C-Span Is In the House

By Al Giordano

As I was heading home from tonight's Field Hands extravaganza in beautiful downtown Austin, where about one-out-of-every six Netroots Nations attendees (the ones that got here today) attended, ate, drank, and conspired together (I'm sure that some of the lucky Field Hands who were at the party tonight will weigh in and tell you how totally awesome the event was, and how proud we are to have co-hosted it), I was hauling a box of books past the Hilton Hotel, which is ground zero for the convention, and, lo' and behold, lookie what what is parked outside: The C-Span "Road to the White House" bus.

You heard it here first: Netroots Nation, which officially opens on Thursday, will hit the national cable airwaves, too.

Now I lay me down to sleep - on the road since three a.m. yesterday morning - and we'll see you in the a.m., bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Thursday Morning Updates:

- Among the guests at the shindig that The Field co-hosted with Burnt Orange Report last night: Bloggers and communicators from Booman Tribune, Anand of the Bhatany Report, The Huffington PostPoliticsTV.com, Justin Krebs of Drinking LiberallyThe Political Carnival, Fire Dog LakeNational Public RadioAlliance for JusticeCalitics.com, Adam Green of Moveon.orgAuditaz.orgAdvocacy Digest, SquareState.net, Senator John Kerry's Internet outreach coordinator Terri Buchman, the Hon. Judge Susan Criss of Galveston, Texas, Democratic National Committewoman Debbie Marquez of Colorado, Ken Riley of Democrats Abroad, various DNC staffers, and a raft full 'o Daily Kos bloggers including such dignitaries as clammyc, teacherken, Odysseus, beachmom, Delaware Liberal, and ducktap... some very welcome Field Hands including Judy and Sheldon Zola, the legendary Ben Masel and Franco Bertacci, Narco News ace investigative reporter Bill Conroy, and many, many more that didn't make it to the sign-in table or slipped in the side door. I didn't get the chance to chat with every single one, and haven't been able to list every single blogger in attendance here, of course, but more to come in the days ahead...

- Special thanks to Texas Field Hands Matt and Joe, who staffed the sign in table so capably.

- This movie, Crawford, is going to be showing here on Friday at 3 p.m. The trailer works pretty good as a teaser (makes me want to see it) because it doesn't drop any spoilers as to the documentary's conclusions regarding the anti-war movement tactics and their impact on George W. Bush's purported hometown:

 

 

Thursday mid-day update: Lots of workshops and caucuses going on this morning at the Austin Convention Center (with the best stuff happening, as always, out on the smokers' decks). One of the troublemakers I keep bumping into there is Booman, who told an interesting story of the morning festivities.

Booman perused the conference schedule and saw that a "Lurkers' Caucus" would be taking place. "Lurkers," in blogspeak, are the readers that never comment online. That be most of you. (The whole concept of a lurkers' caucus invokes images of some kind of silent movie where everybody sits around and says nothing, but apparently in reality they're quite talkative outside of the screen.) So Booman sits down in the back of the caucus hall and starts typing into his laptop when one of the lurkers recognizes him as an outspoken blogger. And then it was "Hey, you're not a lurker! Get outta here!" So, lurking is fine - we love our lurkers, too - but no lurking at the lurkers' caucus!

Also, Joan McCarter (Daily Kos front-pager mcjoan) flagged me down in the hallway and introduced me to Larry LaRocco, Democratic candidate for US Senate in Idaho, running against Republican Jim Risch in a state considered safe GOP territory until Sen. Larry Craig got arrested in an airport men's room last year. Here's Larry's website (LaRocco's, that is, not Craig's). And he blogs, too, over at DKos. Very progressive man. Nice guy, too.

 

Thursday Afternoon Update: Hey, Field Hands. Remember that new Macbook so many of you chipped in to help us purchase? Well it's now in my hands, all fired up and ready to go.

 

Thursday Early Evening Update: The Latino blogger caucus this afternoon kicked ass. It was the first time many of us that were present had met and exchanged emails. More to come on that, but for now, just to say, let the anti-immigrant crazies try to trounce us in 2009 like they did in 2007, we'll be ready for them this time.

