January 31st, 2008

Obama Campaign Now Surging Nationally, With Uncanny Mission Impossible Timing

by Philip Baruth

One of the hallmarks of the Obama campaign has been its ability to beat not just expectations, but the clock. The conventional wisdom going into the race held that the Clinton campaign would crush all comers in the rush for donors. Not so: Obama outraised Clinton in primary dollars, and he did so each of the first two quarters with a last-minute surge just at the finish line.

Photos by Bill Stetson

In Iowa, Obama’s poll numbers rose dramatically in the final days before the caucus, eventually producing a wave that would carry him over the top. Ditto for South Carolina. Even in Nevada, Obama arguably had the votes where he needed them, eventually earning more delegates than Clinton in spite of losing the state-wide popular vote.

And after South Carolina, in spite of much hoopla and praise, most experts continued to believe that the Clinton campaign simply had too much name recognition in big Western states like California, states with beaucoup delegates. Obama would come close, so the thinking went, but pull up well short on February 5.

But the tracking numbers beg to differ. As do the size and the intensity of Obama rallies around the country.

Nationally, Obama is now within 6 points of Hillary, a surge of some twenty points in the last several weeks.

California, the Clinton campaign’s Last Best Firewall, has tightened to a three-point race. Very big news, but not unpredictable.

All of the movement at this point is Obama’s. At least all of the positive movement. And if the tracking polls are to be believed, the timing of this movement will cause it to peak on or around February 4th.

Yes, the precision of the rise suggests a crack campaign team, working at the height of its game; yes, the numbers reflect very positive media coverage of South Carolina and the Triple Kennedy endorsement.

But it’s more than that.

At each stage, as it has become clear that Hillary Clinton is the default option for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States, huge groups of voters — Democratic voters, people who generally like the Clintons as a concept — have stepped up to preserve and promote the alternative.

The fundraising numbers made that effect clear, but the polling now bears it out.

In other words, Barack Obama has made an incredibly positive case for himself, based on simple, healing notions, the same sort of messages that propelled Jimmy Carter into the White House post-Watergate.

But he has also exposed and capitalized on very strong misgivings about Hillary Clinton herself, and the Clintons as a problematic power couple.

It’s the latter effect, it seems to us, that accounts for the Mission Impossible timing the Obama campaign has enjoyed. By and large, when they’ve needed X (money, volunteers, votes), they’ve gotten X — in great profusion, and in just the nick of time.

From the start of the race, the Clinton campaign has sought to label any discussion of these misgivings about Hillary “GOP talking points,” or the stuff of sexist poker-table bull sessions.

But it’s not that. It’s something deeper and broader: the Democratic Party moved significantly to the Left during the Bush years — away from the triangulation and militarism that marked the 90’s — and Hillary Clinton’s campaign has never really come to terms with that fact.

When the nomination seemed a sure thing some months back, Hillary began a precipitous move to the Right that dogs her to this day; she called for leaving about half the troops in Iraq under a redefined mission, and voted to rattle the Lieberman-Kyle saber at Iran.

But beyond that, her campaign has been one of the most hard-bitten, disingenuous Democratic campaigns in recent memory, a perfect foil for the Obama message of unity and post-partisanship.

Democrats have reasons not to prefer Hillary Clinton, in short. Good reasons, at that.

And they’ve thus far shown a tendency to back Barack Obama tentatively at first, and then in a rush as crunch time hits and their window of choice looks to be closing.

All of which should make Tuesday night a nail-biter for the ages. We’ll be at the Sheraton in Burlington with a few hundred other people with nothing better to do, monitoring developments. Look for you there.

Late Update, 8:38 am:

Missed this clincher: Bill Simmon over at Candleblog is now on board. And when you’ve got the techno-geeks in the seats, it’s pedal to the metal time, baby.

