Archive for the ‘by db’ Category

Rope-a-Dope & Fighting Back in September

by db

While I don’t fully buy the hyperbolic punditry Drew Westen put out there the week before last that suggested the President can, simply through speechifying, reignite the economy and magically force a taciturn and Tea-Party congress his way, it is getting to the stage where it is about the messaging because the results can’t be had with this Congress.

I have come to agree with those who suggest the Truman ’48 model provides guidance like Ornstein. Obama can turn the corner and I believe he will just like he did during 2008 — way too late for my preference but usually, given immediate hindsight, at just the right time for the American public.

I have come to learn that I’m a go-for-the-juggler-early type of campaign guy. If a GOPer pisses me off, I instinctively go for the can of whup-ass and the pictures of the candidate with the stripper, receiving briefcases full of cash from cigarette lobbyists, or pushing grandma out the way in the grocery express lane. Obama, on the other hand, is a big fan of the rope-a-dope. The trick to that tactic, in the dystopian, never-ending, “Max Headroom” news cycle, it that it takes time for the American people to catch up with the idiocy of their elected representatives in order to be effective. As much as I despised how things went down with the the debt deal, it did have the effect of tanking the GOP’s numbers. Across the board they came out much worse than they went in, despite winning the battle and appeasing the Tea Party maniacs running the asylum.

At some point, though, the long view becomes the short game by necessity of the sheer march of time. September feels about right. Here’s hoping the WH and Obama feels the urgency to punch these people in the face for their irresponsible and, on the face of it, insane actions and statements. The people, and the polls, would reward him for doing it.

The Lessons of the Mid-Terms

by db

I had the luck of being abroad this week so I had some time to collect my thoughts, avoiding the typical knee-jerk punditry I usually do, thanks to timezone differences with those calling me from the U.S. east coast and absurdly high roaming rates. (I haven’t paid $0.99/min for a call since I was 13 and convinced myself trying out 1-900 numbers would be a fun thing to do.)

As the election neared, friends, mainly of the conservative ilk, asked me what I thought was going to happen. Luckily, I hadn’t budged from my predictions posted here. Fair enough, the official unemployment rate in October was 9.6% and not 10% and the Dem’s lost the House so I didn’t quite nail the spread, but, overall, for a 6-month out prediction I think I fared pretty well. Certainly better than those who predicted a 100 seat win.

So, what the hell happened?
1. Unemployment matters. And the technical unemployment number has about as much to do with the real misery, pain, and fear going out there as does the formal designation of the close of a recession, which, by the way, economists told us was months ago. Feel better yet?

2. Congress missed a window. The House or Senate, mainly the latter, should have taken action on any number of items that could have made a difference between a 60 seat shellacking, to use the President’s descriptor, and a 50 or 45 seat bruising. DADT, Immigration Reform, keeping the middle-class portion of the Bush tax cuts; any or several of them, even better, would have reminded Dem or Dem-leaning voters why they voted for a Democratic Congress and White House in the first place. Instead, 29 million of Obama’s 2008 supporters simply stayed home. It’s not rocket science why. Yes, HCR was a significant improvement, but in today’s 24 hour news cycle, it’s what you did for me lately, not what you did for me last year that will take affect in 2014 provided certain conditions are met and implementation is handled correctly. The GOP is exceedingly skillful at manipulating the Congressional calendar for this (think back to the 2002 pre-election vote on the Iraq war authorization for one example) while the Democratic party seems only to use the calendar as an excuse for inaction.

3. Seats that are a reach will always be vulnerable. Fact is there were a solid 15 seats in Democratic hands that, given decent opposition and headwinds against them, wouldn’t be. Between 2006 and 2008, the party was effective at candidate recruitment in many districts that were not only GOP-leaning, but were double-digit McCain districts. It’s either naivete or political malpractice to think you’re going to keep those by dint of incumbency. So, those seats returned to their natural position on the spectrum. Almost all of them.

4. Tea Party is a mixed bag for the GOP. In the Senate races, not to mention several gubernatorial, the Tea Party-endorsed or supported candidate turned out to be an absolute disaster. Here’s the deal, GOP: You lost the Senate because of Tea Party candidates.

