Democrats look forward to making history by nominating the first female or first African American to head a major party presidential ticket.  Yet, whoever is nominated must win the general election to make good on oft-repeated promises of change.  Barack Obama has proved himself capable of success in November and is prepared to make good on those promises. 

 

It is easy to poke fun at the euphoric optimism of Senator Obama’s campaign.  With Oprah firing up crowds and Will.i.am leading celebrities in song, his huge rallies could be the bastard love child of a Tony Robbins motivational session and a U2 concert.  His supporters in the grassroots and on Capitol Hill are frequently flummoxed when questioned about his stands on specific policy issues. 

In a primary election such as this one, though, why can’t they be? 

Voters can sometimes make clear distinctions between primary candidates.  In the 1980 Republican contest, George H.W. Bush was pro-choice while Ronald Reagan was adamantly opposed to abortion.  Bush thought Reagan’s fiscal policy wasn’t centered as much around supply-side economics as it was “voodoo economics.”  Such policy differences were readily apparent, but by choosing either Reagan or Bush, Republican voters also had the opportunity to change their party’s course entirely.

No such opportunity is currently available to Democrats.  Neither Senator Clinton nor Obama will lead their party on a path wildly divergent from the others’.  Policy squabbles between the two have been over minor details that few voters have even taken the time to examine.  Will a health care plan cover everyone, or almost everyone?  Will troops be pulled from Iraq in the first six months, or within the first year of taking office?

When voters who might prefer to have more substantive issues upon which to cast their ballot simply don’t, other factors obviously and rightly come under consideration.  When the substantive differences that do exist are nuanced enough to satisfy Democrats of all shades of blue, how else might those voters make a choice?  Barack Obama gives Democratic voters reasons to cast their ballots in his favor that, if not substantive, are significant and more serious than his detractors will admit.

There was a time in American politics where hope and optimism were welcomed, not derided.  A country suffering through the Great Depression was comforted by Franklin Roosevelt.  A nation unsure of where to go after the relative bore of the 1950s became members of Kennedy’s New Frontier.  The button-downed schoolmarm tone of the Carter Administration ended with a Hollywood cowboy’s promise that it was morning in America. 

The voters who’ve come to support Barack Obama because he evokes similar feelings of comfort, exciting change and pride should feel no shame.  The Bush presidency was conceived in part through telling racist voters that his white primary opponent had a black daughter.  His Administration abused trust generated by legitimate fear in 2001 to support a disastrous foreign policy.  When it fell apart, he stayed in power by pretending he’d alter the Constitution to, for the first time, deny rather than bestow a right on the American people.    

The college students and other first time voters supporting Senator Obama should feel proud that after eight such years, their generation is the first to embrace rather than shun a candidate because his ancestry challenges rather than supports business as usual.  They should feel proud that their candidate saw the potential for disaster in Iraq from the start and distances himself from rather than relies on the biases and prejudices of fellow Christians for support.     

African American voters who delivered primaries in states where the Confederate flag is only a slightly less common sight today than it was during the Civil War should likewise feel proud that they added an uplifting new chapter to the complex narrative their people have written with the South. 

The “latte liberals” who round out Obama’s big three and who were battered for their support of the earth-toned Crimsonite in 2000 and the windsurfing Yalie of 2004 are joined in 2008 by a chorus of support from voters in the decidedly un-yuppie bastions of Wyoming, Nebraska, North Dakota, Iowa and Idaho.

The original assumption of Democrats, that they would be well served whether Senator Clinton or Obama was their candidate in 2008, is not untrue.  They should be pleased that one doesn’t have to belittle either senator to show support for the other. 

 

 

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I’m not a big fan of Ralph Nader.  While I respect many of his ideas and the work he has done to protect consumers, I didn’t, and don’t, think his work is quite enough to qualify him to be POTUS.  Still, it was his right to run in 2000, bitter as I might be about his campaign’s role in Gore’s “loss,” and I respected that right.  This week, I respected his defense of Hillary Clinton against the arrogant, silly calls of Obama backers Patrick Leahy and Chris Dodd for her to leave the Democratic primary race.

