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President George Bush and First Lady Laura Bush have purchased a home in an affluent home north of Dallas. The couple will move their after the president’s second term ends in January. AP
According to Rachel Maddow only MSNBC covered the McCain conference live ~ I guess Fox News wasn’t feeling up to it yesterday!
Loyal allies to dominate inner sanctum but Clinton vets will abound
WASHINGTON – Two main quarries are supplying the building blocks for President-elect Barack Obama’s new administration.
Longtime, deeply loyal associates will dominate the White House inner sanctum. And veterans of Bill Clinton’s presidency will hold vital jobs throughout the government, although a bit farther from the Oval Office.
The structure suggests Obama is confident enough to hand top posts to former rivals whose loyalty is not guaranteed, a strategy many presidents have avoided. But most of those on Obama’s team who will have his ear everyday will be old friends and experienced advisers who are seen as having no ambitions beyond his success.
Obama raised eyebrows this month when he tapped some of Clinton’s closest allies for important jobs.
John Podesta, Clinton’s former White House chief of staff, is heading the transition effort. Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel, a former top Clinton adviser, is Obama’s chief of staff. Former Clinton appointees Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano appear in line for Cabinet posts.
Even more startling to many, Obama has signaled plans to name former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state.
Some Obama supporters have praised him for reaching out to his toughest primary opponent. But others question why they worked so hard to defeat Clinton only to see her, and many close to her, grab prizes in the new administration. They note that Obama repeatedly campaigned against “the politics of the past” and Washington “dramas,” thinly veiled jabs at the Clinton presidency as well as President George W. Bush’s tenure.
Stephen Hess, a George Washington University authority on presidential transitions, said Obama is playing it smart.
“It’s easy to make a leap that this is going to be a repeat of the Clinton administration and there’s no way that’s going to happen,” said Hess, who first worked for the Eisenhower administration.
Value of ‘old-timers’
Obama needs a core of Democrats with federal government experience, Hess said, and veterans of Bill Clinton’s administration are virtually the only source.
“The old-timers are exceedingly valuable to him now,” he said, but Obama “also has his own group of advisers, and he will merge the two groups.”
That merger began taking shape last week. Obama’s three “senior advisers,” who will have desks near the Oval Office, are some of his closest and longest-serving allies:
President Bush, who not so long ago argued that it was defeatist to insist upon a timetable for a withdrawal of American military forces from Iraq, now tentatively has negotiated — drum roll, please — a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops.
The status of forces agreement reached recently between the Bush administration and the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki calls for pulling American forces out of Iraqi cities by the end of next June and the departure of all U.S. military units by the end of 2011.
Moreover, the President agreed to other Iraqi demands he once dismissed: no permanent U.S. bases in Iraq; a ban on use of Iraqi territory to attack neighbors, including Iran and Syria; and more Iraqi control over U.S. military operations and movements.
Of course, nothing in Iraq is simple or certain. The Iraqi parliament must approve the deal in a vote scheduled for this week. Any plan would be carried out on the U.S. end not by Mr. Bush but by Barack Obama, who has favored a faster pullout. Shiite cleric and militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr demands the immediate ouster of the American “invader,” and some Sunni and Kurdish leaders fear being left at the mercy of Mr. al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government.
Still, in the byzantine world of Iraqi politics, such wrangling may have less to do with how to deal now with the Americans than with how various factions are positioning themselves for a post-American future.
That is a consideration that Mr. Obama should be weighing as well.
It is going to be tempting for the incoming president — particularly considering the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and the war’s cost of more than $10 billion per month — to speed up the American withdrawal.
And perhaps that will be possible. We hope so. At the same time, if Mr. al-Maliki is able to win approval of the pact, American involvement is going to be needed to prod the Iraqis toward political consensus and real sharing of oil revenues, accelerate training of Iraqi security forces and encourage responsible Middle Eastern countries to foster stability in Iraq.
Leaving Iraq as quickly as feasible is desirable. Doing everything possible to prevent a need ever to return is imperative.
By Jonathan Mann
(CNN) — Who is the president of the United States? The real president?
Right now, the US may have two of them — neither entirely up to the job.
In constitutional terms, George W. Bush occupies the Oval Office until his term ends on January 20 with the inauguration of his successor.
But a new CNN/Opinion Research Poll finds that Bush is the least popular president since pollsters first began measuring approval ratings half-a-century ago.
His Republican party has, of course, just been defeated in presidential and congressional elections and many Republicans blame him personally. Democrats blame him for a whole lot more. So even though the calendar gives him two more months, he has virtually no mandate left.
Barack Obama isn’t president. His supporters in the United States and around the world can barely contain their excitement about what’s ahead, but for now he has only the nebulous position as the next guy in line, the “president-elect.”
