Air War!

By Al Giordano

Eighteen days ago, the air war began. The Obama campaign started it with a $15 million dollar ad buy in eighteen states. Only five four of them were states won by the Democratic presidential candidate four years ago: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Iowa, New Mexico New Hampshire and Wisconsin. And he went on the offensive in 13 14 states won in 2004 by the Republicans: Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Virginia, Iowa and New Mexico. (Thanks to reader Emma for correcting me on two three of those!)

As Reagan speechwriter Pat Buchanan (he who was there) notes today:


"The election of 2008... mirrors the election of 1980."


Just as 1980 was all about Ronald Reagan, 2008 is all about Barack Obama. And so Obama's first big ad buy was predictably a personal introduction from the candidate to your living room:




The Republican National Committee then countered with a pro-McCain ad that runs in four states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, portraying McCain as an environmentalist while also promoting, ahem, offshore drilling and nuclear power (the ad, wisely, is not being broadcast in nuclear-sensitive swing states Nevada or New Hampshire, nor on the drilling-shy coasts of swing states Florida, North Carolina, Virginia or New Jersey):




And the cash-poor McCain campaign has now had to ante up with its own biographical ad in eleven states:




That would have been a great ad... in 1968. Note the ad's nostalgic desire to re-fight the Vietnam-era culture wars all over again and a couple of sneering references to the word "hope." That'll get 'em up out of their rocking chairs!

What's interesting is where the McCain campaign has chosen to run the ad. It's up in only three states won by Democrat John Kerry in 2004: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire. And now McCain has to play defense (and deplete scarce resources) in eight states won by Republican George W. Bush four years ago: Colorado, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Uh, Mississippi?

GOP Svengali, Karl Rove, tracked the early advertising arms race:


Mr. Obama has used his money advantage to launch the air war. Starting June 20, Mr. Obama spent $4.3 million for 10 days of a televised, biographical ad covering 18 states. Mr. McCain countered on Monday with roughly $2.1 million for a week of ads in 11 states. Mr. Obama has now volleyed back, expanding his buy to 21 states for two additional weeks at a cost of $15 million - half for his original bio ad and half for a new ad on welfare reform...


Mr. Obama may be overreaching by running ads in North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Indiana, Nebraska, Montana, Alaska and North Dakota - states Republicans won by comfortable margins in recent years. It would require a shift of between one-sixth and over one-quarter of the vote to win any of them. Shifts that large rarely happen.


(Rove must have phoned that one in. He confuses the two Carolinas, and his claim of "21 states" really means that Obama is using some border-state markets - Washington DC, Illinois and Nebraska - to bombard Iowa, Missouri and Virginia).

And about that "overreaching" claim: Maybe so... but maybe not... What's indisputable is that Obama's multi-million dollar advertising offensive is already forcing McCain spend and focus his energies on defending "red states" while the Democrat makes multiple incursions into his rival's base.

The point is this: For as long as Obama continues to inspire his million-and-a-half small donors to keep tossing a little coin into the cup, he'll continue to be able to play offense, putting the rival team on its heels and in a perpetual defensive posture. In sports as in politics, that's the mark of any coach's dream team game.

Update: And this just in this morning... The Obama campaign now counters the RNC's ad on energy in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio with this one, and a new website,, too:




The Libertarian Heart of the "Swing Vote"

By Al Giordano

Andrew Sullivan points to a San Francisco Chronicle story about conservatives that support Obama, but which really finds that they're, by and large, libertarians fed up with the Republican Party:


The left often lumps these factions together, but the Iraq war and President Bush's "compassionate conservatism" that led to an expansion of government have ruptured the coalition. Many conservatives are aghast at the rise in spending and debt under the Bush administration, its expansion of executive power, and what they see as a trampling of civil liberties and a taste for empire.


