The Electoral Equivalent of an Oil Spill

By Al Giordano

I was trying to nap with the TV on this afternoon but the following story came on CNN's Situation Room about Senator John McCain's latest flip-flop, in which he now seeks to lift the federal ban on offshore drilling for oil...

And I thought, that's not only bad policy, but it's pretty damn stupid in terms of getting elected president. In a word: Florida, where 27 electoral votes will be determined.

More amazing was seeing, in that CNN clip, Florida politicians like US Senator Mel Martinez and Governor Charlie Crist suddenly flipping over, who, like McCain, had previously opposed offshore drilling.

As the Environmental Defense Fund notes:

If you live in Florida, you live near the ocean — no point in the state is more than 80 miles away from either the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. More than three quarters of the state's population — over 13 million people — live in coastal counties...

Coastal communities have grown by nearly 6.3 percent since 1999 and nearly 32 percent since 1990, one of the highest rates of growth in the country...

So many Floridians love the beach, the ocean, and the 8,426 total miles of shoreline where so many have moved to be near and look out upon the open seas. And there are economic interests, too, that don't want to see oil slicks and other environmental damage there from offshore drilling in the Atlantic or the Gulf:

Beach tourism brought in $41.6 billion in 2000 and supported 442,000 jobs... For example, the coral reefs of the Keys generate over $1 billion in tourism dollars each year...

Recent presidential elections in Florida have been close. McCain has just handed Senator Obama and his newly trained band of Organizing Fellows a golden issue with which to recruit and convince a lot of otherwise conservative Floridians to defend their self interest by stopping a McCain presidency.

Watch how this plays out in the Sunshine State. This may be the stupidest move yet on the part of the presumptive Republican nominee and his surrogates.

Judging from the ways in which the Obama organization pounced on errors by his chief primary rival and then organized around them at the precinct level, my guess is that they'll pound away on this policy difference up and down the Florida coastline. Remember these words when Florida's results roll in come November.

Update: Comments on The Field are now sequential (no longer "nested") as we return to the format that built this community. That way you can revisit a story and read what all the Field Hands wrote in chronological order.

Update II: As Longroad suggested in the comments section, this new position has the fingerprints of an orchestrated attempt to make offshore drilling a big electoral issue nationwide. President George Bush, AP reports, will call on Congress tomorrow to lift the moratorium.

Update III: Mathesian and Mark, over on Politico, think McCain is "playing with fire" on this one:

By calling for an end to the federal ban on offshore oil drilling,John McCain is placing a risky bet. He is wagering that skyrocketing gas prices have finally reached a tipping point, a threshold moment that has led voters to rethink their strong and long-held opinions against coastal oil exploration.

The stakes couldn’t be higher: If he is wrong, McCain will have seriously damaged his chances in two key states with thousands of miles of coastline — California and Florida — and where opposition to offshore oil drilling has been unwavering. And he will have undermined some of his closest political allies in those states and others, including potential fall battlegrounds such as Virginia and North Carolina.

“Before $4.25-per-gallon gas, this would have been like pulling a pin on a grenade and rolling it into the state,” said David Johnson, the former executive director of the Florida Republican Party. “It would have been a fool’s errand to recommend it. It was never, ever a thing that a smart politician would have done in Florida.”

Update IV: Senator McCain's new position was also of the cash-and-carry variety as, on the same day he announced it, picked up at least two million dollars from Oil Town fat cats, according to the Houston Chronicle:

Larry Nichols, CEO of Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy, which is second only to Chevron Corp. in holding the most Gulf of Mexico leases, called McCain's proposals a "truly honest assessment of what our energy policies have been and need to be."

Update V: This is interesting. The NY Times reminds that it was President George H.W. Bush that first put the offshore drilling moratorium in place:

Mr. Bush’s father, the first President Bush, signed an executive order in 1990 banning coastal oil exploration, and Mr. Bush’s brother Jeb was an outspoken opponent of offshore drilling when he was governor of Florida.

And since the moratorium is in fact an executive order (which presumably can be repealed with the stroke of a pen by the current occupant of the White House), and Bush II hasn't so far said he's doing that, the only point of "going to Congress" with this is for publicity and grandstanding. Interesting.

Update VI: President Bush will do a live statement and/or press conference at 10:35 a.m. ET on the matter. Fox News is plugging it, typically, as "urgent" and "breaking." Cable networks likely to give it roadblock coverage. Maybe he'll just begin drilling right there in the White House Rose Garden.

Gotta Love The Welcome Wagon In This Neighborhood

By Al Giordano

Thank you to...

Barry Crimmins.

The Jed Report.

