Sunday, August 05, 2007

Barack Obama on a Roll: Another Presidential Debate Win

Revised at 10:00 pm on Sunday evening
Barack Obama:...We invaded a country that was not responsible for 9/11. We botched the job when we went in. We now have chaos and have helped to unleash civil war in that area…which is why in 2002 I said this was a bad idea and I specifically said it would fan anti-American sentiment…
Jeff Berkowitz: Did you win the debate?

Senator Barack Obama [D-IL]: Always.

And then the birthday Presidential candidate, Barack Obama, said “Good to see you, Jeff” and he was out the door. That is typical Obama. Always polite, always good manners.

It was yesterday afternoon, and Obama was leaving McCormick Place, south of the Chicago Loop, where he had just finished a love fest with about three hundred bloggers at a breakout Q and A session, which in turn followed the Yearly Kos Convention Democratic Presidential Candidate debate, attended by about fifteen hundred bloggers [no doubt almost all Democratic] and all Democratic Presidential candidates, except for Senator Joe Biden, who was said to be out promoting his new autobiography.

The JFK comparson:

If elected President, Obama would be 47 at the time of his inauguration. John F. Kennedy, at 43, was the youngest U. S. President. However, at the time of his election, JFK had six years of experience in the U. S. House and eight in the U. S. Senate. Obama, if elected in 2008, will have had four years in the U. S. Senate and eight in the Illinois Senate-- not quite the same, many would argue.

Nevertheless, the Obama excitement factor is similar to that generated by JFK. What they have in common is polish, style, smarts and charisma. You feel it every time Obama enters a room or convention hall, or just walks up to you. You felt it with JFK. More importantly, like JFK, people just, plain like Obama. Democrats, Republicans and Independents-- some will disagree with Obama on various issues, some will say he is too far left, too liberal for the country, if not his Party-- but few who meet him, speak with him, touch him walk away, saying, “I don’t like the guy.”

People often underestimate the importance of smarts and likeability in a political candidate. Some pundits and historians will tell you Democrat Adlai Stevenson didn’t win [1952 and 1956 Presidential races] because he was perceived as “too smart.” Wrong, he was perceived as an egghead. Nobody calls Obama or called JFK an egghead. Further, recent Democratic Presidential candidates like Gore and Kerry may have been smart [in their own way], but fundamentally they failed the style or likeability test. Obama, like JFK, passes all those tests.

The YouTube-CNN Debate

Obama won the recent YouTube, CNN debate. He was relaxed, comfortable and at ease. He had the right answers for the mostly Democratic audience, presented in the right way. The mainstream media, including some conservatives, focused on his answer about his ready, willingness to meet with Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, et al. and generally assessed it a mistake. Hillary argued, after the debate, the answer reflected his inexperience and naiveté. Team Obama snapped back that Hillary’s willingness to give George Bush, in 2002, a blank check to go to War in Iraq without any plan to extricate the U. S. ultimately from Iraq was the real example of “naiveté.” In terms of the Democratic Primary, advantage Obama.

Terrorist Targets in Pakistan:

Same thing with the skirmishing this past week over whether Obama should have said he, as President, if he had actionable intelligence, would take out terrorist targets in Pakistan, if our ally, Pakistan, didn’t do so. Again, advantage Obama in the Democratic Primary. This statement showed he can have a muscular foreign policy that fits within the Democratic Party paradigm: focus on terrorists, not countries that, while extremely distasteful if not despicable, are not viewed as a part of the terrorist network.

All of this could be a problem for the general election, but as Democratic strategist and Obama message and direct mail consultant, Pete Giangreco, is fond of saying, “You have to win the Primary before you can win the General.” And, for the Democratic Primary base, which is pretty liberal [even as the Republican Party Primary base is pretty conservative], none of the above is a problem.

So, Obama rolled into Yearly Kos, feeling good and looking for two debate wins in a row. Moreover, the YouTube and Kos crowds are part of Obama’s natural base. Yes, he is in sync with the left, liberal Democratic Party base. But, more than that--he is about youth, energy, ideas and change. That is YouTube and Kos. Further, although he will expect to do very well with the African-American vote [his family and he are quite, "black enough"], his base is much, much broader than one based on race.