January 30th, 2008

Lieberman (CT For Lieberman-CT) To Seek Public Speaking Pointers From Zell Miller, In Advance of Quadrennial GOP War-Fest

by Philip Baruth

Big Joe is still downplaying rumors that he’d give his left leg to be John McCain’s Vice Presidential choice. Which is just as well: age is going to be the rap on McCain if he takes the GOP nomination, and he’s not going to double down by selecting a disturbingly wizened Connecticut ward-heeler.

lieberman as adult baby

Still, Joe’s looking on the bright side: he’ll be very welcome at one of the two party conventions this summer, at least. “[Lieberman] left open the door to attending the Republican convention if McCain wins the nomination. ‘I’d probably be more welcome there,’” he said.

Probably, Joe.

January 29th, 2008

Breaking: Art Replaces Life Altogether

by Philip Baruth

Editorial cartoonist Ann Telnaes has the mashed-up photo below in circulation today, and it’s pretty amusing: the young Bill Clinton in 1963, now replaced by the youngish Barack Obama, endorsed yesterday by Ted Kennedy. But it blew my mind for another reason entirely — I wrote an entire novel based on this very picture, starring Bill Clinton at 16, and I’ve just begun work on another featuring an older Barack Obama, circa 2028. More than a bit freaky.

January 29th, 2008

This Is VDB: In Which Vermont Daily Briefing Readers Are Revealed To Be Themselves (The Johnson Edition)

by Philip Baruth

Like Tom Snyder of the once-great Tomorrow Show, Vermont talk-radio icon Mark Johnson long ago perfected a means of infusing his medium with low-key cool. Always in hot pursuit of breaking political news and insight, Johnson never seems to break a sweat. That smooth professionalism has made him the go-to guy, over the years, whether you have a debate that needs moderating, or a nasty political scandal that needs lancing. An early Friend of VDB, and one we count ourselves lucky to have.

— PB

mark johnson/rudy

This Is VDB: The Johnson Edition
Name: Mark Johnson

Location: I live in your car, your home and on your computer. A little scary, isn’t it? The best part about living in Vermont is getting to come here when you come back from vacations. I’ve lived within walking distance of Burlington for 20 years, which comes in handy when there’s an ice storm, the car’s in the shop or my daughter and I just want a Lake Champlain hot chocolate.

Interests: Long walks on the beach at Shore Acres Inn and Restaurant in North Hero, curling up by the fire with a cup of Vermont Coffee Company or taking a nice hot bath in steaming Vermont Morning hot breakfast cereal. And shamelessly plugging sponsors.

What Brought You Home to VDB: Who else beside VDB would draw the connection between Anthony Pollina’s “intent'’ to run and Larry Craig’s “intent'’ to resign? The Mark Johnson Show, of course. Well, you get the point.

Most of all I like (and always get some nugget or two) from the VDB sit-downs. But what keeps me coming back? The photos. The Santorum family shot. Priceless.

santorum and brood

Current Political Talking Points: How is it possible Democrats have no big-name candidate for governor in a state with Leahy, Sanders and Welch in Washinton? We’re going to pay for the stimulus package with more debt from China to buy more Chinese products. Huh?

Last Word on the Presidential Race: Why have all the candidates I interviewed in NH either dropped out or nosedived?

January 28th, 2008

An Impolitic Series of Uncalled-For Remarks From the Vermont Library Association’s Jan. 18 Rally at the State House, Montpelier, Vermont, USA

by Philip Baruth

I served on the School Board in Burlington a few years back, and I don’t think I slept four hours a night two nights running, because I was horrified and deeply depressed by the financial picture, and how much worse it was than I ever suspected before I joined up. Then I got off the School Board, and I slept really pretty well for a couple of years.

Two, at least. Because then I was asked to become a Trustee of the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington. I couldn’t have been happier to join up, because the Fletcher is one of the oldest and proudest libraries in the state, and I take my girls there to read books on the weekends anyway.

So I figured, here’s my chance to have some real influence on the collection. We were a little thin, to my way of thinking, on Junie B. Jones and The Secrets of Droon, not to mention the now-classic Captain Underpants series, and I figured that would be my first official act as a Trustee, beefing up those core parts of the library’s holdings.

It turned out, though, that the Library Board meetings were almost indistinguishable from School Board meetings: we talked about money non-stop, why exactly we didn’t have any, and how we could maybe get some more.

But there was one major difference: we couldn’t vote to change any of the numbers in our budget. It turned out it didn’t work that way.