Here’s why:
– Christine O’Donnell: You had the seat. Done. Signed, sealed, delivered. You primaried a gimme and ended up with a wholly unqualified candidate in a cycle that seemed to make that, in and of itself, a premiere qualification for office. Luckily, the Democrats didn’t put up a sacrificial lamb and, voila, one seat saved.
– Sharon Angle: Underestimate Reid at your own peril. Here, again, you had the seat. You could have nominated any one of several electable candidates, but, instead, went with a parochial candidate in a year when having power (and, yes, pork — get over it), mattered. Reid managed to climb out of incredible unfavorables to beat you because of it. Congrats. Another seat saved.
– Carlie Fiorina: No, not really a Tea Partier per se, but she certainly liked to play one on TV. This was the worst kind of “Tea Party” candidate, in my opinion. Not one who’s nuttiness and blatant anti-intellectualism made her a match for many Tea Party supporters, but one who came to it out of sheer opportunism. (Tea Party folks: Seriously, a former CEO who nearly crashed an American technology icon with tens of thousands of jobs outsourced in the process is your ideal candidate? Better check yourself before you wreck yourself.) Again, in the light of day, wasn’t a match for Boxer. Seat saved.
– Linda McMahon: This was a double strike for the GOP’s extreme elements. In the primary, you had a candidate who served in the Vietnam war. The party’s base goes for a multi-millionnaire founder of a wrestling league instead. The Democratic party switches out Dodd for Blumenthal, who, it turns out, wasn’t always absolutely clear about how he served during the Vietnam era. Hmmm: Maybe you should have rethought that nomination. Millions of dollars spent. Seat saved.

And that’s 4. Swing Lieberman your way and there you go. You have a majority.

In the House, though, I would submit it’s a different picture. For all the problems I have with the Tea Party, the participation of its supporters in the GOP nominating process has resulted in some, emphasis on some, legitimately fresh blood in the Congress. Some of their candidates come from truly different backgrounds than those who preceded them, Democrat or Republican, and will shake things up. The only question I have for all of them is this: Campaigning on overthrowing the system is one thing; what you do to actualize that when you get in office without burning the place down is another. It will be a tougher decision for many of these newly elected Representatives, and the GOP House leadership, to figure out than they think.

5. Can’t undo in 2 years what it took 50 to create: This nation faces many mammoth challenges. The American people displayed a stunning willingness to fall for a 6 minute workout-style ploy, supported by major financial interests in many cases (thank you SCOTUS and Citizens United) that have anything but the average American’s best interests in mind. No, you can’t eat what you want and lose weight. Losing weight takes time, lots of it. America needs to get on a diet. Pick your challenge: From the deficit, to foreign wars, to entitlements, to infrastructure, to education. Everyone of us is going to have to sacrifice to return this country to greatness. To those who felt voting the opposite direction universally from the way they voted the last election was somehow going to speed this process, please think of any great change in your life. Whether it was finding your way to a faith or overcoming addiction, none of those transformations happened overnight or without sacrifice.

6. The message matters, but so does fighting for it. The President needs to understand it’s one thing to legislate the right way, it’s another to explain to the American people, every waking minute if need be, why that legislation matters to them and matters now. That’s fighting for it. That’s calling out the opposition for obstructing it. That’s throwing down the gauntlet.

Real Washington isn’t Hollywood, but it seemed right to draw inspiration from it for the purposes of explaining exactly what this President needs to do. He needs an “American President” moment. This moment:

I believe this President can and will rise to the challenge. I ask him to do it soon. I ask him to make clear to the new House that he welcomes their input, as he has, but that there are certain things, such as repealing HCR, that will be DOA and will be vetoed. Pushing these priorities will, therefore, be a waste of the House’s time and, more importantly, that of the American people.