Markos Moulitsas.

James Wolcott.

And One Million Strong.

(And, yes, I haven't forgotten the full story of how we got here in all its gory details that I had promised for today, just, please, indulge me while we cause a couple more shoes to drop, first.)

I also plead your patience on the slowness in approving comments you've all made here this afternoon (there are many in the queue already): it's caused by a technical glitch in the software here when confronted with a deluge of readers flooding the site. We've now tripled the number of tech personnel working overtime to fix it, and expect to be back to our regularly scheduled programming shortly.

Update: The new Iron Man suit is nearing perfection. We can now queue comments again. More than 50 have been added, so type away, kind Field Hands, and stress the system with as much as you have to say. The "icing problem" may be solved.

Update II: We have now switched to a "sequential" comments section (like the one where we all met) and away from the "nested" format. Thanks to everyone who opined on both sides of that discussion. In the end, I'm a big fan of the axiom "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," and the comments section that grew up with The Field is among the finest on the Internet in part because people's comments are directed to everyone visiting rather than to side conversations between two or more commenters.

A Chief of Staff for an Unchosen VP

By Al Giordano

The Internets are abuzz with one of the new staff hires announced by the Obama campaign today: Patti Solis Doyle, the former Clinton campaign manager forced out and scapegoated for the failings of Mark Penn, Howard Wolfson, Mandy Grunwald, Terry McAuliffe & company is now with the title of "Chief of Staff to the Vice Presidential Nominee."

Gee, if my archives * were only quickly available online and not treated like some gusano kidnappers treated young Elian Gonzales during his visit to Miami back in the year 2000, I could show you my original take on the scapegoating of Solis Doyle. (Shhhhhhh: That soft rustle you hear in the bushes is the fully-operational S.W.A.T. team going in after everything that is owed, and with interest. We'll wait until the children are sleeping...)

Frankly - and it may surprise some to hear me say this - I think Solis Doyle is one of the few former top staffers for Senator Clinton that I would hire. She was put in an impossible position by that campaign, given the title of "campaign manager" yet none of the authority that comes with it. She (and Harold Ickes) begged Senator Clinton to fire top strategist Mark Penn, to no avail.

But more interesting is that the Obama camp has appointed a chief of staff for a VP nominee that hasn't been chosen. It sends a message to all the aspiring vice presidents out there that, to get the nod, he or she has to check all hubris at the door: the top cat will pick your staff, too.

It's a particularly interesting message to Senator Clinton, who pushed Solis Doyle out when the going got tough, and allowed the hyenas left in place to soil Solis Doyle's reputation via the press.

If the Obama camp believes in rehabilitation, though, she's a good candidate for it, because she's learned the hard way what not to do in a campaign (and no more accepting post-election invitations to Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas with top campaign bundlers, okay, M'am?)

Some are debating whether this is a good or bad omen for those that want an Obama-Clinton ticket. I tend to agree with Sam Stein's take over on Huffington Post:

One thing the move does suggest, insiders believe, is that Hillary Clinton's chances of being tapped for the vice presidency are now slim to nil. "This alone means that Hillary won't be the V.P. choice," wrote one. According to two close Clinton confidantes, the Senator and Solis Doyle have not spoken since her firing months ago. And there is a sense that bad blood lingers between the two. Some officials in Clinton's orbit were disappointed, if not angered, by the fact that Solis Doyle had been in touch with the Obama campaign about possibly coming on board. Solis Doyle, meanwhile, is rumored to have felt particularly scapegoated by her firing.
Said one individual with knowledge of the Clinton campaign's political leanings: "It would be pretty awkward if Hillary Clinton were picked as vice president and Patti was there to be her chief of staff."

Not that Senator Clinton couldn't make up with her staffer-done-wrong, but to do so she'd have to dump Penn and company and keep them far from the organization. I like the way this is going.

More likely than the theory that Solis Doyle would be there to open the way for a Clinton vice presidential nomination is that running the VP office now grooms her to run another national campaign in 2016, for Obama's successor.

And, oh my, wouldn't Solis Doyle and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius make for an interesting team?

Update on that asterix: * We do have all the archives of the Ex-Field on file. Getting them up and online (and fixing all the cross-links so they link to each other) is one of the jobs that has to wait in line behind others right now. Thanks to everybody who emailed with offers to cache them on Google, but that won't be necessary.

Guess Who Isn’t Running from Community Organizing?

