Monthly Archives: November 2008

OBSERVATION: Smiling all the way to the White House

As a long time political consultant and advisor (no, I was not the guy who suggested that Lincoln take an evening off and go to the theater), I have come to the conclusion that one of the most important factors in a successful candidacy is rarely analyzed in the post-election punditry. Sure, we get all kinds of thoughtful opinions on issues and strategies, but not much on one of the biggest factors — likeability. Yeah. Likeability. Frankly, I think it is more important than issues and strategies — although they play a role.

We often use the word “like” when we mean prefer. I preferred John McCain, but Icannot say I liked him. In fact, I did not like him very much at all from the first time I met him privately in person.

Does anyone doubt that Barack Obama was more likeable than the strident and intense Hillary Clinton or the grumpy and testy McCain. You can disagree with Obama on issues, and even wonder about his dubious past associations, but it is damn near impossible not to like him. It also extends to his family. They look like a magazine advertisement for Better Homes and Gardens.

One of the reasons Obama could score high on the likeability scale is that he is a non-scary black guy. This is the reason those other black presidential candidates — Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Shirley Chisholm — did not fare so well. Can you imagine … President Jesse Jackson? It would be a cross between Halloween and April Fool’s Day.

Then there is that smile. Obama has the best presidential smile since Dwight Eisenhower – who was so likeable that his campaign slogan was simply “I like Ike.” Ike was the first president to make the smile a political asset. Most of his predecessors posed for portraits or photographs with haughty seriousness. I mean … have you ever seen a smile on Thomas Jefferson or a clear look at George Washington’s fabled wooden teeth? I recall a photo of Abraham Lincoln with a slight grin, and Franklin Roosevelt sometimes held his fancy cigarette holder clenched between his upturned lips, but grins don’t count. You have to show teeth.

If you project the likeability factor across the political spectrum, you can see why the GOP took a drubbing. Can you name the Republicans who are just plain likeable? Oh sure, Ronald Reagan, but he’s dead. (But can you ever forget that smile?) Issues/shmissues. If the GOP hopes to do better next time, they need to find likeable candidates with big ear-to-ear smiles.

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>OPINION: Conservatism never made it past the primaries.

>In the musical 1776, there is a scene in which John Adams, frustrated by seeming lack of support for his independence proposals, enters the empty assembly chamber and sings his lament with these opening lines.

Is anybody there?
Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

He then continues to sing of his vision of a free America.

Those of you who believe in the basic conservative values, and who have looked to the Republican Party to represent your cause, must share the feelings of John Adams at this moment. I sure do.

The GOP leadership abandoned our values for a cheap imitation of the Democrat big government agenda. Instead if offering an alternative to the historically oppressive and failed policies of statism, the party of Lincoln and Reagan has offered up an inferior brand. Lyndon Johnson’s butter and guns policy that ravaged our economy for a score of years was revisited with avengence in the Bush adminsitration — running the national debt through the stratosphere. The appitite of Republican legislators for earmarked pork was on par with any liberal Democrat. Under the weight of reckless greed, the economy tanked. The conservative standard bearers all fell in the primaries — essentially removing the conservative agenda from the general election. Yes! McCain was too much like a Bush third term.

In this campaign season, the Democrats offered the people a better life, and the hope of a rescue from the ravages of an economy mismanaged by the Republicans’ abandonment of conservative monetary and fiscal policies. The fact that the Democrats were only offering a stronger dose of the same toxic snake oil did not matter. I looked like change … and gave hope. They offered something. The Republicans offered nothing.

In times of fear, it is not uncommon for people to surrender freedom for a sense of security, false as it maybe. We have seen this in times of war — Lincoln suspends habeas corpus, Roosevelt inters innocent Japanese-Americans and Bush signs the falsely named Patriot Act. This is equally true in times of economic fear. Against every warning and admonition of the Founding Fathers, we entrust government to take care of us.

With the Democrats in full control of our national government, we can expect to see the creeping plague of socialism spreading further in the body politic. Even before the election, and with the compliance of thoughtless Republican leadership, we have seen the banks partially nationalized. Almost a trillion taxpayer dollars appropriated to take control of the national economic tiller from the steady hand of the free market – ergo the people – in favor of the oppressive hand of a government cabal.

In this election, the Democrats claimed the credit for rescuing the people from a burning house, never to reveal that they were the arsonists who set the blaze originally. The witless Republicans willingly provided some of the fuel in a moment of irrationality.

