Archive for October, 2008

This Moment

Friday, October 31st, 2008

The world is filled with Neurotic Democrats.

I just saw on the AP daily tracking poll of all the polls that McCain was down .1 percent, and Obama was up .2 percent, and my heart leapt with joy.

My friend Amalie went to the polling place in Akron this morning, but the line was over an hour, so she left. My wife and I were going to vote this afternoon, but we don’t have an hour and a half. We’ll go Monday.

In a couple hours, it’s Trick-or-Treat. Our three-year-old is Jango Fett this year, from Star Wars. He has a gun, with foam suction-tipped darts, and he’s asked me to carry his light sabre. We have a furry bear costume for our one-and-a-half year old, but I doubt if we’ll entice him to wear it.

Hey. I’ve been writing my kids’ ages as three-and-half and one-and-a-half since I started this blog, back in August. The kids will be 4 and 2 in January.

We’ve all been at this a long time.

I’m looking forward to the onset of Shabbat tonight, more than most. On Shabbat, as my readers know, I don’t blog. What you may not know is I also don’t check the polls. I don’t log on to the tracking sites. I just have dinner with the family; roll around on the rug with the kids.

Writing about Shabbat, Abraham Joshua Heschel notes: “We must not forget that it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment; it is the moment that lends significance to things.”

Enjoy this moment.

Shabbat shalom.

My Obama Minute: Give, One Last Time

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Rev. Wright ads are now running across the country.

It’s a multimillion dollar ad buy by the National Republican Trust PAC, which will air through election day.

See the article, from Talking Points Memo, here.

We knew this day would come. And it’s coming at the end of what is easily the sleaziest, slimiest campaign of negativity that we have ever witnessed. If McCain wins this election, he will enter the Oval Office with his reputation in tatters, minus the goodwill of Congress and half the nation, including many in his own party.

Obama has spent millions keeping his largely positive message front and center, while defending himself from McCain-Palin smears. (I don’t intend to be hyperbolic here — it’s late — and I’m calling it as I see it. There is no equivalency between Obama calling McCain “erratic,” which is an accurate description, and the McCain campaign saying Obama “pals around with terrorists.” And in most every way that matters, McCain would represent a continuation of Bush policies.) Wednesday night’s infomercial was a part of Obama’s effort — an expensive part — and, by the way, 33.6 million people watched it. That’s 70 percent more than watched the fifth game of the World Series last night.

Only 52.4 million watched the first debate this year — so, a pretty good investment for Sen. Obama.

Hmn. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea afterall.

Obama has had to spend hand over fist just to stay ahead of the negative ads and campaigning. Now, recent news accounts indicate that his cash on hand, plus the Democratic National Committee’s cash on hand, is actually less, going into the final weekend, than McCain’s plus the RNC’s.

In other words: Obama, and other Democrats, need more, going into the final, crucial weekend.

So, for my Obama minute tonight, I gave two donations.

We gave to the Democratic National Committee, which directly helps Obama’s cause.

And we gave to Kay Hagan, who is running for Senate in North Carolina against Liddy Dole. For those who haven’t seen Dole’s latest ad, accusing Hagan (a former Sunday school teacher), or being “Godless,” it is one of the most despicable we’ve seen in the modern political era, prompting this powerful rebuke from Campbell Brown.

Just five days left. Give $5. Give $2.50. Or more if you can. Pick a candidate. Pick a cause and support it. It’s one of the ways we exercise our right to free speech in this country.

And now is the time to speak your mind.

UPDATE: From today’s NY Times. Looking for more evidence that Obama — not McCain — would run a tight, frugal budget? Please read this, about how the Obama campaign, while spending much more, has spent responsibly, even pinched pennies. In other words, when you do give to this campaign, your money is spent thoughtfully; it’s not wasted, on, say, clothing, or makeup artists. Here’s the kicker:

Mr. Axelrod [Obama’s chief strategist] likes to joke that at the Obama headquarters, if someone waves a hand in front of the automated paper towel dispenser in the men’s room, a section of paper towel is dispensed; wave at it again and a note spits out, “See Plouffe.”

Election Day Forecast, Akron, Ohio

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

For my Obama minute today, I went down to the local campaign headquarters, to get a briefing about my Election Day role. I’m going to be the “red team captain,” responsible for polling site operations in Ward 8, focusing on the targeted precincts, H and K. More on this later.