In constitutional terms, the president-elect doesn’t have any legal authority, but that hasn’t stopped him. Obama is exercising all the authority he can.
He’s come forward quickly to talk about his plans. He’s pushing Bush to support a bailout for the US auto industry before Bush leaves office. Obama’s made it clear that he expects measures for the economy from the Congress too.
“While we must recognize that we only have one president at a time and that President Bush is the leader of our government, I want to ensure that we hit the ground running on January 20 because we don’t have a moment to lose,” Obama said.
There are 11 weeks between the election and the inauguration, the in-between time known as the Transition. But Obama is compressing the calendar.
It could be that the crisis in the US economy demands strong leadership right now and the American people expect him to offer it. It could also be that Obama doesn’t want to wait.
“He is immediately muscling his way into power,” complains former Bush speechwriter David Frum. “Barack Obama said at his first press conference that the US has only one president at a time. He didn’t say who that president was.”
Maybe there isn’t just one president – more like two half-presidents, one wounded and one waiting, and both trying to make the most of the two months ahead.
With just weeks to go before taking office, the economy is hurting and oil and gasoline prices are dropping, all presenting challenges for President-elect Obama’s green energy proposals. Stacey Delo reports. (Part 1 in a series.) (Nov. 12)
For more political videos, check out www.wsj.com/video.
Ron Paul strikes again!
WASHINGTON — When a Congressional committee subpoenaed Harry S. Truman in 1953, nearly a year after he left office, he made a startling claim: Even though he was no longer president, the Constitution still empowered him to block subpoenas.
“If the doctrine of separation of powers and the independence of the presidency is to have any validity at all, it must be equally applicable to a president after his term of office has expired,” Truman wrote to the committee.
Congress backed down, establishing a precedent suggesting that former presidents wield lingering powers to keep matters from their administration secret. Now, as Congressional Democrats prepare to move forward with investigations of the Bush administration, they wonder whether that claim may be invoked again.
“The Bush administration overstepped in its exertion of executive privilege, and may very well try to continue to shield information from the American people after it leaves office,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, who sits on two committees, Judiciary and Intelligence, that are examining aspects of Mr. Bush’s policies.
Topics of open investigations include the harsh interrogation of detainees, the prosecution of former Gov. Don Siegelman of Alabama, secret legal memorandums from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and the role of the former White House aides Karl Rove and Harriet E. Miers in the firing of federal prosecutors.
Mr. Bush has used his executive powers to block Congressional requests for executive branch documents and testimony from former aides. But investigators hope that the Obama administration will open the filing cabinets and withdraw assertions of executive privilege that Bush officials have invoked to keep from testifying.
“I intend to ensure that our outstanding subpoenas and document requests relating to the U.S. attorneys matter are enforced,” said Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “I am hopeful that progress can be made with the coming of the new administration.”
Also, two advocacy groups, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First, have prepared detailed reports for the new administration calling for criminal investigations into accusations of abuse of detainees.
It is not clear, though, how a President Barack Obama will handle such requests. Legal specialists said the pressure to investigate the Bush years would raise tough political and legal questions.
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By the sound of this discussion, it appears that Obama faces more pressure to pick a diverse Cabinet and not less. In any case it certainly seems his selection will be scrutinized more [by some].
Oh to be the first!!
Since everyone else seems to be having a go….. I would think one of the most underrepresented groups in US administrations is… the Native American. Any talented Native Americans out there?
In 1992, Bill Clinton famously promised to appoint a Cabinet that “looks like America.” He followed through, tapping women and minorities for high-ranking positions and overseeing an administration more diverse than any that had come before it. President Bush continued this tradition, appointing two African-Americans to his national security/foreign policy team.
But now all this progress seems to pale in comparison to the history made Nov. 4, with this “first” being less groundbreaking than plate-shifting. To borrow the oft-used sports analogy, after years of seeing Jackie Robinsons take the field in different professions, the American people finally put one in the owner’s box.
But now that we have a black Branch Rickey in Barack Obama, what does that mean for the rest of the team? Put in political terms, does our first African-American president, elected with a rainbow coalition, have more of an imperative to appoint an administration that includes minorities in high-ranking positions?
Not really, is the answer supplied by a group of prominent African-Americans. Having a team of varied faces is preferable and in keeping with Obama’s pledge to represent all Americans — but these veteran black politicians and public officials say the president-elect should tap into the best talent available without taking a head-counting approach, in which slots are determined by demographics and symbolism trumps substance.
To some degree, Obama’s election is so historic that he is post-racial when it comes to choosing those who will work most closely with him.
