February 29th, 2008

Jam For Change Manages to Produce Both

by Philip Baruth

In 1972, eighteen-year-olds were given the right to vote, and they were supposed to flood the general election, elect McGovern, and stop the War. They never showed, at least not in numbers comparable to their strength. It’s taken 36 years, another disastrous war and the sort of candidate that only comes along once in a generation to actually bring them out into the process. But they’re here now, baby.

All photos by Elisabeth Wilhjelm

If you missed Monday night’s Jam for Change at Nectar’s, you missed seeing that process unfolding before your eyes. For one particularly crisp example, take UVM student Dana Jokela, pictured here with a choice selection of Obama gear.

Not ordinarily a politically active person by his own admission, Dana felt something different at work in the Obama campaign, and he found himself wanting to help. Bada bing, bada boom: within the last few weeks he and others have managed to register some 500 new UVM voters.

That’s in addition to the 100 or so he turned out on a Monday night in the deep of winter. All through the evening you had the impression that these self-appointed Obama volunteers were capable of pretty much anything, without seeming to hurry or break a visible sweat.

It was a night of great political discussion, and more. Given the demographic, of course, it was also ultimately about the music. The Sepia Tones play what they call funk/rock, but it sounded like intense rocking jazz to me. Brendan Dempsey’s saxophone alone was worth the price of admission — okay, it was free, but still that’s meant as a compliment.

And later in the evening, aspiring novelist and Obama-supporter Steve Dempsey sat in for a few licks.

After The Sepia Tones, we hit the overtly political part of the program: short, crisp videos about the candidate, including the now-famous Black Eyed Peas tune, and a series of speakers with the much-discussed cult-like fire of Obama burning clearly in their eyes.

The crowd was loose and forgiving, everyone there for the express purpose of being a part of something exciting and meaningful. They cheered everything and everyone, and it all felt as though in some infinitesimal way it was ushering in a new era.

Neil Jensen, in green, creator and web overlord of Vermonters for Obama, clearly felt the vibe. It was universal — except, of course, for the normally unflappable Oliver, far right, who veered all evening between hope, despair, and occasional dismay.

And then it was back to the music. For those of you who wrote in wondering what, precisely, was involved in Chainlink Gunlove, and would participating in it ruin your chances of being elevated to the Supreme Court someday, here’s your answer.

Yes, it was a brilliant evening, made all the more so by the news that polls suddenly had Obama up by 4 points in Texas, a first since he announced more than a year ago. It was as though the whole world had caught the wave, not just Burlington and Texas, but Ohio and Pennsylvania and every town in between.

A feeling hard to shake, especially when you walk out of Nectar’s just at midnight, with a stomach full of good Buffalo wings and Vermont-brewed beer, only to find a dusting of pure new-fallen snow on the hood of the Barackmobile, idling casually at the curb.

[Many thanks to Dana Jokela for his organizational prowess, and to the very talented Elisabeth Wilhjelm for all of the photographs used in this post.]

February 28th, 2008

Bush Confronts Series of Tough Questions

by Philip Baruth

Remember back in the day, when we were all young and foolish and full of acne and childhood dreams, and Donald Rumsfeld was a rock star over at the Pentagon, and it seemed for some reason very important to come screeching into the office each and every day and mock this guy holding the Dr. Seuss book here? Hard to believe, these days, that he ever mattered that much, even negatively speaking.

February 28th, 2008

The Continuing Revenge of Howard Dean

by Philip Baruth

VDB-reader Neil M. writes in with some very sharp analysis of the burgeoning Obama campaign. And he rightly attributes a measure of Obama’s startling success in various red states to a certain hometown boy. His last paragraphs put it all into final, lovely focus:

dean, jason
Dean, with Burlington super-rep, Jason Lorber

Dear VDB,

Reports of a well run, well oiled campaign swooping in against steep odds with the type of organizational furor that boggles the mind leave me thinking one thing: Dean’s Revenge. It’s a marvel to hear stories of a solid red state getting a grassroots organization built up from scratch in a matter of weeks. Idaho, Texas, Indiana, Nebraska. Whereas the party’s policy a few short years ago was to just hold on to what we had and work on maybe Ohio (aka the 48% and pray for a few surprises), Dean’s rational dream of a 50-state long-term strategy for change is now showing signs of being more than a dream. The future is far from decided, but it sure is starting to look a lot rosier.

