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History > 2008 > USA > Politics (IX)





Illustration: Anthony Russo


Obama, History and the Task Ahead


















Mormons Tipped Scale

in Ban on Gay Marriage


November 15, 2008
The New York Times


SACRAMENTO — Less than two weeks before Election Day, the chief strategist behind a ballot measure outlawing same-sex marriage in California called an emergency meeting here.

“We’re going to lose this campaign if we don’t get more money,” the strategist, Frank Schubert, recalled telling leaders of Protect Marriage, the main group behind the ban.

The campaign issued an urgent appeal, and in a matter of days, it raised more than $5 million, including a $1 million donation from Alan C. Ashton, the grandson of a former president of the Mormon Church. The money allowed the drive to intensify a sharp-elbowed advertising campaign, and support for the measure was catapulted ahead; it ultimately won with 52 percent of the vote.

As proponents of same-sex marriage across the country planned protests on Saturday against the ban, interviews with the main forces behind the ballot measure showed how close its backers believe it came to defeat — and the extraordinary role Mormons played in helping to pass it with money, institutional support and dedicated volunteers.

“We’ve spoken out on other issues, we’ve spoken out on abortion, we’ve spoken out on those other kinds of things,” said Michael R. Otterson, the managing director of public affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormons are formally called, in Salt Lake City. “But we don’t get involved to the degree we did on this.”

The California measure, Proposition 8, was to many Mormons a kind of firewall to be held at all costs.

“California is a huge state, often seen as a bellwether — this was seen as a very, very important test,” Mr. Otterson said.

First approached by the Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco a few weeks after the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in May, the Mormons were the last major religious group to join the campaign, and the final spice in an unusual stew that included Catholics, evangelical Christians, conservative black and Latino pastors, and myriad smaller ethnic groups with strong religious ties.

Shortly after receiving the invitation from the San Francisco Archdiocese, the Mormon leadership in Salt Lake City issued a four-paragraph decree to be read to congregations, saying “the formation of families is central to the Creator’s plan,” and urging members to become involved with the cause.

“And they sure did,” Mr. Schubert said.

Jeff Flint, another strategist with Protect Marriage, estimated that Mormons made up 80 percent to 90 percent of the early volunteers who walked door-to-door in election precincts.

The canvass work could be exacting and highly detailed. Many Mormon wards in California, not unlike Roman Catholic parishes, were assigned two ZIP codes to cover. Volunteers in one ward, according to training documents written by a Protect Marriage volunteer, obtained by people opposed to Proposition 8 and shown to The New York Times, had tasks ranging from “walkers,” assigned to knock on doors; to “sellers,” who would work with undecided voters later on; and to “closers,” who would get people to the polls on Election Day.

Suggested talking points were equally precise. If initial contact indicated a prospective voter believed God created marriage, the church volunteers were instructed to emphasize that Proposition 8 would restore the definition of marriage God intended.

But if a voter indicated human beings created marriage, Script B would roll instead, emphasizing that Proposition 8 was about marriage, not about attacking gay people, and about restoring into law an earlier ban struck down by the State Supreme Court in May.

“It is not our goal in this campaign to attack the homosexual lifestyle or to convince gays and lesbians that their behavior is wrong — the less we refer to homosexuality, the better,” one of the ward training documents said. “We are pro-marriage, not anti-gay.”

Leaders were also acutely conscious of not crossing the line from being a church-based volunteer effort to an actual political organization.

“No work will take place at the church, including no meeting there to hand out precinct walking assignments so as to not even give the appearance of politicking at the church,” one of the documents said.

By mid-October, most independent polls showed support for the proposition was growing, but it was still trailing. Opponents had brought on new media consultants in the face of the slipping poll numbers, but they were still effectively raising money, including $3.9 million at a star-studded fund-raiser held at the Beverly Hills home of Ron Burkle, the supermarket billionaire and longtime Democratic fund-raiser.

It was then that Mr. Schubert called his meeting in Sacramento. “I said, ‘As good as our stuff is, it can’t withstand that kind of funding,’ ” he recalled.

The response was a desperate e-mail message sent to 92,000 people who had registered at the group’s Web site declaring a “code blue” — an urgent plea for money to save traditional marriage from “cardiac arrest.” Mr. Schubert also sent an e-mail message to the three top religious members of his executive committee, representing Catholics, evangelicals and Mormons.

“I ask for your prayers that this e-mail will open the hearts and minds of the faithful to make a further sacrifice of their funds at this urgent moment so that God’s precious gift of marriage is preserved,” he wrote.

On Oct. 28, Mr. Ashton, the grandson of the former Mormon president David O. McKay, donated $1 million. Mr. Ashton, who made his fortune as co-founder of the WordPerfect Corporation, said he was following his personal beliefs and the direction of the church.

“I think it was just our realizing that we heard a number of stories about members of the church who had worked long hours and lobbied long and hard,” he said in a telephone interview from Orem, Utah.

In the end, Protect Marriage estimates, as much as half of the nearly $40 million raised on behalf of the measure was contributed by Mormons.

Even with the Mormons’ contributions and the strong support of other religious groups, Proposition 8 strategists said they had taken pains to distance themselves from what Mr. Flint called “more extreme elements” opposed to rights for gay men and lesbians.

To that end, the group that put the issue on the ballot rebuffed efforts by some groups to include a ban on domestic partnership rights, which are granted in California. Mr. Schubert cautioned his side not to stage protests and risk alienating voters when same-sex marriages began being performed in June.

“We could not have this as a battle between people of faith and the gays,” Mr. Schubert said. “That was a losing formula.”

But the “Yes” side also initially faced apathy from middle-of-the-road California voters who were largely unconcerned about same-sex marriage. The overall sense of the voters in the beginning of the campaign, Mr. Schubert said, was “Who cares? I’m not gay.”

To counter that, advertisements for the “Yes” campaign also used hypothetical consequences of same-sex marriage, painting the specter of churches’ losing tax exempt status or people “sued for personal beliefs” or objections to same-sex marriage, claims that were made with little explanation.

Another of the advertisements used video of an elementary school field trip to a teacher’s same-sex wedding in San Francisco to reinforce the idea that same-sex marriage would be taught to young children.

“We bet the campaign on education,” Mr. Schubert said.

The “Yes” campaign was denounced by opponents as dishonest and divisive, but the passage of Proposition 8 has led to second-guessing about the “No” campaign, too, as well as talk about a possible ballot measure to repeal the ban. Several legal challenges have been filed, and the question of the legality of the same-sex marriages performed from June to Election Day could also be settled in court.

For his part, Mr. Schubert said he is neither anti-gay — his sister is a lesbian — nor happy that some same-sex couples’ marriages are now in question. But, he said, he has no regrets about his campaign.

“They had a lot going for them,” Mr. Schubert said of his opponents. “And they couldn’t get it done.”

Mr. Otterson said it was too early to tell what the long-term implications might be for the church, but in any case, he added, none of that factored into the decision by church leaders to order a march into battle. “They felt there was only one way we could stand on such a fundamental moral issue, and they took that stand,” he said. “It was a matter of standing up for what the church believes is right.”

That said, the extent of the protests has taken many Mormons by surprise. On Friday, the church’s leadership took the unusual step of issuing a statement calling for “respect” and “civility” in the aftermath of the vote.

“Attacks on churches and intimidation of people of faith have no place in civil discourse over controversial issues,” the statement said. “People of faith have a democratic right to express their views in the public square without fear of reprisal.”

Mr. Ashton described the protests by same-sex marriage advocates as off-putting. “I think that shows colors,” Mr. Ashton said. “By their fruit, ye shall know them.”

Jesse McKinley reported from Sacramento,

and Kirk Johnson from Salt Lake City.

    Mormons Tipped Scale in Ban on Gay Marriage, NYT, 15.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/15/us/politics/15marriage.html






For Obama and Family,

a Personal Transition


November 14, 2008
The New York Times


CHICAGO — A couple of weeks ago, Barack Obama headed to the Hyde Park Hair Salon for a trim. He greeted the staff and other customers and plopped down in the same chair in front of the same barber who has cut his hair for the last 14 years.

But when he wanted a trim this week, the Secret Service took one look at the shop’s large plate-glass windows and the gawking tourists eager for a glimpse of the president-elect and the plan quickly changed. If Mr. Obama could no longer come to the barber, the barber would come to him and cut his hair at a friend’s apartment.

Life for the newly chosen president and his family has changed forever. Even the constraints and security of the campaign trail do not compare to the bubble that has enveloped him in the 10 days since his election. Renegade, as the Secret Service calls him, now lives within the strict limits that come with the most powerful office on the planet.

He has chosen to spend this interval before his Jan. 20 inauguration at his home in Hyde Park, which has in some ways been transformed into a secure fortress for his protection. After two years of daily speeches and rallies, he has retreated into an almost hermitlike seclusion, largely hidden from public view and spotted only when he drops his two daughters off for school or goes for a workout at the gymnasium in a friend’s apartment building.

“This is a tremendous personal transition, as well, far beyond what anyone could imagine,” said Alexi Giannoulias, the Illinois state treasurer and a close friend. “Little things, like going to the gym, going to the movies, going to dinner with his wife, none of that will ever be the same again. Things that we take for granted.”

Mr. Obama is putting off the change as much as he can by remaining in Chicago during the transition. “I am not going to be spending too much time in Washington over the next several weeks,” he told someone in a telephone conversation overheard by reporters on his chartered plane heading back to Chicago after a White House visit on Monday.

Indeed, he was on the ground in Washington less than four hours for his tour and talk with President Bush. Mr. Obama has yet to take a vacation since the election, as he works on selecting a White House staff, building a cabinet and formulating policies. But friends and aides said he was also using this time to concentrate on his family before moving to the most famous address in the nation.

The personal considerations coincide with political calculation as well. By remaining in Chicago, it may be easier for him to avoid becoming drawn into decisions by the departing administration and may accentuate the sense of change when he returns to Washington as the new president. He will not be around, for example, for the global economic summit meeting starting Friday, nor for the lame-duck Congressional session next week.

But the trappings of his life are increasingly presidential. Although he does not yet have access to Air Force One, he now rides in an armored government limousine, complete with the war wagon and other motorcade vehicles zipping through red lights with traffic blocked. Although the Secret Service long ago set up concrete barriers around his house here, they expanded their perimeter by several blocks after the election and brought in explosive-sniffing dogs.

“It’s changed,” said Mesha Caudle, 45, who lives a block from the Obamas. “It’s a little inconvenient, just a little, when you have to go around three blocks to go one block. I don’t mind, though, because I got the president I voted for. If the price is a little inconvenience, that’s O.K.”

The Obama house, bought for $1.65 million in 2005, is a stately mansion in the middle of the racially and economically diverse Hyde Park-Kenwood area near the University of Chicago, shielded by trees, not to mention the phalanx of Secret Service agents and Chicago police officers. The neighborhood is a mix of grand homes, aging but well-tended brick houses and dilapidated buildings. Across the street, renovated condominiums start at $190,000. Just blocks away, some houses are boarded up.

Most modern presidents have had a ranch, farm or estate easily isolated from the community around it. Mr. Obama is the first since Richard M. Nixon to be elected while living in a urban neighborhood, and Mr. Nixon soon sold his New York City apartment and retreated during his presidency to exclusive getaways in Florida and California. Mr. Obama, by contrast, is expected to keep his Chicago home.

The streets around Mr. Obama’s home have been closed to outside traffic. Residents show picture identification at checkpoints as officers scan lists of pre-cleared people. The K.A.M. Isaiah Israel synagogue across the street gave the Secret Service a list of 2,000 members and regular visitors, who are checked by metal detectors before services. “It’s actually not as big a deal as it may appear,” said Linda Ross, the temple’s executive director.

A property manager trying to rent $750-a-month apartments three doors down from the Obamas said applicants, janitors and contractors all must be cleared. “The day after he made his speech in Grant Park, things changed dramatically,” said the property manager, whose boss told him not to give his name to reporters. “Before they had Chicago police around his house and it was barricaded. The day he became president-elect, they moved the barricades three blocks out.”

For Mr. Obama, it means no more casually stopping by the Medici for pastries or heading over to Valois for lunch or window shopping with the girls at 57th Street Books, at least not without elaborate preparation. He did manage to take his wife, Michelle, on Saturday night to Spiaggia, a four-star Italian restaurant in downtown Chicago, where the future president loves the wood-roasted scallops.

The Obamas have been going to Spiaggia with its lakefront view for years for what they call “date night,” including on their anniversary last month and Michelle’s birthday earlier this year. “It’s always just the two of them,” said Tony Mantuano, the chef and co-owner. “Now it’s just the two of them and 30 Secret Service agents.”

His day starts with breakfast with his daughters, aides said, and he has taken them to school a few times. For his daily workout, he uses the gymnasium at Regents Park apartment building where his friend, Mike Signator, lives. He later heads to transition offices set up in the Kluczynski Federal Building and receives daily intelligence briefings. He could be interviewing cabinet candidates, but no one will say.

“He seems to be very, very focused on the transition,” said his friend, John W. Rogers Jr. chairman of Ariel Investments, who lent office space to Mr. Obama until the federal space was available. “It doesn’t seem to have changed him at all. He’s the same relaxed, in-control, engaging Barack that he’s always been. I’ve been struck by that, that it hasn’t shifted him.”

Perhaps no one knows that kind of thing more than a man’s barber. Mr. Obama’s barber, Zariff, 44, who goes by one name, went over to Mr. Signator’s apartment on Tuesday to give Mr. Obama his usual $21 cut and said his longtime client still seemed the same. As he walked in, Zariff remembered, he called him “Mr. President,” and Mr. Obama laughed.

“He’s looking a lot more presidential now; he walks a little different,” said Zariff, who himself has become a local celebrity and is thinking about opening a shop in Washington. Mr. Obama is no longer the guy strolling around the neighborhood.

“I think he misses that a lot,” Zariff said. “But that’s the price of fame.”

    For Obama and Family, a Personal Transition, NYT, 14.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/14/us/politics/14obama.html
















Marshall Ramsey


Jackson Mississippi

The Clarion Ledger        Cagle        12.11.2008















Ballot Security

Could Be Issue in Minn. Recount


November 11, 2008
Filed at 3:29 a.m. ET
The New York Times


BALLOT PROTECTION: The thin margin between Norm Coleman and Al Franken in their U.S. Senate race in Minnesota could make ballot security a subject of litigation.

DIFFERENT COUNTIES, DIFFERENT PROCEDURES: Minnesota has no uniform standards for protecting the integrity of ballots, just a requirement that counties do so. Most counties keep ballots under lock and key.

QUESTIONS RAISED: Coleman's campaign raised concerns about the integrity of about 30 absentee ballots that weren't turned in until several days after the election. But the campaign said it accepted assurances from Minneapolis election officials that the ballots had been secured.

    Ballot Security Could Be Issue in Minn. Recount, NYT, 11.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/washington/AP-Minnesota-Senate-Summary-Box.html






Obamas check out the White House


10 November 2008
USA Today
By David Jackson and Richard Wolf


WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama met privately with President Bush at the White House on Monday, a time-honored ritual of American democracy with special resonance amid two wars and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Neither man commented publicly on their Oval Office meeting, which lasted 65 minutes. Bush then took Obama to see the family residence before returning to the Oval Office. First lady Laura Bush gave Michelle Obama a more expansive tour of the living quarters.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said Bush described the conversation as "good, constructive, relaxed and friendly." Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said the men talked extensively about the economic situation and foreign policy. "It was a bit of a momentous day," Gibbs said, adding that Obama said the Oval Office was "a really nice office."

Obama transition spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said the Obamas were "warmly welcomed."

"They had a broad discussion about the importance of working together throughout the transition of government," Cutter said. Obama thanked Bush "for his commitment to a smooth transition," she added.

It was Obama's first time in the office he will occupy for at least the next four years. The Democrat arrived with his wife 11 minutes early, but the always-punctual Bushes were ready to greet them.

The two couples first went to the Diplomatic Reception Room, where the Obamas met Adm. Stephen Rochon, chief usher and director of the executive residence. Like Obama, Rochon is the first African American to hold his position in the White House.

Minutes later, Obama and Bush walked the colonnade that connects the main building to the West Wing and Oval Office. As Bush and Obama met, their wives talked in the White House living quarters "about family life, particularly about their children," said Sally McDonough, Laura Bush's spokeswoman.

The Obamas have two daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7. Michelle Obama spent part of Monday visiting schools, including Georgetown Day School and Sidwell Friends School.

In the days leading up to the visit, Obama and his aides have urged the Bush administration to back a new spending package in Congress that's designed to stimulate the economy. Gibbs said the president and president-elect discussed on Monday the proposed stimulus package, the U.S. auto industry and foreclosures.

Obama flew in for the meeting from his home in Chicago, where he will spend most of his time during the transition. Obama's mantra has been "we only have one president at a time." He does not plan to attend this weekend's international economic summit in Washington, where Bush will host leaders from 20 nations.

Obama is putting together his economic and national security teams. Cutter said she does not expect any Cabinet announcements this week.

Bush has made clear he wants a seamless transition, given the hazardous condition of the economy and the threat of terrorism.

Presidential analysts said both men want to avoid the problems that beset the transition during the Great Depression. President-elect Franklin Roosevelt stayed as far as he could from incumbent Herbert Hoover, and "it contributed to the worsening of the economy," said David Abshire, president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency.

This time Bush and Obama "have a keen need to try to restore some kind of trust in the economy," Abshire said.

Stephen Hess, a Brookings Institution scholar and author of a new book on presidential transitions, said both Obama and Bush are striking the right tone.

Obama criticized Bush's performance during his campaign, attacking the Republican incumbent on issues from the economy to Iraq. Hess said he doubts there is much tension between them now: "These are two politicians."


Contributing: Kathy Kiely

    Obamas check out the White House, UT, 10.11.2008, http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/election2008/2008-11-10-obama-bush_N.htm






For South, a Waning Hold on National Politics


November 11, 2008
The New York Times


VERNON, Ala. — Fear of the politician with the unusual name and look did not end with last Tuesday’s vote in this rural red swatch where buck heads and rifles hang on the wall. This corner of the Deep South still resonates with negative feelings about the race of President-elect Barack Obama.

What may have ended on Election Day, though, is the centrality of the South to national politics. By voting so emphatically for Senator John McCain over Mr. Obama — supporting him in some areas in even greater numbers than they did President Bush — voters from Texas to South Carolina and Kentucky may have marginalized their region for some time to come, political experts say.

The region’s absence from Mr. Obama’s winning formula means it “is becoming distinctly less important,” said Wayne Parent, a political scientist at Louisiana State University. “The South has moved from being the center of the political universe to being an outside player in presidential politics.”

One reason for that is that the South is no longer a solid voting bloc. Along the Atlantic Coast, parts of the “suburban South,” notably Virginia and North Carolina, made history last week in breaking from their Confederate past and supporting Mr. Obama. Those states have experienced an influx of better educated and more prosperous voters in recent years, pointing them in a different political direction than states farther west, like Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, and Appalachian sections of Kentucky and Tennessee.

Southern counties that voted more heavily Republican this year than in 2004 tended to be poorer, less educated and whiter, a statistical analysis by The New York Times shows. Mr. Obama won in only 44 counties in the Appalachian belt, a stretch of 410 counties that runs from New York to Mississippi. Many of those counties, rural and isolated, have been less exposed to the diversity, educational achievement and economic progress experienced by more prosperous areas.

The increased turnout in the South’s so-called Black Belt, or old plantation-country counties, was visible in the results, but it generally could not make up for the solid white support for Mr. McCain. Alabama, for example, experienced a heavy black turnout and voted slightly more Democratic than in 2004, but the state over all gave 60 percent of its vote to Mr. McCain. (Arkansas, however, doubled the margin of victory it gave to the Republican over 2004.)

Less than a third of Southern whites voted for Mr. Obama, compared with 43 percent of whites nationally. By leaving the mainstream so decisively, the Deep South and Appalachia will no longer be able to dictate that winning Democrats have Southern accents or adhere to conservative policies on issues like welfare and tax policy, experts say.

That could spell the end of the so-called Southern strategy, the doctrine that took shape under President Richard M. Nixon in which national elections were won by co-opting Southern whites on racial issues. And the Southernization of American politics — which reached its apogee in the 1990s when many Congressional leaders and President Bill Clinton were from the South — appears to have ended.

“I think that’s absolutely over,” said Thomas Schaller, a political scientist who argued prophetically that the Democrats could win national elections without the South.

The Republicans, meanwhile, have “become a Southernized party,” said Mr. Schaller, who teaches at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “They have completely marginalized themselves to a mostly regional party,” he said, pointing out that nearly half of the current Republican House delegation is now Southern.

Merle Black, an expert on the region’s politics at Emory University in Atlanta, said the Republican Party went too far in appealing to the South, alienating voters elsewhere.

“They’ve maxed out on the South,” he said, which has “limited their appeal in the rest of the country.”

Even the Democrats made use of the Southern strategy, as the party’s two presidents in the last 40 years, Jimmy Carter and Mr. Clinton, were Southerners whose presence on the ticket served to assuage regional anxieties. Mr. Obama has now proved it is no longer necessary to include a Southerner on the national ticket — to quiet racial fears, for example — in order to win, in the view of analysts.

Several Southern states, including Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee, have voted for the winner in presidential elections for decades. No more. And Mr. Obama’s race appears to have been the critical deciding factor in pushing ever greater numbers of white Southerners away from the Democrats.

Here in Alabama, where Mr. McCain won 60.4 percent of the vote in his best Southern showing, he had the support of nearly 9 in 10 whites, according to exit polls, a figure comparable to other Southern states. Alabama analysts pointed to the persistence of traditional white Southern attitudes on race as the deciding factor in Mr. McCain’s strong margin. Mr. Obama won in Jefferson County, which includes the city of Birmingham, and in the Black Belt, but he made few inroads elsewhere.

