Monday, April 09, 2007

"Obama confounds East Coast pundits"

Joel Connelly (Seattle P-I):
As political junkies buzzed over the $25 million collected by his campaign, a Barack Obama donor from our town's Capitol Hill voiced quiet amusement at "the backpedaling back in the Beltway."

"I was one of the 100,000 little donors," my friend Nancy proudly announced.
The success of Obama during the first three months of 2007 drives home two basic points.

The senator from Illinois has touched a lot of people, twice as many donors as the anointed front-runner, Sen. Hillary Clinton. The elite media on Washington, D.C.'s Capitol Hill needs to get in better touch with the country.

Until the fundraising figures were disclosed, tribunes of the conventional wisdom were beating up on Obama.

In a column that ran, appropriately, on April Fools' Day, Washington Post nabob David Broder wrote how "the question of the day is, 'What's happening to Barack Obama?' "

The dean of D.C. scribes praised Clinton as having a "far more solid campaign structure," and he sniffed at the "conversational monotone" of Obama's speech to an AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department conference in Washington, D.C. "It's just spring training, but it's pretty clear who has the best presidential staff," Broder wrote.

The echo chamber was echoing. Critiquing Obama's speech to the building trades, The New Republic wrote, "The crowd laughs warmly, but they want more than charm, and Obama can't really deliver."

The Associated Press piled on with a piece arguing that charm is all Obama is offering. "Is Barack Obama all style and little substance?" asked the AP article, which reported that Obama had delivered "no policy speeches."

The Obama campaign has, lately, filled my electronic mailbox with speeches on subjects ranging from U.S. policy toward Israel to the environment.

My sense is that the "punditocracy" in Washington, D.C., read each other, interview each other and quote each other too much for the country's good.

We saw, in the Scooter Libby trial, the gossipy chumminess of top Bush administration officials and what Canada's former U.S. ambassador Allan Gotlieb used to call "high press."

The approach, highly effective, deployed by veteran D.C. hands in the Bush administration was revealed for all to see: Treat these people like they are important insiders, and they'll be in the palm of your hand.

The echo chamber's atonality has been displayed elsewhere of late.

After Clinton reported what Newsday called a "record-vaporizing" $26 million haul for January through March, her campaign finance chairman Terry McAuliffe made an obvious attempt to set the bar impossibly high for Obama.

McAuliffe predicted the Illinois senator would come in at $22 million. Obama beat the estimate by $3 million.

A Washington Post column last week quoted commentaries -- from the East Coast, as usual -- debunking Sen. John Edwards' decision to remain in the presidential race after the recurrence of Elizabeth Edwards' cancer. It noted the critical, "Some people are saying ..." interview that Katie Couric did with the Edwardses on CBS' "60 Minutes."

At the same time, a national poll by CBS found that 57 percent of those surveyed said Edwards "did the right thing" staying in the race, with only 24 percent saying he should have quit.

Debunking has its limits. Broder has done first-rate reporting out here, once even canvassing a precinct in Tacoma.

I remember the late ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, slated for a conference-closing speech in Boise, showing up early, mixing it up, debating media bias with critics and earnestly engaging other speakers. Or "News Hour" pundit Mark Shields, quizzing Portland suburbanites on how they felt about Bill Clinton as a person and political leader.

They ought to get out to the provinces more often. Obama drew astounding crowds here in 2006. A sense of hope -- evocative of Robert Kennedy -- drew people to see the 45-year-old newcomer to America's political scene. Obama's books have been local bestsellers.

And there seems to be a bipartisan mood at play: Don't accept anything, or anyone, as inevitable.

Some states have put out the welcome mat. Democratic hopefuls debate April 26 in South Carolina, and then jet westward for California's state convention. The Republican candidates face off May 3 at the Reagan Library.

What about Washington?

We had a lively primary in 2000. Al Gore put Bill Bradley down for the count. George Bush put the brakes on John McCain, besting him not only among Republicans but in the total vote that included independents.

Sadly, Democratic officials seem hellbent on rendering our primary meaningless, or killing it outright.

A bipartisan panel, charged with setting a primary date, met last month. The Republicans wanted a Feb. 5 date, same as California. The Democrats pushed for March 19, long after the issue will be decided.

About 1.3 million people voted in the 2000 Washington primary. Precinct caucuses -- the Democrats' preferred venue -- are likely to draw at most 100,000.

With their confusing rules, the caucuses are designed to favor marginal candidates, and are beloved only by those on the ideological extremes.

The 2008 race looks wide open. Why can't we open up the contest, host the contenders, and welcome as many voters as possible to participate?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Looks like the race for the Democratic nomination between Obama and Clinton is heating up. However, the results of some
recent election 2008 polls show that the Republican candidates are getting the better of them. Then again, it's still early and the funding that Obama and Clinton collected will certainly draw more votes.