That was followed by a reception by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which respected our basic human right to cold beer and great food. Micah Sifrey was there from Tech President, as was Chris Bower of OpenLeft, Atrios, and lots of other smart people.

Now I'm in a big hall where Howard Dean is about to speak. C-Span and other networks are here. Baratude Thurston of Jack and Jill Politics blog is warming up the crowd splendidly, telling us what his names mean: "...Thurston is an old British name which means property of Massah Thurston."

I met up here with Nate Silver of 538, but we never got the chance to crunch numbers as then appeared Markos Moulitsas out of the crowd, who invited us to one of the front tables and here we are with SusanG and McJoan and those other DKos bloggers and, well, General Wesley Clark has just appeared on stage, on with the show and more to come soon...

Good Mornin' América, How Are Ya?

By Al Giordano

 

The thought occurred to me today that lately I haven't posted much music here (an important staple of our primary coverage last spring). So here you go.

I'm heading off at dawn for the Netroots Nation convention in Austin, a city that invokes, for me, the soul of that great 75-years-young American philosopher Willie Nelson, and I thought that maybe I could find a decent online video of On the Road Again,  or, even better, his Magnum Opus, Me and Paul, but, alas, none were up to our standards.

But since I'll be moderating the star-studded panel, on Saturday afternoon, on The New Orleans Resurgence: Netroots Innovation in the Citizen-Driven Recovery of New Orleans, (and you can watch it live at 3 p.m. Central Time, Saturday, via ustream.tv) I'll give you this glimpse of Willie, with an assist from some obscure studio musicians named Waylon, Kris and Johnny, and open this thread up for Wednesday absentee-Al-blogging.

Do try to entertain each other as I cross the border, hopefully without incident. I have a very hectic schedule in Austin for the next five days, but I'll be leaking all the secrets here, too, so stay tuned.

And if you're already there, don't miss the Field Hands party on Wednesday night - which is suddenly the event of the night - and make sure to find me and say hello in person.

Field Hands, Assemble!

If...

By Al Giordano

 

Amanda Paulson of the Christian Science Monitor publishes a profile of Obama strategist David Axelrod today, but it's really more of a story about the power of staying on message and marching to one's own drummer:

...last fall, Sen. Obama was down 33 points in one national poll, Hillary Rodham Clinton was the presumptive nominee, and Obama's campaign staff was under enormous pressure to shake things up and try a different tactic.
They didn't.

...since Obama announced his candidacy on a frigid Saturday in February of last year - telling the crowd of an "unyielding faith that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it" - that core message has remained largely unchanged. Axelrod "had the initial vision of how this campaign might succeed," says John Kupper, a partner at Axelrod's firm...

Still, the success of that message was tested over the months, as Obama continued to trail in the polls and many pushed the campaign to increase attacks on Clinton or to shake up the campaign.

Both observers and those inside the campaign give much of the credit for resisting that pressure not just to Axelrod, but to the team that he and Obama built up...

Many credit... (Obama campaign manager David) Plouffe, who is a partner in Axelrod's firm and a longtime friend, with the ultimately successful decision to eschew traditional wisdom and focus on rural and caucus states.

The seamlessness of the operation bore a stark contrast to the constant bickering and shake-ups within the Clinton organization, a far more typical model for presidential campaigns.

"Oftentimes, presidential campaigns are organizations of ill-fitting pieces jammed together by competing power centers," says Mr. Claypool. "That results in rivalries, turf wars, backbiting, intrigue, and drama - all the things missing from this campaign."

 

In these Internet-driven political times, everybody, it seems, is an armchair campaign manager and strategist: TV news and newspaper pundits, talk radio hosts, bloggers, their readers, listeners, callers and commenters. And, no doubt, all the ebb and flow of free advice has its democratizing benefits for those capable of listening. An idea can shoot out of an unlikely corner and suddenly find itself embraced and implemented on a national scale. (Think of how the term "Chicken Little" has come to be so widely used in so short a time.) That's part of the narrative of our times: from your modem to God's ears.

