Thursday, February 28, 2008

Joining the List

I've added a new link to my favorite blogs and websites tab on the right hand side of this page.

Two years my elder in middle school and high school, Eli is an undergrad at Wesleyan and is spending a semester back in the Bay State. Though this blog is hardly a mecca for pro-Obama opinion, Eli has been a vocal supporter of Senator Obama and created a blog of his own to pen his thoughts on the election.

Be sure to check out Eli's "Why I Chose Obama" blog!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dodd Goes Obama

I got a supporter email this morning from Senator Dodd with "Barack Obama for President" in the subject. Of course I knew what the message was about, but I was surprised by the impression I was left with after reading through the entire letter.

Senator Dodd didn't say anything particularly new or eye-opening, but he didn't just repeat the Obama talking points in his endorsement as Ted Kennedy did last month. Instead, Dodd subtly applied a few of the key points from his own presidential campaign and spoke about how Obama possessed them too. Dodd touched on national service, the current economic crisis, and, as a clincher, argued that Democrats have to come together now around a nominee and prepare for the general election:

And while both of our Party's remaining candidates are extremely talented and would make excellent commanders-in-chief, I am throwing my support to the candidate who I believe will open the most eyes to our shared Democratic vision.

Put simply, I believe Barack Obama is uniquely qualified to help us face this housing crisis, create good jobs, strengthen America's families in this 21st century global economy, unite the world against terrorism and end the war in Iraq - and perhaps most importantly, call the American people to shared service and sacrifice.

That is why I believe the time has come for Democrats to come together as a Party and focus on winning the general election. The stakes are too high not to.

After Super Tuesday I was frustrated with what I read as the Obama campaign's attempt to claim victory in the nomination and subtly suggest Hillary abandon her run. Now I am starting to pick up on a nagging feeling that Ohio and Texas will and should be the final test for Senator Clinton; even if Hillary Clinton can win in Pennsylvania (which I think she can), I will start to resent her continuation of the battle with Obama. If Texas AND Ohio don't both pick up on whatever message the Clinton campaign has now, then it's over.

From a larger perspective it's rather unfortunate that such a tight election should be considered so close to finished by the end of February, but if moving on to the general election is the most important thing for the Democrats this election, then it's hard to make a case for dragging out the primary season any longer.

I would still rather see Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee and the next president, but Dodd's endorsement this morning is personal for me. Here's a guy whose campaign stood for ambitious environmental, national service, and educational initiatives, and whose recent career has been focused on restoring Constitution protections and opposing wiretapping and torture. In short, I respect him. With Dodd's endorsement today, I no longer feel a wide division between my political and personal beliefs and those of Obama.

People often discredit endorsements as having little potential to shape the way voters think, but Dodd's endorsement today speaks to me strongly, just as his candidacy did.

(all photos: 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Two Grassroots Campaigns Go At It

The Obama campaign has been about grassroots campaigning for a while now. From where supporters can create blogs and create their own fundraising pages to dozens of websites that bring supporters together around videos of the Senator's speeches, this is one campaign that has had the appearance of being built from the ground up since the beginning.

The truth of the matter is that neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton's campaigns can be considered truly "grassroots"—they have both been set up from the top down, with content, funding, and ideas flowing from giant headquarters to dozens of offices nationwide. "Grassroots," as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary means, "ordinary people regarded as the main body of an organization's membership," and the Obama campaign's 37 field offices in Iowa alone leading up to the Caucus this January shows a campaign that is and has been very much centralized.

Since the contests this past Tuesday, the Clinton campaign has embraced its "underdog" status. While that title was laughed at following Clinton's "come from behind" win in New Hampshire, Obama really is the frontrunner now. In Wisconsin, Obama outspent Senator Clinton 4 to 1 on television ads, and in Cleveland and throughout much of Ohio, Obama is already spending three times as much as Ms. Clinton on advertising. While the recent incorporation of the American Leadership Project as a pro-Hillary 527 group has been heavily publicized in recent days, a grassroots movement of Clinton supporters has also flourished.

Lead by over 300,000 contributors following Super Tuesday, this grassroots movement has some interesting similarities and differences from the grassroots support enjoyed by Barack Obama.

The most obvious difference is an urgency within the Clinton grassroots. Unlike the nationwide group of Obama grassroots supporters, young people, volunteers etc. who signed on in waves from about early December to the past few weeks, Hillary Clinton's big grassroots support is more recent—it's come largely as a reaction to the Senator's string of losses following Super Tuesday. Though this puts Clinton at what would seem like a disadvantage, grassroots support doesn't always stay particularly strong for a sustained period of time (though Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee's supporters have proven it's possible). For example, the Will.I.Am "Yes We Can" music video in support of Obama came as a part of a barrage of videos and online content right around Super Tuesday that really pumped up the Obama faithful, but it essentially took the idea of Obama supporter videos to a level that can't be matched again. In that sense, a part of Obama's momentum has been slowed.