“He will assemble a Cabinet that I think reflects a modern-day array of talent,” said Rep. Artur Davis, the Alabama Democrat who endorsed Obama early in the primary. “I don’t think he has any special obligation to play the quota game to have so many blacks and so many whites.”
It’s a potentially dicey decision. Obama campaigned around the notion that old divisions should be consigned to the past, a belief his election underscores. But he also won with overwhelming support from black Americans and is the very embodiment of the hopes and dreams of that community. To surround himself with a mostly white coterie of top advisers could turn off African-Americans.
To be sure, Obama’s instincts clearly seem to be inclusive — and given his background, how could they not be? To see Obama’s transition team and the group of economic advisers that stood behind him at his first news conference Friday in Chicago, it seems likely that a man of Kansas, Kenya, Hawaii, Indonesia and Chicago will appoint a team that reflects the diversity of his own extended family and unique life. [...]
“If you’re going to do diversity, put some significance on party diversity,” Espy said, noting that the new president could keep Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon or tap Colin Powell for a high-ranking post and help himself with those Americans whose votes he didn’t receive.
Transition chief John Podesta said Tuesday that Obama would look hard at making non-Democratic appointments. Obama will make more than “token-level” appointments of Republicans and independents, Podesta said. [...]
But while Obama may not need much in the way of outside advice to grasp the issues facing black America, there are others who will call for representatives of underrepresented communities.
“The way the Latino population is growing and the immigration issue is becoming, you’d be nuts not to have Hispanics in the Cabinet to express their views,” Wilkins said, noting that Native Americans should be afforded similar opportunities about their unique challenges and opportunities. [...]
Donna Brazile, who became the first African-American to manage a presidential campaign when she ran Al Gore’s 2000 bid, agreed, noting that the times demand top talent.
“The important thing is that President-elect Obama selects the very best people to help his administration with the multitude of challenges we face,” Brazile said. “Some people will look to see if the new Cabinet looks like America in terms of diversity, but as strongly as I personally believe in diversity, I must also state for the record: Good appointments speak for itself.” [...]
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On the day that President-elect Barack Obama visited the White House, a new national poll illustrates the daunting challenges he faces when it becomes his home next year.
Only 16 percent of those questioned in a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Monday say things are going well in the country today. That’s an all-time low. Eighty-three percent say things are going badly, which is an all-time high.
“The challenge Obama faces has never been greater. No president has ever come to office during a time when the public’s mood has been this low. In the 34 years that this question has been asked, the number who say things are going well has never fallen below 20 percent,” said Keating Holland, CNN’s polling director.
The 83 percent saying things are going badly is “more than in 1992, when the first President Bush was ousted because of ‘the economy, stupid.’ That’s more than in 1980, when President Carter got fired after the malaise crisis. That’s more than in 1975, after Watergate and the Nixon pardon,” said Bill Schneider, CNN senior political analyst.
So far, Obama seems to be meeting the public’s high expectations. Two-thirds of all Americans have a positive view of what he has done since he was elected president, and three-quarters think he will do a good job as president.
The all-time low on the public’s mood may have something to do with the poll’s finding that President Bush is the most unpopular president since approval ratings were first sought more than six decades ago. Seventy-six percent of those questioned in the poll disapprove of how he is handling his job.
That’s an all-time high in CNN polling and in Gallup polling dating back to World War II.
“No other president’s disapproval rating has gone higher than 70 percent. Bush has managed to do that three times so far this year,” Holland said. “That means that Bush is now more unpopular than Richard Nixon was when he resigned from office during Watergate with a 66 percent disapproval rating.”
Before Bush, the record holder for presidential disapproval was Harry Truman, with a 67 percent disapproval rating in January of 1952, his last full year in office.
This failing economy and troubled auto industry is the perfect storm for Obama and the Democrats, if the auto industry was strong — how could you get it to change direction? The writing was on the wall some eight years ago that the oil age was coming to an end – that to continue to pursue it would lead us into difficulty. And it was one of the hallmarks of Al Gore’s presidential campaign. Now we have seen the results of continuing down the same path. But with this disaster or more stripping of the sector – there is opportunity; the free market idea is to allow the auto industry to fail, or it can be bailed out under conservative socialism, or we can forget about the old titles and give the auto-industry the money it needs but with the strings attached – that it retools for the future car. Why can’t we have a hybrid/electric or an electric SUZ? And this merchandise can be exported – the market should be thrilled.
Bush is arguing – he’ll give Obama this – if in return Obama cedes with the Republican position on trade with Columbia. And it is a weak argument – because what Obama is saying – we will be happy to trade with you – but you are going to have to pull your act together when it comes to workers rights. This carrot and stick approach may do more to change conditions in Columbia – than all the diplomacy in the world. Doubtful if this is a chip that can be traded because it has a long term goal.