First, a bit of scene setting. The phone bank room was literally packed. Young, old, black, white. Sitting at a long table, dialing away. A long table packed with food, brought in by other volunteers, along the wall.

Next door, in the Democratic headquarters, it was also a hive of activity, with about a half dozen people putting Obama-Biden yard signs together.

I brought in some buttons that say “Barack Obama” in Hebrew. No sooner had I put them on the table than a local Ecumenical minister, a black man, maybe in his 60s, flashed a huge, gold-capped grin, and picked up a pin, admiring the Hebrew letters. Then he reached out, and, without saying anything, we shook hands. A black Christian minister from Akron, and a Jewish writer from Jersey.

Something’s happening here.

As I was walking out, I glanced up at the wall. The headquarters walls are crammed with posters and signs and newspaper clippings and maps, outlining territory, and letters from school kids — crayon drawings — along with a few photos of Barack and his family. But there, by the door, was a single sheet of people with the five-day forecast. Written on top: “Elect Obama, Rain or Shine.”

It’s been miserable here in Northeast Ohio this week. Snow, hail. Wind. Threatening to hit 32 degrees. When Dan Shapiro was here the other day, he jokingly (but pleadingly) said: It’s not going to be like this on Election Day, is it?

Democrats need turnout on election day. And the better the weather, the better the turnout.

Just today, the weather turned. Bright sunshine. Cool, but crisp.

According to that piece of paper in the local Akron office, Election Day will be mostly sunny, high of 59, low of 44, with a 10 percent chance of rain.

We’re waitin’. Waitin’ on a sunny day.

Another Neurotic Democrat: Mitchell Bard

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

The New York City based writer and filmmaker is a dude after my own heart.

(Thanks to Loyal for the ND sighting. Keep ’em coming.)

Here’s the nut:

Barack Obama leads John McCain in every poll. Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.comgives Obama a 96.7 percent chance of winning. And some McCain supporters with a nose for survival are jumping off of the Republican bandwagon faster than Sarah Palin running to an Alaska consignment shop (yes, I’m talking to you Joe Lieberman).

And yet I can’t bring myself to believe Obama will win next Tuesday.

You have to forgive me. As a 41-year-old Democrat, I’ve seen too much to ever be confident. I watched the nation choose a bumbling Bush (the first one) over a smart, successful governor, all because the governor was a bit of a nerd. Okay, a lot more than a bit, but still. (I often think about the Saturday Night Livesketch in which Jon Lovitz, as Michael Dukakis, in a debate with Dana Carvey’s George H.W. Bush, responds to a nonsensical response by looking into the camera and saying, “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy!”) I’ve seen Americans twice put into office a language-bungling, shallow-thinking, political legacy who, as was brilliantly said once, was born on third base but acted like he hit a triple (one of the elections coming after it was clear he had led America into a dangerous, damaging, unnecessary war that was completely mismanaged by his administration).

So you can at least understand why I won’t believe that the U.S. has elected Obama until/if I see McCain giving a concession speech.

What? Me Worry?

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

I’m not sure about this Obama infomercial last night.

I liked the idea going in — staying on the offensive, presenting your vision, uninterrupted.

Of course, it’s given McCain a perfect opportunity to remind people that Obama went back on his pledge to accept public financing. The front page headline in the Akron Beacon Journal this morning was “Obama Floods Airwaves; McCain mocks half-hour ad he says was paid for with ‘broken promises.'”

I liked the idea of cutting away to the live event at the end of the ad. It injected some excitement. Some sense of the real. And it happened in South Florida. But, as Howard Kurtz writes in the Washington Post’s Media Notes:

The idea of moving from the safety of a videotape to a live event was inspired. But doing it in a cheering Florida stadium with Obama going to the overblown rhetoric and vowing to “change the world,” not so much. The whole idea of the show was to bring Obama down from the clouds and into the street. The big rally came close to canceling out the man-of-the-people image so carefully constructed in the previous 27 minutes.

Moreover, log on to your Yahoo! email account today, and you are greeted with this AP headline: “What Obama’s ad left out.” The AP article begins:

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was less than upfront in his half-hour commercial Wednesday night about the costs of his programs and the crushing budget pressures he would face in office.