I can’t wait to march down to BED next Tuesday and add my vote to the tidal wave.



February 27th, 2008

Basking Like We’ve Never Basked Before

by Philip Baruth

Announcer: For complex reasons having to do with frontloaded primaries and competing slates of superdelegates, Vermont’s Democratic Primary seems certain to actually matter, this time around. And one thing is certain: Commentator Philip Baruth is loving it.

Notes from the New Vermont
Commentary #211:
Basking Like We’ve Never Basked Before

With Vermont’s Town Meeting Day Primary still a few weeks away, certain things remain shrouded in mystery, and certain things have become dazzlingly clear.

On the mystery-shrouded side, we have the fate of the Michigan and Florida Democratic delegations — not to mention the name of the Democratic nominee himself or herself. We also don’t know whether Mitt Romney’s left hand knows that his right hand spent 42$ million dollars of his own money on a socially-conservative makeover.

What we do know is this: Vermont’s primary matters this time out, really matters, and it feels fantastic.

Somehow, we’ve gone through an almost metaphysical change. We’ve always been pretty scrawny, in the electoral scheme of things, but now it’s as though we sent away for some product or cream in the back of a magazine, something that worked, against all odds, and now we’ve buffed out, and suddenly John McCain’s swooping in for a rally, just — you know, just to be with us.

Okay, he only wants to be with us at the airport, in a hanger, and then he’s gone. But still, that’s a relationship, of a sort.

It’s a pretty heady feeling. Hillary Clinton is running ads to let us know that she hears us. Barack Obama is ready to turn the page, but only if we’ll help, only if we’ll take that page between our sticky, maple-syrupy fingers and turn it with him.

It’s all about us, this time. New Hampshire’s past history. They had their moment earlier this year, and believe me they basked in it.

But now we’re basking, New Hampshire. You hear that? We’re basking, and we’re basking like we’ve never basked before. Because on March 4th, every eye in America will be on Vermont, watching our every focus-grouped, over-intellectualized move.

Except, you know, for the hundreds of millions of eyes that will be on Texas and Ohio instead.

Still, we’re loving it. And something else has become clear as well: we can’t ever let this feeling go away.

Which is why we have to take the bull by the horns, now, while we have leverage. That’s right: I’m talking about moving our Primary up to compete directly with New Hampshire’s, passing a statute in the next two weeks, while all the remaining Presidential candidates will still nod their heads blindly at whatever we say. Howard Dean is the head of the DNC, and Howard Dean owes us all big time.

Whatever may happen to the Florida and Michigan delegations, the primary calendar has already changed forever. The only question left, at least for you and me, is this: Are we just going to sit back and do nothing while our neighbor New Hampshire is openly stripped of all its former glory — or are we going to jump in and cart some off for ourselves?

We’re basking now, Vermont, and we can bask like this every Presidential season. All we have to do is pass a law mandating that we feel this good every four years.

Sure, New Hampshire will threaten to advance their primary by a week. But I’m betting we’d win that little staring contest. It’s hard to get too high and mighty with folks who share your border, and know your secrets.

Now is the time, people. Quick, before the clock strikes midnight, and we have to go running down the palace stair to our coach, leaving just that one muddy Timberland boot behind, for John McCain to find.

[This piece aired first on Vermont Public Radio. Audio of the commentary can be found here.]

McCain, tanking

February 26th, 2008

You Want to Talk About The Silly Season? YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE SILLY SEASON!

by Philip Baruth

Bound to happen, sooner or later: two men in the key battleground state of Pennsylvania get into a dispute over the Democratic primary, and one guts the other like a Christmas pig. The key details: the guy wielding the knife was the Hillary supporter, yes, but also a registered Republican, which demonstrates a curious, previously unheralded cross-over appeal. No word on whether the incident was related to the latest polls out of Texas.

he's got a knife

February 26th, 2008

It’s Time to Play Maim the Frontrunner

by Philip Baruth

It’s time to play maim the frontrunner. On the Democratic side, just as Obama seemed to be within striking distance of the endgame, the media has decided to vett while the vetting is good: from CNN polls about Obama’s purported lack of patriotism, to smear shots of the candidate in Muslim traditional dress, to chin-pullers dissecting Obama’s “cockiness,” everyone in the mainstream media has decided it’s time to paste the pinata but good.