WASHINGTON — The struggling auto industry was thrust into the middle of a political standoff between the White House and Democrats on Monday as President-elect Barack Obama urged President Bush in a meeting at the White House to support immediate emergency aid.
Mr. Bush indicated at the meeting that he might support some aid and a broader economic stimulus package if Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats dropped their opposition to a free-trade agreement with Colombia, a measure for which Mr. Bush has long fought, people familiar with the discussion said.
The Bush administration, which has presided over a major intervention in the financial industry, has balked at allowing the automakers to tap into the $700 billion bailout fund, despite warnings last week that General Motors might not survive the year.
Mr. Obama and Congressional Democratic leaders say the bailout law authorizes the administration to extend assistance.
Mr. Obama went into his post-election meeting with Mr. Bush on Monday primed to urge him to support emergency aid to the auto industry, advisers to Mr. Obama said. But Democrats also indicate that neither Mr. Obama nor Congressional leaders are inclined to concede the Colombia pact to Mr. Bush, and may decide to wait until Mr. Obama assumes power on Jan. 20. [...]
As the auto industry reels, rarely has an issue so quickly illustrated the differences from one White House occupant to the next. How Mr. Obama responds to the industry’s dire straits will indicate how much government intervention in the private sector he is willing to tolerate. It will also offer hints of how he will approach his job under pressure, testing the limits of his conciliation toward the opposition party and his willingness to stand up to the interest groups in his own. [....]
Obama has called on the Bush administration to accelerate $25 billion in federal loans provided by a recent law specifically to help automakers retool. Late in his campaign, Mr. Obama proposed doubling that to $50 billion. But industry supporters say the automakers, squeezed both by the unavailability of credit and depressed sales, need unrestricted cash now, simply to meet payroll and other expenses.
On Friday, Mr. Obama said he would instruct his economic team, once he chooses it, to devise a long-range plan for helping the auto industry recover in a way that is part of an energy and environmental policy to reduce reliance on foreign oil and address climate change.
Democrats close to both Mr. Obama’s transition team and to Congressional leaders seemed willing to call Mr. Bush’s bluff, calculating that he would not want to gamble that G.M. — an iconic, century-old American corporation with business tentacles in every state — would fail on his watch and add to the negative notes of his legacy. Also, economists as conservative as Martin Feldstein, an adviser to a long line of Republican presidents and candidates, have called more broadly for stimulus spending of up to $300 billion.
The major automakers — G.M., Ford and Chrysler — are each using up their cash at unsustainable rates. The Center for Automotive Research, which is based in Michigan and supported by the industry, released on Election Day an economic analysis of the impact of one or all of them failing. If the Big Three were to collapse, it said, that would cost at least three million jobs, counting autoworkers, suppliers and other businesses dependent on the companies, down to the hot-dog vendors and bartenders next door to their plants.
Organized labor is not the only interest group with influence in the Democratic Party that is weighing in as Mr. Obama plans his transition. Environmentalists are adamant that any aid be conditioned on the auto industry’s dropping of its opposition to higher fuel-efficiency standards and investing more in new technology. That puts them at odds with unions, who oppose any strings, leaving it to Mr. Obama to mediate.
Both as a candidate and now as president-elect, Mr. Obama has been in contact with former Vice President Al Gore, who last year won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on climate change. In a column published in Sunday’s New York Times, Mr. Gore wrote that “we should help America’s automobile industry (not only the Big Three but the innovative new start-up companies as well) to convert quickly to plug-in hybrids that can run on the renewable electricity that will be available.”
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WASHINGTON — For nearly two years on the campaign trail, Senator Barack Obama rarely missed a chance to take a swipe at President Bush. The name George W. Bush invariably followed the phrase “failed policies” in Mr. Obama’s speeches. “When George Bush steps down,” Mr. Obama once declared, “the world is going to breathe a sigh of relief.”
Ronald and Nancy Reagan, right, and President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in 1980.
On Monday, Mr. Obama, Democrat of Illinois, may find himself conveniently forgetting those words — or at least delicately stepping around the fact that he had said them. As the president-elect, he will be welcomed at the White House as an honored guest of its current occupant, Mr. Bush, for a meeting that could be as awkward as it is historic.
In a time-honored tradition of American democracy, Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, will receive a tour of their new home from Mr. Bush and the first lady, Laura Bush. Then the men will split off to begin the formal transfer of power, all the more urgent this year because of the financial crisis. Mr. Obama has said he expects a “substantive conversation between myself and the president.”
But there will also be a subtext to the session: the personal chemistry between two leaders whose worldviews are miles apart. The ritual visit is occurring uncommonly early this year, less than a week after Mr. Obama handily defeated Senator John McCain of Arizona, who was the Republican nominee and Mr. Bush’s preferred candidate. Emotions may still be raw.
