Monday, February 04, 2008

Measures of grassroots support?

As traditional polls point to a close race between the top Democrats on Super Tuesday, I decided to see how many Clinton events are scheduled within 100 miles of Chapel Hill, NC versus how many Obama events. Based on the results from each candidate's web site, it's 19 events for Obama crushing 2 for Clinton. How's that for grassroots mobilization?

I plan to stay up late tomorrow night watching election results with local Obama supporters.

I am interested in alternative measures of grassroots support, beyond the typical polls. Last month I heard that a leading indicator of interest in Obama was that his merchandise was outselling Clinton's on CafePress.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

What's the storyline in South Carolina?

[Also cross-posted on my MojoMom blog]

I am a Democrat, a big John Edwards fan, but I see good things in Obama and Clinton as well. I have been very frustrated by the mainstream media forcing storylines on a primary season that is just starting to unfold. The best analysis I have seen of the insistence on "horse race" coverage is "Why Campaign Coverage Sucks" by Jay Rosen, originally reported on, and reposted to

Today on, as the primary is underway, the headline says, "Obama's legitimacy on line in South Carolina." Oh really? Who says? I am worried that the media has painted Obama into a racial box in South Carolina: on the one hand, Obama needs to show strong from African-American support. As CNN's Bill Schneider says, "Obama's support among African-American voters gives him more legitimacy. Obama has been doing well with young voters, independents and educated upper-middle-class liberals -- the NPR vote. Winning the black vote by a solid margin means Obama has standing with the Democratic Party's base."

But on the other hand, what if Obama wins South Carolina on the strength of the black vote, but lags behind in the white vote? Will the man who was once questioned for being "Black Enough" now become marginalized as "The Black Candidate," even though he won in lily-white Iowa and got 37% of the vote versus Clinton's 39% in New Hampshire? It seems to me that Hillary Clinton gets only beneficial bonus points for winning the black vote but obviously can't be marginalized as the White Candidate for scoring too many points in her demographic.

The gender card is its own mine-field. Of course Hillary Clinton faces the double-bind of being tough enough yet likeable and relatable. I am concerned about both of these fine candidates being pigeonholed unfairly, and I was really upset by the squabbling this week between Clinton and Obama. I did get the impression personally that Clinton's campaign has unleashed some unfair attacks against Obama, that Hillary has tried to appear to be rising above that fray yet sends her surrogates (Bill and others) to do the dirty work. Some call that politics, some call it hardball, I call it unfortunate. I will consider this election a failure if our unconscious racism and sexism are used as weapons by candidates against each other. I guess that brands me as a hopeless idealist, because of course this is already happening and will happen between parties [and memo to Broadsheet, a blog that I generally respect, your growing fascination with this drama is making it worse] but it crushes me to see candidates whom I like and respect going after each other that way.

As for the narrative of the Democratic Primary, Obama won Iowa, Clinton won New Hampshire, and although both "beat expectations" in each race, it's pretty close between the two of them. Why do we have to have this huge back-and-forth drama after each race? Both Clinton and Obama have more support in their party than any individual Republican has in his party. These are two viable candidates, and we should let the voters rather than the media decide who will end up on top.

What do you think? Am I on to something here, and am I also missing something? I am open to the possibility that I am adopting storylines without being conscious of them. My favorite political pundit is definitely Jon Stewart, who is not afraid to call the media out on its bullshit. He deftly skewered pollster John Zogby for the fact that all the predictions about the Democratic New Hampshire primary were just WRONG. Zogby didn't have a good answer for what went wrong, or Stewart's common-sense question about why can't we just wait a couple of days and see what the voters say?

Maybe because it would put the pundits out of business....? For a rare glimpse of sanity on, read University of South Carolina School of Law Professor Danielle Holley-Walker's commentary, "Issues -- not gender or race -- on minds of voters," and stay tuned for the voice of the voters in South Carolina and beyond.

Living in North Carolina, I am happy to think that my vote in the Primary on May 6th could actually mean something.

For more background on this topic I recommend Drew Westen's book The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation. Race and gender touch deep buttons in all of us, and it would be a shame if we let manipulation of these frameworks determine the outcome of our election. In 2000 we seemed to pick based on the guy we'd rather have a beer with, and look where that got us. We need to really think things through this time and make sure we're guided by our better angels rather than our unconscious comfort zones or prejudices.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Making Sunni and Shiite stick? Myth, facts and memory.

Over the weekend I heard a great On the Media radio show that was a perfect showcase of sticky versus unsticky ideas. (I am a huge fan Made to Stick. This new book has really helped me reframe the way I look at communication, which has always fascinated me.)

