Recent United States Articles
Prime Minister David Cameron has today written an op-ed for the Daily Telegraph arguing that ‘we need a nuclear deterrent more than ever’.
But rather than making an effective case for Trident it shows how shallow the arguments are, and in fact undermines the entire project.
Cameron’s claims that we need Trident centres around one country. “Last year North Korea unveiled a long-range ballistic missile which it claims can reach the whole of the United States. If this became a reality it would also affect the whole of Europe, including the UK,” he writes. But this seems to be drinking North Korean Kool Aid – accepting their discredited claims at face value.
In reality the dictatorship has a few mid-range (1800 miles) missiles that would cover South Korea, Japan and possibly the US territory of Guam in the Pacific Ocean. But even these missles are untested according to most independent experts. It has test-fired some long-range rockets in the past but they failed. The idea that North Korea has developed an inter-continental ballistic missile, fitted with a nuclear warhead, that could hit the United States is a fantasy worthy of the North Korean propaganda machine. The Prime Minister undermines his entire project by asking us to take this ridiculous claim at face value.
Cameron has clearly timed the piece well. Last night North Korea escalated tensions against the South and the US by moving mid-range missiles to the east coast. It also locked South Korean workers out of a joint factory complex and said it would restart a previously shut-down nuclear reactor.
But this just exposes how ridiculous the situation is. South Korea may have good grounds to argue for a nuclear deterrent, but the UK does not feature in the military considerations. We aren’t even required to play a part. North Korea is clearly a threat but it is not our threat, and it’s highly unlikely to be a threat to the UK in the coming future. Of course, Trident is a long-term project, but it comes with an opportunity cost: resources are diverted to a big unwieldy deterrent rather than smaller, more cost-effective measures to tackle the threats the UK is likely to face.
In other words the Prime Minister is calling to spend billions on our behalf on a weapon for an enemy that isn’t even concerned by us.
How about a focus on the threats we are likely to face in the future?
Furthermore, it’s not even clear why a full nuclear deterrent is needed more than a scaled-down version. The United States is in fact looking to change course in dealing with North Korea after realising that a show of force may have provoked the crisis further. And what does our Prime Minister want? He wants a big show of force in the foolish belief that this will somehow deter North Korea. If they are willing to threaten the United States why would they even care how many nuclear weapons we have?
I’m not a pacifist and neither do I think it’s likely the UK will get anywhere by unilaterally disarming itself. Clearly, multi-lateral treaties to reduce nuclear stockpiles are the way forward. So what kind of a signal would such a full renewal of Trident send to other countries such as India and Pakistan, who refuse to sign the NPT and keep testing nuclear weapons? Why wouldn’t they use the UK as an excuse to continue arming their stockpiles and putting the lives of millions of people at stake.
And lastly, the decision to spend billions more on a remote threat rather than using that money to help people in the UK undermines the claim that ‘there is no money left’. There clearly is – it’s just earmarked for the sorts of vanity projects that Conservatives like rather than for the most vulnerable in our society.
People sometimes assume it must be glamorous to work on a huge presidential election campaign. In reality it is mostly a series of repetitive, arduous, tiring and sometimes even frustrating set of tasks like knocking on doors, collecting data and actually getting people to get out there and vote on Election Day.
In October last year, I persuaded an anti-Mexican racist to vote for Obama, had to put the phone down on a woman who insisted on describing the process of ‘partial-birth abortion’ as “Obama is killing those babies”, and had to persuade one Catholic woman that, despite what her local church says, she wouldn’t go to hell for voting for Obama. Only the victory party makes the long, frustrating pleas worth it.
I can’t claim to have the definitive set of lessons for the Labour party from the election, but I think these four mattered perhaps the most.
We can win the ‘class war’
For the Democrat Third Way and New Labour generation, raising taxes on the richest and asking them to pay their fair share of taxes, in proportion to how much income they earned, had become a taboo. But no longer does this have to be the case. President Obama didn’t just want to raise taxes: his entire campaign was based on what Republicans referred to as ‘class war’. And significantly he won.
In a country where the rich are deified and almost everyone wants to be rich, Obama waged war with one narrative: that America’s problems would not be solved by simply letting the rich keep more of their taxes in the hope the rest will benefit. In a speech in April he said “trickle-down economics doesn’t work” and made that central to his campaign.