In listening to the excuses and rationalizations of so many GOP leaders, one has to conclude that nothing has been learned. Some see resurrection through the same failed policies of the past. Many call on the party to be even more like the Democrats, and further abandon the conservative principles. For their own self interest, they arrogantly point the finger of blame at those of us who prefer an alternative to the Democrats’ liberal tax, spend and control policies – not the poor quality imitation.

Conservatism did not fail in this election because it was never on the ballot. What failed was mock liberalism offered up by a second rate party with a philosophically corrupted leadership. The old guard has become the very old guard.

Conservatives lack an effective political vehicle to offer the alternative to liberal Democrat “big brother” government. We must either take over the Republican Party or find a new platform … a new party. One of the other – but not the divisiveness of trying to do both.

I think the party of Lincoln and Reagan is the best means for many reasons, but we cannot allow the America of John Adams to be lost by the additional incompetence of even conservative leaders and believers. If we blame the Republican leaders for discarding our conservative values and policies, and surrending the election to the Democrats, then we must look at the failure of the conservative leaders within the party to keep the GOP agenda on the right rightward course.

Newt Gingrich mobilized a nation behind a positive conservative platform in his “Contract with America.” Ronald Reagan was super salesman of conservaitve ideology. Where are those kind of leaders now? Perhaps it is good that the current GOP establishment has been decimated by the Democrat sweep. There now is a vacuum. It will be filled by either the clones of the vanquished Republican establishment, or the political descendents of John Adams and Ronald Reagan. The future of America rests in the balance.

I wonder … does any one see what I see?

>OBSERVATION: Looking forward to the Chicago Olympics

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Not considering the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States, I felt pretty safe in predicting early on that Chicago will not get awarded the 2016 Olympics. My! My! How things can change.

If President Obama puts in a major effort, as he said he would and I have no doubt he will, then the odds change dramatically. When this decision is made next year, Obama will be at the peak of popularity as an international leader and personality. Other heads-of-state, who would have no reason to support the American bid under war-monger Bush or his look-alike successor, can be persuaded to gain points with the new leader of the free world by supporting the Olympic bid through their representative on the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

With ties to Africa, Asia and the Middle East, Obama is arguably the most international President we have since our English-bred founders. Most certainly, a number of national representatives on the liberal leaning IOC will find it appealing to indirectly endorse the election of America’s first African-American (with an Arabic name, no less) to hold the Oval Office. The OIC will like the image of President Barack Obama cutting the ribbon at the opening ceremonies.

Obama helps the Chicago bid in other ways. Chicago’s shortcomings in infrastructure will be quickly corrected by an infusion of federal dollars. If Obama removes U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the rising tide of indictments would likely crest before reaching the fifth floor of City Hall. Political leadership in Chicago will again be “stable.”

While any President may want the Olympics, Obama has the strongest motivation to put this higher up on his priority list. No only will he be lobbying on behalf of his country, but for the benefit of his home town – and the political machine that got him where he is today.

Another Obama advantage is taming the civic wolves. A lot of civic organizations, largely minority groups led by local community organizers, have already fired warnings across the bow of the local Olympic support committee. Civil unrest is never attractive to the IOC. Once their beloved Obama endorses the plan, these voices of opposition will fall silent.

From no chance, Obama, in my view, has transformed Chicago into the city to beat for the Olympics.

>OBSERVATION: How to spell Obama? D-A-V-I-D- A-X-E-L-R-O-D

>When looking at the making of the president 2008, the most important single factor has been largely overlooked or under appreciated by the press. David Axelrod.

Sure, he has appeared on a few interview programs and taken the podium at some press conferences, but for a guy in his position, he has maintained a surprisingly low profile — at least before Election Day. That is the Axelrod style.

As political consultants in the same Chicago political arena for many years, but on opposite ends of the political spectrum, I have had modest association with him on various campaign trials. I have known him, and of him, since he was a reporter. We have been counterpoints on any number of talk shows. Can’t say I know him well personally, but I do know him professionally.

David is probably the most determined and aggressive political guru in America, but he has almost no desire to be a celebrity in his own right. He keeps his total focus on his clients, and he has impressive ones – Mayor Daley, Bill Clinton and a number of leading Democrat candidates across the country. He does not confuse celebrity with success, as many political advisors do.

I would argue against anyone who says that Barack Obama could have made it to the White House without David. Frankly, without David, I think Obama would still be a community-based activist. Don’t get me wrong. Obama is brilliant, articulate and ambitious, and he brings a lot of natural candidate talent to the table — but so do a lot of other people.