I think we Americans have finally gotten the idea that it is relevant and necessary to learn the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, as we try to understand their factional conflicts. On the Media presented a fairly detailed analysis of this issue, featuring Dr. Vali Nasr, an undisputed expert on the topic, who has briefed President Bush on the religious divide. Unfortunately, two days later, I cannot remember a single word of what he said. I think I don't have enough of a frame of reference to understand the conflict when it is presented abstractly. Yes, I have read that Shiites and Sunnis are different denominations of Islam who disagree about the true inheritors of the Prophet Muhammad's wisdom. But what does that mean in modern terms? (Just read this Wikipedia entry explaining Shia Islam and see if you come away understanding what it says.)

I don't even need this to be translated into American terms, such as "it's like the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism" (which it may or may not be like at all). I do need it explained concretely, with the modern-day implications made clear.

It's not just that I was driving or not paying attention when I listened to Dr. Vali Nasr, because a later segment of On the Media was incredibly sticky. It was a perfect showcase of unmemorable and memorable stories side by side. Remember hearing about the stories of Vietnam Veterans being spit on when they returned home? Sociologist Jerry Lembcke investigated this story and reports that it is more myth than truth. He could not find any contemporary reports of Vietnam Vet spitting incidents; rather, the stories started "popping up like mushrooms" in the 1980's (see for example, Rambo). Lembcke himself is a Vietnam Veteran, and he has written an entire book on this issue called Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam.

Lembecke's analysis of the relevance of this myth was startling. The story goes back at least as far as WWI when returning German soldiers were supposedly spit upon. This created a face-saving "betrayal narrative" for the military, by blaming a lost war on unsupportive citizens back home.

Does this sound familiar, as President Bush warns us that dissent "emboldens" the enemy? Fox News showcased Iraq veteran Corporal Joshua Sparling, who claims he was spit on at a recent anti-war protest. (See YouTube clip.) Questions abound regarding the facts of this incident and original reporting by the New York Times, but in the meantime Cpl. Sparling is reigniting the entire storyline and debate brought on by this myth. It is notable that Sparling was part of an organized counter-protest and has made something of a career of confronting anti-war protesters and reporting that he has been harassed as a veteran.

This story is memorable and sticky (with apologies for the unintentional pun), but does it really matter? Sociologist Lembecke asserts that spitting stories in World War I Germany were the beginning of "stab in the back" legend explaining why Germany lost. This was a factor that led to the scapegoating of Jews, their eventual genocide, and the second World War. Never underestimate the impact of a powerful cultural myth.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Divided loyalties and EMILY's List

I just can't get behind Hillary Clinton. I have never gotten a sense of who she is as a leader. I've seen her speak in person and she is clearly smart, but uninspiring. Her lack of charisma is all the more evident next to Bill.

The deal-breaker for me is not really Bill Clinton, but George Bush. I have voted in 5 Presidential elections in my lifetime, and the winners have been Bush-Clinton-Clinton-Bush-Bush. I am not willing to go there again with either of these families. That may be unfair to Hillary as an individual, but too bad. I don't want to see anyone named Clinton, Bush or Gore in the White House. For better or for worse, and we've sure had enough of worse lately, after 20 years it is definitely time to move forward with some new blood in our top leadership.

I am enthusiastically supporting John Edwards for President, and I'll talk more about that in a separate post. I mention it because it relates to my strange Hillary Clinton moment this week. I've committed to Edwards and I have started working for him. In the past I have also been an unwavering EMILY's List supporter. But as soon as Hillary declared, EMILY's List announced their full-throttle endorsement and intention to work on her behalf.

This makes sense that this old-girls'-network has mobilized behind Clinton, but I am feeling betrayed nonetheless. I just renewed my EMILY's List membership, which I would not have done if I had thought about my contribution going toward Hillary. I am very interested in supporting EMILY's List for House and Senate candidates, but I think the Presidential race should be a separate decision. I worry for EMILY's List that they will lose supporters for this very reason. I have met only a handful of Democrats, women or men, who are enthusiastic about electing Hillary Clinton. This holds true among my friends and acquaintances who are liberal Boomer women, the group you would think would fully embrace Hillary's candidacy.

My husband had a great suggestion for EMILY's List: a "D'OH" earmark for "Democrats other than Hillary." This was a fantastic unintentional pun on Michael's part, given that EMILY is an acronym for "Early Money Is Like Yeast." Get it, yeast, dough, D'OH!

For the record, I am not sure how any individual contribution to Emily's List would or would not make it directly to Hillary's coffer--probably not directly, but EMILY's List President Ellen Malcolm made it clear that her organization will be with Hillary "every step of the way."