“I’m not going to anticipate problems,” Mr. Obama said Friday at his first news conference as president-elect. “I’m going to go in there with a spirit of bipartisanship.”
Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama have had little chance to forge the kind of personal relationship that might prompt a smooth handoff. In his book, “The Audacity of Hope,” Mr. Obama wrote less than admiringly of his first face-to-face encounter with the president, at a White House breakfast for new senators after the 2004 election, where Mr. Bush outlined his second-term agenda.
“The president’s eyes became fixed; his voice took on the agitated, rapid tone of someone neither accustomed to nor welcoming interruption; his easy affability was replaced by an almost messianic certainty,” Mr. Obama wrote. “As I watched my mostly Republican Senate colleagues hang on his every word, I was reminded of the dangerous isolation that power can bring.”
Mr. Bush, meanwhile, was privately critical of Mr. Obama during the 2008 Democratic primary race, telling friends that he thought Mr. Obama’s chief rival for the party’s nomination, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, was “more experienced and more ready to be president,” said one friend of Mr. Bush’s who had such a conversation. But Mr. Obama ran a good campaign — Mr. Bush is someone who appreciates that — and the election last week might have eased his doubts.
“President Bush is a realist,” said this friend, who spoke anonymously to disclose his private conversation with the president. “He has a way of coming to grips with things and moving on. The people have spoken.”
For Mr. Bush, the meeting has a distinct upside: the chance to take the edge off his unpopularity. Democrats are already praising him as gracious for his post-election speech in the Rose Garden, where he said it would be a “stirring sight” to see the Obama family move into the White House. The meeting on Monday will give Mr. Bush an opportunity to produce lasting images of that graciousness.
“The important thing he gets out of it,” the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said, “is a public perception of him as somebody who is leaving in classy fashion, by opening his house and his information and his government. He wants to leave on a note that says he did everything possible to help this next president run the country.”
But such meetings can be fraught with political and personal danger. On Inauguration Day in 2001, President Bill Clinton invited Mr. Bush for coffee before the ceremony but kept his ever-punctual successor waiting for 10 minutes, recalled Mr. Bush’s first press secretary, Ari Fleischer. Even more uncomfortable was the presence of Vice President Al Gore, who lost the presidential election to Mr. Bush after a bitterly contested Florida recount.
“Clinton was his normal gregarious self, but Vice President Gore was not a happy camper,” Mr. Fleischer said. “I think it was a very sour moment for him, and you could kind of feel it in the room.”
In 1980, after President Jimmy Carter lost his re-election bid to Ronald Reagan, the two met at the White House. Mr. Carter came away feeling that Mr. Reagan had not been paying attention.
“President Carter was kind of taken aback by the meeting with Reagan,” said Jody Powell, Mr. Carter’s former press secretary. “There was a point where he sort of wandered off and asked questions that seemed to be only tangentially related to what they were talking about.”
And though the Carter White House had offered to share information about efforts to end the Iranian hostage crisis, Mr. Powell said, “My impression was that they wanted us to handle it without them being involved enough to have to take responsibility for whatever happened.”
So, too, may it be with Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama over the economy. Mr. Bush has invited world leaders to Washington on Friday and Saturday for an international conference on the economy. Mr. Obama and his team have declined to attend. Mr. Obama supports a new economic stimulus package; the Bush White House is cool to that idea.
The White House says Mr. Obama has been there seven times during Mr. Bush’s tenure, most recently in September for a much-publicized meeting on the $700 billion financial rescue package. That session blew up when House Republicans, backed by Mr. McCain, balked at the plan. Curiously enough, Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush were on the same side.
Perhaps Mr. Obama will remind Mr. Bush of that when he sees him on Monday. Or perhaps he will remind Mr. Bush of another encounter, at a White House reception in January 2005 when, according to Mr. Obama’s book, the affable president offered a dollop of hand sanitizer — “Not wanting to seem unhygienic,” Mr. Obama wrote, “I took a squirt” — and then pulled him aside for some unsolicited political advice.
“You’ve got a bright future, very bright,” Mr. Bush began, by Mr. Obama’s account. The president went on to warn the new senator that his celebrity status could hurt him: “Everybody’ll be waiting for you to slip, know what I mean? So watch yourself.”
A dedication to all those who helped make Obama’s election possible.
Obama to act swiftly on economy
Hardball’s Chris Matthews: How Obama Won
Powell, endorses, Obama, Iraq, transformational, figure, security, Campaign, McCain, victory, win, president, Attacks, Colin, inclusive
The ascent of an African-American to the presidency is a moment so powerful and so obvious that its symbolism needs no commentary.