Obama is a great raw product, but with many distasteful features. David is the genius who could not only package and sell Obama by highlighting and playing on his strong points, but who to make the other products unpalatable by comparison.

I never thought Obama could make it to the White House without a major crises and an inept opponent (and he got both). He has run for office four times. With more ambition than brains, he took on Chicago Congressman Bobby Rush in a Democrat primary. He didn’t win against this seasoned and savvy opponent, but he did get noticed. Lowering his sights, Obama went for the Illinois State Senate. Rather than risk a competent opponent, Obama, with the help of the fabled Chicago Democrat machine, used aggressive technical challenges — and the cooperation of machine election officials — to remove all his opponents form the ballot — including the incumbent. He ran unopposed.

His jump to the U.S. Senate was a bold endeavor for a neophyte state legislator. Again, it was ambition over brains, but this time he got lucky. He signed up David Axelrod. Then he got even luckier. The hapless Illinois GOP first floundered with millionaire businessman Jack Ryan, a worthy opponent until it was revealed that he and his movie star wife (Jeri Ryan) had visited sex clubs in New York and Paris.

The Republicans, in an effort to advance their reputation as the stupid party, imported conservative gadfly Alan Keyes, a kooky black perennial presidential candidate. After only a couple undistinguished years in the Senate, Obama succumbed to the siren call of the presidency. Again it as a precocious move – challenging the all but certain nomination of Hillary Clinton. This time Obama was facing real competition, but he got lucky again. The Early primaries featured a bunch of moderate white candidates to divide up the vote – leaving Obama with a unified black/progressive core.

Once he secured the nomination, he was just another unelectable Democrat … unless … unless there was some seismic political event or the GOP opponent screwed up. Again, he was lucky. Instead of “or,” Obama got “and.” The economy tanked at just the right time – as the Republicans were experiencing the beginning of a post-election surge. AND … the Republicans offered up maverick John McCain, who proceeded to run one of the worse campaigns in American history.

But, what about David Axelrod?

NONE of this would have gotten Obama elected had it not been for the genius of Axelrod. Conversely, I am convinced David would have guided Clinton to the Oval Office had he accepted her invitation to be part of the Clinton team, as he was in the past.

No defection cost Clinton more than David Axelrod. David IS strategy. You hire him, you get the Axelrod method — and a winning one it is. The Clinton campaign should have made him an offer he could not refuse. The decision to let him go doomed her candidacy, as it turned out.

David never believed in the conventional political wisdom that you do not respond to negative attacks. In fact, David takes the position that no attack, no matter how seemingly insignificant, should go unchallenged. Without this aggressive and effective strategy of refutation, Obama’s candidacy would have sunk early on under the weight of mini-scandals, questionable associations, a cloudy, if not shady, past and a political philosophy far too liberal for mainstream America.

Rather than allow his past to be discovered by others, like his one time opponent, Jack Ryan, Obama laid out most of it in his books. As the political jargon goes, he “inoculated” against criticism. This is classic Axelrod.

David knew that to become the President, Obama had to look and sound presidential. Orating like Jesse Jackson was a kiss of death. Obama’s Harvard education and artidulation were natural tools. David created and controlled the visual and verbal imagery. He treated Obama like an actor, and he, David, would show him how to play the part of President of the United States. The clothes, the staging, the photos, the gestures, the oratory. All very carefully crafted and scripted.
Just as important as David’s craftsmanship was Obama’s willingness to stick to the script. He played the part to perfection. In an amazing turn-about, the first black candidate for the presidency actually looked, acted and sounded more presidential than the classic gray-haired white guy.

More than any consultant I know, David understands the issue of credibility. Having taught college-level course in credibility, and having invented a credibility management concept, I have always been in awe of David. He never took one of my courses, but he is a natural. He knows, that if you destroy an opponents credibility, there is nothing they can say or do to convince the public of anything.

If you look at the Obama campaign through the credibility lens, you can see how the campaign used every possible technique to strip first Hillary Clinton, then McCain, and finally the whole Republican Party, or their credibility. Every time McCain changed his mind, or said something that seemed at odds with an earlier statement, the Obama campaign trumpeted it. These “inconsistencies” were then elevated to lies. McCain lies. Palin lies. Bush lies. Lies. Lies. Lies. Republican = lies.