Most Washington pundits seem to think it's a foregone conclusion that Hillary will secure the nomination, but I don't see the base of everyday people mobilizing. This will be a long election season, which I think is actually a good thing in terms of choosing a leader (though it may be bad for governing the country during an endless campaign cycle). I hope that the long seasons will at least give candidates a chance to connect with voters rather than letting the media and inside-the-beltway pundits anoint our next leader.

Monday, January 22, 2007

DINO Joe Lieberman

I almost crashed my car while listening to Joe Lieberman's NPR interview on Friday. Lieberman is hardly even a DINO, he is a former Democrat. In fact, he sounded like a Republican ventriloquist dummy in his support of Bush's escalation.

He echoed Bush's idea that those oppose the escalation need to "come up with a better plan" which accepts Bush's premise that victory in Iraq is still possible. He said "How Iraq ends will have a direct affect of American security" in regard to the so-called war on terror. [An unfortunate choice of phrasing--I hope he meant to say, "how the Iraq War ends"....]

I really started to swerve toward the guardrail when Lieberman said, "There is a worry here. These extremists and terrorists cannot defeat us on the battlefield, but they can break our national will, and if they do, the consequences will be the same."

Lieberman is now firmly in Bush territory. Remember back in October, "President Bush said terrorists will win if Democrats win and impose their policies on Iraq, as he and Vice President Cheney escalated their rhetoric Monday in an effort to turn out Republican voters in next week's midterm elections." (Washington Post, 10/31/2006)

There is no good option in Iraq, only tragic choices between bad and worse. But I believe it is our continue Imperialism there that will fuel terrorism more than anything else. I have not heard any native Iraqis say that they believe that escalating the war will bring peace or security. We need to leave.

Christiane Amanpour investigates the radicalization of British Muslims in her new CNN: Special Invesstigations Unit report, "The War Within." I am kicking myself for missing the broadcast over the weekend, but you can read Amanpour's "Behind the Scenes Interview" on

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

14 months from today...what DO we want for our future?

14 months from today, we'll have a new President. (That's 761 days and change if you're counting.) During President Bush's press conference today, I was surprised to hear him support increasing the minimum wage, though I wonder what tax cuts he has in mind to pair with them.

Other than that, there is very little I agree with the President about, and with an all-time low approval rating of 36%, that puts me in a two-thirds majority.

The website Bush's Last Day sells "01.20.09" logo items.

I put their bumper sticker on my car yesterday. I like this site's call for change. As I listened to the press conference today, I realized that in the next 14 months, we who are dissatistified with Bush need to articulate what we are FOR. As the War on Terror has shown us, struggling against something can end up creating more of it.

So what are we for? As a mother I would like to suggest the proposals at as one starting point.

I have also been wondering what is the opposite of "waging war." The great thing about "waging war" is that it is such a verb. It is active; it jumps off the page and onto the battlefield. "Peace" can seem like it means doing nothing. The root word of pacifism means "to pacify." "Peace" has connotations of stopping, refusing, silence. We need to come up with ideas about going, advocating, speaking.

What would the active form of Peace be, one that transcended the frame of War? ("Waging peace" falls in the shadow of war, for example.) The actions I can think are all on national levels: diplomacy, multilateral talks and conference.

What can we as citizens do to work for peace? We can protest against the actions of war, but we need to find another way to work toward the world we want. A worldview that recognizes that you can inspire Democracy in other countries but cannot declare it through armed Imperialism. A holitic approach that includes the mutual, global concerns about the environment, poverty, and human rights. I know that we Progressives across have it in us to work this out, but the clock is ticking. We have 685 days to articulate our vision for the future and choose a leader who will truly find "a new way forward."

This story is far from written, and I pray that we can hold on for the next 685 days, which right now feels like an awfully long time to run out the clock on Bush II.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Bland menace?

Maybe you read it in Frank Rich's column....maybe you heard it on Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me....or maybe you even went to the source itself, MegaShift Ministries chair and conservative columnist Jim Rutz of WorldNetDaily.

Put down that tofu dog and soy formula, says Rutz, because "Soy is feminizing, and commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality. That's why most of the medical (not socio-spiritual) blame for today's rise in homosexuality must fall upon the rise in soy formula and other soy products."

What's amazing to me is seeing the right wing suddenly embrace SCIENCE when doing so helps make an anti-gay point. When it comes to evolution or the basics of reproduction (ie how emergency contraception works) they are not interested in scientific thought. But hey, if throwing around a supposedly scientific argument can link "liberal food" with gayness, then they are all for science.

Scientific American responded with a rebuttal, Eating Soy Will Not Make you Gay (We Swear). Personally, I like the Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me panel's take on this issue, in which they point out that a man feeding his boyfriend tofu in bed, naked, does in fact make him gay.