“Race continues to play a major role in the state,” said Glenn Feldman, a historian at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. “Alabama, unfortunately, continues to remain shackled to the bonds of yesterday.”

David Bositis, senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, pointed out that the 18 percent share of whites that voted for Senator John Kerry in 2004 was almost cut in half for Mr. Obama.

“There’s no other explanation than race,” he said.

In Arkansas, which had among the nation’s largest concentration of counties increasing their support for the Republican candidate over the 2004 vote, “there’s a clear indication that racial conservatism was a component of that shift away from the Democrat,” said Jay Barth, a political scientist in the state.

Race was a strong subtext in post-election conversations across the socioeconomic spectrum here in Vernon, the small, struggling seat of Lamar County on the Mississippi border.

One white woman said she feared that blacks would now become more “aggressive,” while another volunteered that she was bothered by the idea of a black man “over me” in the White House.

Mr. McCain won 76 percent of the county’s vote, about five percentage points more than Mr. Bush did, because “a lot more people came out, hoping to keep Obama out,” Joey Franks, a construction worker, said in the parking lot of the Shop and Save.

Mr. Franks, who voted for Mr. McCain, said he believed that “over 50 percent voted against Obama for racial reasons,” adding that in his own case race mattered “a little bit. That’s in my mind.”

Many people made it clear that they were deeply apprehensive about Mr. Obama, though some said they were hoping for the best.

“I think any time you have someone elected president of the United States with a Muslim name, whether they are white or black, there are some very unsettling things,” George W. Newman, a director at a local bank and the former owner of a trucking business, said over lunch at Yellow Creek Fish and Steak.

Don Dollar, the administrative assistant at City Hall, said bitterly that anyone not upset with Mr. Obama’s victory should seek religious forgiveness.

“This is a community that’s supposed to be filled with a bunch of Christian folks,” he said. “If they’re not disappointed, they need to be at the altar.”

Customers of Bill Pennington, a barber whose downtown shop is decorated with hunting and fishing trophies, were “scared because they heard he had a Muslim background,” Mr. Pennington said over the country music on the radio. “Over and over again I heard that.”

Mr. Obama remains an unknown quantity in this corner of the South, and there are deep worries about the changes he will bring.

“I am concerned,” Gail McDaniel, who owns a cosmetics business, said in the parking lot of the Shop and Save. “The abortion thing bothers me. Same-sex marriage.”

“I think there are going to be outbreaks from blacks,” she added. “From where I’m from, this is going to give them the right to be more aggressive.”

Ford Fessenden contributed reporting.

    For South, a Waning Hold on National Politics, NYT, 11.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/11/us/politics/11south.html?hp






Obama Team Weighs What to Take On in First Months


November 9, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — With the economy in disarray and the nation’s treasury draining, President-elect Barack Obama and his advisers are trying to figure out which of his expansive campaign promises to push in the opening months of his tenure and which to put on a slower track.

Mr. Obama repeated on Saturday that his first priority would be an economic recovery program to get the nation’s business system back on track and people back to work. But advisers said the question was whether they could tackle health care, climate change and energy independence at once or needed to stagger these initiatives over time.

The debate between a big-bang strategy of pressing aggressively on multiple fronts versus a more pragmatic, step-by-step approach has flavored the discussion among Mr. Obama’s transition advisers for months, even before his election. The tension between these strategies has been a recurring theme in the memorandums prepared for him on various issues, advisers said.

“Every president is tempted to take on too much,” said one Obama adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. “On the other hand, there’s the Roosevelt example and the L.B.J. example, which suggest an extraordinary president can do an awful lot. So that’s the question: Is it too risky for the president to be ambitious?”

Much of the issue may be out of Mr. Obama’s hands. The $700 billion financial bailout threatens to push the deficit into the stratosphere. “The poor man has his hands tied by the economic and financial mess we have right now,” said John Tuck, a former aide to President Ronald Reagan. “I don’t know what his options are. They’re very, very limited.”

At a news conference Friday and again in a radio address on Saturday, Mr. Obama signaled that he intended to move quickly to address the nation’s financial problems, despite any obstacles. “I want to ensure that we hit the ground running on Jan. 20,” he said on Saturday, “because we don’t have a moment to lose.”

The argument for an aggressive approach in the mold of Franklin D. Roosevelt or Lyndon B. Johnson is that health care, energy and education are all part of systemic economic problems and should be addressed comprehensively. But Democrats are discussing a hybrid strategy that would push for a bold economic program and also encompass other elements of Mr. Obama’s campaign platform, even if larger goals are put off.

Congressional leaders want to move swiftly in January to pass a major expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program — a plan vetoed by President Bush — as a step toward the broader coverage Mr. Obama promised. Likewise, Democrats plan to incorporate his proposed middle-class tax cuts in the economic legislation or pass them in tandem. And Mr. Obama could increase investment in alternative energy as a down payment on a far-reaching climate plan.

“I believe it would be important to show fairly early on that change is here,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a member of the House Democratic leadership. “One of the very visible ways to show that would be to pass some of the bills George Bush vetoed.”

In that same vein, the Obama transition team has identified executive orders he can sign in the first hours and days of his presidency to demonstrate action, even as the more ambitious promises take more time. Among other things, he can reverse a variety of Bush policies, like restrictions on abortion counseling and stem-cell research.

Mr. Obama has acknowledged that the economy will force him to recalibrate his program but insists that he has not backed off his commitments. “We can’t afford to wait on moving forward on the key priorities that I identified during the campaign, including clean energy, health care, education and tax relief for middle class families,” he said Saturday.

During the campaign, Mr. Obama identified many other priorities, like withdrawing from Iraq; talking with Iran; tackling immigration; closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; and renegotiating trade rules with the country’s neighbors.

Mr. Obama’s transition advisers studied how past presidents used their first months and concluded that even if various agencies moved forward in many directions, a new chief executive must husband his time, energy and political capital for three dominant priorities at most. Several Obama advisers cited Reagan, who concentrated his early efforts on tax cuts and military spending.

But advisers also worry that putting off sweeping initiatives makes them harder to pass later, when a president’s mandate and momentum have faded. They pointed to Mr. Clinton, who delayed his ultimately doomed health care plan while he passed a deficit reduction package and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

And the pent-up demand from Democrats who waited out the Bush administration will be enormous. “In the next three months before they take over, the list of demands on the table is going to be staggering,” said former Representative Jim Leach of Iowa, a Republican who endorsed Mr. Obama during the campaign.

Mr. Obama recognizes that. In an interview on CNN days before the election, he explicitly ranked his priorities, starting with an economic recovery package that would include middle-class tax relief. His second priority, he said, would be energy; third, health care; fourth, tax restructuring; and fifth, education.

But then he hedged, foreseeing the unforeseen. “We don’t know yet what’s going to happen in January,” he said. “And none of this can be accomplished if we continue to see a potential meltdown in the banking system or the financial system.”

Energy and Economy, Intertwined

“I will invest $15 billion a year in renewable sources of energy to create five million new energy jobs over the next decade.”

On energy and climate change, Mr. Obama’s focus has shifted markedly over the course of the year as the economy has weakened.

An earlier proposal put an economy-wide cap on greenhouse gases, requiring industry and utilities to buy credits from the government to emit carbon dioxide. That plan would produce hundreds of billions of dollars in government revenue and drive up the cost of energy for everyone.

Mr. Obama is now emphasizing a program to spend $150 billion over 10 years to develop renewable sources of energy, like wind, solar and biofuels, and to encourage energy conservation in homes, offices and public buildings. He would also provide substantial financial help to the auto industry to develop high-mileage and electric cars. JOHN M. BRODER *

Beyond ‘No Child Left Behind’

“A truly historic commitment to education — a real commitment — will require new resources and new reforms.”

Mr. Obama’s education plan outlined some $8 billion for recruiting, performance pay and other initiatives that represent his approach to updating the education law known as No Child Left Behind. But his plan also offered grand proposals for every level of education, including a $4,000 tuition tax credit that would make college more affordable for millions of students and a $10 billion expansion of early childhood programs.

The challenge will be how to finance all these proposals when budgets are extremely tight, experts said.

Mr. Obama’s $10 billion proposal to expand early childhood education would probably produce tremendous savings to the nation later, but experts said he would find it extremely challenging to finance under current financial conditions. SAM DILLON

Reaching the 45 Million Uninsured

“If you don’t have health insurance, you’ll be able to get the same kind of health insurance that members of Congress get.”

Mr. Obama has said “every American has a right to affordable health care,” but he has not said exactly how he would finance coverage for the 45 million people who are uninsured. The economic slump and the bailout for the financial industry may reduce the amounts available to cover the uninsured.

On his Web site, Mr. Obama says his health plan “will lower health care costs by $2,500 for a typical family by investing in health information technology, prevention and care coordination.” Health policy experts endorse those goals, but say they are unlikely to produce such large savings.

If Mr. Obama hopes to keep his promise, he will need to mobilize public support for specific legislative proposals. And he will need to co-opt or placate a swarm of lobbyists. ROBERT PEAR

Interrogations and Guantánamo

“We’re going to lead by setting the highest of standards for civil liberties and civil rights and human rights.”

As president, Mr. Obama could simply declare an end to practices that have been widely condemned as torture. He could revoke President Bush’s executive order, disclosed in 2007, allowing the Central Intelligence Agency to use more severe interrogation techniques than allowed under the Army Field Manual.

To do so, however, he would have to overrule at least some intelligence professionals who have argued that they need more aggressive methods.

His pledge to close the detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, would require finding a place to imprison dozens of detainees. Federal officials have drafted plans to move them to centers in the United States, but even supporters of that acknowledge the potential consequences, including the release of suspects for lack of evidence. STEVEN LEE MYERS

Security and Citizenship

“We cannot deport 12 million people. Instead, we’ll require them to pay a fine, learn English and go to the back of the line.”

As a senator, Mr. Obama supported comprehensive immigration overhaul, and in the campaign he pledged to enhance border security and provide a path to citizenship for millions in the country illegally. And while he said he favored a guest worker program, he also advocated tougher penalties for employing illegal immigrants.

But Mr. Obama’s proposals are likely to encounter resistance from opponents who contend that they amount to amnesty — an argument that helped jettison a bill in Congress. And with the economy shedding jobs, opponents will also argue that immigrants are taking jobs from citizens. But experts say Mr. Obama will face pressure to act from the many Hispanic voters who supported his candidacy in part because of his stance on immigration. MICHAEL FALCONE

Tax Breaks, Old and New

“As president, here’s what I’ll do: cut taxes for every working family making less than $200,000 a year.”

Mr. Obama pledged to extend the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 past 2010, when they would expire, for taxpayers making less than $250,000 a year. He would repeal the cuts for taxpayers making more than that, effective Jan. 1, 2010.

Mr. Obama considers the extension for those making under $250,000 a continuation of current policy, not a tax cut.

But he promises a new break for taxpayers making less than $200,000 — an annual tax credit of $500 a worker, or $1,000 per working couple. It would be a refundable credit, so those who do not earn enough to pay income taxes but do pay payroll taxes would also benefit.

Given the economic crisis and the Democratic gains in Congress, the odds are good that he will push the measures through. JACKIE CALMES

Withdrawing From Iraq

“Nobody’s talking about bringing them home instantly, but one to two brigades a month. It’ll take about 16 months to get our combat troops out.”

Mr. Obama has said repeatedly that he would set a 16-month timetable for troop withdrawal. Some military experts believe that could lead to a reversal of the gains from the surge in troops over the past 18 months, and they argue that the generals running the war should decide how many troops to pull out and when to do it.

Mr. Obama appears to have the Iraqi government on his side. Iraqi leaders say his timetable is closer to theirs, which they put at 2010. The Bush administration timetable, which has some wiggle room, is 2011.

But all of this supposes relative stability, even while troops are withdrawing. And questions also remain about the kind and level of force Mr. Obama would leave behind. HELENE COOPER


Working With Iran

“I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leaders at a time and place of my choosing.”

Mr. Obama initially raised expectations that he would meet with Iran’s leaders; he said during the campaign that the notion of not talking to foes was “ridiculous.” Since then, he has tempered his words somewhat, indicating that he would send envoys initially and would meet personally with Iranian leaders only if he thought he could advance the American agenda.

Mr. Obama also faces the issue of when to reach out. If he makes a move before June, when Iran’s presidential election is scheduled, he risks giving President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claim to a foreign policy victory, to the possible detriment of more moderate Iranian presidential aspirants. But if he waits too long, Iran could get closer to acquiring a nuclear weapon. HELENE COOPER


Negotiating Nafta

“I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced.”

No legal hurdle would prevent President-elect Obama from pulling out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a distinction from other trade deals. But trade experts say the political and economic costs of scuttling the deal would be enormous.

Even opening it up to renegotiate labor and environmental standards carries risks: Canada might seize the opportunity to renegotiate provisions on energy, while Mexico might push for access for its trucks in the United States.

Mr. Obama’s union supporters have not put changing Nafta at the top of their agenda, focusing instead on issues like China’s exchange rate. With little political upside and so much potential downside, this may be one issue Mr. Obama prefers not to touch. MARK LANDLER

    Obama Team Weighs What to Take On in First Months, NYT, 9.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/us/politics/09promises.html?hp






Harnessing a Cause Without Yielding to It


November 9, 2008
The New York Times


The historic victory of Barack Obama contained many dramas, but none was more important than the climactic turn it symbolized in the present-day fortunes of two outsize forces in recent political history — the civil rights movement and the conservative movement.

Together they have probably been the most powerful engines of political change during the past half-century, but they have also exacted large demands from the two parties and their leaders. And it happened again in this election.

For Senator Obama, the fraught alliance between the civil rights movement and the Democratic Party was a persistent though unwelcome theme in this campaign — whether it was the crisis occasioned by the recorded sermons of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright or the defeats Mr. Obama was dealt in the primary by blue-collar voters whose distrust of him seemed to replay the racial anxieties of the 1960s, when civil rights protest loosed a white “backlash” that divided the Democratic Party.

John McCain, for his part, was haunted by his uneasy and at times hostile dealings through the years with the movement conservatives who helped elect every recent Republican president. In choosing to solicit their support, Mr. McCain alienated the moderates and independents who ultimately deserted him.

The tangled nexus between movements and parties has been complicating American politics since the middle of the 19th century. To a great extent, both major parties owe their identities to movements.

The modern Democratic Party was shaped by the populism of the 1890s, the antibusiness reformism of the 1930s and the civil rights crusade of the 1960s. The Republican Party was formed by abolitionism in the 1850s, anti-Communism in the 1950s, antitax revolts in the 1970s and 1980s and the evangelical conservatism of the 1990s and 2000s.

In each instance, a movement and a party came together. But the partnership was seldom satisfactory to either side. This isn’t surprising. While movements are driven by specific causes (punishing “robber barons,” ending “big government”), parties stay relevant by adjusting to new conditions.

This is why movement activists often think politicians are either spineless or unscrupulous — and sometimes both — while practicing politicians sometimes find movement activists more trouble than they’re worth.

A classic example is the mutual distrust that festered between Abraham Lincoln and the radical abolitionists of his day. Lincoln patiently tolerated them even as they raged that he was an opportunist — “a first-rate second-rate man,” in the opinion of the antislavery agitator Wendell Phillips, “a mere convenience waiting like any other broomstick to be used.”

In the end, Lincoln fulfilled most of the abolitionists’ hopes — as circumstances allowed. “I claim not to have controlled events but confess plainly that events controlled me,” Lincoln said in 1864.

The conservatives who today lionize Ronald Reagan forget how often he, too, disappointed them — whether by increasing taxes or bargaining with Mikhail Gorbachev. “So was the critical election of 1980 merely a mirage,” Irving Kristol wondered in 1983, distraught that “the administration bumbles along in foreign policy, in social policy, in economic policy.”

These grumblings aside, Mr. Reagan managed to placate his movement followers most of the time.

Two other presidents, Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush, entered the White House with reputations for being skilled politicians, but then took the unusual step of subordinating pragmatic political goals to movement ideals — and they and their parties paid a steep price. Mr. Johnson’s Great Society and War on Poverty programs, though popular at the time, later fed the resentments of white working-class voters who deserted the Democratic Party in the 1970s and 1980s.

Mr. Bush embraced the crusading vision of two powerful movement factions — the neoconservatives and the evangelicals — when he decided to initiate the Iraq war, which damaged his presidency beyond repair.

Both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Bush succumbed, it seems, to the unusual power of the movements that dominated their years in office. This is understandable since both governed at a time when the movements they were allied with were at peak strength.

LIKE abolitionism a century and a half ago, the civil rights movement in the 1960s and ideological conservatism in the 2000s each subsumed the most intense political, economic and cultural passions of the day.

And their histories are strikingly parallel. Both emerged in the 1950s as vehicles of protest built on moral and often religious arguments. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy owed much of their authority to their exalted place in the church, as reflected in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights organization they led.

Prominent figures in the postwar conservative movement also made their case in religious terms. First it was anti-Communist Catholics like William F. Buckley Jr., Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen; later it was evangelical Protestants like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

Both movements reaped their biggest gains when they channeled their arguments into political action. Civil rights leaders sponsored courtroom challenges to Jim Crow and lobbied in support of causes like voting rights, equal housing and fair employment practices.

Conservatives likewise diligently worked through legal and legislative channels on a range of issues, from school prayer and abortion and gun ownership to attacks on same-sex marriage (with the latest successes coming this week) .

Each movement did more than align itself with a party. It also played a major part in establishing that party’s broadest aims and in shaping the values of its rank-and-file membership.

The civil rights movement helped guide the Democratic Party toward an agenda of equal rights and economic justice. Movement conservatives led the insurgent campaigns that transferred power in the Republican Party from the East Coast to the Sunbelt.

One telling difference between the candidates in this year’s election was their contrasting approaches to the movements attached to their parties. Mr. McCain often gave the impression that he was at the mercy of the conservatives he had struggled against for so many years, while Mr. Obama harnessed the energies of the civil rights movement that made his candidacy possible and was able to balance its visionary ends with his pragmatic means.

It is a performance he may have to repeat more than once over the next four years.

    Harnessing a Cause Without Yielding to It, NYT, 9.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/weekinreview/09tanenhaus.html?hp






The Nation

The Transformation


November 9, 2008
The New York Times


Early on Election Day morning in the Philadelphia suburb of Levittown, Pa., Joe Sinitski, 48, stood in a long line inside a school gymnasium, inching his way toward three blue-curtained voting machines. He wore jeans, a sweatshirt and a National Rifle Association baseball cap. He said he would vote for Barack Obama, a choice that some months earlier he could not have imagined.

“I have to admit, his race made my decision harder,” he said. “I was brought up that way. And I don’t like his name. I’ll admit to that, too.”

Mr. Sinitski, a heating and air-conditioning technician, repeated a joke he had heard back in the spring about the choice in the Democratic primary between a black man and a woman (Hillary Rodham Clinton), and he used a crude term for each. But when I asked him how he might feel to wake up the next morning to the reality of a black president-elect, he said: “I do think it’s an historic election. Part of me feels like it would be really cool.”

Political pollsters track trends and changes within big blocs of voters. What they do less well is catch the complicated, ever-evolving and often conflicted feelings within individual voters.

Levittown had been Hillary country all the way — it gave Mrs. Clinton roughly three out of every four of its votes in the Pennsylvania primary in May. In doing so, it conformed, in some ways, to its history and stereotype. William Levitt built the vast postwar development in the shadow of a giant United States Steel plant, some 17,000 homes sprawling across three Pennsylvania townships and one borough. He would not sell to black families.

According to the latest United States census, just 2 percent of Levittown’s current 54,000 residents are African-American; about an equal percent are Hispanic. The community is overwhelmingly Democratic, but filled with older whites who did not attend college — the so-called Reagan Democrats who in recent presidential elections have been the voters most likely to swing between parties.

I grew up in Levittown, and in the spring had returned there before the Democratic primary to write about how Mr. Obama’s message of hope and change was connecting with its blue-collar population. It wasn’t. My article in The New York Times Magazine reported that his words were coming across as lofty and abstract to people more attuned to concrete concerns like the hourly wage and the monthly car payment. The article was published on the morning before Mr. Obama made his one big gaffe of the campaign, telling attendees at a San Francisco fund-raiser that some blue-collar voters have been so beaten down that “it’s not surprising that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion... .”

The timing of those remarks and the article were not coincidental. That evening in San Francisco, in the instant before committing what he would later call “my biggest boneheaded move,” Mr. Obama had been ruminating on his struggles to win over white working-class voters, and said, “there were intimations of that in an article in the Sunday New York Times today — kind of implies that it’s sort of a race thing.” What I wrote had seemed to hit at a deep frustration of Mr. Obama’s — his inability to reach a certain segment of voters. Some of the reason for that was his manner of speaking; but in some measure, for sure, his failure to persuade white blue-collar voters was based on his mixed-race heritage.

I traveled again to Levittown on Election Day to see how people would vote and how they would respond to what looked like an imminent Obama victory. The contrast from the spring — and, in fact, this new vision of Levittown compared with what I had known in my childhood — was almost breathtaking.

“Obama,” said the ironworker, when I asked how he’d be voting.

“Obama,” said the plumber.

“Obama,” said the chef.

And on and on. Military moms. Vietnam veterans. Abortion opponents. College students and retirees. Bank tellers, pipe fitters, officer workers, machinists, meat cutters, boilermakers and carpenters.