"I do know libertarians who think Obama is the Antichrist, that he's farther left than John Kerry, much farther left than Bill Clinton, and you'd clearly have to be insane to vote for this guy," said David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. "But there are libertarians who say, 'Oh yeah? Do you think Obama will increase spending by $1 trillion, because that's what Republicans did over the past two presidential terms. So really, how much worse can he be?' And there are certainly libertarians who think Obama will be better on the war and on foreign policy, on executive power and on surveillance than McCain."


Almost without exception, those that buy the media definition of "left" and "right" in US politics (which assigns, bass-ackwards, some authoritarian impulses to "liberals" and some libertarian impulses to "conservatives") have so little understanding of the libertarian current that pumps through the veins of many on both sides of that divide that they've missed the real story altogether.

Many conservative or economic libertarians, for example, are also civil libertarians that see some of the greatest abuses and harms by big government being caused by the US criminal justice and prison systems, to cite one huge example of state intrusion. For them, the difference between Obama and McCain is stark as night and day, and lo' and behold: Obama's the libertarian. Here's video of Obama, last September in New Hampshire, talking through a head cold with a compelling, common-sense, narrative on how that judicial system must be changed so as to stop over-clogging the system with nonviolent drug offenders:



Even the Libertarian Party candidate, former US Rep. Bob Barr, is a relative newcomer to criticizing the drug war, compared to Obama, the constitutional law professor. Barr's mea culpa - "I was wrong about the drug war" - didn't come until June 10 of this year.

When close observers of the 2008 election in the United States speak of a very possible electoral realignment come November, it's really a consequence of the greater convergence between libertarian-thinking Americans on both the right and the left. The moves that Obama is making toward the general election that confound and sometimes anger parts of the traditional Democratic or activist base are, in reality, part of the wooing process toward what may be the largest "swing vote" group of all: Independents, Republicans, new voters, and, yes, alienated Americans who haven't voted in years or decades, whose libertarian tendencies reach beyond a narrow economic focus into all aspects of government intrusion into the daily lives of the people. (During the Democratic primaries, this difference played itself out in the dispute between the Clinton-Edwards health care plans, which mandated that all Americans surrender their corporal sovereignty and privacy to the medical and insurance company establishment, and Obama's, which universally gave all a right to those services, but without forcing it upon those of us that don't want to surrender our bodies and minds to that form of private-sector state power.)

What many mistakenly refer to as "moving toward the center" or "moving toward the right" is often a case of their sudden realization of positions that the Democratic nominee has consistently held all along. It was those people's lack of investigative rigor that led them to presume that this was your father's Democratic nominee. You don't see much of that sort of Chicken Little feathers-flying pillow-fighting on the libertarian left, though, because it never suffered from the illusion that Democratic Party orthodoxy could bring solutions to many of the worst problems in the country, many in fact greatly exacerbated by the last Democratic administration in the US.

"Social Justice Libertarians" is a term that my colleague Harry Levine invented almost two decades ago, and it defined many of us that do not see the tyranny of an unregulated market as a somehow kinder or more just despot, but that do have common ground with conservative libertarians in that we do want the government out of our lives in so many ways that Democrats and Republicans alike have long presumed were their natural birthrights to meddle in them.

When we see a nominee that, from the beginning of his campaign, has broken with Democratic Party orthodoxy, we're not immediately plagued by knee-jerk reactions, nor do we howl that he's supposedly moving right. Nor have we learned to expect that anyone in politics would march lockstep with our views. We've never been in a position to imagine purity tests (and the whole concept of purity testing is anathema to free thinkers, anyway). I think I probably speak for many that are just simply relieved that the mold of the tired old media-fed and false definitions of right and left, as they pertain to US politics, has been broken, and amidst its rubble there's a new space for us to stand upon, too.

"Tear Down That Way of Thinking!"