Voters across the United States, even fiscal conservatives who wanted a focus on reducing the national debt over other priorities, called for big tax rises on the top 2%. On election night Obama underscored this point by saying, “this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations.”
Ed Miliband faces a similar situation. The Conservatives have shown themselves to be out of touch by cutting taxes at the top. His Labour party have to appeal to voters who are worried about the national debt. The national mood overwhelmingly favours raising taxes on the richest to pay their fair share. The idea that such an electoral strategy can’t work because it’s “against aspiration” is no longer valid – times have changed.
We can win ‘culture wars’ too
Earlier this year, when President Obama mandated that religious institutions would now have to offer contraceptives to women under Obamacare, Catholic bishops and Evangelicals stridently opposed him. Democrats fretted that they would lose the ‘Culture Wars’ again, but it was Obama who won. In fact Obama won 55% of women voters according to exit polls, while Romney attracted only 44%.
Unlike previous Democrats, President Obama didn’t avoid women’s health; he made it a centrepiece of his agenda. Right until the end Obama and Biden reiterated their support for abortion rights while Romney dodged questions about equal pay legislation and pledged to defund Planned Parenthood.
Labour and the Democrats have historically avoided contraception, women’s health and sex education as issues about ‘conscience’ and avoided taking sides. But the coalition of the socially liberal – not just women but younger voters – has reached past the tipping point. Even George Osborne conceded this point in The Times last month when he said Conservatives would lose significant blocks of voters if they tried to restrict gay marriage or make abortion harder.
Ed Miliband can and should seize the agenda, not just because it is electorally popular but because it the right thing to do. On the list should be: improving sex education provision, extending the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland and making it easier for women to get access to contraception and abortion in England. For a start he can scrap the redundant and patronising two-doctors-rule.
Being more sophisticated about swing voters
Conventional thinking states that independent voters, aka swing voters, decide elections and should be courted relentlessly. After all, your base will turn out for you anyway, right? Wrong. One of the key strengths of the Obama campaign was to look at the data rather than just make assumptions about people’s behaviour. They found that two major discoveries stood out.
First, most self-declared independents are fairly partisan in their politics but coy about revealing that. They found that independents who leaned Democrat voted for Obama in almost as high proportions as self-identified Democrats who voted for the President. That’s the first category of swing voters: people who lean a particular way but don’t explicitly identify as such. The second discovery was that this group of voters are mixed in with another group of actual ‘independents’ who rarely go and vote. And it’s debateable whether any campaign has the resources to get them to turn out.
But the Obama campaign went further. In their list of every registered voter in swing states, they assigned a score to each voter on aspects such as their likelihood of supporting the President, likelihood of voting and how open to persuasion they were. They conducted experiments to see which demographics of voters responded to which pitches about policies, and employed behavioural scientists to try and predict their behaviour.
Much of the analytics and behaviour modelling is beyond the reach of the Labour party for financial reasons. But the key lesson for Labour is to approach swing voters much more intelligently. They are not always centrists; they may be looking for signals that also appeal to ‘core voters’, and it may be futile to try and appeal to some groups entirely. At the last election this strategy amounted to assuming core Labour voters would turn out anyway and they just needed to tack to the centre to win. In the event, both ‘core’ and ‘swing’ voters who leaned towards Labour were repelled enough not to turn out.
Social media matters… in certain ways.
Our politicians don’t seem to know what to do with social media. Many of them spend an inordinate amount of time on Twitter posting pictures with references to wonderful people they met on the doorstep. Others regard all of social media as a waste of time that only appeals to the Westminster bubble than their constituents.
The Obama campaign used social media for specific and strategic purposes. The first was to build his personal brand as an empathetic, down-to-earth President who had a good sense of humour and would be fun to have a drink with. The second objective was to give his followers ways in which to spread his campaign messages. When a campaign staffer was asked why Obama chose to host an ‘Ask Me Anything’ debate on the popular website Reddit, the response was, “Because a whole bunch of our turnout targets were on Reddit.”
A study by Pew Internet found that 30% of registered voters had been encouraged to vote for Obama or Romney by family and friends via posts on social media such as Facebook or Twitter. Clearly it can have an impact, but the trick is to figure out how to best leverage the power of social media.
The problem for Labour is that it uses social media as an extension of its press operation: to get information out about statements and speeches made by the shadow cabinet. There is no attempt to build a personal brand – particularly of Ed Miliband himself – nor is there an attempt to offer materials that ordinary people would want to share, not just Labour party members.