Barack Obama, speaking about Father’s Day from the pulpit today at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, had this to say about its 86-year-old retiring Bishop Arthur M. Brazier, photographed above:

Here at Apostolic, you are blessed to worship in a house that has been founded on the rock of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. But it is also built on another rock, another foundation – and that rock is Bishop Arthur Brazier. In forty-eight years, he has built this congregation from just a few hundred to more than 20,000 strong – a congregation that, because of his leadership, has braved the fierce winds and heavy rains of violence and poverty; joblessness and hopelessness. Because of his work and his ministry, there are more graduates and fewer gang members in the neighborhoods surrounding this church. There are more homes and fewer homeless. There is more community and less chaos because Bishop Brazier continued the march for justice that he began by Dr. King’s side all those years ago. He is the reason this house has stood tall for half a century. And on this Father’s Day, it must make him proud to know that the man now charged with keeping its foundation strong is his son and your new pastor, Reverend Byron Brazier.

As the Chicago Tribune reported on June 1, Bishop Brazier got his start at community organizing with… guess who?

As his church grew in the 1960s, Brazier became more deeply involved in community activism and civil rights, especially after meeting community organizer Saul Alinsky. He became founding president of The Woodlawn Organization, a coalition that successfully fought against the expansion of the University of Chicago in 1963. Through the organization, Brazier worked to fight gang violence and crime in the neighborhood by setting up programs for rival members.

After he met King in 1966, the two men protested together against segregated housing and schools. In response, Brazier received threats on his life and his Apostolic Church received bomb threats.

“I feel proud and happy that we didn’t just sit around and wring our hands about these problems. We were able to see beyond the four walls of the church and we did something,” he said.

I point that out because it’s interesting, and also to correct any “Chicken Little” impressions that I’ve seen in the comments section worrying about whether the censorship over at the Ex-Field might have been directed from a certain national political campaign. It most certainly did not. And if anyone tries to give you that impression, they’d be actively sabotaging that campaign’s chosen message. As you can see from the above quotes, at least one presidential candidate in the US – as recently as today - has no fear of embracing community organizing and association with those that pioneered the art form.

Uncensored: The Narrative Is Not a Story of Technology

Update: This essay was published on June 11 at the former site of The Field, and was censored at 9:30 p.m. ET that evening, I was told, because it mentioned "Saul Alinsky," "Andrew Kopkind," and "Rules for Radicals."

A brief press conference now ensues:

Q. "Mr. Giordano, what is your view of such McCarthyism-style censorship?"

A. "I reject it."

Q. "But do you denounce such censorship?"

A. "I reject and denounce it. I will not be party to it. I disassociate myself from those that have engaged in it. And therefore I have moved The Field to this address:

Q. Can you tell us more?

A. On Monday, I will begin to tell all. It's really a fascinating story, and a microcosm of a much larger struggle going on in the United States. Meanwhile, bookmark this site, the new and improved home of The Field.

Note: The 300+ co-publishers of Narco News, all using their real names, can comment here. To apply for a co-publisher account (and learn about what it is) click here.

Also, for the first time ever, Narco News is opening one of its blogs - this one, The Field - to comments from everybody else, whether or not you are a co-publisher. Those comments are moderated and therefore may face some delay before being seen on the site.

Here is the uncensored post, as it originally appeared...


By Al Giordano

The analyses and explanations have gushed from the media geyser over the past week, attempting to answer the why and the how that the Obama organization beat an entrenched political regime and replaced it as the dominant force in the Democratic Party of the United States.

And yet I have yet to read an explanation by anyone that satisfactorily captures this moment in history (perhaps thats too tall an order, still, because the moment is still unraveling before our collective eyes?). It ought to be a humbling experience for we writers to not yet be able to put the big picture into a coherent set of words. I know it is for me.

Building upon my June 5 entry, No More Drama, I'll continue to use the Jack the Ripper approach, and take it in pieces.

But of one thing I'm certain: The technological explanation offered by some colleagues does not even begin to sufficiently explain why the Obama campaign succeeded while, for example, the Howard Dean campaign of 2004 did not. If what happened in 2008 were merely a matter of Internet politics we'd be blogging President Dean's reelection campaign right now, and Ron Paul's pending Republican nomination to challenge him.

So when colleagues like Doc Searls write, "It's about the Net. And the Net is us. Its all outside, not inside," and when colleagues like Dave Winer write, "The Internet destabilizes every hierarchy it contacts. It erases every barrier to entry," such technological wonderment sounds no more convincing to me than, say, if someone were to write, the invention of radio explains the rise of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. A half-century from now, technological explanations of the Obama phenomenon will sound a lot like that.