By Al Giordano


Avi Zenilman at Politico notes that the German daily "Der Spiegel is reporting that Obama may give a speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate - which would, of course, lead to another round of articles wondering if Obama is the ‘liberal Reagan.'":


A member of Obama's campaign has already met with Berlin's mayor, Klaus Wowereit, and the Secret Service has reportedly started to investigate security questions surrounding a visit. 


No location has been announced, but the Berlin Senate has reportedly been asked whether Obama can speak in front of the Brandenburg Gate, where former US President Ronald Reagan gave a famous speech in 1987. Reagan made a show of asking then-Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down" the Berlin Wall.


Reagan's June 12, 1987 speech could also describe what is today the growing wall erected by the US government along the Mexican border:


Behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire continent of Europe. From the Baltic, south, those barriers cut across Germany in a gash of barbed wire, concrete, dog runs, and guard towers. Farther south, there may be no visible, no obvious wall. But there remain armed guards and checkpoints all the same--still a restriction on the right to travel, still an instrument to impose upon ordinary men and women the will of a totalitarian state. Yet it is here in Berlin where the wall emerges most clearly; here, cutting across your city, where the news photo and the television screen have imprinted this brutal division of a continent upon the mind of the world. Standing before the Brandenburg Gate, every man is a German, separated from his fellow men. Every man is a Berliner, forced to look upon a scar...


General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!


Reagan was not the first president to go to Berlin to make a global speech. On June 26, 1963, it was Democratic President John F. Kennedy that delivered his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" remarks, just as fierce in Cold War rhetoric:


Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was "civis Romanus sum." Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner."


I appreciate my interpreter translating my German!

There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass' sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.

Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us. I want to say, on behalf of my countrymen, who live many miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, who are far distant from you, that they take the greatest pride that they have been able to share with you, even from a distance, the story of the last 18 years. I know of no town, no city, that has been besieged for 18 years that still lives with the vitality and the force, and the hope and the determination of the city of West Berlin. While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system, for all the world to see, we take no satisfaction in it, for it is, as your Mayor has said, an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wish to be joined together.


The speculation about a possible Obama speech at that same spot makes Peter Beinart's column in the Washington Post today all the more interesting, especially because Beinart is a senior fellow of an organization, The Council on Foreign Relations, that has, for decades, promoted a Cold War lens through which to view US foreign relations:


Having seen fellow Democrats destroyed in the early 1950s because they tolerated a Communist victory in China, (President Lyndon) Johnson swore that he would not let the story replay itself in Vietnam, and thus pushed America into war. The awful irony, (author David) Halberstam argues, is that Johnson's fears were unfounded. The mid-1960s were not the early 1950s. The Red Scare was over. But because it lived on in Johnson's mind, he could not grasp the realities of a new day.


In this way, 2008 is a lot like 1964. On foreign policy, many Democrats live in terror of being called soft, of provoking the kind of conservative assault that has damaged so many of their presidential nominees since Vietnam. But that fear reflects memories of the past, not the realities of today. When Democrats worry about the backlash that awaits Barack Obama if he defends civil liberties, or endorses withdrawal from Iraq, or proposes unconditional negotiations with Iran, they are seeing ghosts. Fundamentally, the politics of foreign policy have changed...


Beinart cites polling data that shows that Americans are not as worried or obsessed with foreign or terrorist attack as they were years ago. He concludes:


Because Americans are less afraid and because Republicans have abandoned the foreign policy center, Democrats need not worry that Obama will suffer the fate of George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale or John Kerry. He won't lose because he looks weak. The greater danger is that he will change positions in a bid to look strong -- as he recently did on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- and come across as inauthentic and insincere. As Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin have noted, the Democrats' biggest political liability is not that Americans believe they are too liberal but rather that they believe that Democrats don't stand for anything at all. On foreign policy, Obama has a chance to change that: to articulate a vision based on the principles of global cooperation and human dignity that animated Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. He shouldn't be deterred by fears of being called soft. Those fears are the echoes of a bygone age.