Rooted in but not limited by the African-American community

Indeed, some thought the debate sponsored and hosted by Tavis Smiley on PBS would be Obama's strongest "home base," due to both being African-American. But, not so. The generational and "not just a pol," attributes he shares with members of YouTube and Daily Kos are at least as important to his base, as is his African-American heritage. As Obama said so often in his 2004 Democrat U.S. Senate Primary, which was the real run-up to this Presidential race, “I may be rooted in the African-American community, but I am not limited by it.” Again, like JFK, who was not limited by his Catholic base, as the first Catholic President of the United States, Obama will not be limited by his African-American lineage.

Kucinich, Biden, Dodd and Gravel, time to exit Stage Left?

There is no point in spending a lot of time in the debate coverage of Cong. Kucinich, Senators Biden and Dodd and former Senator Gravel. Gravel is there to demonstrate an old guy can say something relevant. He has made his point—now it is time for him to exit, stage left. Kucinich wanted to make his point that Democrats could hammer and hammer to cut off Iraq War funds, even without enough votes, if they didn’t care how out of touch they appeared to be with the actual legislative process. Okay, he has made his point: time for Cong. Kucinich to exit stage left. Senators Biden and Dodd wanted to audition for Secretary of State in a Democrat President’s cabinet. Okay, they have made their point, and they can now exit stage left.

The Final Four: Richardson, Edwards, Clinton and Obama

That leaves us, of course, with Gov. Richardson, former Senator Edwards, and Senators Clinton and Obama. This is a manageable group for the next six months, or so, and would produce some interesting debate discussions, some of which might actually help Democrat voters decide who should be their Presidential nominee.

Gov. Richardson

Richardson has a great resume: Congressman, Ambassador To the U. N. and Secretary of the Department of Energy in the Clinton administration, and New Mexico Governor for the last five years. He has denied he wants the office, of course, but Richardson is VP potential for both Hillary and Obama. New Mexico is a small state, but it has gone both ways in the last two elections, and thus it is a small state that could matter should the election be close in terms of electoral votes. Further, although without an Hispanic name, he is Hispanic. And, he perhaps brings some of the other western states [concealed carry and a JFK tax cutter] to the more consistent liberals: Hillary and Obama [See here for transcripts and links to video interviews with Richardson and Obama]. The Richardson-Obama show airs Monday night at 8:30 pm on Cable Ch. 21 throughout the City of Chicago and on Monday night at 7:30 pm in Aurora and surrounding areas on ACTV, Comcast Cable Ch. 10. You can watch the show on your computer at

Senator Edwards

Edwards seems to be coasting on his past. Having spent years in Iowa running for President in the 2004 race and then as Kerry’s VP candidate in 2004, he has Iowa and national name recognition. Being a trial lawyer, he knows how to debate and stay on message. But, unless Hillary and Barack stumble badly, he has nowhere to go. Indeed, Richardson is now passing Edwards in polls in New Hampshire and Arizona.


Hillary, of course, has the experience of being No. 2 to Mr. Bill for all of those years and will have been a U. S. Senator for eight years, like JFK, by the time she would be elected. She has the Bill Clinton network, fan club, name, donors and organization backing her, and all of those groups are extremely strong within the Democratic Party. To counter that, Hillary has extremely high unfavorables across the country and the perception that she is the one Democrat who could lose in what, as of now, is projected by most to be a big Democrat election year.

Obama, we have already covered, above.

Let’s take a listen to the key part of the Yearly Kos debate:

America to blame for 9/11? Right reaction to 9/11?

Matt Bai, Yearly Kos Debate moderator and New York Times contributing writer: Some Republican candidates for president [Giuliani and Ron Paul, in large part] recently engaged in a very spirited debate over whether America’s foreign policy contributed in some small way to the rise of Islamic terrorism and the attacks of Sep. 11. Do we bear any measure of responsibility for the anti-Americanism that fuels global terror?