Obama’s assertion that “I’ve offered spending cuts above and beyond” the expense of his promises is accepted only by his partisans. His vow to save money by “eliminating programs that don’t work” masks his failure throughout the campaign to specify what those programs are — beyond the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

And the thing is — unlike so much of what McCain-Palin has launched at Obama this cycle — in my view, all of this is fair game. Obama invited this critical look at his policies. For 24 hours, he’s turned himself into a bull’s eye. The press would be remiss for not writing articles like the one above.

You know how sometimes, a running back tries to get a few extra yards, late in the game, and, instead of going down on the first hit, pushes forward, grinding, trying to slough off a tackler … only to fumble, and fumble the game away?

I have a sinking feeling this morning. Now, it’s true, I always have a sinking feeling. So it’s nothing new.

But this, quoted in Kurtz’s column, makes me utterly queasy:

Is the race tightening? Well, maybe, says the New Republic’s Noam Scheiber:

“Obama’s lead in the national tracking polls looks to be around five points (I get 5.5 when I average all six of the trackers I mentioned, along with the Hotline and Battleground trackers, which haven’t changed much in the last few days). If that drops two-to-three points, as it easily could in a week, I don’t think it’s crazy to think McCain will have a shot at winning Pennsylvania, Virginia, and/or Colorado. Unlikely, yes, but not crazy. According to sites like Real Clear and, Obama’s lead in those states is currently larger than his 5.5 point national lead (significantly so in Pennsylvania). But, as I argued last week, the relationship between battleground-state numbers and national numbers can change significantly as we approach the finish, and those state averages you see could easily be a week out of date.

“My immediate concern is twofold: That McCain is getting some traction with his liberal/socialist/redistributionist charge–the WaPo tracker shows McCain narrowing the gap on the economy over the last week–and, in light of this, that Obama is striking his high-note a few days too early.”

I take comfort in knowing I’m far from the only neurotic Dem out there. But, with five days to go, it’s cold comfort, indeed.

My Obama Minute: Dan Shapiro in Akron

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

I helped organize an event to bring Dan Shapiro to Akron. Dan is a senior foreign policy advisor and National Jewish Outreach Coordinator for Sen. Obama. He came to Akron to speak about Obama’s positions on Israel and other issues of importance to the Jewish community.

Dan, an observant Jew, has an uncommon breadth of knowledge about Israel and the Middle East. He studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Harvard, and at one point considered becoming a historian. (We have that in common — except for the Harvard part.) He worked at the National Security Council in the Clinton Administration, has a seat on the Council of Foreign Relations, and was a staff member on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, under Chairman Lee H. Hamilton.

He’s also a great guy. We used to be on the same JCC basketball team in DC. He’s got a decent jump shot, and can really clean up under the boards.

The event, sponsored by the Ohio Democratic Party, was, frankly successful beyond even my own high expectations. We had 60 people show up at the Shaw JCC, on a miserable, snowy, wind-swept night. (That’s a huge turnout in a community of only 3,000 Jews, this close to election day.)

Dan started around 8 p.m. and spoke for over an hour, without notes, about Obama’s staunch support for Israel, and his unwavering commitment to Israel’s security. He spoke about Obama’s record directly, without pandering. He answered every question we had for him — from questions about whether Obama would put pressure on Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians (answer: unequivocally no), to questions about Obama’s response to the Russian invasion of Georgia, to questions about his position on gay marriage. When Dan finished, he received an extended ovation, and then he stayed another half hour — until 10 p.m. — answering every question of every voter who approached him.

I know — because I invited them — that many in attendance where on the fence, or were McCain supporters. My sense is that Dan’s thoughtful, clear, and powerful presentation has at least a few folks reconsidering this morning.

(One previously undecided voter emailed me: “Im wearing my new Hebrew [Obama] pin!!!!!”)

I’ve written much on this blog about Obama’s strong support for Israel, his detailed plans for isolating Iran, and his emphasis on restoring America’s tattered reputation around the globe. See, for example: “Ross: ‘Obama Will Restore American Standing in the World,'” or “Obama: ‘Unshakable Commitment to the Security of Israel’.” It bears repeating, as Shapiro emphasized last night, that Obama wants to use the threat of serious, broad reaching sanctions against Iran, along with the enticement of carrots, like greater participation with the Western World, to get Iran to forgo its nuclear ambitions. He won’t take the military option off the table. But war would come with dire consequences for Israel — some 40,000 Hezbollah rockets are poised to rain down on the Jewish state from inside Lebanon — and so Obama would do everything in his power to get Iran to stop enriching uranium by other means, first.