The success of this strategy was even more impressive since McCain came into this campaign aboard the “straight talk express.” HE was the straight talker. HE was the man good as his word. HE was the tell-it-like-it-is guy. Thanks to Axelrod, the straight talk express got derailed, and McCain limped into town with the reputation of a snake oil salesman — or more specifically, the third term of the unpopular George Bush. With the very credibility of the Repbulican brand damaged, Obama’s every word became gospel and McCain could say nothing believeable to the electorate.

David also has a great talent for generating discipline. Rarely will one see a campaign were the entire team worked so well together. Through his own example, David was able to get the team to set aside the usual political differences and prima donna attitudes and focus on two things — candidate and message.

Wherever Axelrod lands in the coming months – White House aide, outside consultant – he will play a major role in guiding the entire Democrat ship as its guru-in-chief. He will be the strategy connection between his President, the Democrat National Committee, and the Senate and house campaign committees. He will be issuing the guidelines to the state parties and candidates. David could well be the most powerful political figure in America next to President Obama. He is the personification of the Chicago machine coming to Washington. He is Karl Rove on steroids.

Just you watch.

>REACT: Rahm Emanuel — Beware of dog.

>Like all presidential candidates, President-elect Barack Obama promised to reach out to the opposition as a bipartisan leader. Well … his first appointment undermines any hope of that being the case. In picking Rahm Emanuel as his chief-of-staff, Obama has given the second most powerful post in Washington to a strident, brittle take-no-prisoners partisan Democrat. In canine terms, Emanuel has been described as a junk yard dog and a pit bull on steroids. The “yellow dog” Republicans and the “blue dog” Democrats will find themselves facing a fang-bearing “mad dog.” With David Axelrod already in the inner inner circle, the appointment of Emanuel will assure America an adminsitration run right out of the hard line Chicago machine play book. (See blog: The Chicago-izing of America).

Some good news … maybe? The same dogged deterimnation that will give the GOP fits in Washington, will also be felt by world leaders — which could benefit the United States on the international stage.

More good news? For those who feared (me included) that an Obama administration would tilt more toward the Arab positions in the Middle East, take heart. With a Jewish chief-of-staff (especially this one), and possibly Penny Pritzker in the Cabinet, Obama will have the interests of Israel well represented.

>AFTERMATH: Please pass the crow.

>I spent the better part of a year explaining why Barack Obama was unelectable. I made my prediction despite my longstanding belief that John McCain was the least electable Republican candidate (see blog: Is McCain able?). In terms of Obama, boy, was I wrong. Well … only partially. I quote from my blog of February 20, 2008:

Okay, I will risk being made the fool. I don’t think Barack Obama can win a general election, short of some catastrophic political event or campaign stupidity that would wipe out McCain. (Hmmm! Perhaps I should not be so bold in my prediction)

Well, Obama was the benefactor of BOTH a “catastrophic political event” and “campaign stupidity” by McCain.

As soon as the economic meltdown reached atomic levels, I surrendered to the notion that Obama was electable (see blog: President Obama? Arrrrrrgh!). In terms of “campaign stupidity,” the list of examples is far too long to delineate here — but you do not have to go much past Sarah Palin to identify self-inflicted mortal political wounds. Yes, Sarah got roughed up by a very biased press, but that still leaves a lot of room for justifiable criticism.

Given the closeness of the popular vote, I stand by my original analysis that Obama could not have been elected without both of the aforementioned conditions. Even the pollsters say the rush to Obama came at the time of the bailout. Oh yeah! The bailout. Major stupidity number two for McCain.

Having made my excuses, I will now admit that the scope of Obama’s victory was impressive. Even before the polls closed on the west coast, he was already the winner. Since I preferred his opponent without much enthusiasm, I am not overly chagrined by Obama’s victory.

Outside of the black vote, it was pleasant to see that America is not nearly as racially prejudiced as those politically correct liberals like to contend.

Bottom line … Obama won … and I get a serving of humble pie a la crow.

>OBSERVATION: Lucky Joe Lieberman.

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Seems like most pundits and politicos have placed Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman in the loser column after he jumped party to support his Republican friend and colleague John McCain for President. Not so fast. Methinks we might want to nickname him “Lucky Lieberman.”

Though he is officially an Independent, he was part of the Democrat caucus, from whence he derives his seniority and committee assignments. There were a lot of Capitol Hill donkeys braying for his ouster. However, the Dems only had a one vote majority in the Senate, so they tolerated old Joe, and let him have his chairmanships according to his seniority.