To put it simply, there are a few key elements to an election campaign: identifying voters, reaching them with information about issues they’re concerned about, and getting them to vote. Of course, the candidate, the policies, the opponent and the state of the economy matter greatly but the Obama campaign has simply been better than anyone else at executing these basics. To not learn from the best, despite our obvious limitations and differences, would be a travesty for the Labour movement.
Thie article was first published in Anticipations, the Young Fabians magazine.
Last year, just before the American elections, I wrote a long-ish piece explaining why Obama was the most radically progressive President the United States has had in over 50 years.
I laid out how, under the radar, he had pushed huge (and unprecedented in size) programmes to promote his left-wing agenda and challenged the lazy and uninformed notion that he hadn’t done much at all. The typical response from many on the hard-left is summarised as, ‘but why is he not saying this loudly and using his position to shift public opinion?‘ – where is the rhetoric, in other words, to match the words?
As Alex Andreou at the New Statesman points out today, the rhetoric was there yesterday (in spades!):
What is required of a President in his inauguration speech is – have you guessed it yet? – a speech. And it was a bloody well written, brilliantly delivered, historic speech. That is what passed these commentators by, while their own jeering was ringing in their ears. I applaud you for taking him to task over his policy failures. I do the same. But is it too much to ask we start on Tuesday and treat this seminal occasion with the joy it deserves?
The response from many on the hard-left was again an entirely predictable: ‘but where is the action to match the words?‘. This just shows downright ignorance.
There is no one who thinks it is beyond the pale to criticise Obama; I’ve also done so frequently too (accusing me of being uncritical is simply uninformed). I dislike many of his positions on foreign policy, national security and civil liberties and I’ve said so repeatedly.
In fact, when I was given the opportunity to interview the State Department’s Alec Ross, I repeatedly raised accusations Glenn Greenwald has made about clamping down on whistle-blowers and on civil liberties.
But my point is, any appraisal must also take into account the limitations of his office, the limitations of speeches and an acknowledgement that he’s actually done a lot of good.
It’s being reported that President Obama has nominated former senator Chuck Hagel as his new secretary of defense. And a lot of people aren’t happy.
Hagel has expressed doubts about the wisdom of attacking Iran militarily. And, on Israel, he’s known to be somewhat less foamingly pro-Likud than many of his colleagues in the Republican Party.
As a result, the inevitable smear campaign is in already underway. Much of the criticism of Hagel centres around a remark he once made about the influence of pro-Israel pressure groups on Capitol Hill.
‘The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,’ he was quoted as saying. ‘I’m a United States senator, not an Israeli senator.’
Some have claimed that the phrase ‘Jewish lobby’ – as opposed to ‘pro-Israel lobby’ – is anti-semitic. One unnamed Republican aide, widely quoted in the US media, explained that the words are racist because they imply ‘the existence of a nefarious Jewish lobby that secretly controls U.S. foreign policy’.
If ‘Jewish lobby’ and ‘pro-Israel lobby’ strike many observers as synonymous, it may be because America’s biggest and richest Jewish organisations are now virtually uniform in espousing hardline Zionist and neoconservative views. (This is in contrast to the people they claim to represent, American Jews themselves, who are overwhelmingly liberal on domestic and foreign policy.)
Perhaps that’s why nobody raises an eyebrow when the phrase is used by other public figures – such as Malcolm Hoenlein, who spoke of the ‘Jewish lobby’ in an interview last month.
Of course, another reason may be that, as head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein is one of the leading figures of the Jewish (or should that be pro-Israel?) lobby himself.
There are some reactions to the Connecticut primary school killings, such as those expressed by President Obama, that will be almost universal: “This evening, Michelle and I will do what I know every parent in America will do, which is hug our children a little tighter and we’ll tell them that we love them, and we’ll remind each other how deeply we love one another.”
But the different reactions here and in America tell us a great deal about our concepts of freedom and our relationship with the state. However crazy it may seem to allow the casual sale of weapons in a country that suffers around 30,000 gun deaths a year, the issue goes to the heart of American traditions of liberty.
In England our national myth is the myth of the good king: King Arthur sleeping until England needs him; Robin Hood siding with good king Richard against bad Prince John; Richard II – ‘your leader is dead, I shall be your leader.’ When English kings behaved badly they were rarely blamed directly, people preferred to believe that ‘if we can just prise the king away from his wicked advisers he will listen to sense and all will be well.’