Hillary Clinton's grassroots supporters are just beginning to churn out the bulk of their work, and a late surge in producing its content could give her a crucial boost of support in these upcoming, must-win states.

The most recent Hillary Clinton grassroots creation is a website called Hillary Speaks for Me. The site is a user-generated collection of videos by Clinton supporters explaining why they support her. It's not a groundbreaking idea, but the site is doing exactly what the Clinton campaign hasn't been able to do—turn voters into activists. The Obama campaign has been so successful recently not because of money or ground presence, but because Obama supporters wore pins, put up yard signs (I've seen about 5 times more Obama yard signs than Clinton signs in Massachusetts alone), and generally made a big scene about Obama wherever they went. Now Clinton's supporters have the chance to voice their support online through short videos. The site has already produced one video that is sure to be a hit on YouTube and across the Hillary blogosphere.

An inspiring product created by Hillary Clinton supporters?

The media will say what they want and try to predict results, critique every word Senators Clinton and Obama say in the next week, and generally annoy almost everyone with their "professional" analysis. But when it comes down to it, elections (especially this one) are about votes and grassroots activism. Now that Hillary Clinton has a grassroots of her own that ain't too shabby, I wouldn't say this race is over just yet.

(all photos: © 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Welcome to the Race, Ralph

He probably won't get my vote, but throwing in a new name to what's already become a tiring Obama/Clinton/McCain lineup really does liven things up.

I cast my vote for Hillary Clinton on Super Tuesday, and I don't doubt she has her heart in the right place and is more concerned with the good of the public than the wishes of special interests. But when it comes down to it, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain, no matter how much we want to believe it, do have ties to big business, lobbyists, and special interests. The main difference between them is that some of them don't take money from lobbyists or meet with special interest groups...trivial stuff.

Ralph Nader isn't perfect, but when you see the kind of corporate powers he pledges to oppose, it's hard not to believe him. In his long career Nader has fought against polluters, the nuclear energy industry, the powers of the Detroit automotive industry, and dozens of other big business interests. Nader is daring and sincere enough to draw punches wherever he sees wrongdoing, not just where public opinion dictates.

I remember watching Real Time with Bill Maher a few years ago when Nader made a guest appearance. When Nader came on the air I had to hold back my anger; in my eyes Nader had directly contributed to Al Gore's defeat in 2000, and I was upset that he never apologized for helping put Bush in office. As he talked about running for president again in the future I immediately wrote him off as a long-shot that nobody should even bother listening to. When Nader starts talking and describing his political philosophy, however, it's hard to turn away. I found myself agreeing with almost everything he was saying.

It's to the election lineup of Obama/Clinton and McCain that Nader will enter. He won't give a speech like the rest of them or gather a crowd as big as even Mike Huckabee can, but he'll be a hell of a lot of fun to write about and compare to the other candidates.

Politics vs. Politicians: Nader vs. Obama/Clinton/McCain.

Welcome to the race, Ralph.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Work has begun on issue 4 of the POV Magazine.

Lots of work and not very much time to do it.

Sounds like magazine publishing season!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Lunar Eclipse!

It's fun to be a little kid sometimes.

I've got one paper to write, one hour to wait for the moon to disappear, and a window right next to me from which I can watch it all—let the festivities begin!


It's the stuff that gives you goose-bumps, and it's a BIG problem for Democrats if this persists.

It's embarrassing to the party, it's embarrassing for Obama, and it's about the last time that State Sen. will ever make a public appearance for Obama.

In my last hurrah before I quiet down for a few days in preparation for my school's musical next week, I, like Chris Matthews, need to start hearing some substance. This is, after all, a race against one of the most experienced and well-respected Senators of the past few decades in the Republican party, not a conservative version of Obama who's only running on "hope" and "change."

Hold me back...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Once Again...

...David Brooks comes through with a great summary of what's going on in America. (UPDATE: but evidently not in Wisconsin)

Diagnosing 'Obama Comedown Syndrome?'

I like it.

Read it HERE.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Story Goes On

I find it funny at times that my Chris Dodd story keeps on going long after his campaign came to a close on January 3rd. It's hard to stop taking about this guy, especially when the autographed photo and message (see below) showed up in my mailbox this weekend:

Having thoroughly combed through his positions on every issue during his '08 campaign, I've moved onto Senator Dodd's most recent release, a wonderful collection of letters between his father?a lead prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials after WWII?and his mother. From reading just the first ten pages this afternoon, I'm looking forward to a read that will engage my mind in ways other political biographies and campaign books haven't.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Saturday News Cycle

For the first time in a while, the most recent news cycle was decidedly pro-Hillary.