Instead, we had to rely primarily on donors, and my first official act as a Trustee turned out to be going over a long scroll of donor names, looking for people I knew — people who liked and trusted me — so that I could call or write them and beg them to give me more money that they didn’t really have.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the Fletcher, and I’m not too proud to beg, but it shouldn’t be that way. Vermont is only one of eight states that refuse to provide State aid to libraries, and let’s face it, that’s just profoundly embarrassing company to keep.

But more than embarrassing, it cuts sharply across the grain of some of the most exciting and forward-looking legislation moving through this building.

Back in 2007, in his State of the State Address, Governor Douglas drew together some of his previous broadband and cellular ideas into something he called “the E State Initiative,” and I’ll just quote a few lines here because it’s a beautiful idea that I support completely:

“I propose,” the Governor said, “that by 2010, Vermont be the nation’s first true ‘e-state’ — the first state to provide universal cellular and broadband coverage everywhere and anywhere within its borders. When you turn on your laptop, you’re connected. When you hit the send button on your cell phone, the call goes through.”


As I said, a beautiful idea, but with one nagging practical problem trailing along behind it: what do you do if you don’t have a laptop or a desktop or a cell phone or a car for that matter?

What if software is moving invisibly through the sky all around you, connecting everyone you can see with everyone you can’t see, and you’re left out of the revolution because you have no hardware, and no way to get any?

Everyone knows the answer: you go to the library.

But once there, no doubt, you wait in line to get on-line. Because the hard fact of the matter is that in addition to archiving culture and preserving knowledge and teaching our kids when they’re not in school, librarians today are also expected to almost single-handedly close the digital divide.

Over the last fifteen years, they’ve seen their libraries become the bridge of last resort for people otherwise unable to reach the Information Society.

If you go into the Fletcher Free Library, and you walk through the stacks, you’ll find a scattering of people browsing or sitting on the floor with a book, and it’s nice — it’s a quiet, studious, languorous experience, exactly as the stacks should be.

But if you go to the computer center on the first floor, the atmosphere is entirely different, mostly because everyone is waiting in line to get on-line: there’s a waiting list, and a soft but productive tension in the air, because more than a few of the people are working on job applications or resumes, which is to say that they don’t currently have a job, or the money that comes with one, or the laptop that might, in a best-case scenario, eventually come on top of all that.

In that way, Vermont’s library system has become not just a place to read, or to promote literacy, although those are crucial functions and God love the men and women who perform them.

It has become the essential, but overlooked connection in the E-state, and without those public libraries closing that circuit, closing that digital divide, any talk of universal coverage is a self-serving fantasy.

I’m all for the “E-State,” in other words — I just don’t want the E to stand for “Exclusive.”

And to go back to where we began, our traditional method of funding Vermont libraries — local taxes and a little help from our friends — never really worked all that well even when the mission was just books.

We never had enough for the books we needed, never enough to make sure the building didn’t let rain in or heat out.

But with the explosion of use centered around non-traditional media — computers, audio and video of ten or fifteen varieties — that traditional means of funding has become a joke that gets a little more cruel every year.

IBM of Essex occasionally donates a cluster of computers, and in that way they help to forestall the inevitable, but it is still inevitable that if Vermont doesn’t join the vast majority of states and begin to pay for what it asks of its libraries, the institutions will buckle under the increased load.

When I was a kid, there was always one job that had to be done before you could string the lights on the Christmas tree: you had to check every single bulb individually because if one was bad, the circuit wouldn’t close, and the whole string would remain dark.

It was a hassle but it prevented an even worse hassle — getting the lights all wound into the evergreen branches, plugging it in, and then having no idea which one of a hundred bulbs needed to be pulled.

I applaud the Legislature’s attempts to wire up the state of Vermont, and it’s going to be a beautiful thing when the job is done.

For God’s sake, though, don’t skimp on the State’s libraries as you do so, because they are already set-up institutionally to fill the digital gap; they’re in place, they’ve rethought their mission, and they’re performing the job admirably as we speak.