Just as the most common dream in Britain is apparently about the Queen dropping in for tea, we also cherish the notion that the King or Queen will always protect the best interests of the people. Perhaps as a result most Britons have a benign view of the state. But it’s also a remote state – not an embodiment of the public will, but ‘The Crown’, and it still has a tendency to act like ‘The Crown’.
In America the national myth begins from the fear of a bad King; bad King James from whom the Pilgrim Fathers fled; bad King George against whom good General George rallied the colonies and their militias and drove from the continent.
Americans’ right to bear arms, guaranteed under the Second Amendment to the constitution, stems from the right of citizens to protect themselves and their homes from bad rulers; whether it be invading armies, their own government, or the bad folks from over the valley.
Ultimately we have to decide how to best balance different and often competing kinds of freedoms; ‘freedoms to’ and ‘freedoms from’, as in: Your freedom to own a gun impinges on my freedom not to live in fear of being shot.
What Americans have grasped is that ‘freedoms to’ are the mark of a truly free society. What they haven’t grasped is that ‘freedoms to’ also favour the powerful and the rich.
What Europeans have grasped is that ‘freedoms from’ are the touchstone of a peaceful and more equitable society. What many haven’t, especially on the left, is that authoritarian regimes always use ‘freedom from’ to justify their repressive behaviour. If we’re to err on one side it’s surely that we should be generous with ‘freedoms to’ and rigorous, even parsimonious, with ‘freedoms from’ – we should always be satisfied that we really are talking about freedom.
Getting the balance right might be the devil’s own job but in the wake of Sandy Hook hopefully even US Republicans will concede that the devil has been far too busy and it’s time that citizens step up to the plate and stop outsourcing the task.
The re-election of President Obama on Tuesday was undoubtedly an historic event – cementing universal healthcare, for example, and bucking the trend of anti-incumbency politics that has unnerved politicians in the developed world.
But it may be that the ballot in just one – albeit important – state of the union was the crucial event on that fateful day.
The national and state election races in California saw Democrats triumph with thumping majorities, and as more than one in ten US citizen lives there, it’s a pretty important state to win.
But more important is the story of two referenda 34 years apart. In 1978, California voted for Proposition 13 which capped state property taxes and is widely regarded as having marked the start of the global movement against taxation that has defined political life in the developed world for a generation.
Last Tuesday, the Californians who sparked the ‘small state’ revolution may well have acted as midwives to its end by endorsing Proposition 30 by 54%:46%. They voted for a temporary (7 year) progressive increase in income taxes on Californians with annual incomes over $250k, $500k and $1m as well as a 0.25% sales tax increase (expiring after 4 years), to prevent $6bn in spending cuts this year alone.
A clue to the cause of this major turnaround in California is that, like much of the developed world, the gap between rich and poor has ballooned since the 1970s. The Financial Times reports (£) that:
“During the 1970s, the richest 1 per cent in the state earned 10 per cent of personal income – then about $135bn. Their share has since increased to 22 per cent, while personal income has soared to $1.8tn.”
Small wonder that opponents like the Koch brothers, who last year bankrolled Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attack on union collective bargaining rights (he now has the first openly gay senator in US history to pay for his troubles!), donated $11m to the campaign against Prop 30.
[Another propositions aiming to reduce union political activity was also defeated]
A longer version of this post is on Touchstone blog
That Barack Obama, what a let-down huh? He had four years as the President of America and he didn’t manage to avert global warming, bring peace to the Middle East, destroy Wall Street’s dominance, end war and eradicate global poverty. Where’s the change we were promised? What happened to the Hope?
There is a slightly less facetious version of this argument constantly trotted out by many who supported Obama when he ran for office in 2008. From some left-wing quarters Obama has faced such relentless criticism that, on the eve of the election, some still question supporting him or argue he’s only bearable when compared to Mitt Romney. This is simplistic nonsense. I’ve never been an uncritical supporter of Obama – he deserves a lot of criticism for parts of his civil liberties and national security agenda. He also made mistakes and didn’t go far enough in some areas (mostly financial reform).