From CNN headlines featuring talking points from Clinton campaign spokespeople, editorials in the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times criticizing Obama's reluctance to keep his promise to accept public campaign financing, and Bloomberg and Newsday pieces highlighting the extreme difficulties and weaknesses Obama would experience in a head-to-head race with John McCain, the media appears to be doing one of its periodic checks on the current frontrunners.

Perhaps more noteworthy have been the recent acknowledgment and fun made of Obama's cult of support. Though far from the current majority sentiment, an increasing number of journalists are writing about the "pseudo-revolution" surrounding Obama and the "cult of personality" that follows him.

The tremendous momentum that has carried Obama to a very successful February thus far could have an uncertain future. Though young people like myself have a tremendous ability to propel and support political campaigns, we are, at least in my eyes, restless, especially with regard to politics. The media's recent joking about the Obama campaign may not erode much of his support, but all that it takes is a subtle abandoning of purpose from within the Obama "army of change" to suck his momentum away.

The New York and LA Times may write pieces that gently kid about Obama and his supporters, but pieces like Mark Steyn's op-ed in the OC Register today make fun of what so many find so cool about being an Obama fan:

A few days ago, a local news team went to shoot some film at Obama's Houston campaign headquarters. Behind the desks of the perky gals answering the phones were posters of Che Guevara and Cuban flags. Do Obama's volunteers even know who Che is? Apart from being a really cool guy on posters and T-shirts, like James Dean or Bart Simpson. I doubt it. They're pseudo-revolutionaries. Very few people in America want a real revolution: Life is great, this is a terrific country, with unparalleled economic opportunities.

Not even Obama supporters want real revolution: Ask the many peoples around the world for whom revolution means not a lame-o Sixties poster above your desk but the carnage and horror of the day before yesterday.

Poor mean, vengeful Hillary, heading for a one-way ticket on the Oblivion Express, has a point. Barack Obama is an elevator Muzak dinner-theater reduction of all the glibbest hand-me-down myths in liberal iconography, which is probably why he's a shoo-in. The problems facing America — unsustainable entitlements, broken borders, nuclearizing enemies — require tough solutions, not gaseous Sesame Street platitudes.

Maybe it's that the media can't stand having a politician rise to the level of popularity where the media can't touch him, and the questioning of Obamas gives lots of big-shot writers the opportunity to make some interesting political predictions, but this media shift could just as easily be for real.

Fad or not, the path of Obama's momentum is certainly...uncertain.

(all photos: © 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

McKinnon on McCain

Mark McKinnon, a Republican strategist and communications manager to George W. Bush's '04 campaign, was interviewed on All Things Considered today (listen HERE). McKinnon is a senior advisor to John McCain's campaign now, and he summed up the Senator's campaign more accurately than anyone in the mainstream media:

"We believed people still liked and admired John McCain, they just thought he was no longer a viable candidate. The whole strategy was literally as simple as just saying, 'stay in the game,' and by that time people will have looked at the other candidates and realize that John McCain is really the best suited to be President, and say 'look at this, he's still here, surprise!' We thought it could break late and fast to John McCain and move wholesale, and that's what happened."

Last summer, the time period during which McCain was essentially counted out of the race and decided to stick around and stay on message, Governor Mitt Romney changed message and went (very) negative. McCain's has been a smart, positive, and productive campaign, and any Democrat should be worried about running against him.

On that note, I wanted to publish a portion of the interview the POV Magazine (of which I am the editor) conducted with Mark McKinnon just a few months ago. If McKinnon's right, John McCain's general election campaign will have the upper hand on a number of issues, but he also notes a number of strengths of an Obama campaign.


Does 9/11 still work as a campaign issue, or is it getting stale?

I think it’s still relevant. In 2004 we actually were highly sensitive about 9/11. We talked a lot about whether we could even talk about it at all. But what we discovered was that voters really wanted us to talk about it. It’s the seminal event of our lifetimes. It’s something we all collectively went through and were scarred by. It’s a moment when our lives changed and our politics changed, our foreign policy changed. It is still, and I think will continue to be, an important reference point for political campaigns and political discussion.

Presidential campaigns are starting earlier than ever before, and candidates have long been advertising. How does this accelerated schedule strike you?