I met Micah Sifry, now at TechPresident, during Jesse Jackson's 1988 presidential campaign (both of us studied political journalism at the feet of the late, great Andrew Kopkind), and he has detailed authentic historic memory of Jackson's 84 and 88 campaigns, Ross Perot's in 92 and 96 and Dean 04, too.

He resurrects an April 30 video of Obama in Indiana, in which the candidate notes: "weve built a structure that can sustain itself after the campaign":

Sifry writes of the campaigns he's covered over the past 24 years:

"In each case, a charismatic candidate with a powerful message drew a ton of new activist energy into the process. And in each case, the movement and the man faced a moment of truth: is this about you, or the larger movement?

"If Obama wins in November, the question will loom larger for one critical reason: because his supporters have the capacity to self-organize on a scale never seen before in our lifetimes."

While its certain that Internet and technology in general have provided the networking and communications tools that made such massive self-organization so rapid the difference between the Obama campaign and all others before it comes down, for me, to a more human factor: that the candidate has studied, practiced and believes in community organizing.

Many commenters here have asked me to elaborate more on this suggestion. But how does one boil down a life's study and praxis into a blog entry?

As an exercise in removing the curtain that blocks a fuller view, lets pull on one early thread: Community organizer Saul Alinsky's 1971 list of 13 Rules for Radicals:

1 ) Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.

2 ) Never go outside the experience of your people. It may result in confusion, fear and retreat.

3 ) Wherever possible go outside the experience of the enemy. Here you want to cause confusion, fear and retreat.

4 ) Make the enemy live up to his/her own book of rules.

5 ) Ridicule is man's most potent weapon.

6 ) A good tactic is one that your people enjoy.

7 ) A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.

8 ) Keep the pressure on, with different tactics and actions and utilize all events of the period for your purpose.

9 ) The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.

10 ) The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.

11 ) If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into it's counterside.

12 ) The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.

13 ) Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it.

Now, kind Field Hands, as an exercise in developing the narrative, pick one, just one, of those 13 rules published 37 years ago, and use the comments section to explain how that "rule" applied, or did not apply, to the 2008 campaign so far.

No More Drama

“It’s up to us to choose Whether we win or lose And I choose to win.” - Mary J. Blige Karen Tumulty begins her wrap-up of the Democratic nomination contest with this story:

Barack Obama was campaigning last October in South Carolina when he got an urgent call from Penny Pritzker, the hotel heiress who leads his campaign’s finance committee. About 200 of his biggest fund raisers were meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, and among them, near panic was setting in. Pritzker’s team had raised money faster than any other campaign ever had. Its candidate was drawing mega-crowds wherever he went. Yet he was still running at least 20 points behind Hillary Clinton in polls. His above-the-fray brand of politics just wasn’t getting the job done, and some of his top moneymen were urging him to rethink his strategy, shake up his staff, go negative. You’d better get here, Pritzker told Obama. And fast. Obama made an unscheduled appearance that Sunday night and called for a show of hands from his finance committee. “Can I see how many people in this room I told that this was going to be easy?” he asked. “If anybody signed up thinking it was going to be easy, then I didn’t make myself clear.” A win in Iowa, Obama promised, would give him the momentum he needed to win across the map — but his backers wouldn’t see much evidence of progress before then. “We’re up against the most formidable team in 25 years,” he said. “But we’ve got a plan, and we’ve got to have faith in it.”

So, you see, Field Hands? Millionaires can be Chicken Littles, too!

Even more interesting to me than how millions of Americans changed the results of the primaries and caucuses is how they were changed by their participation in an electoral movement. Obama’s online fundraising and organizing advances were logical extensions of what Howard Dean, and, later, John Kerry had accomplished in 2004. That was an inevitable advance that somebody was going to make in US politics. Obama was lucky enough to have been young enough to be able to understand it and implement it in ways that his rivals did not.

There are two other breakthroughs that have just come to maturity in the United States that were not inevitable, that required a perfect storm of factors - and the right catalyst or leader at the right time - in confluence.

The first is that the Obama campaign is the first mass multi-racial collaboration in the United States since the Southern Civil Rights movement.

For many of the millions that volunteered, donated and attended campaign events, this was the first time they worked hand in hand with people that did not look like them.

About fourteen years ago I had the opportunity to interview Gore Vidal, who is thankfully still with us, but even back then was speaking every sentence as if it would be his last. And he lamented that, “in America, everything comes down to white against black or black against white.” And in the years since, the fragmentation of American life worsened. What I often call “the market-niching of America” was underway, in which media, advertising and politics were increasingly targeted toward smaller and smaller demographic fractions (as exemplified by Mark Penn’s book Microtrends). Not only were Americans still being divided and economically segregated as white against black against brown against red against yellow, but by far more trivial lines of division: Apple vs. PC users, vegans vs. meat eaters, or dog owners vs. cat owners, or, concretely and absurdly back in my home town: dog owners versus young parents are at Civil War already in some neighborhoods when it comes to policies of determining the use of public parks and playgrounds in New York City.

