Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Morning News Roundup -- Obama Special Edition (17 January)

Obama '08
  • Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois joined a crowded Democratic field yesterday, vowing to advance "a different kind of politics" in a campaign that could make him the nation's first African American president.
    Obama, 45, portrayed his youth and short tenure in Congress as an asset in a statement distributed via Web video and e-mail. "Today, our leaders in Washington seem incapable of working together in a practical, common sense way," the senator declared. "Politics has become so bitter and partisan, so gummed up by money and influence, that we can't tackle the big problems that demand solutions." [WaPo]

  • Make no mistake, Obama's online announcement Tuesday was an unabashed declaration of candidacy. Technically, he promised a Hillary-style "listening and learning" tour and vowed that "on Feb. 10, at the end of these decisions and in my home state of Illinois, I'll share my plans with my friends, neighbors and fellow Americans."

    What necessitates this delay is not a last flicker of uncertainty, but logistics. David Plouffe (a strategist for Dick Gephardt in 2004), who is expected to run the campaign, and media advisor David Axelrod (who worked for John Edwards in 2004 and the late Illinois Sen. Paul Simon in his 1988 White House bid) have prior experience in presidential races. But the Obama campaign, with virtually no money in the bank, is still more a beguiling idea than a tangible operation. But unless the polls, the crowds, the book sales and the public enthusiasm are all a mirage, money will not be a problem for Obama, who has the potential to raise $50 million or more. Meanwhile, orchestrating every detail of Obama's Feb. 10 presidential kickoff -- so that it will look natural and spontaneous -- will require the nearly four weeks of planning.
    Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Obama's decision to seek to become the 44th president is that virtually all of the initial reservations about his candidacy are premised on this question of experience. Who ever imagined, during the long terrible history of American race relations, that when the first black candidate made a serious bid for the presidency, the color of his skin would be regarded as close to an irrelevancy. [Walter Shapiro in Salon]

  • So, now, he has stepped up, and in.

    By establishing the exploratory committee, he will be able to raise money to hire staff and build a basic campaign infrastructure in advance of the expected formal announcement in February. He'll need it. Clinton and another contender, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, are far ahead of Obama when it comes to putting together the multistate campaign apparatus that is needed in a fast-paced presidential campaign.

    Can Obama catch up? Yes, but only if the grassroots Democrats who have been so enthusiastic about the prospect of his candidacy now turn that enthusiasm into practical commitments in states such as Iowa, where the first caucuses will be held a year from this week, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. That transition will have something to do with Obama's star power, of course, but it will have much more to do with how he defines himself.

    Democrats like Barack Obama. But they don't necessarily know what it is about him that appeals to them. [John Nichols at The Nation]

  • As the 2008 race gets off to an unusually early start, Mr Obama's move presents the greatest threat to Hillary Clinton, who was crowned an early frontrunner by virtue of her fundraising prowess and the reflected glory of Bill Clinton.

    However, Ms Clinton is seen as a polarising figure and her ambiguity on Iraq - she voted for the use of force in 2002 - could come back to haunt her now that the country has turned against the war.
    The other strong contender in the Democratic field is a former senator from North Carolina, John Edwards, battle-tested after the 2004 elections when he served as a running mate to John Kerry, and newly minted as a strong opponent of the war.

    Other Democratic contenders are at risk of being outshone by the sheer force of Mr Obama's charisma, or the name recognition of Mr Edwards and Ms Clinton. The eclipsed contenders include Tom Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa from a hardscrabble background, Chris Dodd, a Senator from Connecticut, and Dennis Kucinich, a leftwing congressman from Ohio. [The Guardian]

  • How the Republicans confront Mr Obama is clearer, because they have already tentatively begun doing so. Mr Obama, it is said, is old wine in new bottles, a traditional left-wing Democrat presented as something new. According to one ranking, by the non-partisan National Journal, he is the 18th-most left-wing of the Senate’s 100 members. But this hardly makes him a fire-breathing socialist. His rhetoric is optimistic and uniting, and for a Democrat he is unusually comfortable quoting the Bible. But on the polarising social issues, like gay marriage and abortion, Mr Obama votes reliably with his party’s left wing. [The Economist]

  • Sen. Barack Obama has the sort of voice that political consultants dream of: It's authoritative but comforting, rich and resonant and wise. Whether he's talking about the Darfur genocide or Monday Night Football, the man sounds like a leader. His voice helps account for why even hardened cynics go weak at the knees when they hear him. One of my friends prides himself on being strictly nonpartisan, but after listening to Obama's Dreams From My Father, read by the senator himself, he confessed to me, "I shouldn't say this, but I love him."

    There are plenty of reasons for Obama's magic voice: where he grew up, how his parents talked, how he breathes. But perhaps most important is one Obama doesn't want to talk about: cigarettes. Obama is an occasional smoker.

    Smoking over time transforms a person's voice by thickening and drying out the vocal chords. The vocal chords vibrate as your breath passes through them, so their texture and shape helps determine what your voice sounds like. David Witsell, who directs Duke University's Voice Care Center, notes that the nodules on Johnny Cash's vocal cords that stemmed in part from his smoking habit helped create his unique sound. [Slate]

  • Chris Cillizza from the WaPo's The Fix blog has a rundown of all the key players in Obama's inner circle.

It's Go(re) Time
  • Starting in August, every fourth and sixth-year pupil in (Scotland) will get the chance to see An Inconvenient Truth, Mr Gore's stark warning on the future of the planet. They will do so courtesy of the Scottish Executive and ScottishPower, the energy giant which owns the massive coal-fired Longannet station.
    ScottishPower, which will invest tens of thousands in the scheme, is currently developing renewables, including controversial wind power schemes. Susan Reilly, the company's head of strategy, said she believed youngsters could bring important messages, in issues such as energy efficiency, into their homes. "We are talking about things such as switching off chargers for mobile phones or not leaving appliances on stand-by," she said. [The Herald (UK)]

  • A philosophical fist fight has broken out in the Federal Way School District days after the School Board put all classroom showings of the global warming movie "An Inconvenient Truth" on hold. There is no discussion of banning the movie. But ban or no ban, word of the board's decision last week to impose a "moratorium" on it made national news.
    Board members said the controversy began after a district newsletter noted that teachers could obtain free copies of the film for classroom use. Several parents objected to this, and at least one raised a concern about an upcoming showing of the film at Lakota Middle School, questioning whether the seventh-grade science teacher there would present alternative view points.
    At its meeting last week, the board suspended all classroom viewings until district Superintendent Tom Murphy could confirm that the district's existing policies on materials that contain "bias" were being followed. [Seattle Times]

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