I spent Election Day at a voting site inside the Magic Cottage preschool in a section of Levittown called Appletree, where Mr. Obama would defeat Mr. McCain, 682-388, a ratio slightly higher than the Democratic registration edge in that precinct. Not a single one of the more than 60 Obama voters I talked to said they had voted for him in the spring. Some said they had come around slowly, and many reported that they had been open to Mr. McCain.

These were the voters whom Mr. McCain was targeting when he made a big bet on Pennsylvania, investing money and a substantial amount of his time and the time of his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin. But Mr. McCain’s message, to the extent it was received at all, irritated them. The Democrats of Levittown did not defect — they stayed in the fold, and then some. Over all, in the four municipalities that Levittown spans, Obama got a slightly higher percentage than John Kerry did in 2004, and because of higher turnout, emerged with a 3,200-vote greater margin of victory. (Levittown is defined by ZIP codes and Levitt-built homes, but is not its own incorporated town. Large parts of it extend into towns with large white working-class populations — Bristol, Middletown and Falls Townships, as well as Tullytown Borough — but it does not make up the entirety of any of those places. In those four jurisdictions, Obama defeated McCain, 41,110 to 25,034 — contributing to his resounding 11-percentage-point victory in Pennsylvania.)

“McCain pointed a lot of fingers instead of giving answers,” Steve O’Connor, a plumber, told me.

Mr. Obama’s message, on the other hand, seemed like it had entered some voters by IV injection. “I don’t want a clone of George Bush,” Mark Maxwell, 47, a corporate chef, said. “With McCain, that’s exactly what we’d get.”

Said Lisa Winslow, a 20-year-old college student: “I’m not rich. I can’t afford to vote for McCain.”

What had changed for Mr. Obama? The financial meltdown obviously made a huge difference. Five more months of exposure to him, and his millions of dollars worth of advertisements, engendered a comfort level. And Iraq, to a much greater extent than the pre-election polls implied, mattered. Nearly every Obama voter I talked to mentioned it, and many linked it to the economy.

“We’re like a trillion dollars in debt and spending what, $10 billion a month on the war?” said Andrew Brehaut, 25, a waiter.

Levittown is filled with a great many veterans of the Vietnam War, not all of whom served happily. “I didn’t want to be there when I was told to go,” said Frank Carr, 62, who recently retired from his shipping job in a corrugated box factory. “I know how the boys feel. I believe Obama is a man of his word.”

When Mr. Obama says he is going to bring home the troops, “I believe him,” Mr. Carr said.

Before Mr. Obama emerged on the national scene and began winning primaries, few people would have predicted Americans were on the verge of elevating a person of African descent to the highest office in the land, or that they would have to confront any reluctance they might have about accepting black leadership. The nation was transformed on Tuesday, but what had to occur first was the transformation of individual voters.

A lot of people in Levittown needed the five months between the primary election and Tuesday to get used to a new idea. After Mrs. Clinton’s defeat, followed by a financial crisis that shook Americans to the core, they came to terms. If Mr. Obama’s race had been a factor, they eventually had to weigh it against other concerns.

“For a long time, I couldn’t ignore the fact that he was black, if you know what I mean,” Mr. Sinitski, the heating and air-conditioning technician, told me. “I’m not proud of that, but I was raised to think that there aren’t good black people out there. I could see that he was highly intelligent, and that matters to me, but my instinct was still to go with the white guy.”

Mr. Sinitski said what pushed him toward Mr. Obama, more than anything, was McCain’s vice-presidential choice of Mrs. Palin. “She might be a great person, but I had never heard of her before and I couldn’t see how such an unknown should be put one heartbeat from the presidency,” he said, “especially with all the problems we’ve got. I didn’t feel it spoke well for McCain. It didn’t demonstrate intelligence on McCain’s part and it just didn’t reflect well in general on him.”

Tina Davis is the council president in Bristol Township, which has the highest concentration of Levittown voters. She said she had endless conversations with constituents who said they would not vote for Obama. “Most of them couldn’t give me a real answer why,” she said. “I had some of them reciting those stupid e-mails saying he was a Muslim. I’m pretty blunt. I would just say to them, ‘You’re against him because he’s black.’ ”

She thinks some of those who argued with her and insisted till the bitter end that they would vote for Mr. McCain just stubbornly did not want to acknowledge they had changed their minds. In the end, she believes they ended up voting out of a different kind of fear — fear for their own economic survival. Self-interest trumped racism. “They had to ask themselves if they wanted a really smart young black guy, or a stodgy old white guy from the same crowd who put us in this hole,” she said.

The people I met in Levittown were not on Mr. Obama’s e-mail list or among his donors, but they may be more likely than his younger supporters and more affluent ones to give him what he most desperately needs: time and patience. Like characters from the songs of one of Mr. Obama’s celebrity endorsers, Bruce Springsteen, many Levittowners have been weathered by life. They haven’t benefited from a lot of quick fixes. Others of his supporters say they’ll be patient, but I sensed these people really mean it. They were harder to sell, but they could end up being pretty loyal.

“How long did it take Bush to get us into this mess?” Mr. Carr, the Vietnam veteran, asked. “It’s a lot easier to screw things up than to make them better.”

Michael Sokolove is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine.

    The Transformation, NYT, 9.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/weekinreview/09sokolove.html






Historians, too, call Obama victory 'monumental'


9 November 2008
USA Today
By Todd Lewan, The Associated Press


It's political morning again in America. Arguments over flag lapel pins, plumbers and robocalls are fading from memory, and everybody you bump into recognizes that something huge has happened with the election of Barack Obama. In the grocery line, at the post office, over coffee, we all just sense it.

But what do those who take a longer view, who know history well, say about what feels to us like a singular, transcendent moment?


"Monumental ... a major shift in the zeitgeist of our times." That's Douglas Brinkley, the best-selling author and professor of history at Rice University.

"I can't think of another election where the issues were two wars and a crashed economy. There just isn't any historical precedent for this." So says Joan Hoff, a former president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency in New York City.

"It's an historic turning point ... an exclamation point of major proportions to the civil rights movement that goes back to the 1950s." That's James McPherson, the renowned author and professor emeritus of history at Princeton University.


Hardly, say historians — considering that Obama is the first "nonwhite" to rise to the pinnacle of American power, an undertaking made all the more stunning because it was accomplished long before the citizenry expected it.

And, "the racial milestone will be much larger than we've even imagined in the course of these last couple of years," says Doris Goodwin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, historian and political commentator.

Compared with other milestones that students of history read in American textbooks — Booker T. Washington causing a national uproar for having lunch at the White House with Teddy Roosevelt, Marian Anderson singing at the Lincoln Memorial after being barred from Constitutional Hall, Joe Louis knocking out Nazi Germany's Max Schmeling for the heavyweight boxing crown — the concept of an African-American holding the nation's highest office "is just enormous," she says.

Allan Lichtman, a presidential historian at American University, sees Obama as capable of setting off "a new political era in America that changed domestic and foreign policy and led to the end of conservatism as we knew it in the 20th century."

Brinkley, the historian who edited the private White House diaries of Ronald Reagan, agrees that Tuesday's vote marks "the beginning of a new era" in American politics not seen since Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal in 1932, or Lyndon Johnson's Great Society in 1964.

With Obama's lopsided victory, and the wave that swept more Democrats into both houses of Congress, "a chapter has been closed on the Reagan era, meaning the days of rolling back the Great Society are over," he says. "A new kind of progressivism will now be taking root."

What kind?

"A Great Society 'light,"' Brinkley postulates. "It won't be quite as ambitious and sweeping as Lyndon Johnson's, but it will probably focus on one or two big things, such as universal health care and major incentives for 'green' business."

Not so fast, cautions McPherson, the Princeton historian.

Obama's victory, in his view, was grounded in public fatigue with the Iraq war and another milestone event in American electoral history — the September meltdown on Wall Street, which derailed the normal course of the campaign.

"Whether an Obama victory means that it will close the book on the Reagan era — I think it may be true, but I think it's too soon to conclude that," McPherson says.

Says James Campbell, a professor at the University at Buffalo, SUNY, who specializes in campaigns and elections, says the financial earthquake that interrupted what was an exhaustingly long marathon for the White House may be what's most remembered "because it made the campaign so extraordinarily unusual."

And Obama?

Campbell thinks he'll forever stand out as the liberal who snapped a 28-year winning streak of centrist and right-of-center candidates. Meanwhile, he adds, 2008 will go down in history as "a low point for the Republican Party."

To Robert McElvaine, a history professor at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., 2008 was the first of a generation of "New Elections" — that is, the hinge on which "multiculti" America entered a new political era.

Just as President Kennedy's election in 1960 was viewed as barrier-breaking not only by Irish Catholics but by immigrants from all over Eastern Europe, too, so will Obama's be seen by Hispanics, Asians, and other nonwhite Americans, he says.

"We've taken another major step in expanding the definition of America, and shown that the American dream is finally, really open to anyone," McElvaine says. "I think that's what is truly monumental here."

As monumental as the election of 1800, which established the two-party system? Or 1860, when the Civil War loomed? Or 1932, when the Great Depression paralyzed the nation?

The 2008 vote may not yet have such importance, but already "it ranks in the top 10 elections, certainly," says Joel Goldstein, a scholar of the presidency and constitutional law at the St. Louis University School of Law.

"The combination of Obama being African-American, possessing unusual gifts as a speaker and leader, and the enormous challenges coming from a number of different directions — the elements are all lined up for this to be one of the most significant elections we've ever had."

True as that might be, Hoff, who is also a research professor of history at Montana State University, says it's important to view this moment in American history through a bigger lens than race, gender, or political paradigms.

How big?

In Hoff's mind, through a global lens. The United States, she says, is undergoing seismic shifts to its economy — changes that could lead to a downgrading of America's military and economic influence overseas.

In the grand landscape of American history, how President Obama uses American military and economic power abroad — not his race or his political stripes or his electoral college numbers — will be what historians find most significant.

In a globalized world with many newly emerging powers, "We may have to downsize our estimation of ourselves," Hoff says, "and along with it goes a downsizing of our economic and military power."

That would mean the end of a "Cold Warrior" mentality that has existed in the White House since Harry Truman. Will Americans grasp such thinking? Will other nations?

Ultimately, how Obama handles this will be, Hoff says, "what will really make this election unprecedented."

    Historians, too, call Obama victory 'monumental', UT, 9.11.2008, http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/election2008/2008-11-09-obama-history_N.htm






Op-Ed Columnist

It Still Felt Good the Morning After


November 9, 2008
The New York Times


ON the morning after a black man won the White House, America’s tears of catharsis gave way to unadulterated joy.

Our nation was still in the same ditch it had been the day before, but the atmosphere was giddy. We felt good not only because we had breached a racial barrier as old as the Republic. Dawn also brought the realization that we were at last emerging from an abusive relationship with our country’s 21st-century leaders. The festive scenes of liberation that Dick Cheney had once imagined for Iraq were finally taking place — in cities all over America.

For eight years, we’ve been told by those in power that we are small, bigoted and stupid — easily divided and easily frightened. This was the toxic catechism of Bush-Rove politics. It was the soiled banner picked up by the sad McCain campaign, and it was often abetted by an amen corner in the dominant news media. We heard this slander of America so often that we all started to believe it, liberals most certainly included. If I had a dollar for every Democrat who told me there was no way that Americans would ever turn against the war in Iraq or definitively reject Bush governance or elect a black man named Barack Hussein Obama president, I could almost start to recoup my 401(k). Few wanted to take yes for an answer.

So let’s be blunt. Almost every assumption about America that was taken as a given by our political culture on Tuesday morning was proved wrong by Tuesday night.

The most conspicuous clichés to fall, of course, were the twin suppositions that a decisive number of white Americans wouldn’t vote for a black presidential candidate — and that they were lying to pollsters about their rampant racism. But the polls were accurate. There was no “Bradley effect.” A higher percentage of white men voted for Obama than any Democrat since Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton included.

Obama also won all four of those hunting-and-Hillary-loving Rust Belt states that became 2008’s obsession among slumming upper-middle-class white journalists: Pennsylvania and Michigan by double digits, as well as Ohio and even Indiana, which has gone Democratic only once (1964) since 1936. The solid Republican South, led by Virginia and North Carolina, started to turn blue as well. While there are still bigots in America, they are in unambiguous retreat.

And what about all those terrified Jews who reportedly abandoned their progressive heritage to buy into the smears libeling Obama as an Israel-hating terrorist? Obama drew a larger percentage of Jews nationally (78) than Kerry had (74) and — mazel tov, Sarah Silverman! — won Florida.

Let’s defend Hispanic-Americans, too, while we’re at it. In one of the more notorious observations of the campaign year, a Clinton pollster, Sergio Bendixen, told The New Yorker in January that “the Hispanic voter — and I want to say this very carefully — has not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates.” Let us say very carefully that a black presidential candidate won Latinos — the fastest-growing demographic in the electorate — 67 percent to 31 (up from Kerry’s 53-to-44 edge and Gore’s 62-to-35).

Young voters also triumphed over the condescension of the experts. “Are they going to show up?” Cokie Roberts of ABC News asked in February. “Probably not. They never have before. By the time November comes, they’ll be tired.” In fact they turned up in larger numbers than in 2004, and their disproportionate Democratic margin made a serious difference, as did their hard work on the ground. They’re not the ones who need Geritol.

The same commentators who dismissed every conceivable American demographic as racist, lazy or both got Sarah Palin wrong too. When she made her debut in St. Paul, the punditocracy was nearly uniform in declaring her selection a brilliant coup. There hadn’t been so much instant over-the-top praise by the press for a cynical political stunt since President Bush “landed” a jet on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln in that short-lived triumph “Mission Accomplished.”

The rave reviews for Palin were completely disingenuous. Anyone paying attention (with the possible exception of John McCain) could see she was woefully ill-equipped to serve half-a-heartbeat away from the presidency. The conservatives Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy said so on MSNBC when they didn’t know their mikes were on. But, hey, she was a dazzling TV presence, the thinking went, so surely doltish Americans would rally around her anyway. “She killed!” cheered Noonan about the vice-presidential debate, revising her opinion upward and marveling at Palin’s gift for talking “over the heads of the media straight to the people.” Many talking heads thought she tied or beat Joe Biden.

The people, however, were reaching a less charitable conclusion and were well ahead of the Beltway curve in fleeing Palin. Only after polls confirmed that she was costing McCain votes did conventional wisdom in Washington finally change, demoting her from Republican savior to scapegoat overnight.

But Palin’s appeal wasn’t overestimated only because of her kitschy “American Idol” star quality. Her fierce embrace of the old Karl Rove wedge politics, the divisive pitting of the “real America” against the secular “other” America, was also regarded as a sure-fire winner. The second most persistent assumption by both pundits and the McCain campaign this year — after the likely triumph of racism — was that the culture war battlegrounds from 2000 and 2004 would remain intact.

This is true in exactly one instance: gay civil rights. Though Rove’s promised “permanent Republican majority” lies in humiliating ruins, his and Bush’s one secure legacy will be their demagogic exploitation of homophobia. The success of the four state initiatives banning either same-sex marriage or same-sex adoptions was the sole retro trend on Tuesday. And Obama, who largely soft-pedaled the issue this year, was little help. In California, where other races split more or less evenly on a same-sex marriage ban, some 70 percent of black voters contributed to its narrow victory.

That lagging indicator aside, nearly every other result on Tuesday suggests that while the right wants to keep fighting the old boomer culture wars, no one else does. Three state initiatives restricting abortion failed. Bill Ayers proved a lame villain, scaring no one. Americans do not want to revisit Vietnam (including in Iraq). For all the attention paid by the news media and McCain-Palin to rancorous remembrances of things past, I sometimes wondered whether most Americans thought the Weather Underground was a reunion band and the Hanoi Hilton a chain hotel. Socialism, the evil empire and even Ronald Reagan may be half-forgotten blurs too.

If there were any doubts the 1960s are over, they were put to rest Tuesday night when our new first family won the hearts of the world as it emerged on that vast blue stage to join the celebration in Chicago’s Grant Park. The bloody skirmishes that took place on that same spot during the Democratic convention 40 years ago — young vs. old, students vs. cops, white vs. black — seemed as remote as the moon. This is another America — hardly a perfect or prejudice-free America, but a union that can change and does, aspiring to perfection even if it can never achieve it.

Still, change may come slowly to the undying myths bequeathed to us by the Bush decade. “Don’t think for a minute that power concedes,” Obama is fond of saying. Neither does groupthink. We now keep hearing, for instance, that America is “a center-right nation” — apparently because the percentages of Americans who call themselves conservative (34), moderate (44) and liberal (22) remain virtually unchanged from four years ago. But if we’ve learned anything this year, surely it’s that labels are overrated. Those same polls find that more and more self-described conservatives no longer consider themselves Republicans. Americans now say they favor government doing more (51 percent), not less (43) — an 11-point swing since 2004 — and they still overwhelmingly reject the Iraq war. That’s a centrist country tilting center-left, and that’s the majority who voted for Obama.

The post-Bush-Rove Republican Party is in the minority because it has driven away women, the young, suburbanites, black Americans, Latino-Americans, Asian-Americans, educated Americans, gay Americans and, increasingly, working-class Americans. Who’s left? The only states where the G.O.P. increased its percentage of the presidential vote relative to the Democrats were West Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas. Even the North Carolina county where Palin expressed her delight at being in the “real America” went for Obama by more than 18 percentage points.

The actual real America is everywhere. It is the America that has been in shell shock since the aftermath of 9/11, when our government wielded a brutal attack by terrorists as a club to ratchet up our fears, betray our deepest constitutional values and turn Americans against one another in the name of “patriotism.” What we started to remember the morning after Election Day was what we had forgotten over the past eight years, as our abusive relationship with the Bush administration and its press enablers dragged on: That’s not who we are.

So even as we celebrated our first black president, we looked around and rediscovered the nation that had elected him. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” Obama said in February, and indeed millions of such Americans were here all along, waiting for a leader. This was the week that they reclaimed their country.

    It Still Felt Good the Morning After, NYT, 9.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/opinion/09rich.html






Washington Memo

Harsh Words About Obama? Never Mind Now


November 9, 2008
The New York Times


That whole anti-American, friend-to-the-terrorists thing about President-elect Barack Obama? Never mind.

Just a few weeks ago, at the height of the campaign, Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota told Chris Matthews of MSNBC that, when it came to Mr. Obama, “I’m very concerned that he may have anti-American views.”

But there she was on Wednesday, after narrowly escaping defeat because of those comments, saying she was “extremely grateful that we have an African-American who has won this year.” Ms. Bachmann, a Republican, called Mr. Obama’s victory, which included her state, “a tremendous signal we sent.”

And it was not too long ago that Senator John McCain’s running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, accused Mr. Obama of “palling around with terrorists.”

But she took an entirely different tone on Thursday, when she chastised reporters for asking her questions about her war with some staff members in the McCain campaign at such a heady time. “Barack Obama has been elected president,” Ms. Palin said. “Let us, let us — let him — be able to kind of savor this moment, one, and not let the pettiness of maybe internal workings of the campaign erode any of the recognition of this historic moment that we’re in. And God bless Barack Obama and his beautiful family.”

There is a great tradition of paint-peeling political hyperbole during presidential campaign years. And there is an equally great tradition of backing off from it all afterward, though with varying degrees of deftness.

But given the intensity of some of the charges that have been made in the past few months, and the historic nature of Mr. Obama’s election, the exercise this year has been particularly whiplash-inducing, with its extreme before-and-after contrasts.

The shift in tone follows the magnanimous concession speech from Mr. McCain, of Arizona, who referred to Mr. Obama’s victory Tuesday night as “a historic election” and hailed the “special pride” it held for African-Americans. That led the vice president-elect, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., to get into the act. During the campaign, Mr. Biden said he no longer recognized Mr. McCain, an old friend. Now, he says, “We’re still friends.” President Bush, in turn, also hailed Mr. Obama’s victory, saying his arrival at the White House would be “a stirring sight.”

Whether it all heralds a new era of cooperation in Washington remains to be seen, and it may be downright doubtful. But for now, at least, it would seem to be part of an apparent rush to join what has emerged as a real moment in American history.

The presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said she was hard-pressed to find a similar moment when the tone had changed so drastically, and so quickly, among so many people of such prominence.

“I don’t think that’s happened very often,” Ms. Goodwin said. “The best answer I can give you is they don’t want to be on the wrong side of history, and they recognize how the country saw this election, and how people feel that they’re living in a time of great historic moment.”

Others in the professional political class were not so sure. Some wondered whether simple pragmatism was the explanation.

“My experience is, it’s less an epiphany and more a political reality,” said Chris Lehane, a former Democratic strategist who worked on the presidential campaign of Al Gore. “I’m thinking they will continue in this direction so long as the polls indicate it’s a smart place to be.”

There are notable exceptions: Rush Limbaugh has given no quarter. And while his fellow conservative radio hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham have noted the significance of his victory — on Wednesday, Ms. Ingraham said “Obama did make history” and “It’s not the time to vilify him” — they seem to be in line with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News. Relishing his new role in the opposition camp, Mr. O’Reilly said, “The guy is still a mystery, so our oversight will be intense.”

Some lawmakers also do not appear inclined to give up the fight. Representative John A. Boehner, the House minority leader, has already criticized Mr. Obama’s choice of Representative Rahm Emanuel, Democrat of Illinois, as his chief of staff.

But other people who opposed Mr. Obama, like Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, have good reason to try to make up with the winning ticket. As an ardent backer of Mr. McCain, Mr. Lieberman angered the Democrats, who in 2000 nominated him as their vice-presidential candidate. After losing a Democratic primary challenge in 2006 and then winning as an independent, he still continued to caucus with the Democrats.

Attending an event with Mr. McCain in York, Pa., in August, Mr. Lieberman said the race was “between one candidate, John McCain, who has always put the country first, worked across party lines to get things done, and one candidate who has not.”