Growing up with the Berlin Wall from 1961 to 1989 - and the Red Scares of the McCarthy Era before it - were generations of Americans whose thinking formed and calcified around it. After the fall of the wall (and with it the former Soviet bloc), US politicians - Republicans and Democrats - did their best to sustain that fear and loathing and transfer the mania to other things: the so-called war on drugs and, since 2001, the so-called war on terror. You will know the dinosaurs by those still harping on such bi-polar descriptions of an America under siege by a monstrous external threat and the corresponding witch hunts to track down and purge the imagined internal enemies within it.

The situation in the United States, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, has been as if the lights were turned on in the house of a blindfolded man. You can remove the furniture and even the wall, but he won't notice and will continue acting as if it's still there.

We've seen evidence of that old style of political thinking rear its head again and again this year as another, newer and fresher, one has gained the upper hand over it. There will no doubt be more shrieking - "where's my wall?" - before this year is out.

With every day's obituary pages, that worldview is, little by little, dying off. From behind come new generations, not stunted by such cowering fear of "the other," and in fact disgusted by it and those that try and inflict it upon us. And a solid number of elder Americans can also see and think beyond its destructive matrix.

The Berlin Wall is now 19 years torn down. What the moment needs - and speculation in the press suggests we might get it - is someone on the global stage to stand up and say, now and in the present: "Tear down that way of relating to the world around us!"


Update and Announcement: Field Hands that are going to attend the Netroots Nation convention in Austin July 17-22 (or The Field's party there on Wednesday, July 16), please let us know you'll be attending - and thus receive a special invitation - at this link.

Likewise, Field Hands that are going to be in Denver during the Democratic National Convention, August 25-28 (or The Field's big event there on Sunday, August 24), sign up for your special invitation here.

Another Update and Announcement: The Jed Report - makers of those fine viral videos that we frequently embed here - has been exposed... by Jed, who has now revealed his secret identity. Also: sign up for Jed's email list for news about his upcoming novel, a political thriller.

June 2008 Field Hand of the Month: Pamela Hilliard Owens

By Al Giordano

 Known also by the handle of Waterprise2, Pamela Hilliard Owens, founder of the Metro Motown Field Hands group in Detroit, started a petition drive on June 19 aimed at rescuing the credential held hostage (Day 24) and after much persistence spreading the word has now collected 1,349 signatures.

She's not stopping yet, though. Today she posted this alert over at the Field Hands site, with an interesting plan as to how that petition will be presented to the leader of the Democratic National Committee and also the chairperson of the Democratic National Convention. Pamela writes:

The whole point of the petition is to be able to present it to the Democratic National Committee so that they will rightly award Convention Credentials to Al Giordano

So now it's time to take "Action in Austin"! The Netroots Nation Convention will take place from July 17 - 20, 2008 in Austin, Texas, and the two top leaders of the DNC…

--Governor Howard Dean, M.D. will give the Opening Keynote.

--Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will be taking questions and interacting with the Convention Attendees!

So this convention, which Al and the Texas Fieldhands will be attending, is the perfect opportunity to give the petition and the 40+ pages of signatures directly to Dr. Dean and Speaker Pelosi…

This is the kind of initiative and self-organizing that one Field Hand has accomplished in a couple of weeks. And there are already 453 Field Hands, organizing in regional groups. Pamela shows what one self-organized Field Hand can accomplish by recruiting the rest toward a common goal. And we've only just begun to organize.

I’ll be gathering with the Texas Field Hands in Austin, just 11 days from now. If you're coming in from out of town to the Netroots Nation convention, you're also invited. See you there!

(And if you haven't signed up for Field Hands yet, you can do that here.) 