The American home had become a bunker. People gathered around the TV, then the TiVo and the computer screen, and when they did briefly emerge from their bomb shelters it was to sterile office and workplace environments, where they are subordinate, or to socialize or worship generally with people very demographically similar to themselves.

Worse, the bunkers themselves have become echo chambers and, by and large, dysfunctional and disempowering places, in which all the injustices of the world are compressed and internalized, often with violent and despairing results on the individuals inside them.

Those of us, in recent decades, that organized (or tried to organize) political movements ran up against tremendous inertia in that most Americans – including “progressives” – did not really want to collaborate with people that were not nearly identical to themselves: in appearance, education level, and ideology.

That has suddenly changed. The black-white progressive alliance that was responsible for every advance in American politics in the middle of the last century is back. And that makes organizing of future political movements – electoral and non-electoral – possible again.

The second breakthrough is that a critical mass of progressive Americans are learning political discipline again: the disciplines that had been carried like rare seeds through a decades-long desert by the few and the proud that had continued the study and practice of community organizing.

We are today reading a plethora of columns by pundits and reporters marveling at the discipline of the Obama campaign and its successes. Every single one of those successes can be traced to a single core factor: Barack Obama was one of the few, even in politics, that had carried the community organizer torch all these years. Those principles were infused into every aspect of the campaign. The community had simply become an entire country.

Tumulty continues:

…about two weeks before he announced he was forming an exploratory committee to run for President, Obama laid down three ruling principles for his future chief operating officer: Run the campaign with respect; build it from the bottom up; and finally, no drama.

The “no drama” point is paramount. The self-indulgence created in a society that has been market-niched into 280 million “countries of one” is perhaps the highest obstacle to change in the United States. Individuals have been taught that we are, each of us, nation-states that have territory, customs and immigration agents, and so much of life is wasted on stamping the visas or not of those that are seen as entering or infringing upon those micro-territories.

That attitude is still pervasive. It could be heard this week in the admonitions to “give Senator Clinton space.” The statement stuck in my craw: It wasn’t as if Obama or his supporters had planned an uninvited visit to her home or even to her rallies. The post-1970s concept of “personal space” has become a rampaging and twisted monster over all efforts toward a progressive America and for some extends dangerously to public space. The individual concept of property extended to a non-physical realm over the national community’s collective good.

In recent months, as I’ve been tazing and hazing the Chicken Littles with such vigilance, part of my compulsion has been mere utility: keeping the drama to a minimum. So many of the media-fed mini-scandals over which people were freaking out are not even remembered today, they were that insignificant. But it has also been a personal moral imperative; a crusade, if you will.

The presumption by so many Americans (the international leader in these indulgent personality traits, and this, one of its last export products to the rest of the world) that their precious sense of “individuality” gives them the 24 hour right to use all public forums as personal therapy sessions to vent and inflict their every perceived psychological misery upon others is a big part of what has made serious political movements in the US impossible for so long. Anybody that has attended a political “meeting” at which there was a “decision making process” has seen the tyranny of the individual crash down upon the collective imperative again and again. “Acting out” – without discipline nor regard for the hijacking nature of such behavior – had become considered a sacrament, rather than the sabotage that it was and is.

I had wondered whether any mass political movement across demographic lines would ever be possible in the United States in my lifetime, and I had mostly concluded that it could not. I certainly did not expect it from an electoral campaign.

And that’s why, although at moments I consider Obama to be more centrist or timid on specific matters of policy than I am, although I remain acutely aware of the limits of electoral politics, even if he were to have a somewhat less progressive platform on “issues,” I would probably still be fascinated by the phenomenon what this electoral campaign has done to and for American society.

Progressivism is not merely a checklist of issue positions and stances, but, at its core, it is a way of life. And while most community organizers are politically progressive, it has not been the case that most political progressives have embraced their principles at the level of daily life: in the submergence of the “self” into the larger community around us.

Obama and his team have not only drawn millions of Americans out of their dysfunctional bunkers and market niches to collaborate across those lines again, but he’s created and trained a new wave of community organizers with the discipline and the understanding that “no drama” essentially means putting the community ahead of individual neurosis and self-indulgence. For those few that carried those community organizing seeds across the desert all these years, this new and fertile societal terrain – upon which those seeds are now being planted - is nothing short of a miracle.

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