10%+, House in Doubt

by db

Minority Leader Boehner claimed today the GOP could net more than 100 seats this fall. Whoa, there, John. Might want to ease off on the instant tan for a few days, big fella. The always brilliant Nate Silver has suggested, however, that the Dems are in a rough spot and could lose upwards of 70, flipping the House. I think that’s a bit far-fetched, but I can’t take issue with the online oracle’s predictive capabilities and spreadsheet macro mastery. I do, however, have my own back-of the envelope math for this fall:

– First, assume the Dem’s lose 20 seats because (A) it’s the mid-terms in the first term of a particularly successful Democratic president (from a legislative perspective) and, perhaps more importantly, (B) there are at least 15 seats we shouldn’t by all reasonable measures be holding, and, as a donor, I frankly don’t want the DCCC spending limited resources to defend.

– Second, let’s assume there is significant progress on issues of import to the Democratic base, bolstering confidence and closing the all-important enthusiasm gap. With the passage of HCR, the party dodged a Titanic-like implosion of confidence. (Someone called that one a while ago. Hmmmm.) With Wall Street reform on a greased track, immigration reform on deck, and a helpful SCOTUS nomination fight reminding the base why elections do matter. Tough to say exactly the value in lose/gain seats out of these presumed legislative victories, but let’s say a win on all three ensures against complete wipe-out in November owing to Democratic base dissatisfaction.

– Third, these elements matter, but are trifling in significance compared to one metric: Unemployment. Yes, the economy, as judged by the market, GDP, productivity, and even the debt are all important figures and, sure, matter tremendously to slices of the electorate, but none have a greater impact on the baseline happiness quotient of the average American more than unemployment. Pure and simple: This number remains high and incumbents will lose. House, Senate, Governor, Mayor, I don’t care who you are — if you got an “I” next to your name on the ballot and unemployment is 10%+, you might want to brush up your LinkedIN profile and start eying resume paper. Want more specificity? Okay, here’s my handy-dandy Dem House loss benchmark chart based on unemployment (as of October):
10%+ – (Including the 20 mentioned in the first rule above) Dem Losses = 40+ ~ Lose House
Below 10% Dem Losses = 35 ~ Keep House (barely)
9% Dem Losses = 32
8.5 = 30
8 = <30
… And so on.

Main point is this, the elections are not tomorrow, but they ain’t happening in a separate dimension or a full year from now. If the mood of the electorate doesn’t demonstrably improve on the economy, the House Dem’s are in a world of hurt. If, however, we enjoy two consistent quarters of growth between now and election day, Dem’s will hold the House, albeit with a smaller margin.

And why that may be better for the caucus will be the subject of another column.

Brown Going Down

by db

Yes, I’m a bona fide political dork: I’m at home on a Saturday night, enjoying the Correspondents Dinner on c-span. That’s right. If you must, judge me. If you’re reading this site, though, I can’t imagine you can judge me too harshly.

Having some British lineage, I track UK elections with some fascination. Given our interminable 2008 presidential election cycle, I have enviously watched the weeks involved in this round of parliamentary elections. The very moment TV debates between the three leading contenders for PM were announced, however, I knew this was going to be an even more intriguing run to the polls for the Brits. A first for the country, what would happen when their election was made all that much more “presidential” with the interruption of TV presence? Well, a lot, but, in the end I feel, very little.

Three months ago, Cameron, the Tories fresh-faced leader was the PM-in-waiting. Gordon Brown, Labour’s hapless standard-bearer since Tony Blair bequeathed the office to him with multiple wars raging on and an economy on the precipice of disaster, simply couldn’t get out of his way. More to the point, every single British voter I knew and asked, simply said they were tired of him and the whole Labour operation. It didn’t help that Brown’s Labour party was mired in internal strife, largely around members threatening to depose Brown and soon finding themselves on the wrong side of Downing Street, and multiple MP’s, both inside and outside Labour, were enmeshed in a seedy expenses scandal. (One would think “moat cleaning” a personal expense, but that’s just me.)