   

What I find interesting about any elected official telling another elected official to pull out of a race is that they would never in a million years do so themselves.  They certainly wouldn’t if they ever found themselves in a situation like Hillary’s.  The first woman to be within reach of a major party nomination for president of the United States is 139 pledged delegates behind the first African American man to be within reach of a major party nomination for president of the United States.  She also leads Obama by 32 superdelegates, a profoundly retarded addition to the primary process which nonetheless exists.

  

Obama has won almost twice as many states as Hillary and his now legendary 11-state sweep was impressive, if only superficially.  One-half of the former superstar duo of the Democratic Party, Hillary has undoubtedly had a rough time of things.  Yet, despite his success, Obama has failed to close the deal each time he had a chance to clinch the nomination.  In “American Idol” parlance, each time he could have “made the song his own,” he “was a little pitchy, dawg.”  Coasting on the media euphoria from his big sweep, having almost erased HIllary’s sizable lead in the week before the contest, Obama lost Ohio by 10 points.  Having started that primary night winning Vermont, he closed it by losing the Texas primary.  Winning Ohio and/or Texas would have effectively sealed his nomination.

What should be more alarming to those Democrats looking ahead to November are Obama’s other losses.  Clinton beat him in California, New Mexico, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Arkansas, New Hampshire, Michigan (sorta) and Florida (oh please, if Obama can claim he suffered in name recognition, I can claim to be the King of England).  She currently enjoys a double-digit lead in Pennsylvania, with Obama’s only significant endorsement there coming from Bob Casey, with his Bushesque grudge against the Clintons for slighting his daddy about a million years ago.

 

With the exception of Arizona (McCain territory) and Arkansas (although a Clinton could paint it blue once again) all of those states are important to a Democratic victory in November.  Much more important than all Obama’s Heartland caucus states highly unlikely to be any help to the Democrats in the general election.  No, Hillary Clinton cannot win the nomination by taking Pennsylvania.  She needs landslide victories in the remaining contests to overtake Obama in pledged delegates (provided Michigan and Florida remain unseated).  Yet, for all the victories, all the hype, all the “high profile” endorsements, Obama can’t win the nomination, either, without his still formindable competition giving up.  That should be of concern to voters who want a Democrat in the White House in 2009.

  

Why, then, the calls for Hillary to leave the race?  Such calls are entirely contrary to the democratic process.  Complaints that Democratic squabbling is helping the Republicans?  Hogwash.  Not knowing who he’ll face in November, McCain can’t do anything but flog the same tired war hero story he’s been peddling since 1999.  Arguments that it would be wrong for superdelegates to vote for Hillary if Obama has more pledged delegates?  Rubbish.  Those arguments weren’t advanced when superdelages jumped from Hillary’s ship in the wake of Obama’s 11-state sweep and they make no sense now.

 

Superdelegates are UNpledged.  If Hillary adds Pennsylvania to her collection of much needed, very-important-come-November blue states, she is not so far behind in any other regard for it to be deemed unfair for superdelegates to give her the nomination.  This is especially true when one considers the alternative.  Obama’s collection of African American voters, limousine liberals and college kids stuck in the red state hells of Idaho, Georgia, Utah, Wyoming, etc., is the general election equivalent of Bush’s Coalition of the Willing.  Obama has also failed to connect with Hispanic voters, “si se puede” aside, who went overwhelmingly for Clinton in Texas.  In California and Florida, Hispanic (as well as seemingly Obama-phobic Asian) voters could put their states solidly in the Democratic column in the fall.

Also alarming is that Obama’s loss in Ohio came after his campaign proved itself completely incapable of handling criticism from another candidate or the national media.  Forget Hillary’s commercials!  Republicans will be taking cues from LBJ or Bush I’s playbooks.  Eloquent speeches on important but general topics won’t be enough to satisfy a press hungry for details on comparatively more nuanced foreign policy issues or economic concerns.