But what really annoys me about much of the criticism of Obama from the left is that it falls neatly into the trap that Republicans laid for the President. They knew that that the best way to destroy a candidate who ran on ‘Change’ was to relentlessly block everything he did. This wasn’t a secret – they admitted it openly and brazenly, knowing that most people don’t understand the US legislative process and pay little attention to the political media. It isn’t a coincidence it has been branded “the worst Congress ever” by some.
But delve into the policy achievements of President Obama and it’s clear he has been the most radically progressive Democrat in 50 years. His legacy will affect the US for decades, which is why the Republicans hate him so much and want to repeal it almost immediately.
Some context is important too. Obama had a majority in the House of Representatives and a super-majority in the Senate (where Republicans could block legislation even as a minority unless outvoted 60-40) only until the mid-term elections of November 2010. And even then he had to rely on conservative Democrats and Independent Senators who frequently disagreed with the President. After the “shellacking” of Nov 2010 he couldn’t pass anything substantial.
All that said, there is plenty we can look at to judge his first four years.
Where he succeeded
Here is the short version: Obama saved millions of jobs through a stimulus programme; invested more in renewable energy than any US President; took the country closer to universal healthcare than it has ever been; tightened regulation of banks for the first time in 70 years; oversaw a huge expansion of anti-poverty programmes and education grants to poor students; withdrew from Iraq and set a deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan; became the first president to push same-sex marriage and kill the homophobic Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell programme; became the first to sign an act that protects women, minorities, and the disabled against unfair wage discrimination…the list goes on. In fact Obama was vastly more progressive than Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter – who both cut welfare programmes and shied away from social issues, let alone any Republican.
But there are three areas that require added focus: the stimulus bill, Obamacare and financial reform.
Most discussion on the Stimulus Bill of Feb 2009, aka the Recovery Act, focuses on whether it was big enough to avert disaster. But this misses the point – it launched a public works programme of a scale previous Democratic Presidents could only dream of. As Michael Grunwald pointed out in his book, The New New Deal, adjusted for inflation it was 50% bigger than the original New Deal launched by FDR. In scale and focus it combined several bills into one. It was the biggest, most transformative energy bill in US history, contained the biggest expansion of anti-poverty programmes since Lyndon Johnson, and was the biggest foray into US industrial policy since the 1940s.
To put it another way, Obama did not let the opportunity offered by such a financial crisis go to waste. The bill pumped $90 billion into renewable energy when previous Presidents only authorised a few billion every year. When reporters write that President Obama ignored climate change, they aren’t just wrong, they are actively misleading.
The Healthcare Act was similarly unprecedented – almost every Democratic President since World War 2 has tried anything approaching universal healthcare but failed. As the New Yorker pointed out:
Some critics urged the President to press for a single-payer system-Medicare for all. Despite its ample merits, such a system had no chance of winning congressional backing. Obama achieved the achievable. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is the single greatest expansion of the social safety net since the advent of Medicaid and Medicare, in 1965. Not one Republican voted in favor of it.
The idea that Obama should be criticised because he didn’t go further – as some Senators refused to go along – misses the wood for the trees. Once established and reinforced (providing Obama is re-elected), it would be near impossible for Republicans to reverse it later. In passing the bill Obama surpassed even FDR and his efforts.
And lastly – for all the talk about how much money Obama raised from Wall Street and how close he is to the banks – consider his financial reform bill in the same vein as the others: how badly Republicans want to repeal it. The reason: in reality it has crippled bank profits and hit them really hard:
By the time the bill passed, in July 2010, the legislation hadn’t found many new friends. Banks were especially upset by the inclusion of the Volcker Rule, which banned proprietary trading and virtually all hedge-fund investing by banks. Banks also complained about an amendment that slashed lucrative debit-card fees. They capitulated mainly because the alternative-breaking them up-was worse.
And yet, from the moment Dodd-Frank passed, the banks’ financial results have tended to slide downward, in significant part because of measures taken in anticipation of its future effect.
Ignore the opinion columns that take predictable positions; look at what the banks themselves are saying and doing.
Where he failed
In 2009, when President Obama was working with Democrats to close Guantanamo Bay, a bizarre showdown took place behind closed doors. Highly liberal Senators from California, who had slammed Bush over the prison, protested that if Obama did not have a harsh plan to deal with prisoners, they were ‘going to get clobbered back home‘. A recent book examining Obama’s national security policies encapsulates the problem: the people who were meant to watch his back weren’t helping. As Mother Jones magazine points out: “if the entire national security apparatus and the opposition party and public opinion and your own party are pretty much all lining up on the same side, there’s not much a President can do.”