Capture The Flag

By Al Giordano

Paul Slansky has an interesting Fourth of July proposal up on HuffPo:


Barack Obama, who earlier took some flack for his empty lapel, is on the cover of the latest Rolling Stone with flag pin gleaming. We should follow his lead. Everyone who's voting for Obama -- and especially those who are public figures (i.e. Keith Olbermann, Jack Cafferty, Rachel Maddow) must immediately procure a flag pin and not be seen without it before November 5th. If you can't do it with pride, do it as an act of subversion.


When everyone's wearing the flag it will be neutralized. It will cease to provide cover, and then all those with a need to display their moral superiority will have to find a new symbol to set them apart. A new image to mount on a pin and attach to fabric that says, "I am, in my essence, better than you."


Guess who was making similar proposals a quarter century ago:


"Al taught me the strategy of 'capture the flag,'... Capturing the Flag, implies you are as good an American or better than the Enforcers. It is a strategy essential to winning in the eighties."


And this month, it's more than metaphor. Remember the sport by that name, in which the goal is to raid the rival team's base?

This just in from the Obama campaign:


Senator Obama will kickoff the week by hosting a discussion on economic security for American's families in Charlotte, North Carolina. On Tuesday, he will host a town hall meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. After speaking to LULAC in Washington D.C. also on Tuesday, Senator Obama will wrap up the week by campaigning in Virginia and Ohio.


Next week's campaign swing comes after Obama spent a week campaigning in traditionally red states in the Midwest and Mountain West, including Missouri, Ohio, Colorado, North Dakota and Montana...


That's eight states won by George W. Bush in 2004 where Senator McCain now has to play defense, spend resources he won't be able to allocate elsewhere, and in many cases, where Obama's early raids have already put McCain behind in the polls.

Welcome to the fifty-state strategy. It's really happening.

p.s. Any artists out there want to cook up a design for a Field Hands flag pin to unveil in Austin?

p.p.s. Here's one suggestion...

p.p.p.s. Here's another submission, with the message: "You can print out lapel stickers of these for Netroots Nation, print them out on pages of 20 each for $4.95 a page, and have them shipped overnight by! I'll put in 10 bucks for the first 40, maybe enough others will to give one free to every Netroots Nation attendee":

Update: Readers have donated $160 to make 640 stickers, and there is a request for buttons (ignore the dotted red line at the perimeter, that's just for layout purposes), as well. If we order 100 or more they'll be less than a dollar apiece.


So, That's Why McCain Went to Colombia

By Al Giordano

It was a set-up from the get-go, choreographed by the Bush administration and eagerly embraced by Colombia's narco-president, Alvaro Uribe. Yesterday's liberation of high-profile hostages in Colombia was merely the gloss for the larger rescue mission: to save Senator John McCain's flagging presidential campaign.

When McCain announced he'd be going to Colombia, and then Mexico (where he is today, more on that in a moment), to preach the "free trade" doctrine, it almost seemed to sabotage the Republican Party's recent decision to target four of the states most hurt by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA): Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin - the latter three of which just lost thousands of auto-worker jobs last month (as the links on those states' names reveal).

Those plant closings are of course related to the new NAFTA fact that Mexican auto workers have been forced to accept reduced pay to lure the auto factories there.

Of all the countries in the world to visit, McCain's trip to Colombia to tout a trade agreement underscores one of his domestic political weaknesses: the rust-belt economy held hostage (year fourteen).

Teamsters Union leader Jimmy Hoffa will tag-team a conference call today with Colombian oil-workers leader Jorge Gamboa to drive the point home:


Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa will hold a press teleconference on Wednesday, July 2 to discuss John McCain's trip to Colombia to push another job-killing trade agreement with a country that continues to turn a blind eye to human rights violations, including an alarming rise in murders of trade unionists.


More than 2,500 trade unionists have been assassinated in Colombia since 1986, more than in any country in the world. Already this year, 27 Colombian trade unionists have been killed.


But now the world can see why McCain chose this week to go to Colombia: to be the beneficiary of a grand simulation and show by President Uribe, who may, by next year, come to regret trying to meddle in US politics on behalf of one candidate against another.