 

It’s time for everyone involved, from the candidates and their campaigns to party leaders, uninvolved politicians, the media and the voters to take Bill Clinton’s advice and “chill out.”  No one, not Ralph Nader, Mike Huckabee and especially not someone who has achieved what Hillary Clinton has both superficially and substantively, should be forced from a political race in a democratic country.

 

It might be prudent for Democrats to remember what happened the last time a major party threw its support behind one candidate and prematurely thrust another out of competition.  Bush triumphed over McCain and went on to serve two of the most disastrous terms in American presidential history.  How ironic it would be if a Democratic rush to judgment gave McCain the White House eight years later.    

  

George Wanker Bush

March 26, 2008

I had all sorts of fun ideas for the WikiScanner project.  When I actually started to investigate them, however, I discovered that a lot of them would make good topics for later blog entries, or were just plain boring.  This soon became the theme for the project. 

Although he’s not really an orgainzation, I first turned to an old favorite: George Wanker, er, Walker Bush.  Sadly, that was about as interesting as things got for our fearless leader.  Some random in Australia changing Walker to Wanker and someone else linking his page to “incontinence.”  Things were more dramatic the time his dog watched him choke on a pretzel.

In Ethics class, we watched a video called “Toxic Sludge is Good For You” (available on VHS), in which there was much talk of ExxonMobil’s PR blunders in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  Since oil companies are inherently evil, I thought there might be some excitement brewing on its Wiki page.  The page was much busier than the president’s and included edits by the subject (I guess GWB is too busy finding maps on  The Google  to edit his Wiki page).

My personal favorite was the Irving branch of the company’s removal of vandalism, under the “corporate divisions” section:

Exxon Global Corporate Headquarters are located in Irving, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, Texas, whereby this bastard company markets products around the world under the brands of Exxon, Mobil, and Esso; 

was changed by Exxon to:

Exxon Global Corporate Headquarters are located in Irving, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, Texas, whereby this company markets products around the world under the brands of Exxon, Mobil, and Esso;

I thought there might be something juicy when I came across a U.S. Department of Labor edit.  Surely Elaine Chow herself, suffering from insomnia and tired of Nick at Nite “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” reruns, inserted something about Exxon forcing its station employees to work overtime on Christmas.  Alas, no.  Some grammar-conscious hack in the Department found it necessary to lowercase the reference to Exxon’s tiger logo and contribute to the DoL’s longstanding effort to reach out to the colorblind by pointing out that Mobil’s Pegasus mascot isn’t just any old Pegasus.  It’s a red Pegasus. 

I really didn’t find much that I didn’t expect to find.  The typical arguments of big oil critics were advanced and then redacted by big oil supporters.  The company itself made edits to correct obvious vandalism and wrote on the company’s history.  The most controversial edit I found was provided by Union Pacific Railroad, who wasn’t concerned so much with  ExxonMobil’s reputation, but in marginalizing the wacky myth we nutty liberals call global warming:

Investigative reporting by the British newspaper ”The Guardian” has found that ExxonMobil has funded, among other groups critical of the scientific consensus on global warming, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, George C. Marshall Institute, Heartland Institute, Congress on Racial Equality, TechCentralStation.com, and International Policy Network.

became:

Investigative reporting by the left-wing British newspaper ”The Guardian” has found that ExxonMobil has funded, among other groups critical of on global warming, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, George C. Marshall Institute, Heartland Institute, Congress on Racial Equality, TechCentralStation.com, and International Policy Network.

Note the classificaton of “The Guardian” as a left-wing newspaper and the removal of “scientific concensus.”  Union Pacific notes in its edit comment that “there is no” such thing.  

I think the moral of this assignment is that we can all rest easy knowing that mommy’s basement vandals and large, international corporations alike have found ways to adapt their own special method of spin to the wild ride we call Web 2.0. 

Virtual Insanity?

March 25, 2008

Sadly, because Dell sucks, I didn’t get a chance to do much with “Second Life.”  Although, from my limited experience, I don’t think there was that much to do, anyway.  I can understand why online gaming is so successful.  I don’t really understand the attraction, however, to games that don’t so much challenge one in any particular manner, but rather create an entire seemingly useless alternative universe.