As a speaker at the Republican National Convention, Mr. Lieberman went further than Democrats expected by criticizing Mr. Obama for “voting to cut off funding for our troops on the ground.” (Mr. Obama voted for bills that included plans for withdrawal from Iraq and against others that did not.)

This week Mr. Lieberman, who has been asked by the Democratic Senate leadership to consider giving up his position as the chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, released a statement congratulating Mr. Obama for “his historic and impressive victory.” It continued, “The American people are a people of extraordinary fairness.”

Marshall Wittmann, a spokesman for Mr. Lieberman, said that as far as the senator was concerned, “It’s over, and it’s genuinely time to find unity and move forward behind the new president.”

And what about that whole bit about Mr. Obama not always putting his country first? “He believes that President-elect Obama — and, then, Senator Obama — is a genuine patriot and loves his country,” Mr. Wittmann said. “The only point he was making in his campaign was about partisanship.”

Mr. Obama is apparently ready to bury the hatchet with his new fans. “President-elect Obama has made it clear that he wants to put partisanship behind and work together to solve the many challenges confronting the country,” said Stephanie Cutter, a spokeswoman for the Obama transition team. “We’re pleased that others do as well.”

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, who will help decide Mr. Lieberman’s committee assignment, sounded less ready to forgive, at least when it came Mr. Lieberman’s support for Mr. McCain. “Joe Lieberman has done something that I think was improper, wrong, and I’d like — if we weren’t on television, I’d use a stronger word of describing what he did,” he said on CNN Friday.

    Harsh Words About Obama? Never Mind Now, NYT, 9.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/us/politics/09memo.html?hp






Obama, China's Hu Exchange Views on Taiwan, Other Issues


November 9, 2008
Filed at 3:40 a.m. ET
The New York Times


BEIJING (Reuters) - China's President Hu Jintao told U.S. President-elect Barack Obama in a telephone conversation that proper handling of the Taiwan issue would help improve Sino-U.S. ties, state media reported on Sunday.

Both countries should respect and accommodate the other's concerns and properly handle sensitive issues to promote Sino-U.S. relations to an even higher level, Hu was quoted as saying.

"Particularly the Taiwan issue," said Hu.

"The relationship between the United States and China is the most vital relationship on today's international stage," Obama said to Hu, according to the reports.

The exchange mirrors the message China issued to Obama after his election victory, which also urged him to halt $6.5 billion worth of arms sales to the self-ruled island.

China denounced last month a U.S. plan to sell the arms, including attack helicopters and missiles, to Taipei, and demanded Washington halt all military exchanges with Taiwan.

Obama, who enters the White House in January 2009, expressed support for the arms sales during his election campaign.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's U.S.-backed government fled to the island.

Hu will travel to Washington to attend a November 15 summit with other world leaders from the G-20 grouping of nations to discuss ways to fight a downturn in economic growth amid the global financial crisis.

Hu would attend bilateral meetings during the summit, but a meeting with Obama had not yet been fixed, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman has said.

(Reporting by Kirby Chien; Editing by Jerry Norton)

    Obama, China's Hu Exchange Views on Taiwan, Other Issues, NYT, 9.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/washington/politics-us-usa-obama-china.html






Billy Graham Would Like to Meet, Pray With Obama


November 8, 2008
Filed at 3:01 a.m. ET
The New York Times


CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Billy Graham has counseled every American president since Dwight Eisenhower. But the evangelist known for his globe-trotting crusades has no plans to mentor Barack Obama, though his son did say his father would like to meet the president-elect and pray with him.

Graham turned 90 on Friday. His son, the Rev. Franklin Graham, told The Associated Press that Billy Graham's mind remains sharp even as his body continues to fail.

Billy Graham still remains engaged in the planning and direction of the ministry he founded, but his days as a pastor to presidents have faded.

''My father feels like his time and day for that is over,'' Franklin Graham said. ''But he would certainly like to meet (Obama) and pray with him.''

About 160 of Billy Graham's family and friends celebrated his birthday Friday at his home in Montreat with fried chicken, barbecue and sweet tea. His ministry had received some 100,000 greetings, including a video from President Bush.

His health contrasts starkly with his days commanding a ministry that put him behind the pulpit to speak with 215 million people in more than 185 countries and placed him in the confidence of some of the world's most powerful people.

Billy Graham's views are still respected in White House circles. Republican presidential candidate John McCain called on Graham at his mountainside home during the campaign, and Obama tried to meet him but was unable to due to the preacher's poor health.

Though never partisan in his preaching, Billy Graham is a registered Democrat.

His son expressed concern about Obama's views on abortion and gay marriage -- an issue Franklin Graham raised in a meeting with the Illinois senator -- saying that he and is father are conservatives who believe the Bible speaks clearly on those issues.

''President-elect Obama heard our position,'' said Franklin Graham, who now heads the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. ''And I told him that this was very difficult for us and hard for us. It's a moral issue that we just can't back down on.''

Obama favors abortion rights, and does not support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. He supports civil unions and believes states should decide their own laws about marriage.

Meanwhile, Billy Graham's health remains a concern among family and friends, who note he still struggles with the loss of his wife, Ruth, who died last year.

He was hospitalized last year for nearly two weeks after experiencing intestinal bleeding, and he has also had prostate cancer. Earlier this year, he had elective surgery to update a shunt that controls excess fluid on his brain. The shunt was first installed in 2000 and drains fluid from through a small tube, relieving excess pressure that can cause symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease.

''He could catch a cold and his life could come to an end,'' Franklin Graham said. ''At his age, any little thing could be a serious event. We realize that.''

Despite his limitations he still has one thing: a booming voice.

This weekend, that voice will once again cross borders when a message dubbed in Portuguese will be broadcast in Brazil in an effort to bring some 1 million new believers into the fold.

And privately, he has been working on a book about aging, trying to put his late-life lessons into context for those soon to follow him.

''He's always been ready to die,'' Franklin Graham said. ''But nobody's prepared him for getting old.''

    Billy Graham Would Like to Meet, Pray With Obama, NYT, 8.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Billy-Graham.html






2 Close House Races Decided; 4 Still Up in Air


November 8, 2008
Filed at 2:41 a.m. ET
The New York Times


ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- The Democrats have gained another foot soldier in Congress: Democrat Frank Kratovil has won an open seat in the U.S. House from Maryland's 1st District.

He claimed a seat held for 18 years by the GOP, beating Republican Andy Harris by about 2,000 votes.

Meanwhile in Washington state's 8th Congressional District, Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert (RY-kert) has beaten back a challenge from Democrat Darcy Burner for a second time. With 80 percent of the vote counted Reichert leads by 8,000 votes, 51 percent to 49. Burner conceded Friday night.

The victories give Democrats some 256 House seats, to 175 for the GOP. Democrats have picked up 20 seats. Four House races -- in Alaska, California, Virginia and Ohio -- are still too close to call.

    2 Close House Races Decided; 4 Still Up in Air, NYT, 8.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/washington/AP-US-House-Close-Races.html







A Giant Step in Civil Rights History


November 8, 2008
The New York Times


To the Editor:

Re “Finishing Our Work,” by Thomas L. Friedman (column, Nov. 5):

I was 9 years old when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball, 30 years old when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and now, 71 when Barack Obama was elected president of the United States.

I am so happy I lived long enough to see an African-American elected to the highest political office in America. Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King and numerous other African-Americans blazed a trail that helped make it possible for Mr. Obama to continue and build on their good works.

A President Obama will challenge, inspire and lead us to be the best we can be. He will bring out the better angels of our natures, which will drive us to strive for the common good.

Jan. 20, 2009, will be the dawning of a new day in our country. I am looking forward to Mr. Obama’s Inaugural Address. It is an exciting time to be alive.

Paul L. Whiteley Sr.

Louisville, Ky., Nov. 5, 2008

To the Editor:

Thomas L. Friedman cites the 1964 Civil Rights Act as one of the stepping stones that led to Barack Obama’s historic victory Tuesday night.

It would seem appropriate at this point to give credit to the politician who was perhaps the key enabler of what transpired in the election of 2008.

Despite the terrible legacy of Vietnam, it was Lyndon B. Johnson who knew that the injustices of the past had to be rectified in order for our nation to become a true union. His Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act were perhaps the two most important pieces of legislation ever passed, and his speech urging passage of the Voting Rights Act was one of the finest presidential addresses in American history.

Johnson knew that his stances would change the electoral map forever, but because of what he set in motion, Mr. Obama was able to capture the presidency — and in a time frame of less than two generations. Remarkable.

Steven Morris

East Hampton, N.Y., Nov. 5, 2008

To the Editor:

As an African-American whose great-grandparents were slaves in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, when the Civil War ended, I think that Barack Obama’s election helps me understand, in small measure, how they must have felt when they gained their freedom.

They told my maternal grandmother how their whole universe changed, yet it barely changed at all. Freedom was much more complex than expected, with innumerable problems to solve before going to join God and the ancestors in heaven.

During the following 30 or more years, two African-Americans, Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington (both interracial like Mr. Obama), inspired legions of former slaves, Northern philanthropists and missionaries as well as enlightened Southern whites to establish hundreds of schools and colleges to educate the former slaves.

They knew that the plight of African-Americans was not a black problem, but an American problem. In so doing, they saved an economically fragile nation and left a shining example for our country today. David L. Evans

Cambridge, Mass., Nov. 5, 2008

To the Editor:

Barack Obama’s election to the presidency is a momentous occasion and marks yet another milestone in the fight for full racial equality.

But I question the assertion that it is truly the end of the Civil War. Not only does that shortchange the incremental change that has led to this moment, but it also doesn’t acknowledge the reality that the fight for real racial parity — in access to health care, education, employment and so on — is far from over.

With his election, Mr. Obama has proved that the possibilities for brilliant, talented Americans can be limitless under the right circumstances. We need now to focus on ensuring that all people — regardless of color and background — have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Elizabeth Cohen

Narberth, Pa., Nov. 5, 2008

To the Editor:

After reading Thomas L. Friedman’s column, I was reminded of something I was told when I was a little girl.

I asked my father, “What am I?” He told me I was an American.

“But you came from Egypt, and Mom is from Poland,” I said.

He told me that made no difference. I was just an American, and that was what made our country so wonderful.

Over 50 years have passed, and I still remember what he said.

Now we have elected a president based on his qualities of leadership. Isn’t it time to stop labeling our citizens as Asian-, Italian-, African- or any other kind of hyphenated American?

The great strength of our country is in what we are, just American. When we realize that, the Civil War will truly be over. Harriet Goldman

Suffern, N.Y., Nov. 5, 2008

To the Editor:

I agree with Thomas L. Friedman that the Civil War is finally over. But I think he misses the mark somewhat.

The political strategy of pandering to the “solid South” is what is over. The Democrats pursued that strategy for 100 years and the Republicans for 40 years.

Finally Dixie is buried, and the South can free itself from that burden and be truly part of the union.

I hope that the military strategies that are most often prevalent in the South will also be buried with this historic election. Jim Kfoury

Boston, Nov. 5, 2008

    A Giant Step in Civil Rights History, NYT, 8.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/08/opinion/l08friedman.html






Op-Ed Columnist

Take a Bow, America


November 8, 2008
The New York Times


The markets are battered and job losses are skyrocketing, but even in the midst of a national economic crisis, we should not lose sight of the profound significance of this week and what it tells us about the continuing promise of America.

Voters said no to incompetence and divisiveness and elbowed their way past the blight of racism that has been such a barrier to progress for so long. Barack Obama won the state of North Carolina, for crying out loud.

The nation deserves to take a bow. This is not the same place it used to be.

Election night brought a cascade of memories to Taylor Rogers, who is 82 and still lives in Memphis, where he grew up. He remembered a big crowd that jammed a Masonic temple in Memphis on an April night 40 years ago.

“It was filled with people from wall to wall,” he said. “And it was storming and raining outside.”

The men and women, nearly all of them black, were crushed against one another as they listened, almost as one, to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. give his final speech.

Mr. Rogers was one of the sanitation men whose strike drew Dr. King to Memphis. In the aftermath of the Obama victory on Tuesday night, he recited from memory the climactic phrases from the speech, the part where Dr. King said that God had allowed him to go up to the mountain and that he had looked over and seen the promised land.

“I remember it so well,” said Mr. Rogers. “Dr. King told us: ‘I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.’

“You could tell from the words and from the expression on his face that he really felt that something was about to happen.”

The next day, of course, Dr. King was killed.

Like so many other older African-Americans that I spoke with during this long, long campaign season, Mr. Rogers said he never dreamed that he would live to see a black person elected president of the United States.

“A black president in the White House?” he said. “In those days, you wouldn’t even have thought about going to the White House. Not unless you were a janitor or something.”

It can be easy in such a moment of triumph to lose sight of the agony wrought by the unrelieved evil of racism and to forget how crucial a role anti-black racism played in shaping American life since the first slaves were dumped ashore 400 years ago.

Blacks have been holding fast to the promise of America for all that time. Not without anger. Not without rage. But with a fidelity that in the darkest moments — those moments when the flow of blood seemed like it would never stop, when enslaved families were wrenched apart, when entire communities were put to the torch, when the breeze put the stiffened bodies of lynched victims in motion, when even small children were murdered and Dr. King was taken from us — even in those dire moments, African-Americans held fast to the promise of America with a fidelity that defied logic.

The multiracial crowds dancing with unrestrained joy from coast to coast on Tuesday night were proof that the promise of America lives — and that you can’t always hang your hat on logic.

You knew something was up when the exit polls revealed early Tuesday evening that Senator Obama had carried the white working-class vote in Indiana, one of the reddest of the red states and a onetime stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan.

I got a call on Friday from David Goodman, whose brother Andrew was one of three civil rights workers slain in the searing racial heat of Mississippi in 1964.

“It’s shocking, isn’t it?” he said of the election.

I agreed.

“It’s wonderful,” he said.

Arthur Miller liked to say that the essence of America was its promise. In the darkest of the dark times, in wartime and drastic economic downturns, in the crucible of witch hunts or racial strife, in the traumatic aftermath of a terror attack, that promise lights the way forward.

This week marked a renewal of America’s promise. Voters went to the polls and placed a bet on a better future, handing the power to an unlikely candidate who promised to draw people together rather than exploit their differences.

The final tally wasn’t close.

We still have two wars to deal with and an economic crisis as severe as any in decades. But we should take a moment to recognize the stunning significance of this moment in history. It’s worth a smile, a toast, a sigh, a tear.

America should be proud.

    Take a Bow, America, NYT, 8.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/08/opinion/08herbert.html






Obama Calls for Stimulus Package


November 8, 2008
The New York Times


CHICAGO — President-elect Barack Obama approached the lectern Friday for his first news conference since winning the election. He smiled as he looked out at a large retinue assembled from around the world, and paused for a moment before saying, “Oh wow.”

With that, Mr. Obama began the first nationally televised appearance of his new role. Since Election Day, he had been seen only in faraway shots as he dashed from the gym or walked to a meeting. But when he arrived at a hotel ballroom here, flanked by a team of economic advisers, Americans caught their first glimpse of the 44th president at work.

“I do not underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead,” Mr. Obama said, his voice slow and controlled. “Some of the choices that we make are going to be difficult. And I have said before and I will repeat again: It is not going to be quick and it is not going to be easy for us to dig ourselves out of the hole that we are in.”

Mr. Obama called on Congress and the Bush administration to pass an economic stimulus package. If an agreement cannot be reached this month in the lame-duck Congressional session, he said, it will be his chief goal when he takes office on Jan. 20.

He said it was an “urgent priority” to extend unemployment insurance benefits for workers who could not find jobs in the bleak economy. He also said he would give aid to states, create new jobs and move forward with his tax-cut plans for middle-class families.

The session was limited to about 20 minutes, and Mr. Obama took nine questions. His answers were purposefully crisp — and, at times, laced with humor — and his presentation stood in contrast to previous news conferences, where he would often devote much more time to a question.

Mr. Obama fielded a variety of questions, including one about the kind of dog he would get for his two daughters in the White House. (“Obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me,” he said.) He said that he was studying the writings of Abraham Lincoln and that he had spoken to previous presidents.

“I’ve spoken to all of them that are living,” Mr. Obama said. “I didn’t want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about, you know, doing any séances.”

A few hours later, Mr. Obama was on the telephone with Mrs. Reagan to “apologize for the careless and offhanded remark.” A spokeswoman for Mr. Obama, Stephanie Cutter, said he and Mrs. Reagan had a warm conversation.

But the overall tone of the news conference reflected the challenges Mr. Obama faces.

Mr. Obama said he would defer to President Bush and his economic team on major decisions in the next 74 days, saying, “The United States has only one government and one president at a time.”

He pledged to find ways to help the struggling automobile industry and invited Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm of Michigan to join his economic advisory board.

Mr. Obama, who stood a few feet in front of an array of economic advisers as well as Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Representative Rahm Emanuel, the new White House chief of staff, offered no new specifics about what he intended to do to curb the economic crisis. But the stagecraft of the news conference, held after a closed-door meeting of Mr. Obama’s economic advisers, was intended to show that he was hard at work in search of solutions.

Mr. Obama offered little guidance on how he wanted the Treasury Department to carry out the $700 billion government plan to stabilize the financial markets, saying only that he would review any decisions made by the Bush administration. He suggested that he intended to move ahead with his campaign pledge to take away tax cuts for upper-income Americans, but seemed to leave a narrow window of room to adjust his proposal.

“I think that the plan that we’ve put forward is the right one,” Mr. Obama said when asked if the wealthiest Americans would pay more taxes next year. “But obviously over the next several weeks and months, we’re going to be continuing to take a look at the data and see what’s taking place in the economy as a whole.”

Mr. Obama’s imprecise campaign pledges have caused some confusion about when he would repeal the Bush tax cuts on Americans making more than $250,000 a year.

The tax cuts, by law, are set to expire at the end of 2010, but Mr. Obama has said he will repeal them sooner and use the revenues to offset the costs of his health care plan. He left unclear whether a tax bill signed into law next year would make the repeal effective retroactively for all of 2009 as well as 2010.

In the days before the election, Mr. Obama’s economic advisers said he would not propose retroactive repeal, but would make it effective Jan. 1, 2010. But Mr. Obama did not say that during the campaign, even as his Republican rival, Senator John McCain, repeatedly criticized him as proposing to raise taxes immediately, in an economic downturn. Mr. Obama did not clarify his intentions Friday.

The news conference was held in a windowless ballroom of the Hilton Chicago, only steps from Grant Park, where Mr. Obama delivered his victory speech on election night. The session carried the trappings of an official event, with eight American flags lined against blue drapes, and a freshly made seal on the lectern: “The Office of the President Elect.”

Asked how he would respond to the letter of congratulations from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Mr. Obama said he would review the letter and respond in an appropriate fashion. He said any nuclear ambitions by Iran were “unacceptable.”

Mr. Obama seemed at ease, smiling more than he did during many stretches of his presidential campaign. When Lynn Sweet of The Chicago Sun-Times rose to ask a question, Mr. Obama asked why her arm was in a sling.

“I cracked my shoulder running to your speech on election night,” Ms. Sweet said.

“Oh, no,” Mr. Obama replied with a smile. “I think that was the only major incident during the entire Grant Park celebration.”

Mr. Obama is spending the weekend in Chicago, aides said, hoping to get a brief respite after a 22-month campaign. But his transition team was still working to put together a national security team in relatively short order.

Two advisers said Friday that a possible candidate for secretary of state was former Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, a confidant of Mr. Obama.

Jackie Calmes contributed reporting from Chicago, and Peter Baker from Washington.

    Obama Calls for Stimulus Package, NYT, 8.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/08/us/politics/08obama.html?hp






Op-Ed Contributor

An Eternal Revolution


November 7, 2008
The New York Times


Cambridge, Mass.

BARACK OBAMA’S victory marks the end of another magnificent chapter in America’s experience of democracy. But rather than being seen as a radical transition, it is best viewed as part of an ever-evolving process that began with the election of George Washington in 1789. To interpret it as a foundational change, ushering something new and unknown, is to diminish the past, to unduly singularize Mr. Obama’s achievement and to raise unrealistic expectations about his presidency.

Mr. Obama owes his victory, first, to his gift of leadership and personality: the hybrid cool of his charisma, his cathartic power to mine unity from difference. But his triumph depended on voters, first prone to see his candidacy as exotic, to recognize it as something that could (and would) only happen here. That they did stems in large part from the founding fathers’ clear vision of the ideal makeup of a democracy: an inclusive electorate, political participation and political power sharing.

This was a vision that terrified as much as it fascinated the conservative men who were often amazed at what they had signed on to in 1787: a revolutionary “charter of power granted by liberty,” in James Madison’s nervously triumphalist prose. So they promptly ensured that it would only very slowly threaten the political hegemony of older white men.

Three groups, in particular, were excluded from the process: blacks, women and the young. The history of American democracy can be read in good part as the struggle of all three to become fully included in the process. The 2008 campaign was remarkable in the way all three groups worked together to realize, finally and fully, the ambivalent vision of the founders.

Most important to the Obama victory was the long struggle of black Americans to be incorporated in the public sphere. That entailed not just the dismantlement of Jim Crow but the election of black officers at all levels of the political system. The sheer presence of significant numbers of blacks in positions of political authority was as much the cause as the consequence of the profound change in white political attitudes. Colin Powell’s flirtation with a presidential run was a critical point in this shift in white attitude, effectively priming the nation for the possibility of a black candidate. But so too were the appointments of blacks such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.

And while disdained by most social scientists, the cultural dimension of black public incorporation also prepared the way: a white population that venerates Will Smith, Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan, its youth steeped in hip-hop, has already gone a long way toward accepting a black leader in the highest office of the public sphere, even if whites are reluctant to do the same in their segregated private lives.