But with the decentralization of analysis, some of the dysfunctions of traditional political campaigns - the aforementioned "rivalries, turf wars, backbiting, intrigue and drame" -  have spread throughout the national coliseum, too. Everybody, it seems, knows best, or thinks he does, when it comes to how to elect a president of the United States. As part of that, ideological arguments are now so often framed as strategic ones.

Ariana Huffington today resurrects her June 30 "Memo to Obama: Moving to the Middle Is for Losers" - in which and notes that the media has taken an entirely different narrative from it:

[I've] looked at the Obama campaign not through the prism of my own progressive views and beliefs, but through the prism of a cold-eyed campaign strategist who has no principles except winning. From that point of view, and taking nothing else into consideration, I can unequivocally say: the Obama campaign is making a very serious mistake.

 

Fair enough, but she did title her first piece as a narrative about "moving to the middle." And what happened? The media added its own spin based on that (and her experience, having her message misinterpreted in the media, exactly parallels what has generated her misimpression, and that of others, that the candidate somehow has shifted toward the ideological center).

Yet if we look at the Obama message from a year ago through to the present, most of the matters that many have framed as a move or a change in stances merely involve the reiterations of things the nominee has been saying all along - about faith-based initiatives, about the responsibilities of fatherhood, about getting out of Iraq "as carefully as we were careless going in," and especially about process: the openly stated shift from a politics of permanent partisan confrontation to one of reaching out to adversaries and, gasp, even forging compromises. All these things were basic to the Obama message before the Democratic primaries and caucuses began - and had so much to do with why he won the Iowa caucuses and most of the contests that followed - and all of those things have remained unchanged.

In that context, the nominee has not "moved to the middle," and even his vote last week on the compromise FISA bill did not surprise those that paid close attention to the Obama candidacy since last year or earlier. A guy who talks so much about his willingness to listen to rivals, to meet with shunned foreign leaders, to not demonize members of the opposition party, and to seek workable compromises in governance - at such open contrast with two decades of Bush-on-Clinton-on-Bush-II polarization - doesn't shock the careful observers when he does exactly what he's repeatedly said he would do.

And so, just as a year ago, when Obama had not yet gained traction against an "inevitable" nominee and so many were shouting that he had to change his message and strategy, Rudyard Kipling's sage advice, titled "If...," comes to mind:

 

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too...

 

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,

And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

 

The narrative is, in fact, inverted: Those that try to prod the Obama campaign to "not move to the middle" (and such advice pours out daily from friend and foe alike) are in fact asking him to move off his original message. And those that try to pressure him to do so with public threats or pronouncements that they've withdrawn, or will withdraw, support, would, if his campaign followed such advice, cause him to do exactly what they are claiming he shouldn't do: shift off his original message, capitulating to pressures. (Some just want him to bow to their pressure, it seems, which is fine until they claim that they oppose bowing to pressure in general.)

It seems to me that Axelrod - the Christian Science Monitor story refers to him as "Keeper of the Message" - and team are keeping their heads when all about them are losing theirs and blaming it on them.

And that's why so many previous media-generated crises and outrages-of-the-day over the past seven months, especially - two Clintons, two reverends, some gaffes that were gaffes because they were errant, other that were called gaffes because they were not - so many millions of words on blogs and in the media that portrayed every moment as if history would be decided by that one loud distraction - floated back out to sea and aren't even remembered in much detail today.

To study the 2008 campaign is to receive an advanced course in how to keep one's head in a permanent media storm when all are losing theirs. For that's the main problem or weakness for aspiring leaders of today, on public and private stages, large and small. And best of all, this crash course is free to any and all of us that want to take that class.

Open Thread

By Al Giordano

I'm busy getting lots of things in order for Netroots Nation in Austin (and our unofficial welcoming reception, co-sponsored by The Field and Burnt Orange Report, on Wednesday evening), and I have nothing to add on today's controversy-du-jour regarding a certain magazine cover, but I did think this six-minute segment of TV news coverage by Channel 8, the CBS affiliate in San Diego, about Senator Obama's appearance this weekend at the National Council of La Raza was very well done and interesting:

 

 

Consider this an open thread.