Similarly, Obama’s attempts to close Guantanamo Bay and transfer prisoners to other prisons were repeatedly blocked by Congress. The numbers have fallen but not as quickly as he anticipated. But to blame him for not closing Gitmo completely ignores the background fights that tried to make it happen.
That doesn’t mean he can evade responsibility for other parts of his agenda. President Obama’s administration has come under heavy criticism for the drones programme that has frequently hit innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan (estimated at 546 – 1105 so far). Worse, the government has a policy of branding all deaths by drones as ‘militants’ – thereby absolving themselves of blame. The Obama administration was also wrong in the extra-judicial killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and his son, setting a precedent for the government to kill its own citizens without due process (let alone in other countries).
The Obama administration has also been notoriously zealous in its hostility towards whistleblowers on national security issues and organisations such as WikiLeaks, in stark contrast to the more positive note they sounded towards whistleblowers before 2009. Obama’s over record on civil liberties, especially in extending Bush’s Patriot Act, has been very weak and is a significant blot on his record. There is no getting away from that fact.
There is also no denying that President Obama has been disappointingly weak in negotiating with Israel and getting it to curb its illegal settlers programme. More than anything, this has fed deep disappointment across the Middle East that this President would end up being no different to George Bush with his foreign policy in the Middle East. Obama was good on the Arab Spring but his administration made no progress on peace in the Middle East at all.
In the real world no one gets to pick and vote for their ideal political leader. Furthermore, no political leader in power will do everything you want them to do. Even a proportional representation system requires leaders to make compromises and build a coalition where not everyone gets what they want. Democracy is the sum of messy, sometimes self-contradictory opinions and people who mostly vote by gut instinct. Nevertheless, there is a fantasy among some lefties that Obama could shift opinion, rally support or pass legislation simply by being President or by making enough speeches. Your emotions may tell you this is true, but the evidence shows this rarely works (see this too).
This article isn’t a long excuse for Obama; it’s a brief look at his accomplishments to point out that the media aversion to policy details means much of what Obama achieved has gone under the radar.
That said, I fully expect some people to scream betrayal at a centre-left President: every Democrat president in the last 70 years has faced such accusations from his own side: from FDR and Lyndon Johnson to Kennedy, Carter and Bill Clinton. Obama is no exception. He will never be as radical as some want him to be. And while the national security and civil liberty agenda has been a disappointment in parts, they don’t overshadow his record on poverty, healthcare and elsewhere.
But despite inheriting the worst economy in 80 years; despite a Republican opposition obstructing him at unpredented levels; despite his racial heritage losing him votes; despite facing a hostile media and a well-organised, well-financed Tea Party movement – he managed to go further than his predecessors. Even if he is not re-elected, President Obama will leave behind a very important legacy.
At a certain point in the election cycle, the policies become irrelevant: it becomes all about turning out voters who support you. If all the registered voters who support President Obama were guaranteed to vote there wouldn’t be a question about who wins – he’d go home with a landslide.
Hence, more than any other Democratic candidate in modern history, Obama set out to build an outreach and community-organising based model for GOTV (getting out the vote) that matches the Republican machine. A significant chunk of the money he’s raised from supporters goes towards that (field offices, targeting voters, collecting data on them etc).
So how does he win? The US election system is roughly based on the Electoral College vote, which totals 538. Each state has a share of that depending on its population size, and to get elected a candidate needs to get over the halfway line and win 270 votes. The votes for most states (for e.g. California and New York for Obama; Texas and Georgia for Romney) are already a given based on polling. A few swing states hold the key to re-election.
Obviously I can’t reveal much of what I’m told or hear, but I can say the campaign is focused on locking up three states: Ohio, Nevada and Wisconsin. Winning those states puts him over the top.
But Obama’ path to victory is potentially wider. He is also likely to win in Iowa and New Hampshire. But if he loses Ohio then these two won’t put him over the top.
This is where Colorado and Virginia also come into play – two states that Obama won in 2008 and he is very slightly ahead in polling there.
But I think Mr Obama has more chance of losing Colorado than Ohio – the latter has been hugely supportive of the auto-industry bailout and is more receptive to his ‘we can all do better when the government helps us’ message than richer, floating voters in Colorado (and Virginia).