Of equal importance in explaining Senator Obama’s triumph, however, are American women. This campaign was, in a remarkable way, a condensed re-enactment of the entire intertwined struggle of blacks and women for political inclusion. White women first rejected their confinement to the role of virtuous motherhood in the private sphere of the early Republic by championing the very public struggle for the abolition of slavery. In much the same way, the modern second wave of feminism was facilitated by, and partly modeled on the black civil rights movement.

Black achievement has always presaged female advancement, not always from the noblest of motives: if blacks could vote, enjoy protection from discrimination and run for office, so should women. Hillary Clinton’s forceful campaign, however important, pales in comparison with this historic American tendency in explaining why a female president is now a near certainty and not long off.

But women have always repaid the debt. A quiet but momentous change took place in the 1980s that was just as important as the civil rights movement in explaining Barack Obama’s victory: the epochal shift in the voting behavior of women who, for the first time since enfranchisement, voted in greater numbers, and more progressively, than men. In raw demographic terms, the most important factor in explaining the Obama victory was women voting by a 13 percent margin in his favor, while men were almost evenly split. President Obama would neglect this base of support at his peril.

Finally, there is the much discussed resurgence in the youth vote. Here, again, change is best viewed as a critical moment in a pre-existing process. American youths have long voted at distressingly low levels, although the turnout of eligible voters between 18 and 29 surged moderately between 2000 and 2004, from 36 to 47 percent. While Tuesday’s exit polls are showing only an incremental change in this rate, Mr. Obama had a powerful impact on youth activism, deploying young Americans in voter mobilization ground operations and in the game-changing use of the Internet for voter outreach and campaign finance.

Young voters went 2-to-1 in Mr. Obama’s favor on Tuesday. Their advocacy in the Iowa caucuses was likely the decisive factor in his all-important victory there. The most lasting effect of all this may be a permanent shift of the youth vote toward the Democratic Party, although one can certainly expect the Republicans, who made successful efforts on campuses in the Ronald Reagan years, to mount a challenge.It appears, too, that the intense bonding of younger Americans with the youthful Mr. Obama initiates the transmission of power from baby boomers, who have for so long consumed the nation’s assets and attention, to a younger generation from whom so much has already been taken, in social security and resources.

To view the election of Barack Obama as notable only as an example of breaking through a racial barrier is to misunderstand the greater flow of our ever-more-inclusive democracy. America has, at last, delivered, in creating the most sublime example of democratic governance since its invention in Greece 25 centuries ago.

Orlando Patterson is a professor of sociology at Harvard and the author of “The Ordeal of Integration.”

    An Eternal Revolution, NYT, 7.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/07/opinion/07patterson.html






In Rare Turn, Iran’s Leader Sends Letter to Obama


November 7, 2008
The New York Times


TEHRAN — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran sent an unusual letter congratulating President-elect Barack Obama on Thursday for his victory in the American presidential race, even though the two nations have had no diplomatic ties for nearly 30 years.

Mr. Ahmadinejad has written letters to world leaders in the past, including one to President Bush. But this is the first time an Iranian leader has congratulated the winner of an American election, at least since the Iranian revolution.

Diplomatic ties between Iran and the United States were severed in 1979, when radical students attacked the United States Embassy in Tehran and took American diplomats hostage.

Iranian leaders continue to use hostile language toward the United States, and Mr. Ahmadinejad had said that he did not think a black candidate could be elected because of racial discrimination.

“I congratulate you for attracting the majority of votes in the election,” Mr. Ahmadinejad wrote in his message, an Iranian news agency, ISNA, reported. “As you know, opportunities that are bestowed upon humans are short lived,” he wrote, adding that he hoped Mr. Obama would make the most of the opportunity.

The delivery of the letter coincided with a move by the Bush administration to put more pressure on Iran by adding measures that prohibit financial institutions from helping Iranian banks, the government or others in the country, the Treasury Department said Thursday.

Previously, American financial institutions were allowed to handle certain money transfers that might have directly or indirectly helped Iranian interests. But the action announced Thursday ended what the Treasury Department called “the last general entry point for Iranian banks.” Still, exceptions will be granted in certain cases, like individual remittances and humanitarian aid.

In his letter, Mr. Ahmadinejad said that people in America and around the world expected Mr. Obama to make major changes in domestic and foreign policy, and to limit American interference in other parts of the world.

“People in the world expect war-oriented policies, occupation, bullying, deception and intimidation of nations and imposing discriminatory policies on them and international affairs, which have evoked hatred toward American leaders, to be replaced by ones advocating justice, respect for human rights, friendship and noninterference in other countries’ affairs,” the letter said, according to ISNA.

“They also want the U.S. intervention to be limited to its borders, especially in the sensitive region of the Middle East,” it said. “It is expected to reverse the unfair attitude of the past 60 years to restore the rights of people in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Mr. Obama has said that he would engage in aggressive diplomacy with Iran, and that he might offer economic incentives if Iran were more cooperative on issues like terrorism and nuclear development.

His position has stirred concerns among some world leaders. The Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, expressed her concerns on Thursday after Mr. Obama’s victory became clear, saying that he should not talk to Iran because it might send the wrong signal.

“We live in a neighborhood in which sometimes dialogue — in a situation where you have brought sanctions and then switch to dialogue — is liable to be interpreted as weakness,” Ms. Livni said in an interview on Israel Radio.

Iran’s foreign policy is decided by the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

It was not clear whether Mr. Ahmadinejad had the ayatollah’s approval to send a message to Mr. Obama, but his letter to Mr. Bush raised speculation that Iran was trying to open a dialogue with the United States.

Ethan Bronner contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

    In Rare Turn, Iran’s Leader Sends Letter to Obama, NYT, 7.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/07/world/middleeast/07iran.html






Op-Ed Columnist

The Obama Agenda


November 7, 2008
The New York Times


Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, is a date that will live in fame (the opposite of infamy) forever. If the election of our first African-American president didn’t stir you, if it didn’t leave you teary-eyed and proud of your country, there’s something wrong with you.

But will the election also mark a turning point in the actual substance of policy? Can Barack Obama really usher in a new era of progressive policies? Yes, he can.

Right now, many commentators are urging Mr. Obama to think small. Some make the case on political grounds: America, they say, is still a conservative country, and voters will punish Democrats if they move to the left. Others say that the financial and economic crisis leaves no room for action on, say, health care reform.

Let’s hope that Mr. Obama has the good sense to ignore this advice.

About the political argument: Anyone who doubts that we’ve had a major political realignment should look at what’s happened to Congress. After the 2004 election, there were many declarations that we’d entered a long-term, perhaps permanent era of Republican dominance. Since then, Democrats have won back-to-back victories, picking up at least 12 Senate seats and more than 50 House seats. They now have bigger majorities in both houses than the G.O.P. ever achieved in its 12-year reign.

Bear in mind, also, that this year’s presidential election was a clear referendum on political philosophies — and the progressive philosophy won.

Maybe the best way to highlight the importance of that fact is to contrast this year’s campaign with what happened four years ago. In 2004, President Bush concealed his real agenda. He basically ran as the nation’s defender against gay married terrorists, leaving even his supporters nonplussed when he announced, soon after the election was over, that his first priority was Social Security privatization. That wasn’t what people thought they had been voting for, and the privatization campaign quickly devolved from juggernaut to farce.

This year, however, Mr. Obama ran on a platform of guaranteed health care and tax breaks for the middle class, paid for with higher taxes on the affluent. John McCain denounced his opponent as a socialist and a “redistributor,” but America voted for him anyway. That’s a real mandate.

What about the argument that the economic crisis will make a progressive agenda unaffordable?

Well, there’s no question that fighting the crisis will cost a lot of money. Rescuing the financial system will probably require large outlays beyond the funds already disbursed. And on top of that, we badly need a program of increased government spending to support output and employment. Could next year’s federal budget deficit reach $1 trillion? Yes.

But standard textbook economics says that it’s O.K., in fact appropriate, to run temporary deficits in the face of a depressed economy. Meanwhile, one or two years of red ink, while it would add modestly to future federal interest expenses, shouldn’t stand in the way of a health care plan that, even if quickly enacted into law, probably wouldn’t take effect until 2011.

Beyond that, the response to the economic crisis is, in itself, a chance to advance the progressive agenda.

Now, the Obama administration shouldn’t emulate the Bush administration’s habit of turning anything and everything into an argument for its preferred policies. (Recession? The economy needs help — let’s cut taxes on rich people! Recovery? Tax cuts for rich people work — let’s do some more!)

But it would be fair for the new administration to point out how conservative ideology, the belief that greed is always good, helped create this crisis. What F.D.R. said in his second inaugural address — “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics” — has never rung truer.

And right now happens to be one of those times when the converse is also true, and good morals are good economics. Helping the neediest in a time of crisis, through expanded health and unemployment benefits, is the morally right thing to do; it’s also a far more effective form of economic stimulus than cutting the capital gains tax. Providing aid to beleaguered state and local governments, so that they can sustain essential public services, is important for those who depend on those services; it’s also a way to avoid job losses and limit the depth of the economy’s slump.

So a serious progressive agenda — call it a new New Deal — isn’t just economically possible, it’s exactly what the economy needs.

The bottom line, then, is that Barack Obama shouldn’t listen to the people trying to scare him into being a do-nothing president. He has the political mandate; he has good economics on his side. You might say that the only thing he has to fear is fear itself.

    The Obama Agenda, NYT, 7.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/07/opinion/07krugman.html







Obama, History and the Task Ahead


November 6, 2008
The New York Times


To the Editor:

Re “Obama: Racial Barrier Falls in Decisive Victory” (front page, Nov. 5):

President-elect Barack Obama has brought new hope to Americans and to all the world. But this is only the beginning.

We face immense difficulties — difficulties economic, political and moral. Mr. Obama does not have a magic wand he can wave and rid us of our problems. We Americans are not children to be rescued but rather partners who must share in the sacrifices to come.

Correcting our past errors will not be painless. President-elect Obama needs our support now every bit as much as he did during the election.

Rose Wilson
Ann Arbor, Mich., Nov. 5, 2008

To the Editor:

Watching and hearing Barack Obama speak so eloquently in Grant Park in Chicago on Tuesday night was a singularly moving experience. I was reminded of why my parents — and so many millions of others — emigrated to the United States: because they saw the possibilities and the opportunities America offered.

I went to bed feeling comfortable, secure, proud and — for the first time in a long time — optimistic. I woke up later than usual to a metaphoric bright sun and blue skies.

I believe that there is hope in the air and that we are moving toward a united United States.

Eli Greenbaum
Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Nov. 5, 2008

To the Editor:

As the white mother of a multiracial family, I can’t stop the tears from flowing. There are so many reasons to be happy today, so many ways the world has, in an instant, changed for the better.

As Barack Obama’s message of hope and unity rang out in Grant Park in Chicago, I slipped away from the TV to stand over the beds of my children. I am crying because what Mr. Obama has given me is a sense that my children are safer today than they were yesterday.

Rachel Fink
South Hadley, Mass., Nov. 5, 2008

To the Editor:

For those of us old enough to remember, the depth of emotion goes beyond overcoming the last eight years. I have cried, I have tried to figure out why and now suddenly realize why: the victory of Barack Obama does something I never thought could ever happen.

It does nothing less for me than heal my chronic young boyhood wound of Nov. 22, 1963. And also the wounds of Bobby and Martin. Only now, half a lifetime later, can I account for the depth of my emotion only by the feeling in my gut that these ancient sadnesses and wounds, which I thought would be part of me forever, finally, in this new beginning time, have been healed.

James Adler
Cambridge, Mass., Nov. 5, 2008

To the Editor:

The people have spoken. Barack Obama will be our next president.

He was not my choice. I believe that John McCain would have made a better president. But that doesn’t matter now. The people have spoken.

I wish President-elect Obama well. I wish him success. Success for the American people.

I hope that he will grow into the position to truly become the president for all Americans, not merely those who elected him. Or those who backed him.

Presidents come and go. Our nation, and our constitutional form of government, ones hopes, endure.

Joe Waldron
Pensacola, Fla., Nov. 5, 2008

To the Editor:

Much will be analyzed, discussed and published concerning the amazing achievement of Barack Obama and Joe Biden. There will be those who will emphasize economics or wars or our lessened standing in the world. Truth be told, the major factor in this historic achievement is George W. Bush and his outrageous blot on America and the world.

Martin M. Bruce
Boca Raton, Fla., Nov. 5, 2008

To the Editor:

If John McCain had campaigned with the same eloquence with which he conceded, he might have been elected.

Richard Kavesh
Nyack, N.Y., Nov. 5, 2008

To the Editor:

While I’m thrilled that California voted decisively for Barack Obama, I find it sad that high voter turnout by members of minorities may have helped pass Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage.

How do we elect a black man to be our president while denying civil rights to another minority group? When will we all come together and realize that injustice toward some is really against us all?

Brian Kelleher
Angels Camp, Calif., Nov. 5, 2008

To the Editor:

Re “The Next President” (editorial, Nov. 5):

My heart is full with the experience of seeing Barack Obama elected. I was particularly touched by the tone of his speech in Grant Park in Chicago.

While celebratory, he demonstrated his characteristic grounded yet hopeful stance — pointing us to the hard road ahead.

I am hopeful that he will revolutionize citizen participation in the way he revolutionized campaigning, by using his diverse, committed network of supporters nationwide to mobilize on behalf of needed policy efforts around pressing issues like the economy, health care and education.

Let’s not let the enthusiasm of the historic moment dwindle. What we need is a continuously engaged citizenry to help fulfill the promise Mr. Obama signifies.

Julie Engel Manga
Brookline, Mass., Nov. 5, 2008

To the Editor:

Yes, the Obama administration will face enormous challenges (editorial, Nov. 5).

But the biggest one will be not to get bogged down by the daily routine of governing and to keep inspiring people as Barack Obama clearly did during his campaign.

I just witnessed a celebration here in Madison, Wis., with hundreds and maybe thousands of college kids marching in jubilation. (It was nice to see them being so excited about something other than their football team’s victory.) And when a megaphone was spontaneously passed around, several spoke not only about what was accomplished on Election Day, but also of the change that is yet to come, to be made by them, for the good of the nation and the world.

Barack Obama won this election not because George W. Bush’s administration failed to provide protection to the citizens of this country, but to provide leadership.

President Obama, don’t you let us down!

Anna Paretskaya
Madison, Wis., Nov. 5, 2008

To the Editor:

Re “Near-Flawless Run From Start to Finish Is Credited in Victory” (news article, Nov. 5):

I wish that President-elect Barack Obama had credited the historic run of Hillary Rodham Clinton and her equally historic appearances on the campaign trail on his behalf. Her tireless efforts to convert her supporters were selfless, and certainly played an important role in the election results.

Valerie Warner
New York, Nov. 5, 2008

To the Editor:

Re “For Many Abroad, an Ideal Renewed” (front page, Nov. 5):

The last time an event in the United States elicited such good will throughout much of the world was Sept. 11, 2001. May our president lead in such a way that maintains that good will this time so that it may earn us honorable and long-term dividends.

Gary Lee Kraut
Paris, Nov. 5, 2008

To the Editor:

Congratulations to the American people for choosing a poet with a vision for the 21st century over a warrior with a 20th-century agenda.

“Yes, we can” will resonate the world over, the new mantra for tackling on a global scale the many real and immediate challenges facing us.

Paul Lakatos
Amsterdam, Nov. 5, 2008

To the Editor:

Americans will never look at each other the same way again.

For too long elected officials have failed because they did not want our help.

President-elect Barack Obama will succeed because he asks for and expects our help.

By the way, can we move the inauguration up to Thanksgiving Day?

Aleta Fischer
Bridgewater, N.J., Nov. 5, 2008

    Obama, History and the Task Ahead, NYT, 6.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/opinion/l06elect.html







Equality’s Winding Path


November 6, 2008
The New York Times


Amid the soaring oratory about the presidential election, it was Barack Obama who put it best late Tuesday night. “That’s the genius of America, that America can change,” he said. “Our union can be perfected.”

But as Mr. Obama’s victory showed, the path to change is arduous. Even as the nation shattered one barrier of intolerance, we were disappointed that voters in four states chose to reinforce another. Ballot measures were approved in Arkansas, Arizona, Florida and California that discriminate against couples of the same sex.

We do not view these results as reason for despair. Struggles over civil rights never follow a straight trajectory, and the ugly outcome of these ballot fights should not obscure the building momentum for full equality for gay people, including acceptance of marriage between gay men and women. But the votes remind us of how much remains to be done before this bigotry is finally erased.

In Arkansas, voters approved a backward measure destined to hurt children by barring unmarried couples from becoming adoptive or foster parents. In Arizona, voters approved a state constitutional amendment to forbid same-sex couples from marrying. Florida voters approved a more sweeping amendment intended to bar marriage, civil unions and other family protections.

The most notable defeat for fairness was in California, where right-wing forces led by the Mormon Church poured tens of millions of dollars into the campaign for Proposition 8 — a measure to enshrine bigotry in the state’s Constitution by preventing people of the same sex from marrying. The measure was designed to overturn May’s State Supreme Court decision, which made California the second state to end that exclusion of same-sex couples. Massachusetts did so in 2004.

The firmly grounded ruling said that everyone has a basic right “to establish a legally recognized family with the person of one’s choice,” and found California’s strong domestic partnership statute to be inadequate.

We wish that Tuesday’s vote of 52 percent to 48 percent had gone the other way. But when those numbers are compared with the 61 percent to 39 percent result in 2000, when Californians approved the law that was overturned by their Supreme Court, it is evident that voters have grown more comfortable with marriage equality.

Progress is evident, too, in the fact that since 2000, the California Legislature has twice passed a measure to let gay couples marry — only to be vetoed by the Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. To his credit, he opposed Proposition 8. We suspect that if California holds another referendum on the issue down the road, it will yield a different result.

Not all the results for same-sex marriage were negative. In Connecticut, voters rejected a proposed constitutional convention through which opponents of same-sex marriage wanted to overturn a recent decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court, on sound equal protection grounds, allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Far from showing that California’s Supreme Court was wrong to extend the right of marriage to gay people, the passage of Proposition 8 is a reminder of the crucial role that the courts play in protecting vulnerable groups from unfair treatment.

Apart from creating legal uncertainty about the thousands of same-sex marriages that have been performed in California and giving rise to lawsuits challenging whether the rules governing ballot measures were properly followed, the immediate impact of Tuesday’s rights-shredding exercise is to underscore the danger of allowing the ballot box to be used to take away people’s fundamental rights.

    Equality’s Winding Path, NYT, 6.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/opinion/06thu1.html






Difficult Choices Await New President on Guantanamo, Intelligence Policies


NOVEMBER 6, 2008
The Wall Street Journal


WASHINGTON -- Overhauling the extraordinary legal framework established under President George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks may prove among the most difficult -- and urgent -- tasks on President-elect Barack Obama's agenda.

While the nation's economic crisis and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may be higher priorities for most Americans, Mr. Obama will have to decide quickly whether to permit the military-commission trials under way at Guantanamo Bay to proceed. He also must weigh the fates of hundreds of detainees held there in legal limbo.

As a senator and candidate, Mr. Obama voted and campaigned against some of the Bush administration's most aggressive surveillance, detention and interrogation policies, including the secret prison network run by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Obama administration will "take an immediate interest in what's actually going on there," said Prof. Laurence Tribe, who once taught Mr. Obama at Harvard Law School and now is among his legal advisers. "I'm certain that a rather bright light would be turned to Guantanamo right away."

Still, closing the offshore prison -- as Mr. Obama pledged to do -- will require a series of decisions on vexing issues such as the prisoners who have been approved for release, but whom no other country is willing to accept.

More than a dozen Uighurs, Chinese Muslims captured near the Afghan border, have been cleared of terrorism charges but remain locked up at Guantanamo because they face persecution in China and no country will accept them. A federal judge's order to free them in the U.S. is on hold while the Bush administration appeals.

Even Democrats critical of the Bush policy see no easy resolution. "Can you imagine the political fallout if one of the first things Obama does is bring the Uighurs to the U.S.?" says a Democratic congressional aide familiar with detainee affairs.

So-called high-value detainees, such as accused Sept. 11, 2001, attack organizer Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, present another set of problems. Mr. Mohammed and other such prisoners were subjected to waterboarding, which simulates drowning, and they were secretly held under grueling conditions. Statements taken through coercion are difficult if not impossible to introduce in court. Already, several terrorism prosecutions have been scuttled because of abusive treatment by interrogators.

"There are people there like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who can't be let out, no matter how badly the previous administration [bungled] the process," the Democratic aide says. "You have to get those folks tried."

The Bush administration has begun military-commission proceedings against Mr. Mohammed and four co-defendants. Prosecutors have said higher-ups pushed to get the long-delayed trials under way before Mr. Bush leaves office, hoping to lock the Obama administration into seeing them through.

Mr. Obama has also supported increased oversight of the secret CIA detention program and efforts to restrict the CIA to interrogation techniques used by the military, which would prohibit waterboarding.

When it comes to domestic security, Mr. Obama has said he would end the Bush administration's preference for conducting surveillance outside of court oversight. He said he would ask his attorney general to conduct a comprehensive review of domestic surveillance and would appoint a senior adviser for domestic intelligence.

The national-security transition team, which is still taking shape, will learn gradually about the full extent of the Bush administration's surveillance apparatus. Mr. Obama's team will receive more detailed intelligence briefings in the coming weeks, according to people familiar with the transition.