Spoiler Alert

By Al Giordano

A history class is in order:

In 1992, Ralph Nader launched a write-in campaign for president simultaneously in the New Hampshire Democratic and Republican primaries. He campaigned extensively in the Granite State, drawing large crowds in a land where one of his key issues, opposition to nuclear power, was a major bread-and-butter issue, too, due to the high electric bills caused by the construction of the Seabrook nuke. The late journalist Andrew Kopkind insisted that I join him at one of those events and watch how Nader had developed a compelling critique of the way Washington does business. Interestingly, Nader gained more votes on the GOP side of New Hampshire, 3,258, than the 3,034 he received on the Democratic side: about 1.8 percent in each party's primary.

I had known Ralph then, already, for a decade. In 1982, I had managed my first statewide political campaign: a referendum restricting nuclear power and waste dump siting in Massachusetts. Our polling showed that voters considered Nader's opinion on those matters more influential than any other voice, and Ralph came into the state to campaign. Two years later, when I worked as deputy political director for John Kerry's first US Senate campaign, I was tapped to drive Ralph around the state on his behalf. (This taxi-driver's son also had a couple of memorable days that autumn as chauffer to Gary Hart and the late Mo Udall in their visits as campaign surrogates to the Bay State.)

Anyway, if anybody ought to be sympathetic to Ralph Nader's presidential campaigns it ought to be someone like me, his old ally and one, at that, who until this year hadn't voted since 1996, fed up with both major political parties and the political system overall.

Also in 1992, a different "third party" candidate - the Texan billionaire Ross Perot, on a kamikaze mission to destroy his old rival George H. W. Bush - got a whopping 18.9 percent of the vote, using part of Nader's message about Washington politics being broken to do it. Perot's presence in that contest - and not, as the mythology suggests, any particular talent of Democrat Bill Clinton - is what delivered the 1992 election to the Democrats. Clinton won with just 43 percent of the national vote.

It was in 1996 when Nader made the jump to "third party" presidential bids, when he attempted to get the Green Party nomination, but the Greens didn't achieve national party status and his name was on the ballot only in those states where they got the signatures. Nader got 0.7 percent nationwide. That year, Ross Perot, running again as a third-party candidate, got a significant 8.4 percent of the vote. And Clinton, the incumbent, did much better, winning with 49.2 percent.

In 2000, after eight years of the Clinton White House had sufficiently disillusioned so many Democratic-leaning voters, Nader, again ran as the now-national Green Party candidate and received 2.7 percent nationwide. Post-election he received a considerable amount of backlash, though, as his presence on the Florida ballot squeezed Vice President Al Gore's victory margin down so low that the election could be stolen. Nader never recovered, politically, from that historic moment.

By 2004, Nader had hit his nadir: running independently without the Green Party nomination, he received 0.38 percent, just one-seventh of what he had achieved four years prior.

This year, Nader's back again, and polling as high as six percent. That's why last week's must-read column by pollster Mark Blumenthal is, well, something you must read. It shows that third-party candidates always poll much higher during the summer before the election than the count of their final tally in November:

 

During June 2004, according to the RealClearPolitics compilation, Ralph Nader earned the support of an average of 4.5 percent of voters on 19 national polls that asked a question including him as a choice along with George W. Bush and John Kerry.

Bush led by an average of 1 percentage point (45 percent to 44 percent) with Nader included. On 17 national polls fielded that month that did not include Nader among the choices, Kerry led by a point (47 percent to 46 percent).

By November, Nader's support had dropped off considerably in national polls. Most pollsters were by then asking a single vote preference question that included Nader and his running mate, Peter Camejo, in states where that ticket appeared on the ballot. The final RealClearPolitics average showed Bush and Dick Cheney with a 1.5-point lead over Kerry and John Edwards (50.0 percent to 48.5 percent), with Nader and Camejo receiving an average of just 1.0 percent of the vote.

But even that overstated support for the Nader-Camejo ticket. They received just 0.38 percent of the national popular vote.