It seems strange to me. I know of very few instances where early advertising spending was a great return on investment. The important thing is to be there when voters are paying attention. Voters are interested in this election but they’re not that engaged yet. The problem is that because it’s so early, voters are going to get worn out pretty quickly. They are just going to tune this out until December.

What impact do you think YouTube and other non-traditional media will have on the campaign?

It’ll have a huge impact. We’re already calling it the YouTube election. Lots of things are happening. The role of the conventional 30-second broadcast TV ad is diminishing significantly. What it really means is that campaigns are losing control. The control of the messages is being completely democratized. We now have thousands of pajama producers out there creating ads and some of them are pretty good. Some of them are very good. The Obama ad about Clinton (using the Apple “1984” ad) was fabulous. It’s one of the better political ads I’ve ever seen. Technology is revolutionizing how we’re campaigning.

Right now and for the first time in a long time, Democrats are out-raising Republicans. Is this significant?

The party out of power always has more fundraising energy. When we were raising money for Bush in 1999 and Bill Clinton was in office, People were throwing money at us. People have been in the desert a long time and want water.

Generally speaking, what goes into a successful media campaign?

It’s the same as always. You have to use all the available tools to articulate and communicate a clear and compelling rationale for your candidacy. That’s how you win elections. It’s important to get the message right and to communicate it through the tools you have including broadcast media, YouTube, and everything else that’s out there.

Is Iraq going dominate the ’08 campaign or might another issue emerge?

It’s hard to imagine that Iraq won’t be the predominant issue. That’s not to say that other issue won’t emerge. Iraq will definitely be hanging over the election, although I suspect other issues will come forward that will be important. McCain is talking about the environment, so you have Republicans going green. It’s a testament to how powerful that issue is.

You said that George Bush attracted you in 1999 because he was for things rather than against things. In 2004, you made the anti-John Kerry windsurfing ads. How do you mix positive and negative messages in a campaign?

There’s a lot of mythology about negative advertising first of all. The reality is that voters want you to make the choice clear, and candidates should make it clear. They should not be shy about making a clear distinction between their record and vision and their opponents’ record and vision. I also think you can’t get elected president of the United States without having a vision for the future.

What’s kind of interesting, and we’ll see how it plays out, is that Obama’s language is similar to Bush’s in 1999. He’s saying the same things about the kind of campaign he intends to run. We kept that positive tone right up until New Hampshire when we got our asses kicked. Suddenly we realized that we had to fight for it. It’s hard to get through these contests without putting on the brass knuckles at some point. It’ll be a challenge for Obama…a real balancing act. It’s hard to pull off.

(all photos: © 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Monday, February 11, 2008

One (Big) Question

Things start seeming a little strange when articles like this and this are published by Obama supporters in the media.

I understand self-deprecating humor—I use it to make fun of myself for listening to the Backstreet Boys' new album and my continued love for Lunchables pizzas. What I don't understand is why more and more stories are being written that gently poke fun at the frenzy of support Obama's currently riding while somehow avoiding the question the authors both pose as to whether Obama can actually do any of the things he's talking about.

For a general election that could potentially pit Barack Obama against one of the most well respected Senators and decorated American heroes to run for president in decades, it's a question that needs to be explored. John McCain will inevitably run a campaign based on experience, experience that will sooth the concerns of many independent voters looking for a strong and capable leader. What makes me worry is that a fraction (albeit a small one) of Obama supporters are starting to wonder whether their candidate can really do what he says he will.

Against McCain, the Obama message of "change" could have some serious problems come November. The long primary election process is one where campaign strategies and messages are tested and tossed out, but if the fundamental premise of a major candidate's campaign is flawed it's something that needs to be taken a lot more seriously than it has been thus far.

We're Democrats living in an era of compulsive downloads and 7 day rentals; if the Ohio and Texas primaries seem like a long ways off, just remember that presidents stick around for four years...with no exchanges.

(all photos: © 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

McCain v. Huckabee

Huckabee's wins last night are certainly an interesting story.

Part of his success was the result of a grassroots reaction to the "McCain's the nominee" story that has been everywhere since Super Tuesday. Loyal Huckabee voters (which most of them are) decided to brave the cold of a February night in Kansas to support their man while McCain's supporters likely didn't see the need.

Senator McCain's February 5th victories established him as the man to beat, but he's done everything except nail down that title for himself. Mike Huckabee's wins today in Louisiana and Kansas, as well as his very close (as of 2:07 A.M.) second place finish in Washington?a state far away from Huckabee's South that would geographically change the dynamic of Huckabee's campaign?are a sign that things are not 100% settled on the Republican side.