"There will be a review of the state of the intelligence community, so that they are comfortable when they assume power that these are things that they feel are appropriate to continue and that will be able to address what our pressing national security issues will be," said John Brennan, a former chief of the National Counterterrorism Center and adviser to the Obama campaign on intelligence issues, in an interview shortly before Election Day.

The transition team will evaluate intelligence activities based on whether there are adequate protections for civil liberties, as well as adherence to laws and executive orders, Mr. Brennan said.

Aides are likely to draw up a list of some actions the new president can take quickly after he assumes office, but full solutions to many of the large legal issues will take much longer. Human-rights advocates and civil-liberties groups -- which, after being shut out of Bush administration policy debates, won major victories on detainee issues in the courts -- expect Mr. Obama to take their views seriously.

The American Civil Liberties Union has already assembled a proposal urging Mr. Obama to issue three executive orders on his first day on the job. The orders would close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, "cease and prohibit the use of torture and abuse" in CIA interrogations, and end the practice of sending detainees to countries that conduct harsher interrogations than are allowable under U.S. law.

    Difficult Choices Await New President on Guantanamo, Intelligence Policies, WSJ, 6.11.2008, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122593428295403711.html






Obama Aides Tamp Down Expectations


November 6, 2008
The New York Times


President-elect Barack Obama has begun an effort to tamp down what his aides fear are unusually high expectations among his supporters, and will remind Americans regularly throughout the transition that the nation’s challenges are substantial and will take time to address.

Mr. Obama’s advisers said they were startled, if gratified, by the jubilation that greeted the news of Mr. Obama’s victory in much of the United States and abroad. But while the energy of his supporters could be a tremendous political asset as Mr. Obama works to enact his agenda after taking office in January, his aides said they were looking to temper hopes that he would be able to solve the nation’s problems or fully reverse Bush administration policies quickly and easily, especially given the prospect of a deep and long-lasting recession.

“We have talked about this,” said Robert Gibbs, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama. “It’s important that everybody understands that this is not going to happen overnight. There has to be a realistic expectation of what can happen and how quickly.”

Joel Benenson, Mr. Obama’s campaign pollster, said he thought that the public appreciated the problems that the president-elect was facing and would judge him against that backdrop.

“I don’t think they view him as a miracle worker who in two months is going to solve an economic crisis,” Mr. Benenson said. “It is a matter of being straightforward with people about what we are going to achieve and how fast it’s going to take.”

Mr. Obama will hit that theme at a news conference he is expected to hold over the coming days, and in most of his public appearances from here on out, aides said. They said they would discourage the traditional yardstick for measuring the accomplishments of a new president — the first 100 days. Mr. Obama told an interviewer toward the end of his campaign that it was more appropriate to talk about the first 1,000 days.

Mr. Obama’s advisers said that the tone of his victory speech on Tuesday night — sober and devoid of the arm-pumping that would typically be in an address of that sort — reflected his awareness of these circumstances. Mr. Obama warned that the promises that led Americans to embrace his candidacy — be they as specific as expanding health care or as broad as changing the tone of Washington — might take as long a term to carry out.

The caution reflected the inevitable perils of taking control of the White House at such a difficult time, particularly after a campaign that stirred so much hope among voters. The economic crisis will certainly complicate Mr. Obama’s more ambitious domestic efforts like broadening health care coverage and cutting taxes for most Americans. His call for a change in the tone in Washington would require a sharp shift in history. Even with substantial Democratic majorities in the Senate and the House, passing major legislation could still be time-consuming for Mr. Obama and require compromises.

Mr. Gibbs said one of the main challenges for Mr. Obama was tamping down expectations a bit without making anyone think he was moving away from the promises of his campaign.

“The flip side of this — and I want to make sure this is also clear — we also believe that it is paramount to begin doing everything we said we would do in the campaign,” Mr. Gibbs said. “We know expectations are high. But disappointment if we didn’t try to do the things that we said we were going to do would be far, far greater than anything else. People went to the polls and elected Barack Obama because they believed the fact not only that he could do what he said, but that he would try to do what he said.”

The challenge facing Mr. Obama today is similar to one that faced Bill Clinton in 1992, the last time a president arrived in Washington with anything approaching the level of excitement Mr. Obama’s election set off around the country.

As Election Day approached in 1992, it was apparent from the crowds that Mr. Clinton drew, in their size and their faces, that his supporters expected big things after a campaign in which Mr. Clinton had promised a dramatic revamping in health care coverage and programs for the poor. At the time, a senior adviser who was traveling with him, Paul Begala, warned Mr. Clinton to add some caveats to his speeches, to avoid voter letdown should it take time to accomplish things as president.

“I remember talking about this to him in the closing days of the campaign,” Mr. Begala said. “And he started saying, ‘We didn’t get into this overnight and we’re not going to get out of it overnight.’ ”

“So I remember him talking about it and doing it — and it didn’t have any effect on the citizens,” Mr. Begala said. That was one reason, he said, that Democrats lost control of Congress two years later.

A nearly 500-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average on Wednesday was a reminder that Mr. Obama’s election did not bring the financial crisis to a close, and that the economic downturn could limit his ability to pursue his full agenda right off the bat by demanding an immediate focus on trying to pull the nation out of recession. And, even if Americans are ready to bear with Mr. Obama as he pursues policy proposals, they may not as readily accept the sort of compromise that legislative accomplishment often requires.

With the Democrats falling short of a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate on Tuesday, his agenda will probably require some modicum of horse trading for Republican support. Further complicating the picture, Mr. Obama’s winning coalition includes new voters who will be watching him closely but may not have patience for the deliberative give and take that accomplishment in Washington often demands.

“He’s got to lower some expectations, indicate the limits he’s confronting,” said Leon Panetta, a former chief of staff to Mr. Clinton. “He’s got a story to tell about how he’s confronting the worst crisis that any president has faced in modern history, and I think he can make clear that he’s going to try to deal with these problems one at a time.”

    Obama Aides Tamp Down Expectations, NYT, 6.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/us/politics/06expect.html?hp





Democrats Vow to Pursue an Aggressive Agenda


November 6, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Flush with victory built on incursions in the South and West, Congressional Democratic leaders promised to use their new power to join President-elect Barack Obama in pursuing an aggressive agenda that puts top priority on the economy, health care, energy and ending the Iraq war.

By reaching deep into traditionally Republican turf, the Democrats in Tuesday’s elections expanded their majorities in both the House and the Senate. They picked up at least five Senate seats, in Colorado, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina and Virginia. And they picked up at least 19 House seats, with new Democrats coming from Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina and Virginia.

The full extent of the new Democratic majorities remained unknown, with tight Senate races still undecided in Alaska, Minnesota and Oregon and a runoff scheduled on Dec. 2 in Georgia. At least six House races remained too close to call.

Still, the promise of strong control of Congress also left Democratic leaders grappling with challenges of balancing a wider spectrum of views within their own party while confronting a diminished House Republican conference now decidedly more conservative.

The exuberance of Tuesday night’s victories was also tempered by unease over the public’s high expectations for a party in control of both Congress and the White House amid economic turmoil, two wars overseas and a yawning budget gap.

On the day after the election, leadership battles were breaking out across Capitol Hill as lawmakers contemplated the prospects of new power and opportunity. The quick start to the skirmishing signaled that some of the more bitter fights in the next Congress could be internal battles among Democrats.

For instance, Democratic aides said that Representative Henry A. Waxman of California was expected to challenge Representative John D. Dingell of Michigan, the longest-serving House Democrat, for chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Energy issues are expected to be a major focus of the Obama administration.

And before the week is out, Democrats could try to oust Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, the independent who campaigned for Senator John McCain, from the chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who spoke with Mr. Obama by phone on Wednesday morning, said that they had made plans to discuss coordinated efforts for the transition and the new Congress, but that a more ambitious agenda would unfold next year.

“Our priorities have tracked the Obama campaign priorities for a very long time,” Ms. Pelosi said at a news conference where she cited the economy, health care, energy and the Iraq war as topping the agenda.

She said Democrats were talking with the Bush White House about a potential $61 billion economic stimulus that could be approved in a lame-duck session.

But Ms. Pelosi said Democrats could open the 111th Congress in January with efforts to adopt measures blocked by President Bush, including ones to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and embryonic stem cell research. She said Democrats had no choice but to chart a centrist course. “The country must be governed from the middle,” she said. But Democrats on both sides of the Capitol were just beginning to digest the new faces in their expanded caucuses.

Those new members include Jim Himes, a Harvard- and Oxford-educated former Goldman Sachs banker turned affordable-housing advocate who ousted Representative Christopher Shays of Connecticut, the only Republican House member in New England.

But even as Democrats tightened their grip on the traditionally liberal Northeast, roughly one-third of this year’s gains in the House came in the West, including two seats in New Mexico and one each in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho and Nevada.

In Idaho, the Democrats scored an unlikely House victory when Walt Minnick, a self-described “gun-owning outdoorsman” who once worked in the administration of Richard M. Nixon defeated Bill Sali, a Republican incumbent.

Mr. Minnick, who emphasized his résumé as a businessman and longtime executive in the lumber industry, will join a Democratic conference long dominated by urban liberals and led by Ms. Pelosi, of San Francisco.

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and other Democrats pointed to their successes in the West as evidence that they were building an enduring majority. They said new lawmakers from the region would bring a pragmatic approach driven less by partisanship and more by common sense.

Representative Tom Udall, a Democrat who won a Republican-held Senate seat in New Mexico, said, “I feel like I am coming in as a Western problem-solver, as somebody who has had success working across the aisle on many issues in my home state.” Mr. Udall’s cousin Representative Mark Udall won the Senate race in Colorado.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana, a Democrat who won a second term on Tuesday, said the results showed that Republicans no longer had a guaranteed hold on the West. “When Democrats win in Idaho, that means that there is not a single place that’s safe left anywhere,” Mr. Schweitzer said.

New Mexico was a showcase of Democratic strength in this election, partly because of strong support from Hispanics, as the party won a Senate seat and two more House seats, turning the state’s Congressional delegation thoroughly blue.

But even as Mr. Reid was crowing about gun-loving Democrats in the West, Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, was part of a separate conference call focusing on how many Democrats won by embracing progressive economic policies.

Mr. Brown said that he expected Republicans and more conservative Democrats to join an array of legislation related to alternative energy, trade, jobs and tax policy. “With a popular president leading,” he said, “we are going to see all but the most closed-minded Republicans joining us.”

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, issued a statement on Wednesday offering Mr. Obama cooperation.

Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said he believed that the new House majority would coalesce on most major economic issues but that some disagreements were inevitable.

“Clearly we are a big-tent party, and when it comes to social issues there will be some different perspectives in the caucus,” Mr. Van Hollen said.

Although Democrats fell short of their goal of a 60-vote Senate majority, which would have given them the power to break filibusters, Ms. Pelosi said it would be far easier to get Republican support for Democratic bills with Mr. Bush out of office. She said Republicans often blocked bills to protect the president.

House and Senate Democrats said they believed the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats could mesh in a way that Capitol Hill Democrats and the Carter and Clinton administrations could not. As senators, Mr. Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., built strong relationships on Capitol Hill.

President Jimmy Carter and President Bill Clinton, as former governors, were outsiders to Congress.

Republicans are already warning that Mr. Obama, a relatively junior lawmaker, will be outmaneuvered by more experienced operators on Capitol Hill, a proposition Democrats dismissed, noting that Mr. Obama would benefit from the counsel of Mr. Biden, a longtime senator from Delaware. “I think both sides realize we need one another and both sides realize that we better not blow this,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York.

    Democrats Vow to Pursue an Aggressive Agenda, NYT, 6.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/us/politics/06cong.html?hp






For Obama, No Day to Bask as He Starts to Build His Team for Transition


November 6, 2008
The New York Times


President-elect Barack Obama began moving Wednesday to build his administration and make good on his ambitious promises to point the United States in a different direction, as his commanding victory reordered the American political landscape and transfixed much of the nation and the world.

A day after becoming the first African-American to capture the presidency, Mr. Obama announced a transition team and prepared to name an ally as his White House chief of staff in his first steps toward assuming power. President Bush vowed to work closely with Mr. Obama to ensure a smooth transition in the first handover since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the fourth-ranking House Democrat and a close friend of Mr. Obama’s from Chicago, has been offered the job of chief of staff, and although he was said to be concerned about the effects on his family and giving up his influential role on Capitol Hill, many Democrats said they expected him to accept it. Mr. Obama named John D. Podesta, the former Clinton White House chief of staff, to lead his transition team along with Valerie Jarrett, a longtime adviser, and Pete Rouse, his Senate chief of staff.

In turning to Mr. Emanuel and Mr. Podesta, Mr. Obama sought out two of the hardest-hitting veterans of President Bill Clinton’s administration, known for their deep Washington experience, savvy and no-holds-barred approach to politics. Neither is considered a practitioner of the “new politics” that Mr. Obama promised on the campaign trail to bring Republicans and Democrats together, suggesting that the cool and conciliatory new president is determined to demonstrate toughness from the beginning.

Mr. Obama stayed largely out of sight on Wednesday as Democrats counted their gains and Republicans stewed over what went wrong. The scope of his success underscored the nation’s discontent with Mr. Bush’s presidency. Mr. Obama captured an estimated 52 percent of the popular vote and 349 electoral votes to John McCain’s 46 percent and 162 electoral votes, with Missouri and North Carolina still too close to call.

Mr. Obama also ushered in a wave of Democrats who strengthened his party’s hold over Congress, picking up at least five seats in the Senate and 19 in the House. Republican senators in Alaska, Minnesota and Oregon were still clinging to razor-thin leads, including Ted Stevens of Alaska, fresh from his conviction on seven felony counts of failing to disclose $250,000 in gifts and services he received.

But the crowds had barely drifted out of Grant Park in Chicago after an exuberant late-night celebration of Mr. Obama’s triumph before the rising sun brought fresh signs of the daunting burdens to come.

In Russia, President Dmitri A. Medvedev warned that he would deploy missiles if Mr. Obama built Mr. Bush’s planned missile defense system in Eastern Europe. In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai pleaded with Mr. Obama to halt air strikes that have been killing civilians. And in the United States, stock markets plunged again amid more dark economic news.

Still, the phenomenon of a black president of the world’s most powerful nation captured public imagination in many quarters of the globe. Supporters in many cities in the United States chanted in the street and large crowds gathered at the headquarters of newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post seeking sold-out copies of historic front pages.

The Congressional committee that puts together the inauguration ceremonies announced that the theme would be “A New Birth of Freedom,” to mark the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, symbolically linking one president from Illinois who freed the slaves to another who broke the ultimate racial barrier in politics.

Even the departing Bush team recognized the power of the moment. “It will be a stirring sight to watch President Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their beautiful girls step through the doors of the White House,” Mr. Bush told reporters in the Rose Garden. “I know millions of Americans will be overcome with pride at this inspiring moment that so many have awaited for so long.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise appearance at her department’s daily briefing to congratulate Mr. Obama.

“As an African-American, I am especially proud because this is a country that’s been through a long journey in terms of overcoming wounds and making race not the factor in our lives,” Ms. Rice said. “That work is not done, but yesterday was obviously an extraordinary step forward.”

The election proved so invigorating to the American public that turnout climbed to its highest rate in 44 years. Although experts differed in their projections as provisional and absentee ballots are counted, Michael McDonald, a voting expert at George Mason University, estimated that 133.3 million people had voted, eclipsing the 123 million who participated four years ago. That amounted to 62.6 percent of all eligible voters, just shy of the 62.8 percent in 1964.

With the election now behind them, the Bush and Obama teams began the delicate 77-day transition until inauguration. The General Services Administration turned over 120,000 square feet of office space in downtown Washington to the Obama transition team and select Obama advisers were due to be given interim security clearances.

Mr. Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will receive briefings Thursday from Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, and thereafter each morning by a pair of Central Intelligence Agency officials. Mr. Obama was given brief updates during the campaign, but aides said the sessions now would resemble the presidential daily briefing presented to Mr. Bush each morning.

Beyond choosing staff members, Mr. Obama must decide how active he intends to be in asserting leadership during the transition. Mr. Obama has conferred with Congressional leaders about passing a $100 billion economic stimulus package in a lame-duck session the week of Nov. 17 to pay for public works projects, aid to cities and states, and unemployment, food stamp and heating benefits.

But Congressional aides said that if Mr. Obama could not win agreement from Mr. Bush and Senate Republicans, they might scale the package back to about $60 billion, then come back in January with a broader plan.

Mr. Obama talked regularly with Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. about the financial crisis during the campaign, but it remained unclear how closely he wants to coordinate action during the transition. The situation is so dire, it may demand immediate action from a newly elected president, but Obama advisers are wary of taking ownership over decisions made by Mr. Bush.

On his first morning as president-elect, Mr. Obama did something he rarely did the last 22 months: he woke up at home in Chicago and had breakfast with his wife, Michelle, and his two young daughters, Malia and Sasha. He spent the day out of view, making thank you calls and meeting with transition advisers, a decision aides said was intended to draw a line between the campaign and the coming task of governing. They said he canceled fireworks at the Tuesday night celebration to underscore the seriousness of the moment.

As he began to assemble his White House, Mr. Obama sought to persuade Mr. Emanuel to be his right hand. Mr. Emanuel, a top aide in the Clinton White House, did not accept immediately, with close associates saying he was torn between helping the new administration and staying in the House, where he aspires to become speaker. His wife and three children, who live in Chicago, are reluctant to move to Washington, friends said.

Mr. Emanuel would bring extensive legislative experience and instincts for how to run a White House, but his brash partisan past could undercut Mr. Obama’s promise to bridge the divide in Washington. His unquestioned loyalty to Mr. Obama is a powerful asset to the president-elect.

While waiting to settle the matter with Mr. Emanuel, Mr. Obama went ahead and announced his transition team, to be led by Mr. Podesta, Ms. Jarrett and Mr. Rouse. They will be helped by a 12-member board, including Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, former Commerce Secretary William Daley, former Energy Secretary Federico F. Peña and former Environmental Protection Agency director Carol Browner.

Washington was abuzz with speculation over who would join the new administration, some of it informed, much of it guesswork. Democrats close to the Obama team said they believed the likeliest choices for Treasury secretary would be Lawrence H. Summers, who held the post in the Clinton administration, and Timothy F. Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

In the national security arena, much depends on whether Mr. Obama decides to ask Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to stay to demonstrate bipartisanship. If Mr. Obama decides against it, or Mr. Gates turns him down, Democrats see former Deputy Defense Secretary John J. Hamre and former Navy Secretary Richard J. Danzig as two candidates for the Pentagon.

Without Mr. Gates, Mr. Obama might want to tap a Republican for the State Department, perhaps including Senators Richard G. Lugar of Indiana or Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, advisers said. If Mr. Gates stays, some Democrats said, Senator John F. Kerry, the Democratic nominee who gave Mr. Obama the platform at the 2004 convention that vaulted him to national fame, is a leading choice to be secretary of state.

For national security adviser, Mr. Obama might pick between James B. Steinberg, a former deputy national security adviser, and Gregory B. Craig, a former State Department official. Mr. Danzig and Dennis Ross, a longtime Middle East envoy, are also mentioned. Susan E. Rice, a former assistant secretary of state and early Obama adviser, is often described as a possible deputy national security adviser or ambassador to the United Nations.

Democrats said they had heard that Howard Dean, the Democratic National Committee chairman, who is a doctor, might be a candidate for secretary of health and human services; Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina may be considered for secretary of housing and urban development; and Penny S. Pritzker, a Chicago business tycoon and Mr. Obama’s national finance chairwoman, could be tapped for commerce secretary.

While Mr. Bush invited his successor-to-be to visit him at the White House, Mr. Obama’s advisers said that he had no immediate plans to travel to Washington and that he planned to chart out his new administration largely from Chicago. He does not plan to attend the global economic summit in Washington called by Mr. Bush for Nov. 15. But advisers did not rule out the possibility that he would meet with some visiting leaders, perhaps over dinner or at a reception.

“The one thing he is not going to do is let anyone think he’s undermining the president,” said Mr. Craig, who has advised Mr. Obama on foreign policy. “There’s only one president, and he’ll take pains to make sure nothing he does is taken as undermining President Bush.”

Reporting was contributed by Michael Luo in New York and Jackie Calmes, Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker in Washington.

    For Obama, No Day to Bask as He Starts to Build His Team for Transition, NYT, 6.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/us/politics/06elect.html?hp






A Towering Economic To-Do List for Obama


November 6, 2008
The New York Times


The dismal state of the economy helped decide Tuesday’s presidential election. And it almost certainly will dominate the early days of the Obama administration.

Few presidents have entered office with an economy in such turmoil. Reflecting worries that the worst may not be over, the stock market continues to languish, with a 5 percent decline on Wednesday, leaving it 35 percent below its peak last fall.

The reasons are myriad: the financial system, though back from the brink, remains deeply troubled. Housing may no longer be in free fall, but plummeting values and rising defaults have impoverished many homeowners and burdened states with widening budget deficits. The once-mighty auto industry is on the verge of implosion.

Consumers who piled up credit card debt are pulling back, a major concern because their spending helped power economic growth in recent years. And with unemployment widely expected to increase to 8 percent or higher, from 6.1 percent, consumers are likely to tighten their belts even more.

Moreover, with upward of $1 trillion already pledged by the federal government to bail out the banking and housing industries, financing a growing deficit to address the problems could be difficult — and saddle the Treasury Department with high levels of debt for years to come.

But even before President-elect Obama takes the oath of office, Democrats are likely to push his agenda with urgency, because the economy otherwise could worsen quickly — complicating the task ahead. “The cost of allowing an economy to flounder is very high in lost output and rising unemployment,” said James Glassman, chief domestic economist at JPMorgan Chase & Company.

Here are some of the crucial issues that economists say will test the new administration, and how it might address them.