(And note Thomas Friedman’s column in the Times this morning. With oil prices plummeting, Ahmadinejad is literally reported to be suffering from exhaustion, as Iran finds itself over-extended and suddenly without leverage. “If Obama does win the presidency,” Friedman writes, “my gut tells me that he’s going to get a chance to negotiate with the Iranians — with a bat in his hand.”)

But, centrally, Dan Shapiro spoke to Obama’s deep emotional connection to Israel, a connection Dan saw first hand, accompanying Obama on his recent trip to Israel — a trip that included meetings with Olmert, Livni, Netanyahu, and Ehud Barack, as well as stops at Yad Vashem and the Western Wall. Dan noted that nothing could be more compelling, on the question of Obama’s commitment to Israel, than Obama’s own words on the subject, as captured by Jeffery Goldberg in the Atlantic Monthly article, “Obama on Zionism and Hamas.”

For people who still wonder if Obama gets it at the gut level, please read the article.

 Here’s an excerpt:

Obama and I spoke over the weekend about Hamas, about Jimmy Carter, and about the future of Jewish settlements on the West Bank. He seemed eager to talk about his ties to the Jewish community, and about the influence Jews have had on his life. Among other things, he told me that he learned the art of moral anguish from Jews. We spoke as well about my Atlantic cover storyon Israel’s future. He mentioned his interest in the opinions of the writer David Grossman, who is featured in the article. “I remember reading The Yellow Windwhen it came out, and reading about Grossman now is powerful, painful stuff.” And, speaking in a kind of code Jews readily understand, Obama also made sure to mention that he was fond of the writer Leon Uris, the author of Exodus.

Here are excerpts from our conversation:

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: I’m curious to hear you talk about the Zionist idea. Do you believe that it has justice on its side?

BARACK OBAMA: You know, when I think about the Zionist idea, I think about how my feelings about Israel were shaped as a young man — as a child, in fact. I had a camp counselor when I was in sixth grade who was Jewish-American but who had spent time in Israel, and during the course of this two-week camp he shared with me the idea of returning to a homeland and what that meant for people who had suffered from the Holocaust, and he talked about the idea of preserving a culture when a people had been uprooted with the view of eventually returning home. There was something so powerful and compelling for me, maybe because I was a kid who never entirely felt like he was rooted. That was part of my upbringing, to be traveling and always having a sense of values and culture but wanting a place. So that is my first memory of thinking about Israel.

And then that mixed with a great affinity for the idea of social justice that was embodied in the early Zionist movement and the kibbutz, and the notion that not only do you find a place but you also have this opportunity to start over and to repair the breaches of the past. I found this very appealing.

JG: You’ve talked about the role of Jews in the development of your thinking

BO: I always joke that my intellectual formation was through Jewish scholars and writers, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Whether it was theologians or Philip Roth who helped shape my sensibility, or some of the more popular writers like Leon Uris. So when I became more politically conscious, my starting point when I think about the Middle East is this enormous emotional attachment and sympathy for Israel, mindful of its history, mindful of the hardship and pain and suffering that the Jewish people have undergone, but also mindful of the incredible opportunity that is presented when people finally return to a land and are able to try to excavate their best traditions and their best selves. And obviously it’s something that has great resonance with the African-American experience.

One of the things that is frustrating about the recent conversations on Israel is the loss of what I think is the natural affinity between the African-American community and the Jewish community, one that was deeply understood by Jewish and black leaders in the early civil-rights movement but has been estranged for a whole host of reasons that you and I don’t need to elaborate.

JG: Do you think that justice is still on Israel’s side?

BO: I think that the idea of a secure Jewish state is a fundamentally just idea, and a necessary idea, given not only world history but the active existence of anti-Semitism, the potential vulnerability that the Jewish people could still experience. I know that that there are those who would argue that in some ways America has become a safe refuge for the Jewish people, but if you’ve gone through the Holocaust, then that does not offer the same sense of confidence and security as the idea that the Jewish people can take care of themselves no matter what happens. That makes it a fundamentally just idea.