Nov. 4, 2008, was the day when American politics shifted on its axis.
The ascent of an African-American to the presidency — a victory by a 47-year-old man who was born when segregation was still the law of the land across much of this nation — is a moment so powerful and so obvious that its symbolism needs no commentary.
But it was the reality of power, not the symbolism, that changed Tuesday night in ways more profound than meet the eye.
The rout of the Republican Party, and the accompanying gains by Democrats in Congress, mean that Barack Obama will assume office with vastly more influence in the nation’s capital than most of his recent predecessors have wielded.
The only exceptions suggest the magnitude of the moment. Power flowed in unprecedented ways to George W. Bush in the year after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It flowed likewise to Lyndon B. Johnson after his landslide in 1964.
Beyond those fleeting moments, every president for more than two generations has confronted divided government or hobbling internal divisions within his own party.
The Democrats’ moment with Obama, as a brilliant campaigner confronts the challenges of governance, could also prove fleeting. For now, the results — in their breadth across a continent — suggest seismic change that goes far beyond Obama’s 4 percent margin in the popular vote.
The evening recalled what activist Eldridge Cleaver observed of the instant when Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus and a movement followed: “Somewhere in the universe a gear in the machinery shifted.”
Here are five big things about the machinery of national politics and Washington that will be different once Obama takes office on Jan. 20, 2009:
The crash of the conservative wave
For most of the past 30 years, since the dawn of the Reagan Era, conservatives have held the momentum in American politics. Even the Clinton years were shaped — and constrained — by conservative ideas (work requirements for welfare, the Defense of Marriage Act) and conservative rhetoric (“the era of Big Government is over”). Republicans rode this wave to win the presidency five of seven times since 1980, and to dominate Congress for a dozen years after 1994.
Now the wave has crashed, breaking the back of the modern Republican Party in the process.
Obama’s victory and the second straight election to award big gains to congressional Democrats showed that the 2006 election was not, as Karl Rove and others argued at the time, a flukish result that reflected isolated scandals in the headlines at the time.
Republicans lost their reform mantle. Voters who wanted change voted for Obama 89 percent to 9 percent. They lost their decisive edge on national security. They even lost the battle over taxes.
Republicans lost support in every area of the country. Virginia went Democratic, and North Carolina at midnight hung in the balance. Republicans still hold a significant, if smaller, chunk of the South and a smattering of western states. The cities were lost long ago. The suburbs fell last night — and even the exurbs are shaky.
Republicans lost one of their most effective political tactics. Portraying Al Gore or John F. Kerry as exotic and untrustworthy characters with culturally elitist values proved brutally effective for the GOP in 2000 and 2004, as it had in numerous other races for years. In 2008, such tactics barely dented Obama — who because of his race and background looked at first like a more vulnerable target — and they backfired against such candidates as Sen. Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina, who was routed badly after trying to paint Democrat Kay Hagan as an atheist.
The movement that brought so many conservatives to great power over the past 20 years — Gingrich, DeLay, Bush, Cheney and Rove — is left without a clear leader, without a clear agenda and without a clear route back.
The crash of the conservative wave does not necessarily mean the rise of a liberal one. By stressing middle-class tax cuts and the rights of gun owners Obama showed he is sensitive to hot buttons. But he will take power with the opposition party diminished, demoralized and divided by a draining internal argument about the future.
A Democratic headlock
Many people find Obama’s post-partisan rhetoric soothing. But it’s doubtful that these sentiments, even if sincere, reflect the reality of the new Washington.
This is a city that defines itself by partisanship. Politicians and the operatives they support play for the shirts or the skins and believe that one side’s gain is the other’s loss.
In this environment, Democrats have the capital in a headlock, holding more power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue than they have had for at least 32 years (Jimmy Carter) and, more realistically, 44 years (Johnson). Obama seems ready to press this advantage. The best early clue of his ambitions: He wants sharp-elbowed Democratic Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) to run his White House.
Democrats are positioned to do more than move legislation. They will flush Republicans out of key positions in the federal government and lobbying firms. They will install their people in the federal courts. They will be positioned to raise money for those who usually give to Republicans and easily recruit the most desirable candidates in 2010, as other Democrats look to join what looks like a winning team.
While Obama’s race hovered over this campaign, what was most striking was that it was not the all-consuming subject that it would have been in the past. Exit polls showed Obama pulling support from 43 percent of white voters, 2 percentage point higher than Kerry.
And look around elsewhere in American politics. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s gender was a novelty when she first took the gavel but now draws little notice. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) is a top member of the House Democratic leadership.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party’s inability to offer more diversity in its top ranks — Sarah Palin notwithstanding — threatens to become a crippling liability. Hispanics broke for Obama 67 percent to 31 percent.