Then the inevitable pendulum swing. Cameron was suddenly viewed as an alien, somewhat uppity commodity. Friends across the pond started dropping the dreaded “posh” adjective; in American parlance a “double Izod collars-up, preppie, snob.” It appeared Brown’s dogged persistence, and the recognition that maybe he does deserve some credit for constructing a plan that managed to avoid America’s populist bailout blow-back and Greece’s inexorable slide into junk bond status, was finally bringing him some electoral momentum. A hung parliament, wherein no party has a majority and, therefore, has to form some sort of unity government with one of several smaller, regional parties or the heretofore not significant third-place player the Liberal-Democrats, was not only possible, but likely. And, with it, Gordon Brown would somehow cling to his office.

Cue the debates.

Nick Clegg, the young, new face (at least to most UK voters) at the helm of the Lib-Dem’s, played 1960’s Kennedy to Brown’s Nixon. You could feel the flop-sweat from the other side of the pond and oozing through YouTube. Brown righted the ship somewhat in the second and third debate. Finally, in the last, he took on Cameron, who basically managed to play the part of Neo in the prior sessions dodging the bullets that zinged around the room. What killed Brown, however, occurred outside the debate halls. Earlier in the week he disastrously left a hot mic on after meeting with a constituent complaining about the impact of immigration on the country. Here was an entirely innocent figure, an elderly, nice grandmotherly type getting picked upon by her PM, calling her “bigoted.” In the hothouse of tabloid-happy Britain with days to go to the election, the papers might as well have run an epitaph for poor Gordon. I have to say I’m a natural fan of the underdog, especially one who has been through as much as Brown. But, as a political realist, I have to admit he’s done.

So, now all analysis indicates the election Thursday will essentially end as it was predicted months ago: Cameron will be the new PM, likely with the help of a complicit, and rising, Lib-Dem party and Labour in the wilderness. One thing will be forever changed in UK politics: TV debates aren’t going away for better or, I fear, worse.

Why HCR has to pass

by db

Current thoughts on the state of HCR as it wends its way through the legislative labyrinth:

1. The Admin misinterpreted the lessons of the Clinton round of health care reform and entrusted far too much to the legislative process.

2. Common misconception that Clinton couldn’t pass HCR when times were “good,” (’91-’92 recession is what helped get Clinton elected in the first place), but times are much worse now. People are freaked, jobs continue to disappear, and the deficit is becoming a legitimate concern. (Even I’m starting to get worried. No matter how we got here, we’re here. The American people, rightfully, allow a new President 6 months to blame the last guy before the problem is his to own.) This is a toxic environment in which to talk about any spending other than on jobs. And the Administration’s purported plans for an increase in Afghanistan isn’t going to help on that front; money we don’t have for a war many, if not a majority, of Americans don’t support. (Not saying that’s my opinion, necessarily; just that it is the commonly-held view out there.)

3. Obama may have campaigned on HCR, but D’s like Landrieu, Nelson, and certainly Lieberman didn’t. Of course Reid’s going to have to coax them with pork. All of them. That’s the way it works with big votes these days. (Did the GOP do any less to pass Medicare Part D? There was a lot of pork there, if memory serves.)

4. And this is the most important lesson I have drawn: HCR is so nasty an issue, so horrendously screwed up, impacts so many people that they only way to repair it may be to endanger the majority that attempts to do so, and, potentially, the President as well. This is one point upon which I agree with the Admin’s strategy entirely: Obama has said he will risk his reelection to pass it. He may well and that may be the only way to make any progress on this.

I think HCR will pass, if only because there’s a very real threat that to not do so will present more harm to incumbent D’s. If they don’t pass HCR, the Democrats may, rightfully, lose the House and suffer losses in the Senate. The Admin will be hobbled and will be left to passing parochial, trivial regulation and legislation a la Clinton post-HCR in his first term. Obama may well be reelected, but significant HCR will never be attempted again for a generation.

So, passing HCR is going to take a ton of pork and plenty of back-room dealing to boot, but those incumbents may well go down anyway, and I’ll take some pork and convoluted language that we can clean up later to claim a victory over nothing, losing even more seats and potentially electing a GOP demagogue cum populist pretender in 2012. The polls don’t necessarily reflect only fear on the part of voters of the eventual outcome, they reflect a lack of faith in the Congress to do anything right. And the most wrong thing would be to pass nothing. If you think approval ratings are low now, wait until the Democratic base abandons Congress entirely. No, the bill will pass because it has to. It won’t include the Public Option and that may not be such a bad thing, but it will pass and we (the American people), the party, the Congress and the Admin need it to pass.