Read the whole thing, because the same will happen this year and you might as well know it ahead of time so as not to get too worried or excited by this year's crop of third-party candidates. As Blumenthal points out, independent candidates have long polled better than they did when the votes rolled in:

 

June polls by Gallup showed George Wallace with 16 percent of the vote in 1968, John Anderson with 22 percent in 1980 and Ross Perto with 22 percent in 1992 and 17 percent in 1996. Each fared worse on Election Day, especially Anderson in 1980 (6.6 percent) and Perot in 1996 (8.4 percent).

 

With the exception of movement building (which Nader and even Perot, despite his vast financial resources invested, failed to accomplish with their candidacies, having almost nothing to show for it today other than the pelts of the candidates they helped defeat on their walls), there really is little good reason to pursue a third-party presidential candidacy in the United States, except to be a spoiler that strips votes away from one candidate or another.

In the 72 countries that have a parliamentary system of government, launching an alternative party makes a lot more sense. Many times in those places, no single party gets a plurality of votes and when it comes time for Parliament to choose a head of state, a minor party can extract concessions on its key priorities in exchange for its votes.

Of the three national-level third-party candidates in 2008, only former Democratic US Rep. Cynthia McKinney, of Georgia - who yesterday won the Green Party nomination - has gone the movement-building route (and had the Democratic nomination gone to Senator Clinton rather than Obama, McKinney would have been served a much better set of objective conditions with which to do that).

Had Ron Paul gone the Libertarian Party route this year, his could have been an authentic movement-building candidacy, too. That he didn't under such ideal conditions (especially because he did it before) demonstrates just how ineffectively he views that tactic. Paul would know: He was the Libertarian Party presidential nominee in 1988, and received just 0.5 percent of the vote.

Former Republican US Rep. Bob Barr, also of Georgia, is in this thing as the 2008 Libertarian Party nominee with the primary goal of being a spoiler: to screw his former Republican party. And Nader is in it to screw Obama: Like Wallace, Perot and Anderson before them, the entire bases for their candidacies are to spoil it for someone else (and careful, because that can backfire, too, and actually help the guy you're trying to subvert, as happened with Anderson in 1980: he set out to hurt Ronald Reagan and ended up hurting Jimmy Carter).

Nader's one national media moment so far this year came from a very unfortunate gaffe (of the very race-baiting kind that lost former president Bill Clinton so much good will this year) when he accused Obama of "talking white." Such behavior is no way to rally a progressive base. And the revelation in 2004 that Nader only qualified for the ballot in many states because the Republican Party or right-wing anti-immigrant organizations rallied to secure him the requisite voter signatures - something that Nader, to my memory, has never repudiated - also speaks volumes as to his intent.

Nader, sadly, has exhausted almost all of his political capital built upon previous good works, decades ago. He's proved now three times that he can't turn an independent presidential candidacy into a movement builder. There is a major difference between organizers and policy wonks. His celebrity no longer commands significant public attention for important issues. Basically, the national press - for better or worse - will only pay attention when he says something boneheadedly stupid. Nader fatigue is the consequence of his previous presidential campaigns. I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling badly for him and who laments the good will he has squandered over the years. But other than playing spoiler, there's no convincing argument for Nader's candidacy this year. And, correspondingly, no matter what the polls say between now and then, you will see his support tank to a record low by November.

Yes, We Have Our Credential

By Al Giordano

 

Attention, Field Hands...

We have received the following communication from our former host:

 

Dear Al,

 

We are happy to let you know that we will be providing you blogger credentials for the Democratic Convention in Denver. We look forward to reading your reports from the convention.

Best,

Deb

on behalf of RuralVotes

 

So now, thanks to the good works of so many Field Hands and supporters, we have raised the funds to report from the Democratic National Convention in Denver next month, and we now have a blogger credential with which to do that work.

Given that we have achieved our goals, I'm prepared to move on beyond the unpleasant aspects of the past month, let bygones be bygones, and get on with the important work of reporting and analyzing the 2008 presidential elections.

To everyone that signed the petition and organized to make this happen, this is your victory to celebrate, too.

Congratulations. You're the best hands that any Field could have.

 

Al

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