ECONOMIC STIMULUS: Obama Is Likely to Act Quickly

Quick passage of an economic stimulus package is high on Mr. Obama’s agenda, even more pressing for the moment than the tax package that he promoted repeatedly during his campaign.

Congress could act on the stimulus this month — but only if the president-elect signals that he favors a preinauguration special session, Congressional Democrats said. Legislators would more than likely adopt some relatively inexpensive measures rather than try to pass a much larger outlay that the Bush administration might oppose. After he takes office, Mr. Obama is likely to ask Congress for an additional economic lift, those in his camp say.

Before the election, the party leadership in Congress discussed a lame-duck session to take up a bill that would pump $150 billion to $200 billion into the economy. That would follow the $168 billion stimulus, most of it in rebate checks mailed to tens of millions of Americans earlier this year.

Those checks lifted spending a bit. But they came before the credit crisis struck in force in early September.

“We need a package that matches the problem as it exists today, and in my view that means at least $200 billion a year for a couple of years,” said a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee staff.

As private sector spending dries up, the case builds — among Republicans as well as Democrats — for the government to jump-start the economy.

“Right now, the economy is in a really deep recession,” said Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior economic adviser to John McCain.

Like many Republicans, he wants the stimulus — whatever its size — to be a cut in tax rates, not an increase in public spending. The Obama camp also supports a tax cut, possibly front-loaded so that refund checks would go out before tax returns are filed in April. But that would be enacted after the inauguration.

As for immediate relief, Obama aides say, a lame-duck session of Congress could pass a $60 billion package of additional outlays for food stamps, extended unemployment benefits and subsidies to the states to minimize their spending cuts.

The big question is “should the Democrats risk a Bush veto in a lame-duck session,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an Obama adviser, “or should they wait for Obama to take office in January to get a more effective recovery package.”

As a candidate, Mr. Obama said he would extend the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 for families whose income is under $250,000 a year. He pledged to add new tax breaks for homeowners who did not itemize deductions and more breaks for savings accounts, college costs and farming. He said he would change the alternative minimum tax so it did not affect the middle class.

To raise revenue, Mr. Obama said he would repeal the Bush tax cuts for people in the top two marginal tax brackets before their scheduled expiration at the end of 2010, and raise taxes on capital gains and dividends.

His tax plans are reminiscent of Clinton administration policies that increased taxes on the affluent but gave targeted breaks to others. He would also repeal corporate loopholes and retain an estate tax.

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimated that the Obama plans would reduce revenues by as much as $2.9 trillion over a decade. The center said Mr. Obama’s incentives could strengthen the labor market, while giving further breaks to “an already favored group — seniors.” -- LOUIS UCHITELLE and JACKIE CALMES

MORTGAGES: A Pledge to Aid Homeowners

Mr. Obama has pledged to help hard-pressed homeowners, but he will have to move quickly to forestall a new wave of foreclosures.

Some in Congress favor direct mortgage relief, but others worry that the cost — on top of the bank bailout — will be too expensive.

Judging by positions laid out in his campaign, Mr. Obama might seek to change personal bankruptcy laws to help people avoid losing their homes, a step that the Bush administration and the mortgage industry have resisted.

Like other Democrats, Mr. Obama wants to empower bankruptcy judges to ease the terms of home loans on primary residences. Under current laws, judges are prohibited from reducing the balance on those mortgages but can change loans backed by commercial property or second homes.

The shift, proponents say, would help keep millions of people in their homes and ease the broader housing crisis. Many mortgage companies and Wall Street investors, however, might suffer greater losses on the loans and securities backed by them.

The Bush administration and many lenders have argued that changing the bankruptcy law would ultimately drive up mortgage rates, worsening the downturn in the housing market. They also argue that it would violate the sanctity of contracts and drive investors away from the mortgage market.

But with more comfortable majorities in both houses of Congress, Democrats could move quickly. Republicans in the Senate could try to block a change through a filibuster.

Mr. Obama has generally supported the $700 billion financial rescue package that Congress and the Bush administration negotiated and approved last month. He also endorsed the move by the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., to redirect $250 billion of that money to recapitalizing the nation’s banks.

But Mr. Obama has not specifically said how he would spend the remainder of the money or whether his administration would acquire loans or securities as Congress initially intended. (The Treasury has made no acquisitions yet and it is unclear if it will do so before the Bush administration leaves office in January.) Mr. Obama has said that the government should help homeowners refinance troubled loans that can be saved. -- VIKAS BAJAJ

FEDERAL REGULATION: Tighter Reins on Wall Street

Mr. Obama called for reorganizing the financial regulatory system months before the housing and credit crises spiraled into a debacle. He outlined six principles, but offered few details.

He said one major priority would be to consolidate the financial regulatory system. He promised to streamline the alphabet soup of agencies, from the Federal Reserve to the Securities and Exchange Commission, that have enforcement powers.

But he has not said which agencies he would eliminate or merge.

Mr. Obama has also pledged to impose stronger liquidity, capital and disclosure requirements on financial institutions, and to subject unregulated financial businesses — like hedge funds, mortgage brokers, derivatives traders and credit-rating agencies — to federal oversight.

Mr. Obama promised he would increase penalties for market manipulation and predatory lending, and create a new financial-market oversight commission to review conditions regularly and advise the president and Congress about potential risks.

In one of his campaign-ending speeches on Monday, Mr. Obama said, “The last thing we can afford is four more years where no one in Washington is watching anyone on Wall Street because politicians and lobbyists killed common-sense regulations.”

He returned to that theme on Tuesday night after he clinched the election, signaling that the financial industry should brace itself for a regulatory crackdown. Some Democratic lawmakers already have held hearings on what a new financial regulatory landscape would look like. -- JACKIE CALMES

AUTO INDUSTRY: In Detroit, No Cash, No Credit, No Time

General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler are rapidly running out of cash in the worst sales market for new vehicles in 15 years. Both G.M. and Ford are expected to announce billions of dollars more in losses for the third quarter on Friday, and the threat of bankruptcy will grow without some form of federal assistance.

The Bush administration has so far denied G.M., Ford and Chrysler any aid from the $700 billion financial rescue fund or any other new source of assistance. It will, however, pay out the $25 billion in low-interest loans for cleaner cars sooner than had been promised.

The pleas for help from the Big Three are growing louder. “This is really a severe, severe recession for the U.S. auto industry and something we cannot sustain,” said Michael DiGiovanni, G.M.’s chief market analyst.

Mr. Obama has promised to meet soon with the chief executives of the Big Three to discuss adding another $25 billion in aid to the loan program for more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Democratic leaders in Congress are also considering ways to inject new cash into Detroit as quickly as possible. Michigan’s ranking Democrats, Senators Carl Levin and Representative John D. Dingell, will be instrumental in crafting any proposed legislation.

The aid could come in the form of government-backed, low-interest loans, similar to the bailout package for Chrysler in 1979. In addition, the Congress and Mr. Obama could tap the $700 billion financial assistance fund to buy up bad car loans and help automotive lenders get credit flowing to consumers again.

One potential hurdle for aid, however, is the proposed merger of G.M. and Chrysler, which is majority-owned by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. The deal, if completed, would cost thousands of jobs and has so far found little support in Washington. -- BILL VLASIC

HEALTH CARE: An Overhaul Will Have to Wait

Democrats’ campaign rhetoric aside, few health care analysts expect the new president and Congress to undertake a sweeping overhaul of the health care industry any time soon.

The more pressing needs of a faltering economy make it unlikely that big changes in health care can quickly make their way to the top of the new agenda. But analysts say the newly empowered Democrats are likely to abandon some of the health care positions staked out by the Bush administration, particularly when it comes to Medicare.

Private insurers’ role in Medicare “is target No. 1 for Democrats,” said Robert Laszewski, the president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, a consulting firm in Alexandria, Va.

Under the privatization approach of the Bush White House, commercial insurers now provide coverage to about a quarter of the nation’s 44 million Medicare enrollees — at a cost to the Medicare program of about 15 percent more than when the government provides the benefits directly. With the threat of a Bush veto removed, Congress will now be looking to shrink or end those industry subsidies to save Medicare money, Mr. Laszewski said.

The president-elect and the Democratic Congress also are likely to give Medicare the power to directly negotiate with pharmaceutical companies — a change that the Bush administration has resisted — though the impact on prices would depend on the authority Congress grants.

Analysts also expect the Democrats to seek closer scrutiny of the drug industry through the Food and Drug Administration, an agency that has been stretched thin in recent years.

And many analysts expect Congress to take some steps to address the increasing cost of medical care. High on the list might be covering more children under the federally subsidized State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Congress might also try some relatively inexpensive other changes, like pushing harder for the adoption of electronic health records or requiring hospitals and doctors to report publicly both the cost and the outcomes of their care, to enable patients to comparison-shop. -- REED ABELSON

TECHNOLOGY: To Shape Policy, a Cabinet Voice

Technology companies have long argued that they need the best and brightest engineers if they are going to compete in the global economy. President-elect Obama has endorsed the industry’s call for raising the number of H-1B temporary work visas, which are available now to only 65,000 skilled foreign engineers each year. (The visas are all claimed within minutes.)

But even with a sympathetic ear in the White House, getting Congress to agree to more visas could present a major challenge given the probability that, in a recession, public sentiment will be heightened that foreigners are taking Americans’ jobs.

In the meantime, the tech industry — which has grown much more politically active in recent years — will greet the new president with a list of other wishes. One is that he push policies to spread high-speed Internet access, which provides a conduit for e-commerce, online advertising and other Web-centric business models. The industry argues that the United States has fallen to 16th in the world in terms of broadband penetration, frustrating consumers with a lack of services — like the high-speed downloading of movies — and the still-choppy performance of their Internet connections.

The industry also hopes Mr. Obama will stand behind his stated support of “net neutrality,” which is a government requirement that telecommunications companies provide Internet content providers equal access to delivery lines.

Such tech policy could fall to a chief technology officer, a cabinet position the president-elect has pledged to create. -- MATT RICHTEL

ENERGY: An Agenda Faces Possible Delays

An Obama presidency could mean a sharp shift in the nation’s energy policies, with particular emphasis on conservation and renewable power. But some of the candidate’s bolder proposals, like a global warming bill, may have to wait for the economy to recover, according to analysts and energy experts.

High energy costs and concerns about global warming have heightened the sense of urgency for a broad policy that tackles both the nation’s oil use and its energy-related carbon emissions. As a candidate, Mr. Obama shifted from his initial opposition to expanding offshore drilling, but his core message remained that the United States should reduce its oil consumption, encourage energy conservation and efficiency, and develop low-carbon forms of energy.

“There is an opportunity to address energy needs in a way that hasn’t been possible for decades,” said Daniel Yergin, the chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates. “It almost feels like we’re picking up from where we were in the 1970s.”

But, he added, “resources are going to be constrained, and spending on energy will have to compete for dollars with spending on the financial crisis and two wars.”

The Obama energy plan called for investing $150 billion in clean energy technologies over the next 10 years, creating green jobs and ensuring that a growing share of the country’s electricity came from renewable sources. He also proposed an aggressive mandate over the next four decades to cut greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global warming.

Given the size of the Democratic majority, an Obama administration is also likely to impose stricter environmental regulations and place higher taxes on oil companies than the Bush administration did. -- JAD MOUAWAD

TRADE: Cooperation Fades, Protectionism Rises

What consensus there was on international trade seemed to evaporate with the failure of world trade talks this summer. Indeed, with the world on the brink of a global recession, led by the United States and Europe, the fear of a rise in protectionism grows.

The first test of sustaining international cooperation will come on Nov. 14 and 15, long before Mr. Obama takes office. Leaders from 20 major countries will gather in Washington with President Bush to embark on an effort to rewrite international financial regulations — an undertaking some liken to a latter-day Bretton Woods conference.

Whether or not he attends, Mr. Obama will cast a long shadow.

In short order, the recession and a likely spike in unemployment are sure to put him under pressure from union supporters, as well as Congressional Democrats, to take a tougher line on trade.

“China is the issue that should be part of Obama’s trade policy right away,” said Thea M. Lee, the chief economist of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. “Part of it is sending a strong message to the Chinese government that the U.S. is not willing to tolerate currency manipulation and violation of workers’ rights.”

But China’s economy is slowing, making its leaders even less receptive to demands to allow their currency to rise. The United States will also need the Chinese to buy a good chunk of the debt being run up by the bailout of banks and housing.

It is also unclear whether Mr. Obama will pursue a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he discussed in the hard-fought primaries.

“He parsed his answers in a way that suggests he understands the importance of global trade,” said Hank Cox, a spokesman for the National Association of Manufacturers. -- MARK LANDLER

A Towering Economic To-Do List for Obama, NYT, 6.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/business/06challenges.html































Op-Ed Columnist

Thinking of Good Vibrations


November 6, 2008
The New York Times



We are only thinking cheerful thoughts today, people. America did good. Enjoy.

Even if you voted for John McCain, be happy. You’ve got the best of all worlds. Today, you can bask in the realization that there are billions of people around the planet who loathed our country last week but are now in awe of its capacity to rise above historic fears and prejudices, that once again, the United States will have a president the world wants to follow.

Then later, when things get screwed up, you can point out that it’s not your fault.

About the inevitable disasters: I am sorry to tell you, excited youth of America, that Barack Obama is going to make mistakes. And the country’s broke. Perhaps we should have mentioned this before. But let’s leave all that to 2009. When somebody runs one of the best presidential campaigns ever, he deserves a little time to enjoy the sweet spot between achievement of a goal and the arrival of the consequences.

Let’s hear it for the voters. Good turnout, guys — especially you Virginians who stood in line for seven hours. A professor at George Mason University who studies this sort of thing claims that there hasn’t been such a high participation level since 1908. You could turn out to be the ever-elusive answer to the question: “Name one thing that Barack Obama has in common with William Howard Taft?”

Let’s hear it for Hillary Clinton, who lost but made the country comfortable with the idea of a woman as chief executive. And Joe Biden, who actually ran a disciplined campaign, given his truly exceptional capacity to say weird things.

And let’s give a shout-out to John McCain. As desperate as he was, he still passed up opportunities to poke hard at the nation’s fault lines of race, religion and region — although he has probably created a permanent gap between the rest of us and segments of the country who feel under imminent threat from Bill Ayers.

McCain ran a dreadful campaign, but it’s over. Give the guy a break. He was stuck with George Bush. And the Republican Party. And the fact that he was constitutionally incapable of giving a decent speech. The road was hard, but he soldiered on and did a lovely concession Tuesday night. Kudos.

Sarah Palin did go over the top with her small towns vs. the world mantra. However, she does get credit for giving us a real understanding of the difference between a moose and a caribou.

O.K., there is nothing positive to say about Sarah Palin. And Alaska, are you re-electing Ted Stevens? What’s going on there? Did you actually believe him when he said that the court verdict was still up in the air? On the day after he was found guilty? By the way, if Stevens does win, it will be with about 106,000 votes. In total. There are more people than that in my immediate neighborhood! What kind of state is this, anyway?

But we’re in a good mood, so let’s forget Alaska. Instead, we’ll contemplate the fact that North Carolina tossed Elizabeth Dole out of office despite her ad campaign aimed at convincing the state that her opponent, Kay Hagan, was an atheist. This was accomplished, you may remember, through the creative strategy of showing Hagan’s picture along with another woman’s voice saying: “There is no God!” If Dole had won, by the next election we would have been bombarded with ads that appeared to show candidates saying “I support adultery!” or “Let’s kill the puppies!” Now that won’t happen. Thank you, North Carolina.

By the way, I believe that during the campaign McCain’s great friend Senator Lindsey Graham said something along the line of promising to drown himself if North Carolina went for Obama. I believe I speak for us all, Senator Graham, when I say that we are feeling extremely mellow today and you do not have to follow through.

Congratulations to Senator Susan Collins on her re-election. The entire moderate Republican caucus in the Senate may now wind up consisting of women from Maine. As Maine goes, so go the Supreme Court nominations.

Finally, on behalf of the baby-boom generation, I would like to hear a little round of applause before we cede the stage to the people who were too young to go to Woodstock and would appreciate not having to listen to the stories about it anymore. It looks as though we will be represented in history by only two presidents, one of whom is George W. Bush. Bummer.

The boomers didn’t win any wars and that business about being self-involved was not entirely unfounded. On the other hand, they made the nation get serious about the idea of everybody being created equal. And now American children are going to grow up unaware that there’s anything novel in an African-American president or a woman running for the White House.

We’ll settle for that.

    Thinking of Good Vibrations, NYT, 6.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/opinion/06collins.html






Bans in 3 States on Gay Marriage


November 6, 2008
The New York Times


SAN FRANCISCO — A giant rainbow-colored flag in the gay-friendly Castro neighborhood of San Francisco was flying at half-staff on Wednesday as social and religious conservatives celebrated the passage of measures that ban same-sex marriage in California, Florida and Arizona.

In California, where same-sex marriage had been performed since June, the ban had more than 52 percent of the vote, according to figures by the secretary of state, and was projected to win by several Californian news media outlets. Opponents of same-sex marriage won by even bigger margins in Arizona and Florida. Just two years ago, Arizona rejected a similar ban.

The across-the-board sweep, coupled with passage of a measure in Arkansas intended to bar gay men and lesbians from adopting children, was a stunning victory for religious conservatives, who had little else to celebrate on an Election Day that saw Senator John McCain lose and other ballot measures, like efforts to restrict abortion in South Dakota, California and Colorado, rejected.

“It was a great victory,” said the Rev. James Garlow, senior pastor of Skyline Church in San Diego County and a leader of the campaign to pass the California measure, Proposition 8. “We saw the people just rise up.”

The losses devastated supporters of same-sex marriage and ignited a debate about whether the movement to expand the rights of same-sex couples had hit a cultural brick wall, even at a time of another civil rights success, the election of a black president.

Thirty states have now passed bans on same-sex marriage.

Supporters of same-sex marriage in California, where the fight on Tuesday was fiercest, appeared to have been outflanked by the measure’s highly organized backers and, exit polls indicated, hurt by the large turnout among black and Hispanic voters drawn to Senator Barack Obama’s candidacy. Mr. Obama opposes same-sex marriage.

California will still allow same-sex civil unions, but that is not an option in Arizona and Florida. Exit polls in California found that 70 percent of black voters backed the ban. Slightly more than half of Latino voters, who made up almost 20 percent of voters, favored the ban, while 53 percent of whites opposed it.

Julius Turman, a chairman of the Alice B. Toklas L.G.B.T. Democratic Club, a gay political group here, said he called his mother in tears when Mr. Obama won the presidency, only to be crying over the same-sex marriage vote in a different way not much later.

“It is the definition of bittersweet,” Mr. Turman said. “As an African-American, I rejoiced in the symbolism of yesterday. As a gay man, I thought, ‘How can this be happening?’ ”

Proposition 8’s passage left only Massachusetts and Connecticut as states where same-sex marriages are legal, though both Rhode Island and New York will continue to recognize such ceremonies performed elsewhere. Civil unions or domestic partnerships, which carry many of the same rights as marriage, are allowed in a handful of states. More than 40 states now have constitutional bans or laws against same-sex marriages.

On Wednesday, five months of same-sex marriages in California — declared legal by the State Supreme Court in May — appeared to have come to a halt. “This city is no longer marrying people” of the same sex, Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, announced at a grim news conference at City Hall, where hundreds of same-sex couples had rushed to marry in the days and hours leading up to Tuesday’s vote.

The status of those marriages, among 17,000 same-sex unions performed in the state, was left in doubt by the vote. The state’s attorney general, Jerry Brown, reiterated Wednesday that he believed that those marriages would remain valid, but legal skirmishes were expected.

The cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Santa Clara County, as well as several civil rights and gay rights groups, said on Wednesday that they would sue to block the ban.

Some opponents of the proposition were also still holding out slim hopes that a batch of perhaps as many as four million provisional and vote-by-mail ballots would somehow turn the tide.

The victory of the social and religious conservatives came on a core issue that has defined their engagement in politics over the past decade.

The Rev. Joel Hunter, an evangelical pastor in Florida, said many religious conservatives felt more urgency about stopping same-sex marriage than about abortion, another hotly contested issue long locked in a stalemate.

“There is enough of the population that is alarmed at the general breakdown of the family, that has been so inundated with images of homosexual relationships in all of the media,” said Mr. Hunter, who gave the benediction at the Democratic National Convention this year, yet supported the same-sex marriage ban in his state. “It’s almost like it’s obligatory these days to have a homosexual couple in every TV show or every movie.”

Supporters of the bans in California, Arizona and Florida benefited from the donations and volunteers mobilized by a broad array of churches and religious groups from across the ethnic spectrum.

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, a pastor in Sacramento and president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said the campaign to pass Proposition 8 had begun with white evangelical churches but had spread to more than 1,130 Hispanic churches whose pastors convinced their members that same-sex marriage threatened the traditional family.

“Without the Latino vote,” Mr. Rodriguez said, “Proposition 8 would never have succeeded.”

Frank Schubert, the campaign manager for Protect Marriage, the leading group behind Proposition 8, agreed that minority votes had put the measure over the top, saying that a strategy of working with conservative black pastors and community leaders had paid off.

“It’s a big reason why we won, no doubt about it,” he said.

Proposition 8 was one of the most expensive ballot measures ever waged, with combined spending of more than $75 million. Focus on the Family and other religious conservative groups contributed money to help pass the same-sex marriage measures in all three states.

Forces on both sides viewed California as a critical test of the nation’s acceptance of gay people, who have made remarkable strides in the decades since the 1969 riots in New York at the Stonewall Inn, considered the beginning of the gay rights movement.