The party inexplicably failed to field a single minority candidate with a plausible chance to win a House or Senate seat or a governorship. It will enter the next Congress just as it did the past two: without a single black member.
A party dominated by white males is poorly positioned to prosper among an increasingly diverse electorate. Somehow, the GOP needs to find new ways to appeal to minorities — or risk a long life in the wilderness as a percentage of the overall population continues to shrink.
For a couple of generations, conservatives had the more effective political infrastructure. They used direct mail and talk radio to run circles around liberals in raising money and communicating their message around the filter of the establishment media. Some of that money flowed into think tanks that helped nurture ideas and operatives.
This year was striking because the technology/communications advantage was decisively with the Democrats. Obama and other Democrats used this to raise vastly more money than McCain and to mobilize legions of people who had not previously been engaged with politics. Liberal think tanks such as the Center for American Progress have served as a Democratic government in waiting.
Important to remember: This Democratic infrastructure advantage is not disappearing. Obama, regarded as a heroic figure among party activists, can use it to help raise even more money, and to mobilize support for his agenda. This is a potent force that will inspire fear, and give him clout, over legislators of both parties.
Obama is the Google of politics: He has technological expertise and an audience his political competitors simply cannot match. Looking ahead to 2010, House and Senate Democrats will be jealously eyeing Obama’s e-mail lists and technology secrets — giving him even greater leverage over them. Republicans will be forced to invest serious money and time to narrow the technology gap.
The 1960s are over — finally
For two generations, American politics has been dominated by issues and personalities that were shaped by the ideological and cultural conflicts of the Vietnam era.
The rest of the population may have been bored stiff, but the baby boomers continued their remorseless argument, as evidenced by Bush and Kerry partisans quarreling over Swift Boats and National Guard service in 2004.
Obama had not yet reached adolescence in the 1960s. He seems little interested in the cultural conflicts that preoccupy baby boomers. The fact that he admitted to using cocaine was hardly a factor in this election.
And this young president-elect exerted powerful appeal over even younger voters. They favored Obama by 34 percentage points, 66 percent to 32 percent — a trend with huge potential to echo for years to come.
Guns, God and gays will not disappear from our politics. But they are diminished as electoral weapons as the country confronts a new generation of disputes: global warming, mortgage meltdowns and the detention of terrorism suspects, to name a few.
WASHINGTON – In the final weekend of a long race for the White House, Barack Obama promised to heal America’s political divisions while rival John McCain fought to hold on to Republican-leaning states and pledged to score an upset.
For Obama, buoyed by record campaign donations and encouraging poll numbers, it was a time for soaring rhetoric and forays into Republican territory. “We have a righteous wind at our back,” the Democrat said Saturday.
McCain saw the weekend as a final opportunity to persuade voters to prove the polls and pundits wrong and sweep him into office.
“We’re a few points down but we’re coming back,” he told supporters in Virginia.
Obama campaigned Saturday in Nevada, Colorado and Missouri, all states that voted for President Bush four years ago, while McCain struggled to keep Virginia from voting for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1964.
McCain also made a quick sidetrip to New York City and an appearance on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” where he joked about his campaign and his latest plan to win over voters.
“I thought I might try a strategy called the reverse maverick. That’s where I’d do whatever anybody tells me,” McCain said. If that failed, he quipped, “I’d go to the double maverick. I’d just go totally berserk and freak everybody out.”
Both men appealed to supporters to turn out on Election Day, saying the stakes could scarcely be higher.
“If you give me your vote on Tuesday, we won’t just win this election — together, we will change this country and change the world,” Obama said in a nationwide Democratic radio address.
Vice President Dick Cheney endorsed McCain, saying Americans “cannot afford the high tax liberalism of Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”
Obama, campaigning in Colorado, pounced on the remark, saying McCain had earned the endorsement through supporting the Bush administration’s failed social and economic policies.
“Bush and Cheney have dug a deep hole,” Obama said. “Now they’re trying to hand the shovel to McCain.”
An Associated Press-Yahoo News national poll of likely voters showed Obama ahead, 51 to 43, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. McCain’s campaign says its internal polling shows the gap closing.
It’s always nice to see Michelle Obama.
We can’t afford to slip up in the final days. Volunteer this weekend and into Election Day, November 4th, 2008. http://www.barackobama.com/
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Colin Powell: New president facing a daunting picture
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — His backers feeling increasingly confident, Democrat Barack Obama made a slight nod to his Republican rival on Saturday and asked voters to have faith in him as the next president.
Even as he criticized John McCain’s economic policies, Obama acknowledged that the GOP nominee has asked his supporters to temper their attacks on him.