Frank James reports:


The rescue's timing may have merely been coincidental with McCain's visit to Colombia.


But if Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe were going to help one of the presidential candidates, it would likely be McCain more than Sen, Barack Obama since the all-but-official Republican presidential nominee supports the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement while Sen. Barack Obama doesn't.


Upon the hostages release, McCain had a statement all ready to go. This line in it was interesting:


"I'm pleased with the success of this very high-risk operation. Sometimes in the past, the FARC has killed the hostages rather than let them be rescued."


Let me translate that into English: the Colombian Army's meat-cleaver approach to fighting that country's civil war is littered with botched rescue missions and more collateral damage upon civilians than a hurricane can cause. The success of yesterday's raid is how we know that Washington's fingerprints were all over this one.

It was an image-laundering operation, and at that, a two-fer: Uribe gets to look bold and competent and is delivered new talking points to justify his authoritarian reign of terror, and McCain is made to seem as if he's like, well, Bill Richardson or Jesse Jackson, who really have negotiated the release of hostages and prisoners.

In fact, it wasn't McCain who, last month, called upon the Colombian guerrillas to release those hostages. It was Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. McCain only started talking about them after the fix was in.

Three months ago, your reporter noticed the peculiar obsession that President Uribe had with the rise of Senator Obama's candidacy (see Uribe's Attack on Obama, April 3, 2008, Narco News).

The obsession is so extreme that when, in early March, the Colombian government claimed to have seized laptop computers from guerrilla leaders, and then suddenly "discovered" more laptops than it had initially reported seizing, and ones that supposedly implicate Venezuela's Chavez - this reporter is convinced that it was bold fabrication for propaganda purposes - the Colombian State couldn't resist trying to implicate Obama as well:


In a Dec. 11 message to the secretariat, Marquez writes: "If you are in agreement, I can receive Jim and Tucker to hear the proposal of the gringos."


Writing two days before his death, Reyes tells his comrades that "the gringos," working through Ecuador's government, are interested "in talking to us on various issues."

"They say the new president of their country will be (Barack) Obama," he writes, saying Obama rejects both the Bush administration's free trade agreement with Colombia and the current military aid program.


In other words, Obama surely knows that Uribe plays dirty and invents falsehoods, in that case to try to stem the senator's political rise in the United States. And therefore he has to know that the inventions about Chavez - as well as so much of the wartime propaganda emanating from Bogota - were likewise pure fiction.

So for Uribe, having already overplayed his hand with Obama, he absolutely needs McCain to win the White House. Thus, yesterday's media circus and simulation.

As the hostages were freed, McCain was already on his airplane heading toward Mexico. I got on the phone last night with the kinds of sources that know exactly what will happen in Mexico before it happens and asked the obvious question: Will there be a similar media show in Mexico City? Will they capture a narco-kingpin or guerrilla leader to continue McCain's similated winning streak?

My sources all said no. "Calderon isn't as stupid as Uribe," said one. "He's not going to pick sides with McCain when he knows Obama is more likely to win."

And that explained another head-scratcher from yesterday: Why the Obama campaign trotted out some right-wing foreign policy wonks (when it has others much more attuned to ideals like human rights available) to do a conference call that was so effusive in its praise of the illegitimate president of Mexico.

(You can also get a crash course, about 15 minutes into that audio recording, of how I think effective criticism can be waged in a way that limits the elbow room of the "permanent government" types worming their way into the Obama campaign without resorting to Chicken Littling. I understand that those guys are there for show, while brighter lights have to lay low until November.)

In any case, that's the mistério del día. With McCain in El Gran Tenochtitlan today, will Mexico's Calderon step into the same partisan quicksand into which Colombia's Uribe leaped yesterday? The Field predicts that not even he is that desperate.

Update: Bill Conroy has the scoop on how the Colombian hostage rescue really went down.

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