Scholars were divided on how large a setback Tuesday’s votes would be for that movement. Andrew Koppelman, a professor of law at Northwestern University and the author of “Same Sex, Different States,” a study of same-sex marriage, said the outcome had a silver lining, namely that it was closer than in previous statewide measures.

A 2000 ballot measure establishing a California state law against same-sex marriage passed with 61 percent of the vote. That law was overturned in May by the State Supreme Court.

In Arizona, where same-sex marriage was already against the law, the victory for Proposition 102, which amends the State Constitution, was met with a shrug by some.

“I think the country was like, ‘Look, you get Obama, call it a day and go home,’ ” said Kyrsten Sinema, a Democratic state representative who led opponents against Proposition 102. “And frankly, I’ll take it.”

Jesse McKinley reported from San Francisco, and Laurie Goodstein from New York.

    Bans in 3 States on Gay Marriage, NYT, 6.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/us/politics/06marriage.html?ref=opinion






Fertile Ground With New Voters in Growing West


November 6, 2008
The New York Times


DENVER — Senator Barack Obama’s vaunted political ground game of intense organization and eager volunteers explains, in part, the significant inroads his campaign made in Republican areas of the West.

But only in part.

The deeper explanation is that Mr. Obama went fishing in a pond stocked with millions of new voters who were ready and primed for the catching. And some local Democrats, long before Mr. Obama’s arrival, had shown how the catching could be done.

The interior West is the fastest-growing region of the country, up 10.9 percent from 2000 to last year, according to census figures. It is a growth rate that dwarfs even California and the South, and it has brought many new voters who are shedding a political identity or looking for a new one to states like Colorado and Nevada.

Mr. Obama was able to grab many of them. In winning Nevada, the fastest-growing state in the nation, Mr. Obama won 77 percent of first-time voters, compared with 69 percent across the country as a whole.

In recent years, Democrats in many states across the West have succeeded in winning office in ways and numbers that have bolstered their party’s brand and thrown Republicans into disarray or minority-player status. That created a receptive landscape when Mr. Obama came to call.

Since 2000, Democrats here in Colorado, where Mr. Obama won, have taken control of the governor’s office, both United States Senate seats and won majorities in the state legislature. Five of the seven Congressional seats are now in Democratic hands, compared with two out of six in 2000. Similar gains have been made in New Mexico, which Mr. Obama also won.

“Democrats are in control and using those powers to brand their party at a time when new voters are coming into their states,” said David Sirota, an author and former strategist for Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana, a Democrat elected in 2004 and re-elected Tuesday.

In some places, internal dissent or confusion over the party’s message compounded Republican troubles.

“The broader problem here was Republican infighting — over immigration, small government versus large government, and socially conservative issues,” said David F. Damore, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

There are certainly places in the West where a pattern of growth in population and the successful wooing by Democrats does not hold. In Utah, the third-fastest-growing state in this decade, and to a lesser extent in Idaho — both won by Senator John McCain, Mr. Obama’s Republican opponent — the imprint of the Mormon Church holds sway. Mr. McCain also won his home state, Arizona, the second-fastest-growing in population this decade.

But after those places, Mr. McCain’s only other Western successes were in Montana and Wyoming, which were the two slowest-growing states west of Kansas since 2000.

Here in Colorado, minority status by the Republicans combined with a drift toward socially conservative orthodoxy that political scholars say has been an increasingly tough sell to newcomers.

As for what happened Tuesday, Democrats were able to build a better bridge to the new people and independents looking to cross, said John Straayer, a professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

“A good chunk of the unaffiliateds who once did tilt in direction of Republican Party of Colorado, and the moderate Republicans, have drifted away,” Dr. Straayer said, “or the party has drifted away from them.”

    Fertile Ground With New Voters in Growing West, NYT, 6.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/us/politics/06west.html?hp






Democratic Gains by Lawmakers in the Northeast


November 6, 2008
The New York Times


BOSTON — The Election Day trouncing of the last House Republican from New England, Representative Christopher Shays of Connecticut, was the most glaring new sign of the party’s troubles here. But Mr. Shays was hardly alone in being shown the door on Tuesday by a region that once claimed a proud role in Republican politics.

In New Hampshire, Senator John E. Sununu, the Republican incumbent, lost by tens of thousands of votes to former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat who relentlessly tied him to President Bush.

Democrats also preserved the majority they won two years ago in New Hampshire’s legislature, which had not seen Democratic control of both chambers since the 1800s, and held onto the state’s two House seats despite vigorous Republican challenges.

Only three Republicans remain among the 12 United States senators from New England, and every chamber of the region’s six state legislatures is now in Democratic hands.

There are still Republican holdouts, including the governors of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont and the two United States senators from Maine, but most are what conservatives in the party call RINOs — Republicans in Name Only.

And while the party has been losing ground in New England for decades, this latest round of powerfully symbolic losses makes the question of whether it can revive itself here more serious than ever.

“The question now becomes what is the future of the Republican Party nationally,” said Dante J. Scala, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, “and will New England — or even the larger Northeast — be part of that conversation?”

He said New England might not figure into the discussion simply because its population is declining and it offers relatively few electoral votes.

The region went for President-elect Barack Obama by some of the largest margins in the country, with even many traditionally Republican towns favoring him. Mr. Obama carried Vermont by 35 percentage points, Rhode Island by 28, Massachusetts by 26, Connecticut by 22, Maine by 18 and New Hampshire by 10, according to preliminary results.

Former Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts, a moderate Republican who endorsed Mr. Obama for president, said the party needed to recruit a far more diverse group of candidates if it was to regain strength in New England and the Northeast.

“The Republican Party has been painting on an increasingly small canvas, and that is not how you win elections,” Mr. Weld said. “A few strong candidates at the gubernatorial and senatorial levels, who are fiscally conservative and socially moderate, can refurbish the brand in the Northeast.”

Warren Rudman, a former senator from New Hampshire whose mix of fiscal conservatism and social moderation made him a classic New England Republican, said he did not think that his state, at least, was turning permanently blue. The state’s many independents may again favor Republican candidates, depending on national events, he said.

“What happened in this election and the one two years ago had everything to do with national issues and not the individuals who were running,” Mr. Rudman said. “They had everything to do with the way people felt about Bush.”

    Democratic Gains by Lawmakers in the Northeast, NYT, 6.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/us/politics/06northeast.html?hp






Obama Makes Historic Inroads in South


November 6, 2008
The New York Times


RALEIGH, N.C. — The race for North Carolina’s electoral votes is still too close to call. But if Senator Barack Obama, who is ahead by a nostril, is declared the winner, he will be able to claim a remarkable set of victories in three former Confederate states, where just a half century ago black people were systematically denied even the opportunity to vote, much less run for president.

“His making inroads in the South was important symbolically and historically, and also important in terms of his governance,” said Ferrel Guillory, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina. “It’s important that the nation’s first black president has support in states that within my lifetime practiced legal segregation, and that he won support in these states, not only among black Americans but among a strong plurality of white Americans.”

Exit polls showed Mr. Obama winning 35 percent of the white vote in North Carolina, 42 percent in Florida and 39 percent in Virginia. Blacks supported him at higher rates than for John Kerry in 2004. North Carolina exit polls showed Mr. Obama with 100 percent of the vote of black women.

Political analysts attributed his victories in the South to an effective ground operation and an increase in non-Southerners and younger, educated workers. They also credited a high black turnout, which went almost wholly for Mr. Obama and dissatisfaction with President Bush, which pushed many independent voters into the Obama column.

What was less certain, they said, was whether Mr. Obama’s gains would have staying power in the South. The African-Americans and first-time voters who turned out for this historic election may not return to the polls, they said, and the Bush administration will no longer be a spur.

“The tide is gone, and the next question is whether he’s a successful president or not,” said Carter Wrenn, a Republican strategist in Raleigh. “If he is, he’ll be fine, and if he’s not the gains will be wiped out.”

Steven Greene, a political scientist at North Carolina State University, said people had invested so much hope in Mr. Obama that there would inevitably be disappointment. But Mr. Greene predicted that Mr. Obama’s support among young people augured well for the Democrats’ future.

On the North Carolina electoral map, Mr. Obama’s support took a different shape from Bill Clinton’s near-victory there in 1992 or the gains of Kay Hagan, the Democrat who decisively beat Senator Elizabeth Dole on Tuesday, perhaps reflecting the importance of race to some voters. Both Mr. Clinton and Ms. Hagan won conservative Democratic counties in the mostly white Appalachian region in the western part of the state, while Mr. Obama lost those counties, making up the losses in urban and suburban counties.

Wake County, which includes Raleigh, went narrowly for Mr. Clinton in 1992, rejected him in 1996, and voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 and 2004. On Tuesday, Wake County went for Mr. Obama by a whopping 16 percentage points.

Many of his supporters here were recent transplants like Nichole Krist, 33, who is from Michigan but has lived in Raleigh for a year and works as a geographic information systems analyst. “People are really freaked out right now” about the economy, she said. “Like me, I’ve been spoiled all my life, and now I’m an adult and it affects me directly.”

Despite the electoral history here, several black voters insisted they were not surprised by Mr. Obama’s win. “It went exactly the way I thought it would go,” said Larry Pulley, a barber in downtown Raleigh.

Nationally, exit polling showed that Mr. Obama had the lead among young voters, with 66 percent of voters under 30, but in North Carolina he dominated in that category, winning 74 percent.

    Obama Makes Historic Inroads in South, NYT, 6.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/us/politics/06south.html?hp






In Rust Belt, Voters Driven by Despair


November 6, 2008
The New York Times


CHICAGO — Senator Barack Obama’s victory was widely attributed to fears about the economy, and nowhere was that more apparent than in his decisive performance in the Rust Belt.

Years of manufacturing job losses, topped by home foreclosures, sunken retirement savings and concerns about new losses even of lower-paying jobs helped add up to a blue presidential landscape all around.

Mr. Obama seized Ohio and Michigan, once seen as potentially competitive. And, most surprisingly, Indiana, which President Bush won by 21 percentage points in 2004 and which had been so safely Republican for four decades that few presidential candidates bothered to go there, narrowly chose Mr. Obama, too.

“You can feel the anxiety here,” said Bill Treadway, the Republican chairman of Vigo County, once a manufacturing-dominated community on the western edge of Indiana where Mr. Obama won 57 percent of the vote on Tuesday. Vigo (which prides itself as an almost perfect bellwether for the nation’s presidential choice since the late 1800s) had sided with Mr. Bush in the previous two elections. “You see vacant homes that can’t be sold and people worried about their 401(k)’s. The country was in a bad mood. I don’t know how else to see it.”

Still, as state and local officials from both parties absorbed Mr. Obama’s victories throughout the industrial Midwest (aside from Missouri, where Senator John McCain was slightly ahead in a race still too close to call), they said they were still wrestling with how far the Democratic Party’s reach had expanded beyond the presidential race and how lasting the moment’s widespread swath of blue might be.

Some Democrats pointed to Mr. Obama’s personal appeal, particularly in the contested states that surround his home state, Illinois, and his campaign’s efforts, especially at bringing out voters in urban areas like Cincinnati and Columbus, as creating a unique set of circumstances. While Democrats secured new House seats in Michigan and Ohio, other Congressional seats in Minnesota and Indiana that had been seen as vulnerable for Republicans turned out not to be. There were other mixed signs: In Indiana, despite Mr. Obama’s remarkable victory, Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, easily held back a Democratic challenger.

“We’re not as partisan a state or as ideological a state as we are pragmatists,” said Senator Evan Bayh, a Democrat. “The economy was terrible, and moderate Republicans and independents just wanted a change.”

Whether the shift in Indiana is lasting, he said, will depend in part on how Washington now solves the financial crisis and on whether Democrats, in his view, misinterpret Tuesday’s results as a “vote for left-wing politics” as opposed to “the sensible center.”

For the moment, though, Democrats were cheering the view from former battlegrounds in the Midwest, where Wisconsin (thanks, in part, to the 90 percent of its voters, according to exit polls, who said they were worried about the economy’s direction) and Iowa (where Mr. Obama had set up an early, elaborate and fiercely proud campaign operation) both went overwhelmingly for Mr. Obama.

Hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs have vanished from Indiana, Ohio and Michigan since Mr. Bush’s election eight years ago, Democrats said.

“Whatever else there is to say, it is still striking how much more blue there is now in this part of the world,” said Steffen W. Schmidt, a professor of political science at Iowa State University. “And when it comes down to it, you have to come back to the essential economic factor.”

    In Rust Belt, Voters Driven by Despair, NYT, 6.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/us/politics/06midwest.html?hp






Obama Adds Symbolic NC Victory to White House Win


November 6, 2008
Filed at 1:11 p.m. ET
The New York Times


RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- President-elect Obama won North Carolina on Thursday, a symbolic triumph that underscored his political strength as he turned nine states that President Bush won in 2004 to Democratic blue.

The Associated Press declared Obama the winner after canvassing counties in North Carolina to determine the number of outstanding provisional ballots. That survey found that there are not enough remaining ballots for Republican John McCain to close a 13,693-vote deficit.

North Carolina's 15 electoral votes brings Obama's total to 364 -- nearly 100 more than necessary to win the White House -- to McCain's 162. Missouri is the only state that remains too close to call, with McCain leading by several thousand votes.

Obama's win in North Carolina was the first for a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter won the state in 1976.

Of Bush's 2004 states, Obama captured Virginia, Florida and North Carolina in the South, Ohio, Indiana and Iowa in the Midwest and Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico in the West.

Obama ran an aggressive general election campaign in North Carolina after his wide primary victory in the state over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton suggested he could win a trove of electoral votes that most assumed would belong to McCain.

McCain spent months watching North Carolina from afar during the summer as Obama visited regularly, but the GOP nominee returned to the state in the campaign's final few weeks as polls suggested an Obama victory was possible.

Obama spent millions of televisions ads that were buttressed by hundreds of staff members in dozens of offices to take advantage of North Carolina's rapidly changing demographics and a large bloc of black voters galvanized by his bid to become the first African-American president.

North Carolina's growing population includes a booming urban corridor from Charlotte to Raleigh along Interstate 85, while retirees from northern states -- who are more willing to vote for Democrats -- are filling the state's coast and mountains.

Exit polls also showed that some 30 percent of voters considered race a factor in their decision, with the numbers split evenly among voters who backed McCain and Obama. Nearly one in five voters considered race an important factor.

The economy also played a role -- with 60 percent of voters considering it the top issue, with those voters breaking slightly to Obama. The state's manufacturing industry has been devastated by competitive imports, and the state's banking economy centered in Charlotte was struck by economic turmoil that led to the downfall of Wachovia Corp., in the weeks before Election Day.

Obama's win completed the party's sweep at the top of the North Carolina ticket. Beverly Perdue was elected the state's first female governor, while Kay Hagan unseated one of the GOP's most respected figures in Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

    Obama Adds Symbolic NC Victory to White House Win, NYT, 6.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/washington/AP-President-North-Carolina.html






News Analysis

A Once-United G.O.P. Emerges, in Identity Crisis


November 6, 2008
The New York Times


One by one, prized Republican strongholds fell Tuesday night and yesterday. Ohio and Indiana, Florida and Virginia, Colorado and Nevada — all succumbed to Senator Barack Obama. And for conservatives it was as disorienting a day as any in the history of the movement that has been a dominant force in shaping modern American politics.

One thing was clear: the Republican Party was no longer the party of George W. Bush. But exactly whose party was it, and whose should it become? Senator John McCain never quite succeeded in presenting a coherent alternative version. Can someone else do better?

The answers that have emerged so far reflect the party’s current confusion. A coalition once notable for its disciplined unity is now threatened by sectarian rifts that could widen significantly in the weeks ahead. Already, neoconservative defense hawks are pitted against isolationists, libertarian antitax brigades resist the values-driven politics of social conservatives, and the party’s intellectuals operate at a growing remove from the base.

Consider the case of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. To some conservatives — including several scheduled to attend a brainstorming meeting in Virginia on Thursday — Ms. Palin represents the party’s fresh-faced future. She personifies the values of small-town evangelicals, and her Western style lends piquancy to her populist mockery of Beltway elites and what she has called “the permanent political establishment.”

And yet that establishment includes Republicans like Colin Powell, Mr. Bush’s former secretary of state, and Kenneth M. Duberstein, Ronald Reagan’s final White House chief of staff, both of whom voiced their dismay at Ms. Palin’s presence on the ticket and declared their support for Mr. Obama shortly before Election Day.

Meanwhile, party operatives, crunching the unfriendly numbers, are rethinking the red state versus blue state election model mastered by tacticians like Karl Rove. Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, wants the party to redirect its energies toward voters in the populous states of the Northeast and the Great Lakes region. James Greer, the Republican chairman of Florida, believes the party must adjust to changing demographics. “The party needs to focus on Hispanic voters and African-American voters,” Mr. Greer told The New York Times. “It is the future of the Republican Party.”

But the hunt for votes is only part of the problem. There is, more fundamentally, the question of what the two parties have to say and how they say it. Longstanding ideological debates, in particular, seem increasingly irrelevant and out of date.

It may well be that some of Mr. Obama’s positions are to the left of the nation’s at large — as Mr. McCain and others asserted time and again. But it may also be that most Americans do not much care. What seems to have impressed them is Mr. Obama’s attunement to the problems afflicting the country and the hope he offered that they might be solved.

If so, then Republicans may have to jettison some of the most familiar items on their agenda. “The issues that have provided conservatives with victories in the past — particularly welfare and crime — have been rendered irrelevant by success,” Michael Gerson, the Bush speechwriter turned columnist, wrote last week. “The issues of the moment — income stagnation, climate disruption, massive demographic shifts and health care access — seem strange, unexplored land for many in the movement.”

In fact these “issues of the moment” have been with us for years now, decades in some instances, but until recently they were either ignored by conservatives or dismissed as the hobby-horses of alarmist liberals or entrenched “special interests.”

The key word in Mr. Gerson’s analysis is “movement,” a term more applicable to moral or spiritual crusades than to the practical matters of governance, particularly governance in a two-party system, where success almost invariably requires compromise, consensus and a mind open to all manner of workable solutions.

These have not been, historically, the strength of “movement conservatives,” who prefer arguments built on first principles often expressed in supercharged rhetoric. “Conservatives seem to have a genius for winning the all-important semantic battles,” the policy thinker and journalist Richard N. Goodwin wrote in 1967. “Anti-union laws become ‘right to work’; national health insurance becomes ‘socialized medicine.’ ”

Some 40 years later, there are conservatives who still inveigh against the perils of socialized medicine. In the last weeks of the campaign, Mr. Obama was repeatedly labeled a “socialist” — a word all but emptied of meaning today when nations like China and Russia have lustily embraced the free market even as a Republican president proposes a $700 billion bailout of failing Wall Street firms. And yet even after Tuesday’s results, some were still clinging to the old rhetoric. An Obama presidency will “deliver socialism, something too many of his supporters never saw coming,” L. Brent Bozell, one of the expected participants in the Virginia meeting, wrote Wednesday on National Review online.

But if movement politics disdains nuance, its insistence on “core” principles lends steel to its adherents, who are inclined to regard all defeats, even major ones, as temporary setbacks.

This highlights a profound temperamental difference between the parties. The Democrats, more inclined in recent decades to pragmatism, have tended to bow to popular will even in close elections. President Bush, though he lost the popular vote in 2000 and though many believed that the Florida recount was unjustly halted by the Supreme Court, nonetheless had little trouble pushing his first initiatives through Congress, including one of the largest tax cuts in history.

When Mr. Reagan was elected in 1980, he probably stood farther to the right of the public of his time than Mr. Obama stands to its left today. Only two years before, in the Congressional election of 1978, Democrats held on to substantial majorities in both houses of Congress, despite the troubled leadership of President Jimmy Carter. And there was little tangible evidence that voters had embraced the supply-side economics that became a cornerstone of Reaganism.

But when Republicans achieved a slight majority in the Senate to go along with the Reagan landslide, Democrats, still in the majority in the House, accepted much of his agenda, in deference to the public’s will and also in recognition that a new era in politics had arrived.

This history forms a telling contrast with 1992, when Bill Clinton amassed an impressive total of electoral votes, 370, and went to Washington with large majorities in the Senate and House. Owing to the third-party candidacy of Ross Perot, Mr. Clinton received only 43 percent of the popular vote — still 5 percent higher than the incumbent, the first President Bush, and a more conclusive victory than the younger Mr. Bush achieved in 2004. But conservatives sensed weakness, and the Republican Senate leader at the time, Bob Dole, put Mr. Clinton on notice.

“He didn’t get a majority,” Mr. Dole said the next day. The country, he added, “had plenty of doubts about Clinton. They want change. Well, we want to be responsible and deliver change, whatever that means, but we’re skeptical so we’ll wait and see.”

This set the tone for Mr. Clinton’s presidency, which remained embattled for two terms. Mr. Dole repeatedly used the filibuster to thwart Mr. Clinton, and in his second term Mr. Clinton was locked in a war with Newt Gingrich, the Republican speaker of the House, who for a time appeared to be the dominant partner in their uneasy relationship.

Mr. Obama has an advantage: He attained both a majority of the popular vote and a strong electoral victory.

The topics scheduled for the conservative conference on Thursday, according to one participant, include a discussion of how to rebuild a “national grass-roots political and policy coalition” modeled on the one conservatives put together in the 1970s, when in the waning days of liberal hegemony, Beltway organizations like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation extruded position papers, and publications like The Public Interest and Commentary became citadels of conservative ideology. Movements are conditioned to absorb setbacks and losses. Tuesday’s election is the latest, and probably not the last. It has given the Republican Party a fresh challenge — one it has not shied from in the past.

A Once-United G.O.P. Emerges, in Identity Crisis, NYT, 6.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/us/politics/06repubs.html




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