I really love The Sims.  Not so much the new ones as the original.  There wasn’t a whole lot to do, but there was still a semi-point.  You had to do certain things to keep your Sims alive and happy.  It wasn’t the most complicated game, but you still had to do certain things to keep everything moving smoothly.  No one wants to deal with a Sim getting all dramatic because you let them wet their pants.  You could also use cheat codes, collect a whole lot of simoleons and spend all afternoon playing amateur architect.  No math involved! 

Playing Second Life, albeit briefly, I was sort of bored.  Furry Sex Island aside, it wasn’t all that amusing.  If I wanted to walk around aimless in a funny outfit, I would just go to LA and hang out with the costumed freaks outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.  I was actually reminded of a “Golden Girls” episode, in which the ladies crashed a high school reunion and stole name tags from the welcome table.  After an uneventful evening, Dorothy remarked that “Cindy Lou People’s” life was almost as boring as her own. 

This is not to say there is anything wrong with enjoying Second Life, or similar games, or that those who spend a significant amount of time interacting online are weirdos.  Some of them are, undoubtedly, but I wouldn’t say that spending a few hours gaming or socializing on the Internet is a sign of deep emotional issues.  I’m completely normal ::cough:: and I’ve actually never seriously dated anyone that I didn’t meet online.   Not because I was trolling for dates on the Internet, but because a shared interest(not furry sex) happened to bring me to the same spot on the web it brought the other person and our interaction led to a relationship intriguing enough to take offline. 

Is that any less valid than if someone had been drunk and spilled something on me in a bar?  I know plenty of people who met in “real life” under those same or similar circumstances.  I might argue that a relationship that began with online discussions of constitutional law or the infield fly rule is perfectly valid and as normal as anything else in the dating realm.   

I would think that as younger generations, for whom the Internet was always a part of their every day lives, grow older, the concept of online social interaction will become more commonplace and more accepted.  There will always be people who fall victim to excess.  People drink too much, smoke too much, eat too much, spend too much and can use the Internet too much.  If we’re going to embrace Web 2.0 invading nearly every part of our lives, though, then it only makes sense that entertainment and socializing practices would be included in the invasion. 

The Right to Write

March 13, 2008

OK, so I forgot another blog topic.  Use the powers of teh Interwebz, put on your citizen journalist press card hat and expose my negligence, why don’t you?

 I, as usual, am torn as to what I think about citizen journalism.  Generally, I think it’s an exciting concept.  Are world, national or local events the property of a group of select individuals who are employed by some body to provide the rest of us with information?  It would seem anyone, by virtue of being literate and alive, should be allowed to participate in the spreading and sharing of information.

Perhaps as a [mildly] trained journalist, I have just taken too great offense at what’s happened to information in the hands of what one might call professional citizen journalists.  We live in a world in which a great many people get their news from Rush Limbaugh or Jon Stewart.  A complete moron and a comedian, respectively.  There’s not always a recognoition that the information gained from such programs is opinion, or at least news presented from a very specific point of view. 

That doesn’t mean such information is completely useless.  Well, no.  Rush Limbaugh is compltely useless.  But in a broad sense, such programs aren’t necessarily a threat to real news reporting, if it’s kept in its proper perspective.  When traditional, allegedly objective journalism is increasingly in the hands of a very small group of monied interests, the idea of citizen journalism is incredibly attractive.  In my opinion, empowering many at the expense of a few is never really a bad idea. 

But there should be a way to embrace the armchair reporter without displacing those who have spent years learning, thinking, analyzing and writing in the same way we’ve been able to embrace alternative therapies, college athletics and “Central Perk” without completely dismissing modern medicine, Peyton Manning or the 47 Starbucks outlets within a block of each of our homes.  There can, should and must be a place for the diverse views of hundreds of millions of pairs of eyes, as long as we understand there’s a difference between Joe Schmoe typing away in his mother’s basement and Tom Brokaw (who has his own basement to type in).   