Huckabee will win counties in Virginia next weekend, and he'll likely win a bunch of them due to his strong support in neighboring West Virginia and the state's Christian population outside of the cities. If Virginia does not go to McCain, or Huckabee puts up a very strong result, Governor Huckabee has no need to drop out of the race, and he could once again have a serious shot of making a stand in the long fight against McCain.

It's an unlikely scenario having Huckabee go head to head with the McCain movement across the country, but he's somehow hanging in there with a level of grace matched only by Senator McCain himself.

A civil, yet contested Republican battle...who woulda thought?

(all photos: 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A Little Mistake

...that should be fixed quickly, but it's still funny.

I knew Obama was counting on the youth vote...but the youth campaign contribution?

My First Vote

Conveniently, I don't even have to write about it. A video's worth more than a thousand words.

Watertown is Dark Blue

In other words, Watertown lines up in the Clinton column.

In fact, of the towns near Boston, Watertown was one of the few not to pull for Obama. Surrounded by Newton, Cambridge, Somerville, Belmont, and Brookline, Watertown went the other way.

4,145 to 3,709, with 6 votes going to one of my favorites, Chris Dodd.

On a side note, it was my first time voting, and a WHDH/7 News film crew followed me to the polls today to film me as I cast my vote for Hillary! The segment aired yesterday afternoon and early evening, but I can't locate it online just yet.

All and all a rainy but exciting day.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Does the Northeast Matter?

You bet.

Idaho, Alabama, North Dakota, Kansas, and Georgia. All of them are states Barack Obama has won tonight.

These states won't pull as hard for Republicans in '08 as they did in '04, but nevertheless, those five are DEEP red Republican territory. By the numbers those five were 69%, 63%, 63%, 62%, and 58% Republican in 2006, respectively. These states do mean something, and their delegates certainly count, but Republicans aren't looking to give up their home turf in a general election no matter who the candidate is.

Barack, stop telling Democrats that you're going to "be competitive" in states like ND, ID, KS—it ain't happenin'.

Hillary Clinton's Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey wins show her solid support in deep blue Democratic states, and wins in Tennessee and Missouri represent support in hotly contested states in the 2006 midterms.

It doesn't mean much as far as getting the nomination, but it shows Hillary is winning over traditionally Democratic states.

The night continues and I'm still waiting for vote counts from my home town of Watertown.

Massachusetts Weighs In

The big news is Boston.

Did mayor Menino's support help Clinton out enough for her to beat Obama in the big city? Perhaps.

Whatever the result in Beantown, Clinton wins Massachusetts yet the Democratic race does not appear resolved.

It all comes down to California...


Of course not, I'm still voting for Hillary. Instead, it's called being a Democrat—an open-minded and progressive voter. There's only a 50/50 chance my side wins today, but it's a day I'm happy about.

At the heart of it, two Democrats are fighting about who has a better plan for insuring Americans, protecting our environment, and responsibly ending the war in Iraq. Can you imagine? As briefly as possibly I wanted to sum up how I feel about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and end things on a positive note before the voting starts in under an hour.

Barack Obama

A figure that truly does move towards a middle ground in American politics. There's a chance Obama could really expand the Democratic party by bringing in new voter groups. On health care, Barack Obama's plan may not be "universal" in the true sense of the word, but it is certainly a big step in the right direction, and it may end up being easier for independent and possible Republican defects to swallow than Clinton's plan.

Assuming Senator McCain is the Republican nominee, Obama will have some work to do battling McCain's practical way of dealing with the Iraq War vs. Obama's more personal opposition to the conflict. How long do voters stand with Obama and the message of change and hope he's broadcasting now? If the explosive enthusiasm he's riding at the moment continues, there is a real chance a Democrat can get back in the White House.

Hillary Clinton

Using a more traditional way of doing business, Hillary is seeking to continue the path of reform started almost 16 years ago by her husband. Some say that's a bad road to go down and that Hillary is too divisive a politician. She's certainly not soft in her positions and her criticism, but she knows how to work the 'system' in Washington that's impossible to avoid. Avoiding the temptations of lobbyists, fighting hard, working the's tricky but possible. Hillary's solid liberal credentials and party ties combined with her willingness to bloody her knuckles in order to get results from a government widely mistrusted is a bold challenge. Hillary just might be the leader of the Democratic movement that didn't emerge following the 2006 election.

How lucky we are to have this choice today.

Happy Super Tuesday!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A Kennedy for Hillary?

Yes, and a good campaign ad if you ask me.

In Town

Obama and Clinton each have offices in the Boston area. I'm eager to visit both of them and see the organization the two campaigns have in Massachusetts—a state that for me seems like easy Clinton country. Not only offices, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Mitt Romney will be in the state before Super Tuesday is over.

Could Massachusetts finally matter?