My Int’l Travel Never Goes This Well

by db

When it comes to international travel, I’m the bizarro Barack. Sweat drips from my forehead as I haul tail down some concourse, inevitably the wrong one; I dehydrate with endless cups of bad airport coffee and I’m only over-hydrated when all nearby facilities are closed for cleaning; I check bags the day the conveyors break and don’t when I have a bottle of cologne with me that’s a half-liter too big to scan. Yep, I’m that guy. Sen. Obama: No mess here. This is one presidential candidate who travels well.

I knew this was going to be a well-organized tour. The Obama advance team, from where I sit, has always been stellar: signage in the right place, audience well-positioned, mikes set to the right levels. But a trip through the middle-east and europe is no multi-county tour of Ohio. Plus, with wall-to-wall coverage guaranteed, there was little room for error. Thus far, you could not have asked for a better executed trip.

The icing on the cake, though, has been the McCain’s non-stop carping about, of all things, the media’s supposed infatuation with Obama. Beside the fact it sends a clear-cut signal you have nothing to talk about and are drenched in increasingly visible flop-sweat, it’s just plain sad. What makes it more pathetic and laughable is that it’s coming from John McCain. This is a guy of whom Chris Matthews recently said “We are his base.” That’s right. The media is McCain’s base. No matter how egregious the gaffe, they are always there to skip over the embarrassing moments. No matter how blatant the flip-flop, they crown him with the title “maverick.” It doesn’t matter that even to this day (and I mean that seriously — there were two serious screw-up’s from McCain today both under-reported), they give him every benefit of the doubt. No. That’s not good enough for the McCain people. They decide their coverage isn’t good enough. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

But that’s all good.

Don’t tell the McCain campaign they could be spending this time explaining their plans to get the country out of the economic abyss it’s enjoying or whatever it is that “Dr. Phil” Gramm feels we’re whining about. Nope. Let them go on bashing the media. I’m sure that will help cut through the noise of the million some odd people who will show up to Sen. Obama’s speech in Berlin or the fact the Prime Minister of Iraq pulled the rug out from under their “endless surge” strategy. It may do neither, but at least it would display some seriousness about his positions on the issues and, who knows, it might change some voters’ minds. But do me a favor, don’t tell them that. Tell them it’s all the media’s fault.

iPhone 2.0: What’s to complain about?

by db

If you’re in the wireless business or just plain enjoy watching a master at his craft, I highly recommend checking out the ringmaster himself, Steve Jobs, lead another fine keynote at WWDC. This was, as per usual, a perfectly executed event and absolutely chock-full of truly impressive work on behalf of Apple and the iPhone team. It’s truly saying something about the iPhone that so much is happening on that platform that any data related to Apple’s next major OS release, dubbed “Snow Leopard,” (you know, the software that runs Mac computers), had to be pushed off the agenda entirely.

There’s more than enough fetishistic coverage of how great the new iPhone software and device will be so, instead, I’m going to reserve my comments for the hidden gems of the announcement, the elements that I don’t think got quite the coverage they deserved:
– Exchange compatibility: This was foreshadowed in last year’s announcement, but it deserves repeating. The iPhone Exchange integration looks, to use an abused term when it comes to Apple, seamless. Everything from the set-up to the execution (calendar, contact, email sync) appears to be better than any execution on a Windows Mobile device. Leave it to Apple to take a quality MS product (Exchange) and execute better than MS ever would on a mobile device. It cannot be said enough how much this enhancement breaks open the world of enterprise for Apple. Exchange is a given in most major corporations. There’s no email, therefore, much less remote access to it without support for ActiveSync. With it, Apple gains a foothold in the enterprise environment that has eluded it for decades.

