Friday, November 07, 2008

Behind the scenes at the US elections

Newsweek has a fascinating series of in-depth pieces on life in the McCain, Clinton and Obama camps, written by reporters who promised not to publish until after the election. It starts here.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Freedom US 08

Dear American readers, If you are lucky enough to have a vote in the US elections, please use it. Even though the lines may be long, the system chaotic, the weather bad, your feet sore, the pollsters telling you that you don't need to, he'll win anyway...please vote. Thank you. Really, thank you. And I hope that you have a great day.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

More than a righteous wind

Some speeches electrify their listeners, others only gas them.
- Anon

It was February 2007 when I first blogged about Senator Barack Obama, the young politician who had electrified the crowds at the 2004 Democratic convention with his surging, hopeful rhetoric. The speech he gave on that cold February day in Springfield got this UK blogger energised and optimistic about politics again, about writing again, even though I only read a transcript of his words and didn't see him deliver the speech in full until later. Since last winter, his speeches have got better and better; for example, his response to the attacks about his firebrand pastor, Jeremiah Wright was the stunning A More Perfect Union, which will surely stand as one of the best political speeches of a decade, whatever the outcome of this election.

Over the last two years of exhausting campaigning, barrowloads of muck have been thrown at the 'skinny guy with the funny name' - but nothing has stuck. He has seen off the formidable Clintons and the might of the GOP smear machine, plus hoards of investigative journalists and bloggers who have scoured his life looking for faults and failings. As things got harder, angrier, more frightening, Obama has grown in stature, in preternatural calmness, and his speeches have both soared and reassured. More than just words; they have inspired millions to care, to hope, to campaign, to donate, to pound their streets and their keyboards, to make calls and print leaflets, to lend cars and sofas to those getting out the vote, to bring food and drinks to local campaign offices and those waiting in lines to vote early. Such is the power of an idea lifted up and brought to passionate life by golden, shining words. Great speeches are not hot air; they can be a righteous wind, blowing vessels on a new course. Words have power to change lives.

Obama has written two books, which are thoughtful, and honest, and beautifully written. He once toyed with the idea of being a writer, and it shows. But he is not some high-minded academic. He has been CEO of the most awesomely disciplined, innovative, successful political campaign in American history; raising staggering millions, registering millions of first-time voters, he now has a tireless army of volunteers who are driving his message home, even deep into conservative states that are now shading purple. It scares some people, I can see that. It is not how things have always been done, and the idea of 'change' - any change - usually causes almost as many to fear, as to hope.

Obama has had the more positive message, and he has carefully stuck to it, demonstrating by his serene actions and measured choices, how his opponent, the volatile old high-rolling bomb-dropping Admiral's son, the ex-playboy-turned prisoner of war has betrayed his former 'maverick' label to align himself with those who use fear as a social control mechanism. The extreme religious right, those who cannot bring themselves to call abortion-clinic bombers 'terrorists', but who use 'Muslim' as a term of abuse. Those who chant 'drill!' and 'kill!' at rallies. Those whose raging resentment the religious extremist Sarah Palin wilfully courts. Those whose hatred of the Other seems pathological - I am thinking especially of Ashley Todd, the paid McCain volunteer who scratched her own face and claimed to have been assaulted by a black Obama-supporting male, a tactic that even ten years ago could have led to riots. Never has a base seemed so...base. What American wants to think of him or herself as one of their angry number? Meanwhile, Obama rallies attracted hundreds of thousands, singing of hope and freedom, shouting 'Yes, we can!' - a familiar American dream.

Obama has been lucky, as well as gifted. The 1980's-2006 Republican party's crazy beliefs about unfettered freemarket economics operating as some kind of magical perpetual-motion wealth machine have been exploded as the lunatic lies that they always were. The economic Armageddon headlines made the stories about lipstick on pigs and sixties radicals look threadbare and irrelevant. And Obama has waded into the toxic aftermath of the worst President in history, the man with lower approval ratings than Nixon on the day he left office. The Republican brand is now associated with torture, war-crimes, the basest kind of fear-mongering, constitution-shredding deceit, with the squandering of such riches - the wealth of our earth's resources and the goodwill of nations, and Clinton's surplus millions - into multi-trillion dollar debt and bloody shameful international catastrophe. If Obama can't win votes and hearts and minds after that, then America is running mad.

And yet, it is still far too easy to worry on the eve of this election. About dirty tricks, about last-minute hitches. 80,000 people have already reported problems with voting. The lines are already 5 hours long in some states. It is almost certain that there will be complete and utter chaos tomorrow as unprecedented numbers turn out to vote. Bush has US soldiers on standby, serving a tour of duty on US soil. Police leave is cancelled in some cities. Obama is over 50% in the polls, but surely he should be higher, given the dreadful McCain campaign? I am one of hundreds of thousands of quivering liberals today, biting my cheek and fretting.

But the bookies have Obama to win solidly, and it is them, not the polls that I trust. Unlike the pollsters, they go bust if they get it wrong. They have got it right for the last 8 elections.

I will be up all night tomorrow, watching and waiting. Hoping that the clean breeze I felt blowing two years ago out of Springfield gathers force and power until it is more than a righteous wind, but a mighty gale sailing this man, and the millions of ordinary men and women whom he has inspired to hope for change, to a safer shore, where the hard, slow work of rebuilding the dream of America can begin.