But that’s cold fare compared to McCain’s incoming. Let’s see: potential sex scandal, which morphs into lobbying scandal, which then morphs into questions of basic campaign honesty, without ever losing any of its previous two incarnations.

And today, the cruelest cut of all: Mitt says he may be back. If, you know, McCain gets his legs cut off entirely.

VDB could only be so lucky.

February 23rd, 2008

Odum Still Spry, After All These Years

by Philip Baruth

Some folks thought that once Odum hit his 40’s, he’d lose his speed and his edge and his hair. Not so, on all counts: he’s already posted and done a quick run-down on the first statewide poll prior to the March 4 primary. That’s fast. The highlight? Obama by 2:1. Say no more.

Odum fights off dog

February 22nd, 2008

Yes We Can Drink Beer At Nectar’s

by Philip Baruth

A small army of UVM students, led by student organizer Dana Jokela, have thrown together an impressive event for Monday night, aimed squarely at turning out the youth vote for Obama. They’ve asked me to speak somewhere between a band called The Sepia Tones, and another by the name of Chainlink Gunlove. Which sounds fairly intense. Stop by, talk strategy, or just groove on the gunlove, whatever that turns out to be. See you there. — PB

February 21st, 2008

Clinton Camp Struggles with Mounting Debt, Won’t Discuss Blue Thing Attached to Front of Mark Penn’s Large Pinstriped Pants

by Philip Baruth

Each time Barack Obama has swept a week of primaries, the Clinton campaign has attempted to make competing news with tales of fundraising gone wild, streams of cash pouring into the campaign “once people knew Hillary needed the money.” But now the truth can be told: the Clinton campaign finished January some $7.6 million in debt. Not including the $5 million Hillary loaned herself.

Now granted, VDB never majored in math. Still, that looks a lot like $13 million or so in debt heading into February. But let’s take the campaign at their word, and credit them with $15 million in new fundraising since February 1st.

That leaves about enough to stage a really, really nice concession speech.

What to do? Well, certainly it’s no coincidence that “independent” 527 organizations are springing up across Ohio and Texas like wildflowers, pro-Clinton groups good for a few million here or there.

Still, that’s not going to make the nut: the Obama camp spent the time and the money on the front end, building an unprecedented small donor base that has the campaign flush with cash dedicated to use in the primaries.

Cut expenses? Might help. Clinton strategist Mark Penn — whose strategic myopia has made long-disgraced Dole manager Scott Reed seem sagacious by comparison — has apparently submitted an invoice for a cool $2 million bucks.

$2 million to turn the inevitable into the impossible. Sweet.

And don’t even bother asking what the blue thing is that seems to be attached to the front of his pinstriped pants. Because at $2 million a pop, Penn doesn’t have to tell anyone a goddamned thing.

Late Update, 3:04 pm:

Earlier today, Change to Win endorsed Obama, bringing the Service Employees International Union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers and Unite Here all under the Illinois Senator’s banner. Big news.

But we missed the biggest news, the buried lede.

In a conference call to describe the move, labor leaders discussed the candidates and the state of the race. Anna Burger, Change to Win’s chairwoman, apparently argued that “Mrs. Clinton should consider ending her candidacy.”

Hillary Clinton was once the union favorite. Now they’re not only lining up behind Obama. They’re beginning, tentatively, to call for her to quit the race.

February 20th, 2008

NYC: Somebody Got Some ‘Splaining to Do

by Philip Baruth

You may have heard that somehow Barack Obama wound up with zero votes in some 78 districts during primary voting in New York City (including parts of Harlem). Election officials described the undercounting, which affected Hillary not at all, as a purely mechanical issue, involving ballot placement and human error.

Mayor Bloomberg begs to differ: “If you want to call it significant undercounting, I guess that’s a euphemism for fraud.”

Which more or less gets to the meat of it.

Late Update, Thursday, February 21, 6:46 am:

Email queries flooding in re: the above photo, and the woman standing next to Bloomberg. You guessed it: that’s Cyndi Lauper, looking all cool and grown-up and Manhattany. Never saw the realism in the whole Bloomberg boomlet this cycle, but if it ever did manage to achieve lift-off, he could do worse for a VP.

The problem would be an embarrassment of riches when it came to campaign theme songs. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “Time After Time,” “Money Changes Everything”?

Wrong, wrong, wrong. The correct answer? “She Bop,” which Wikipedia helpfully describes as “a paean to masturbation.”

Focus-group that, social conservatives.

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