You recall … the reason Joe is an Independent is that the Dems dumped him in their 2006 primary election, only to have him return to the ballot on his own and trounce the anointed candidate.
With the coming of the new and bigger Dem majority, the knives were out again. This was to be their one chance to punish and ostracize the renegade.

Well … not so fast, again. With the Dems approaching a veto-proof Senate, old Joe’s vote could be critical. So, do the Senate jackasses throw him overboard and give more power to the Republicans to stop legislation by filibuster? Or, do they hold their noses, swallow their pride, bite the bullet — and whatever else they need do — and let the errant senator keep his seniority and chairmanships?

What to do? What go do?

>MORE TIDBITS: A surprisingly tranquil election night.

>1. Barack Obama ran one of best presidential campaigns in American History. The strategy was brilliant, the tactics uniformly effective, and the implementation flawless. Conversely, John McCain ran one of the worst campaigns in modern times.

2. The late New York Senator Patrick Moynihan once advised President Richard Nixon: “If you are going to act like a Tory, speak like a Whig, and if you are going to act like a Whig, speak like a Tory.” Obama understands this concept. The Dems stole the rhetoric of the right. Middle class values. Tax cuts for most Americans. A call for individual contribution. Coming to the campaign as the most liberal senator in Washington, Obama gave speeches that could have comfortably flowed from the lips of Ronald Reagan.

3. Despite the historic breakthrough, the heated rhetoric of the campaign, and the paranoia about vote fraud, election night was remarkably devoid of controversies. It was a BIG election, with highly volatile issues, but even the television talking heads noted the absence of any vote stealing or major “machine malfunction” stories to report. By 9:00 p.m. eastern time, the nation had a President-elect. There was a gracious concession speech and an inspirational acceptance speech.

4. In a previous blog is predicted that the pollsters would be wrong as usual. Gallup gave Obama a ten point lead. The results were way outside their margin of error. And those who now claim to be correct chose a more conservative spread with Obama on top. Of course, given the margins of error, their accuracy was no better than an educated guess.

5. It is amazing how quickly the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich – the party of values, ideas and issues – has descended into a party of greed, incompetency and divisiveness.

6. In his concession speech, McCain said the GOP’s poor showing was his fault. His hometown crowd considerately shouted their disagreement with that assessment. However … he was right. It was his to lose, and he did. His sinking coatails dragged down the Repbublican brand all over America.

7. For a lot of reasons, right and wrong, Sarah Palin did not sell well to the voting public — including a lot of conservative Republicans. The wise guys in the GOP as saying she is the future of the party, and the heir to the presidential nomination in 2012. Apparently the Repbulican wise guys have learned nothing. Why not Dick Cheney, while they’re at it?

>TIDBIT: Separation of church and state?

>I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of polling places are in churches. How does this square with the separation of chruch and state?

Now, don’t get me wrong. Personally, I have no problem with voting in a church. I think a lot of the church/state separation stuff is nothing more than political correctness garbage.

The founders never intended religion to be banished from the public commons. They were only concerned that no one religion should become official or sanctioned.

It is just that I got a kick out of the attached photo. With the new touch-screen voting machines, the message is ironcally apt. Gads! I hope this was not a special message to pedophile priests. (Shame on me for even joking about that. Tee hee!)

>REACT: Only in America …

>There are a number of interesting things to analyze in the amazing path of Barack Obama from community organizer in Chicago to President of the United States. In the days to come, I will reflect on some of these. For the moment, however, the bell has rung on the final round of the 2008 presidential bout — and we the people have scored the victory for Obama. Maybe a split decision, but no lingering doubts. Like it or not, he is our president.

On election night, the candidates respectively gave the best concession speech and acceptance speech in my memory. Had John McCain been able to articulate himself so eloquently during the campaign, he might have been more successful. If Obama lives up to the spirit of his speech, his place in history could be more than breaking the color barrier. He has the potential for true greatness.

In the months to come, the world will witness the high point of democracy as political adversaries undertake a peaceful and cordial transition of power from one party to another. More than just a change of political party, Obama led a peaceful revolution in the tradition of Reagan, Roosevelt and Lincoln.

At the core of our continuing experiment in democracy is our bipartisan efforts to make the Obama administration a success — both by supporting its good works and opposing its mistakes. We will not all see those from the same perspective, but in a democracy, the majority is usually right.

If we cannot celebrate the victory of our candidate, we can still celebrate our system of government. So, before I go to bed on this election night, I say congratulations to President-elect Barack Obama … and may God bless him … and this great country.