I freakin’ love Wikipedia.  I use it for just about everything.  In law school, it was the perfect instant Cliff Note for whatever insanely complicated topic a super dry professor was dragging into the ground.  On the Hill, if a constituent wrote in about an abandoned lighthouse on a remote island in the middle of a lake that time forgot, Wiki provided at least a starting point to understanding why the lighthouse should be saved/torn down/painted hot pink.  Having spent the second half of spring break amazingly sick in bed, it kept me from going completely stir-crazy.  Were you aware that Queen Victoria was so distraught after the death of Prince Albert that she became determined her youngest daughter would always stay at her side, not allowing her to marry until she agreed to bring her husband to live with her mother as well?  ME NEITHER!  I also didn’t know that Anne Frank had four cats or that Mr. Dressup (Canada’s Mr. Rogers) died in 1996 (sad). 

Like most wonderful things (donuts, potato chips, marijuana*), Wikipedia can prove dangerous if overindulged in.  For detailed research, verification with more substantive sources is surely something I would consider necessary.  I have come across enough pages containing minor but legitimate errors to not take everything on the site at face value (while browsing Ted Kennedy’s entry one time I found the sentence “he is a worthless drunk driver” mixed in a chunk of otherwise sound information pertaining to his challenging of Jimmy Carter for the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination). 

 It would seem that more oversight of the editing process would eliminate many of the issues that make Wikipedia a less esteemed source of scholarly information than it could be.  In my opinion, it is a far superior resource than a traditional encyclopedia, if for no other reason than the amazing depth of topics it contains.  Would an expert ever decide a listing of Anne Frank’s cats was necessary?  Probably not.  Yet some random soul with too much time on their hands did, and even those who have read Frank’s diary backward and forward have the ability to find out something new, albeit trivial, on a little girl whose last surviving relative died nearly 30 years ago.  There should be a way to let such armchair historians, or Poindexters, or football nuts, or woodcarvers, or sexologists, or gardeners, share their information while maintaining an atmosphere of intellectual respectability.  That challenge, maintaining openness, resisting censorship and balancing the frivolous and the profound is perhaps one that faces not just Wikipedia, but Web 2.0 as a whole.

*or so I’ve been told…

I think the only blog topic I missed was “Naked Conversations,” so here goes, better late than never.

A common theme for me, throughout all of the readings thus far, seems to be having a recognition of the idea and a respect for it, accompanied by a certain reluctance to completely buy into it.  This may be a natural cynicism, or perhaps I’m just crabby and old before my time.  I just still don’t really know that I consider blogging to be quite as important to business as “Naked Conversations” suggests. 

I can honestly say that I’ve never utilized a blog to communicate with a business.  It’s just not something that has ever sprung to mind.  I’m not doubting that other people have, or that companies have had successes or failures based on their superior or inferior blogging activities.  I just don’t really see it being the phenomenon Scoble and Israel would like us to think it is, at this particular time.  Perhaps I just don’t see blogging as being as much a real two-way conversation as I see it being a more immediate, impersonal remedy.  For instance, when Northwest Airlines lost my luggage, causing me to miss an evening of class because they were supposed to deliver it between 6 and 10, I was super pissed when I couldn’t get anyone living to talk to me on the phone.  Their suggestion that I go online to find a solution to my problem succeeded in pissing me off further.  I don’t want to spend my time clicking a seemingly endless list of links to figure out how I can fix a company’s mistake.  I don’t care what their bloggers have to say.  I want to dial a number and have someone they are currently paying a certain amount of money to sit at a desk and pretend to care about irate customers such as myself. 

The idea that there are no rules in blogging is an idea, however, that I have no problem believing.  There are seemingly no rules on the Internet, period.  The anonymity it provides brings out the best and worst in its users.  People who are more naturally shy have the freedom to express their opinions without reservation.  Those with the opposite problem have a forum in which to indulge every thought or emotion that crosses their mind with no filter.