Barack Obama:I don’t think there is any excuse for 9/11, that was an act of evil, and we need to hunt down those who perpetrated that tragedy. By the way, they weren’t in Iraq. In our reaction [to 9/11], we absolutely have acted in a way that has fanned anti-American sentiment. We invaded a country that was not responsible for 9/11. We botched the job when we went in. We now have chaos and have helped to unleash civil war in that area…which is why in 2002 I said this was a bad idea and I specifically said it would fan anti-American sentiment…

John Edwards: Osama, these terrorist groups are real; And, the President of the United States has the responsibility to find these people and stop them, but there has been no long term strategy to deal with them

Hillary Clinton: We have made some progress in becoming safer, but we are not safe enough because Bush-Cheney has unleashed so much hostility and alienation to us, that we are coping with more terrorists…it is a global war against terrorists, they are [now] better coordinated and better focused, and we need to use all tools at our disposal, and military force should be the last resort…

You see what I mean? Focusing on the top three candidates in that exchange, which one, from a Democratic Primary perspective, sounds smarter, more credible, more knowledgeable, more consistent—and more the candidate of change. Why, Obama, of course. It all comes down to Hillary and Edwards voting for the war, and Obama, in the fall of 2002, saying he would not have supported the War. If he can keep that the focus of the campaign, he wins. Even David Axelrod, Obama’s primary message guru, might say: this isn’t brain surgery.
Or, try this, what do Democrat bloggers think of Washington Lobbyists:

John Edwards: …I think my Party, the Democratic Party, the party of the people, ought to say, from this day forward, we will never take a dime from a Washington lobbyist, we do not do business with these insiders…Senator Obama and I have already done it…we need to start a grass roots movement for reform today…[Big time applause].

Matt Bai: Thank you Senator Edwards. That’s the second time today you’ve made that statement about lobbyists. Senator Clinton is sitting next to you. Would you take a similar statement, or why do you think that’s not a persuasive—

Hillary Clinton: I think it is a position that John certainly has taken [big crowd laughter]. I have to say that I don’t think, based on my thirty-five years of fighting for what I believe in, anybody seriously believes that I am going to be influenced by a lobbyist or a—[lots of crowd boos and catcalls].
You know, I’ve been waiting for this [the negative crowd reaction, a little bit of the old Hillary popped out of the bottle in response]. This gives us a real sense of reality with my being here. But, the important thing is what you have fought for and what you will fight for…I wish it were as simple as saying well, we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that…

Matt Bai: Senator Edwards has asked a very straightforward question here, which is--will you continue to take money from lobbyists--

Hillary Clinton: Yes, I will I will, because you know a lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans. They actually do. They represent nurses, they represent social workers, and they represent associations that employ a lot of people. The idea that somehow a contribution is going to influence you. I just ask you to look at my record. I have been fighting for the same things, my core principles have not changed….

Senator Dodd: Matt, first of all, whether you are a Washington lobbyist, or a Chicago lobbyist, what we ought to have is public financing…

Hillary Clinton: Matt, we are all for public financing…

Barack Obama: I am happy that Chris [Dodd] is on board with public financing…but what I will say is that I disagree with the notion that lobbyists don’t have disproportionate influence. Look, the insurance and the drug companies spent one billion dollars in lobbying over the last ten years. Now, Hillary, you were talking about the efforts you made back in ’93. Well, you can’t tell me that that money did not have a difference. They are not spending that just because they are contributing to the public interest. They have an agenda. [Big, big time crowd applause]. Part of the analysis for all of you is whose got a track record on doing this. Here, in Illinois, I have the first campaign finance reform in twenty-five years [state legislature]. We just passed an ethics reform bill [in the U. S. Senate] that is going to allow you to see who is bundling and the reason is because myself and Russ Feingold forced that provision in and by the way it was resisted not just by Republicans but by some Democrats, so we can take concrete steps right now—I agree our long term goal has to be public financing, but let’s not suggest until we get there that there is nothing meaningful we can do.
That was Edwards and Obama doing a little tag team on Hillary, punching her literally and figuratively from both sides on the lobbyist issue. And, she didn’t really fight back, other than to give what Robert Gibbs, Obama’s Campaign Communications Director, described in an interview yesterday afternoon as an "eloquent defense for taking money from lobbyists."

It was a fairly good exchange for Senator Edwards, but the day, and the momentum in the race, belonged to Obama. On to Tuesday night’s AFL-CIO Democratic Presidential debate at Soldier Field in Chicago to see if Senator Obama can make it three in a row.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at You may watch "Public Affairs," shows with Presidential Candidates Richardson, Obama, McCain, Giuliani and Cox and many other pols at