– MobileMe: As a long-time .mac user, I have been frustrated by how piss-poor, frankly, the Web-based components of the service were, especially Email. As my wife put it correctly, “You know what would be nice on .mac? If it just worked. Seriously.” And that’s the gods-honest truth. .Mac Web-mail was long-since passed by, in terms of quality and innovation, from the likes of Yahoo! and Google. With MobileMe, which will be offered to all current .mac subscribers, it appears someone in Cupertino got the message. Further, MobileMe fills a nice hole for anyone who doesn’t have an Exchange server in offering the same push/sync experience. Nicely played, Apple.

– GPS: In all the hubbub around an iPhone finally having a 3G radio, the on-board, and well-supported (via software) GPS, seemed to get short-shrift. GPS support, while spreading through smart-devices and cheaper feature phones, is increasingly taken for granted, but what’s missed in all of the talk around GPS is any discussion of the software. Sure, you can easily find a smart-device that has on-board GPS and the carrier might have even made it relatively easy to turn on, but what matters is how you use the GPS. Most of the GPS app’s that are available for free (Google, Yahoo among them) fail in comparison to true turn-by-turn directions and, for that, you have to pay a hefty monthly fee (AT&T navigator, VZW navigator, Garmin). And, let’s face it, turn-by-turn is what you really want. You don’t want to know generally where you are, you want to be told in a rather serious-sounding voice to “Turn left in one mile.” Further, you may want to know what to do in the area, find the best burger within a half mile. Without the help of GPS (technically A-GPS, but you don’t care about the details), the iPhone directions and maps were one of the best out there, enabling users to easily search, find out traffic status, and map usable directions. With GPS, I can only imagine it’s going to be that much better.

So, all in all, there just isn’t much to complain about with the new iPhone, based on what Steve presented. And, against the competition’s offerings where there’s just so much to complain about right out of the gate, that’s saying something.

What was he doing for three months?

by db

You might be thinking the same of The Technocrat. Excuse us, we have been a bit, shall we say, preoccupied. Hoping to get a more regular flow of posts with professional lives calming down… a bit.

What I find truly surprising about the McCain campaign: How much it sucks. Seriously, this campaign is enjoying a high level of suckiness for an effort that has been essentially unchallenged for three-plus months. McCain has effectively had the nomination sewn up going back at least that far and the media was too busy with the waning Hillary-Obama fight to pay him much attention.

When I have those periods in my life, work slows down (or I’m in between gigs), I tend to do a little “me time.” Focus on finally cleaning out the office, shredding old bank bills, backing up the computers, maybe even work out (okay, that one not so much). That’s the way I roll when I have some down-time. The equivalent for a campaign, especially one that effectively won by default the way McCain’s did, is building the organization, finessing the message, researching the general election opponent, and raising money.

If last Tuesday’s abysmal and now-infamous “green screen” speech and comments since then (“when we leave [Iraq] doesn’t matter”) were any signal, it’s abundantly clear that whatever the campaign has been doing during this blessing of down-time, it hasn’t been getting itself in shape for the general. It’s akin to me taking up another Saturday to catch up on BSG episodes archived on TiVo rather than balancing Quicken. It’s wasted opportunity to get something done.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I’m perfectly content to see the campaign roll out me-too slogans (“That’s not change we can believe in”) and pathetic, jingoistic tag-lines (“The American President Americans Can Believe In Americanly”). Added to this, the fundraising numbers remain pathetic. HardBall noted this week that only 8% of Bush’s Ranger crew, the high-flying, major donor class he so successfully leveraged in 2000 and ’04 cycles, have given to McCain. Now that’s a statement.

There’s the contrary view that it’s impressive McCain is within shooting distance of Obama in spite of the embarrassment his campaign has been the last few weeks. Uh, okay. Meanwhile, the Obama campaign essentially relocated the DNC to Chicago to streamline management between the two teams and kicked off a nationwide training effort of 3,600 volunteers. Those poll numbers will be cold comfort when the GOP starts worrying about states like North Carolina and Georgia in the fall.

But whatever the McCain campaign is or isn’t doing, here’s my advice: Keep it up.