed me out:
That's something that I don't think I'll ever get used to... Being able to just wander around the neighborhood. I can't go to my old barber shop now. I've gotta have my barber come to some undisclosed location to cut my hair. You know, the small routines of life that keep you connected I think - some of those are being lost. One of the challenges I think that we're going to be wrestling with is how to stay pretty normal.
I suppose this is one of the downsides of being such a young president-- they'll have to put up with high security and celebrity not just for the next eight years, but for many more after. Losing the ability to luxuriate in the routines and occasional moments of quiet anonymity that keep life sane-- that is a dreary loss to weather.

So I'd like to extend an invitation. If, President Obama, you ever need to step back from the hustle, bustle, and tussle of Presidential life, you are welcome at my Columbia Heights apartment for an evening of chilled out, non-presidential normality. We'll have a few working man's beers (Slev and I share an affinity for the brews of the proletariat), watch some SportsCenter (assuming we get cable by that time), and shoot the shit about life in DC. Michelle can come too.

Any time, Mr. President. It would be my pleasure.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I Choo-Choo-Choose Freight Rail

This is pleasant news from MoJo: Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are both in big (for a total near $10 bills) behind some of the bigger freight railroad lines.

Anybody who's ever ridden on a train with me knows I really like trains. Romanticism aside, they're a lot more efficient than trucks, cars or planes as both people-movers and stuff-movers, but have languished for a long time because our economy has been so happily dependant on cheap oil.

Now, passenger rail and freight rail tend not to play nice together. They share the rails, and freight trains go slow, while passenger trains want to go fast.  The US has long had a pretty good freight infrastructure, but a crappy passenger one, because our country is so darn big (Europe, thanks to its high density of cities, has had it the other way around).  Investing in the freight infrastructure will supposedly make passenger rail travel more attractive because trains will run more on time, but frankly, I don't see the present situation changing much-- people still won't go Chicago to LA (or New York to San Fran) by rail.

But this kind of investment can't hurt: Investment like adding extra tracks on high traffic lines will make business more profitable for the freight companies, getting more trucks off the road. Let freight trains rule the interior of our country.

Now, the change we also need: The California High Speed Rail Authority has a proposal for a west-coast passenger line that would get you from San Fran to LA in 2.5 hours for $55 (thanks, slev). I imagine doing the same thing on the east coast would be a little trickier-- because we have more cities, closer together; because the whole coast is more densely populated; because existing rail lines wouldn't cut it at all-- but not impossible.  Really, there should be no reason to travel between Boston and Washington (and all points between) by any means but rail, but service now is slow, expensive and irregular.  I look hungrily forward to the day...

Rip Van You

Imagine you fell asleep some time in late 2003 or early 2004, and didn't wake up until today. And after you'd taken a quick shower and had a cup of coffee, you picked up a paper, and somewhere back around A14 you run across the headline telling you: "Barack Obama will Resign Senate Seat Sunday." 

What would you even think? How would you get over the fact that a guy named Barack had been a U.S. Senator while you slept? Would you assume he'd been forced to resign because his last name rhymed with Osama?

Hopefully there'd be a medical team on hand to resuscitate you after discovering the truth.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Yesterday, Barack Obama showed up in Washington to meet with Pres. Bush and measure the drapes in his new office. Working just a block from the White House, a few colleagues and I went to observe with stony faces (being the hardened political operatives we are) as his motorcade went by.

He didn't pop out the sunroof-- it wasn't even entirely clear which speeding limo he was in-- but it gave me a little thrill nonetheless to know that Barack is in the House.

And moments after he went by, the sun came out from behind a cloud. Literally.

Monday, November 03, 2008

I'm Sam duPont and I Approved This Message

It's hard to believe that election day is finally here. It's even harder to believe that, unless the bottom drops out, Barack Obama is going to be elected president tomorrow. A lifetime has passed since I drove to New York on a February morning to atone for my delinquency in applying for an absentee ballot. And since the dark hours that followed as JJ and I tried to rationalize out how it would be ok if Clinton were the nominee. And now that the day is nearly on us, I'm still rationalizing, still drumming my fingers nervously as the specter of unanticipated events haunts my thoughts.

I have the mortifying task of spending my days at work toiling under the assumption that Obama has already won: Preparing our post-election analysis, and helping to craft policy recommendations that ride on the supposition of a friendly White House. My unease was sufficient to bring me to Prince William County, Virginia this weekend, knocking on doors for Barack. I was working alongside three other people-- one of whom had traveled from Dallas to get a crack at some swing state voters. They were, like so many other people I've met, such good people, so passionate, and with such honest belief in Obama, it reminded me why I originally decided to support him over a year ago.

Many people could be competent, or even good presidents. Barack Obama, because of who he is and because of the dire situations he will face, has the potential to be a truly transformational president. Not simply in that he will deliver changed policies or progressive ideas, but that, in doing so, he could bring this nation together, and reverse the polarization that has been pulling our country and our government in two. This election is so big, so important I can hardly stand it. And I would go on like this forever, but I needn't, because there's somebody who says it much better than I do:

To steal the line Cafritz sent with this video...

See you all in a better world.