But unless we support them financially in that role, this vast string of fiber-optic Christmas lights we’re working on isn’t going anywhere, not really, not in any ethical or moral sense. In that sense, the system will remain dark until everyone has access to the light.

And let’s not kid ourselves. Bringing the light to those without it costs money: 1.6 million dollars is the line item the VLA is requesting, and an absolutely spectacular bargain at that price.

[A shorter version of this commentary aired first on Vermont Public Radio. Audio is available here.]

January 26th, 2008

Sanders and Douglas Agree On a Single Message of the Day: Regulate THIS, EPA

by Philip Baruth

Credit where credit is due: Jim Douglas trekked to Washington yesterday, to appear before Bernie’s Senate Environment and Public Works committee, and there he denounced the recent Bush-league decision by the EPA “to deny a waiver to allow California, Vermont and more than a dozen other states to move ahead with laws to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from motor vehicles.”

Yes, this is the sort of sporadic good deed that allows Douglas to so effectively moderate his image within Vermont; yes, he’s done a hundred other things this week worthy of your indignation.

But this was a day very well spent, and without getting all weepy and David Broderish about it, it’s good to see our Congressional delegation and our top state official push in a single progressive direction for a change.

Still, take a second look at that photo above.

All smiles, but don’t you get the distinct sense that Douglas is still half expecting a good cuff from Bernie, right out of the blue, at any second?

January 25th, 2008

Dennis Kucinich To Fight No More Forever

by Philip Baruth

Dennis Kucinich will announce tomorrow that he’s ending his second bid for the Presidency, and we here at VDB are unexpectedly saddened by the loss. Kucinich was never a contender, to our eye, but he was always a model of honesty, even when it meant electoral suicide. Gracious in the face of defeat, upbeat in the face of insurmountable odds, the man managed to move us, even as he failed to ignite a movement. Live long and prosper, Dennis.


January 24th, 2008

Governor Douglas Stumbles On New Way to Win Elections: Cease Having Them ASAP

by Philip Baruth

Word coming in from the State House about the Governor’s new budget, and there’s one mildly disturbing fact that stands out among the others: Douglas’s budget fails to provide funding for the November election. Seriously.

Rather than funding an election this cycle, Governor Douglas will travel the state handing out “wicked big” checks to random individual voters.

Every two years money is added to the budget, through the Secretary of State’s office, to underwrite the state-wide election. Estimated price tag for 2008? A cool $450,000.

But not a cent budgeted in the Governor’s new master plan.

Our source goes on to say: “The official response is that we will have to deal with this in next year’s budget adjustment. This assumes, though, that there will be money in budget adjustment next year. Given declining revenues, no money for pay act, aggressive savings targets from cutting positions, and Medicaid, it is likely that there will not be any money for budget adjustment next year. In fact budget adjustment may need to be used for recissions.”

Ah, yes. Suddenly the Affordability Agenda makes a whole new kind of sense.

January 24th, 2008

Danziger Updates You On The Primaries

by Philip Baruth

January 23rd, 2008

A Fund Does Not a Leader Make

by Philip Baruth

Got a fundraising email from the Vermont Democratic Party a few hours ago, and it really takes the cake: it’s from Peter Galbraith, saying more or less what he’s been saying for months, that he’s considering running for Governor, and could we all please pony up $50 or $100 for a generic “Vermont Leadership Fund” to help fund “Democratic leaders on all levels around the state.” Brilliant idea.

Galbraith, seated at far right.

In other words, you give us a chunk of cash, and we’ll provide unspecified leadership ex post facto.

VDB has a better idea altogether: you show some leadership, and we’ll reach for our wallet.

If you want to run for Governor, say so. This applies not just to Galbraith, but any Democrat. This fan-dancing has gone on long enough, well past long enough.

Say what you will about Pollina, and VDB has said more than a few things in heat about him over the years, but he’s running for Governor, and he’s said so. As a result contributors have now put their money where his mouth is, to the tune of $100,000.

Democrats have yet to deliver on their long-standing promise to field an excellent candidate this cycle, and using a non-candidate to raise generic funds at this point only adds insult to injury.

The funds should follow the leadership, in other words, not the other way around. If you see our point.

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