“I appreciated his reminder that we can disagree while still being respectful of each other,” Obama told thousands of supporters at the first of four outdoor rallies in Philadelphia.
“Sen. McCain has served this country with honor,” he said two hours later, in the city’s Germantown neighborhood. “He deserves our thanks for that.”
“I appreciated his reminder that we can disagree while still being respectful of each other,” Obama told thousands of supporters
At a town-hall event Friday in Minnesota, McCain took the microphone from a woman who said Obama is an Arab. McCain said, “No, ma’am,” and he called Obama “a decent, family man.”
McCain drew boos at the same event when he told a supporter who expressed fear at the prospect of Obama’s election that the Democrat is a “person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States.”
Those reassurances aside, McCain’s TV ads continue to attack Obama sharply. Some hit his ties to a former radical who co-founded a violent anti-war group in the 1960s. Yet on Saturday at an event in Iowa, McCain didn’t mention the past association and focused on their policy disagreements.
Obama referred to the ads Saturday. “We’ve seen rough stuff on the TV from them,” he said. “I can take it for four more weeks,” but the nation cannot take “four more years of Bush-McCain economics.”
“I will be a president who puts you first,” he said, asking voters not to lose hope in the economy before President Bush can be replaced.
Polls show Obama leading in several battleground states, and some of his top surrogates feel victory is nearly in reach.
“The one thing we can’t let happen is for us to be overconfident,” Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell told donors at a Friday fundraiser, where he introduced Obama.
McCain drew boos when he told a supporter who expressed fear at the prospect of Obama’s election that the Democrat is a “person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States.”
Although Obama says anything can happen in the campaign’s final 24 days, hints of his optimism are creeping into his unscripted remarks.
“In some ways this is a celebratory event” as “we’re now coming to the end of what has been a two-year process, an extraordinary journey,” Obama said at a second Philadelphia fundraiser Friday night. The host, Comcast executive David L. Cohen, said the two events raised more than $5 million.
As 250 major donors ate beet salad and mahi-mahi under a huge tent, Obama seemed to look ahead to his first term as president.
“We’re going to have to make some priorities, we’re going to have to cut some things out,” he said, referring to expensive goals such as improving health care, schools and college affordability.
“I’m going to be in some fights with my own Democratic Party in getting some of that done,” he said.
Defying tradition in GOP-leaning states, he said, he is leading McCain in Montana and North Carolina. His lead in Virginia, which Democrats last carried in 1964, is 6 or 7 percentage points, he told the donors.
Obama added, however: “Who knows what can happen in the next 25 days?”
Democrats have carried Pennsylvania in recent presidential elections, although sometimes narrowly. McCain has campaigned aggressively in the state, but polls show Obama leading.
Under a brilliant blue sky, Obama’s four events here drew 60,000 people according to Philadelphia police
Democrats usually win huge margins in Philadelphia and try to minimize their losses in the state’s smaller cities and more rural areas. Obama’s barnstorming of Philadelphia was designed to drive his base’s vote as high as possible.
Under a brilliant blue sky, Obama’s four events here drew 60,000 people according to Philadelphia police, but it was impossible to verify the estimates. At some sites, thousands of people were unable to get through the gates. They stood on cars and craned their necks for a glimpse, sometimes blocks away. Crowds cheered Obama’s motorcade as it arrived and left each site.
Obama read the same speech each time, but he ad-libbed a bit and seemed increasingly buoyant as the day progressed. Telling his favorite new story about buying pie from a Republican-leaning Ohio diner owner, he joked with a woman who called out from the Germantown crowd.
“You will make me some pie?” he asked. “What kind of pie do you make? Sweet potato pie?”
As the crowd roared, he poured it on. “We’re going to have to have a sweet potato pie contest,” he said. “I’ll be the judge, because I want my sweet potato pie.”
WASHINGTON (AP) — Esquire is backing Democrat Barack Obama for president — its first endorsement in the magazine’s 75-year history.
The Illinois senator is “the only possible choice to lead the country,” editors wrote in the November issue, on newsstands Oct. 14. They also encouraged people to vote for Obama because the next president will influence the direction of the Supreme Court.
“The best argument for the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States is written quite clearly in the peaks and squiggles of John Paul Stevens’ EKG,” they wrote of the 88-year-old justice.
Republican presidential nominee John McCain has run a “cheap and dishonorable campaign,” they said. And his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is “stunningly unqualified.”
The editors wrote that McCain has not offered evidence of how things for Americans would change if he were to succeed President Bush.
“Bushism must be ripped out, root and branch, everywhere it has been established, or else the presidential election of 2008 is a worthless exercise in futility,” the editors said.