That does not mean that I would agree with every action of the state of Israel, because it’s a government and it has politicians, and as a politician myself I am deeply mindful that we are imperfect creatures and don’t always act with justice uppermost on our minds. But the fundamental premise of Israel and the need to preserve a Jewish state that is secure is, I think, a just idea and one that should be supported here in the United States and around the world.

JG: Go to the kishke question, the gut question: the idea that if Jews know that you love them, then you can say whatever you want about Israel, but if we don’t know you –- Jim Baker, Zbigniew Brzezinski –- then everything is suspect. There seems to be in some quarters, in Florida and other places, a sense that you don’t feel Jewish worry the way a senator from New York would feel it.

BO: I find that really interesting. I think the idea of Israel and the reality of Israel is one that I find important to me personally. Because it speaks to my history of being uprooted, it speaks to the African-American story of exodus, it describes the history of overcoming great odds and a courage and a commitment to carving out a democracy and prosperity in the midst of hardscrabble land. One of the things I loved about Israel when I went there is that the land itself is a metaphor for rebirth, for what’s been accomplished. What I also love about Israel is the fact that people argue about these issues, and that they’re asking themselves moral questions.

Sometimes I’m attacked in the press for maybe being too deliberative. My staff teases me sometimes about anguishing over moral questions. I think I learned that partly from Jewish thought, that your actions have consequences and that they matter and that we have moral imperatives. The point is, if you look at my writings and my history, my commitment to Israel and the Jewish people is more than skin-deep and it’s more than political expediency. When it comes to the gut issue, I have such ardent defenders among my Jewish friends in Chicago. I don’t think people have noticed how fiercely they defend me, and how central they are to my success, because they’ve interacted with me long enough to know that I’ve got it in my gut. During the Wright episode, they didn’t flinch for a minute, because they know me and trust me, and they’ve seen me operate in difficult political situations.

The other irony in this whole process is that in my early political life in Chicago, one of the raps against me in the black community is that I was too close to the Jews. When I ran against Bobby Rush [for Congress], the perception was that I was Hyde Park, I’m University of Chicago, I’ve got all these Jewish friends. When I started organizing, the two fellow organizers in Chicago were Jews, and I was attacked for associating with them. So I’ve been in the foxhole with my Jewish friends, so when I find on the national level my commitment being questioned, it’s curious.

Standing in Line at an Obama Rally

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

The weather’s turned winter here in Ohio. And it happened in a blink. Last week, we were eating outside, in our Sukkah, corn stalks rustling in a fall breeze. Today, it’s hovering around 35 degrees. Sleet. Snow. Wind. Unbroken gray sky.

It wasn’t much different Monday, as people stood in line, waiting to get into the Obama rally in Canton.

This story was relayed to me by Amalie, who readers will recognize as a regular contributor on

The woman in front of Amalie in line was cold. Shivering and cold. She hadn’t anticipated the full frontal assault of winter, so suddenly.

And, as she waited — without asking anyone for anything — people started offering up their extra layers. One person gave her a scarf. Amalie offered her newborn’s baby blanket. (Her newborn is a HUGE Obama supporter, which is only fitting, since she has his same calm, cool, no-pacifier, no-problem temperament.) One woman trekked all the way back to the parking garage to retrieve an extra coat.

“This is what it’s supposed to be about,” Amalie told me yesterday, standing in my kitchen, our kids in the other room on a play date. “We help people — without judgment, without preconditions.”

As she said it, I thought — there it is — the central rationale for this campaign. Amid all this absurd mudslinging, attempting in these final days to brand Obama as a “Socialist” who would have the audacity to use tax revenue to lift up those in need, could there be a more simple, straightforward explication of what his policies are about?

You need a jacket. I’ve got one in the car. Hang tight.

Standing in line, warming at last, the woman told a story. A few days earlier, she had gone to see Michelle Obama speak in Akron. At the end of the event, she went up to Michelle, and told her about her son, a 31-year-old soldier in Afghanistan, with a four-month-old baby at home.

Michelle listened, heard, and then stepped forward and hugged her. Really held her. And it brought tears to the woman’s eyes.

This is what it’s supposed to be about.