In other words, Ohio is critical to Obama’s chances. Fortunately, the polling is holding up in his favour in that state.
So here is my prediction of what the map will look like on election day.
This, I think, is a fairly conservative estimate. I think Obama can do better but is fairly unlikely to do worse.
The consensus is that President Obama narrowly won the second debate last night against Mitt Romney. That will stem some of the heavy loss in support he’s had over the past week after the first debate.
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent makes a good case for why Obama turned it around, but I want to offer the case for why he didn’t.
Obama has problems with a key constituency of undecided voters: these are people who were really hopeful that Obama’s election would turn things around in the economy. They wanted change and they were hoping Obama would create lots of jobs.
But the US slump has been much more protracted than anyone expected. There are swathes of voters in swing states likes Colorado, Nevada and Wisconsin that are depressed that the economy still isn’t working for them (Virginia and Ohio aren’t doing so bad in comparison).
What they don’t want to hear from Obama is that he will carry on the last four years of policies because those policies haven’t worked for them. These people don’t really trust Mitt Romney and know that he’s only interested in helping rich people.
But they want some form of change because the status quo isn’t working for them. So many of them are willing to give Romney a chance.
Last night President Obama did a much better of undermining and putting question marks over Mitt Romney’s policies.
But what he didn’t do is make a succinct, positive case for why he remains the candidate of change who will turn things around for people who are still unemployed and/or struggling. They want change not the status quo, and Obama’s narrative was mostly: give me four more years to complete the job.
There are still too many people around Obama who want red-meat for core voters and wanted him to focus on ‘the 47%’ comments. I saw lefties in the UK (Mehdi Hasan and Jonathan Freedland) and in the US constantly baying for this. But they miss the point – those aren’t the people Obama needs in his camp any more.
I think Obama made a good case last night but not a good enough case for the narrow sliver of undecided voters whose fate Obama’s re-election depends on. I suspect the polls will very narrowly move back in Obama’s favour but this still remains a very tight election.
The New York Times made a poignant and very worrying documentary in 2009 on how the Taliban were ruling parts of Pakistan and had issued a command that all girls should stop attending schools.
The documentary has resurfaced because the NYT then interviewed an 11-yr old Malala (see box) saying she really wanted to go to school and become a doctor.
Malala Yousafzai is now in critical condition and yet the Taliban have vowed to kill her anyway.
A 15-year-old girl who was wounded alongside Ms. Yousafzai described how easily the Taliban had been able to attack the school bus. “A young man in his early 20s approached the bus and asked for Malala,” the girl, Kainat Riaz, said in an interview at her family’s home in Swat. “Then he started firing.”
What frustrates me about all this is that while left-wingers in the US and UK constantly criticise US drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan – there is virtual silence on what to do about the Taliban.
Let me be clear: I think the drone attacks are counter-productive and also end up hitting a lot of innocent people. And they set an awful precedent for other countries to also use them in foreign territory.
But the Taliban always have been and always will be a much greater threat to Pakistanis than the US.
The Taliban aren’t just a threat to Pakistanis but the entire region. Controlling Pakistan would mean controlling its nuclear weapons and outright confrontation and war with India. And I’m not exaggerating either.
So here’s my question: once the US withdraws from Pakistan by 2014 (assuming Obama gets re-elected, rather than Romney) – do we just ignore the Taliban? Because that is what lefties seem to want to do.
Do we ignore that the Taliban want to subjugate and control Pakistan and Afghanistan, through funding from extremists groups in the Middle East. Do we ignore the fact that they want women banned from public life there and deny them even education?
Of course I’m not calling for an invasion of Pakistan to root out the Taliban. But I’m asking: should we ignore them and leave the region at it? What happened to solidarity with the Pakistanis against the Taliban? Do we ignore them until the region blows up into a nuclear stand-off?
We focus on US actions because we can influence them more than Pakistani govt action. But this is the easy way out for two reasons: the US will never be a threat to Pakistanis on a scale like the Taliban. Secondly, it ignores the longer term threat to Pakistanis.
The Taliban were there before 9-11, so the argument that without the drone attacks they would melt away is fatuous.
They are religious extremists and want Pakistanis subjugated to their extremist version of Islam regardless of who the Prime Minister is. The United States did not create them. And they will be there a long time after the United States leaves. What then?
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