In my absence from blogging, I pretty much missed the 2008 US election campaign except for a couple of posts in January (and a couple on the Exvisu blog: [1], [2]). That’s not to say that I haven’t been following the campaign very closely, however.

Of the hundred interesting stories and analyses of Obama’s stunning victory last night, though, there’s one in particular that seems to have been underplayed: the role that Howard Dean has played in the Democratic resurgence.

Obama is a unique leader, but so was (and is) Howard Dean, and well beyond their formal political relationship (Dean is the chairman of the DNC), there is clearly a sympatico between the two and their basic approach to politics and their vision of how not just to win elections, but to address a much wider public than many Democrats have attempted to address.

Lessig for Congress?

In the past couple of weeks there has been an increasingly organized movement to draft renowned copyfighter Lawrence Lessig to run for Congress in the California 12th district. Lessig himself is considering it and says, “that decision will be made soon.” One of the more interesting aspects of his possible run is that Lessig recently committed to switching gears to deal with governance and corruption issues instead of focusing on copyright and related issues. It goes without saying that I and thousands like me would love the idea of a guy like Lessig in Congress. There are many fine Congresspeople, but still relatively few that have a real handle on some of the most important issues of the day.

Excellent mashup for Super Tuesday

I’ve seen a lot of mashups in the past couple of years, but the Google Maps, Twitter, and Twittervision thing is one of the greatest I’ve seen. Not only does it seem to work very well – but the mix of live results and individual reactions is simply wonderful. And the presentation of the results (on the left of the screen) is a model of simple, clean, effective design. Not super-pretty, but more effective than all the bells and whistles generally seen at the Networks’ sites.

Last night in Iowa

Last night the US Presidential election season kicked off with the Iowa Caucuses. The results were pretty stunning – clear victories for both Obama (D) and Huckabee (R). Scratch that – the results were very interesting, and might have been considered stunning if the Iowa Caucuses were a more genuinely significant political event.

Iowa is an oddball event – there’s no other way to put it – particularly on the Democratic side of things. Although public meetings like the caucuses are definitely a part of the democratic tradition, that isn’t the same as saying that the results obtained in Iowa are necessarily indicative of outcomes that will come in more “normal” exercises in democracy – like, for instance, actual elections. Plus – in the grand scheme of things, Iowa accounts for very few delegates to the convention in August.

That said, I think Iowa was important for Obama to demonstrate that he could translate interest into real public support. This demonstrates a couple of important things which will be very important for him going forward:

  • There is now some evidence that Obama leads an organization that can deliver results. Say all you want about advertising (positive and negative), fundraising, high profile endorsements, and all the rest of it – what wins elections is having an organization capable of getting people to act, not just to talk about acting.
  • There is now tangible evidence, no matter how slight, that white Americans will publicly support an African-American candidate. What does this change? No one knows for sure.
  • Fundraising hasn’t been a huge problem for Obama, but if there were anything holding people back, I think many of those barriers have now been removed.

The main event in all of this comes on February 5, when we’ll see if Obama’s organization has scaled to a multi-state effort, and if/how he can weather the onslaught that Clinton is likely to bring to his door. But more than anyone else on the Democratic race, Obama could be the beneficiary of even the smallest proof point. He has that after last night – and next we’ll all learn what that means.

It’s ON!

Tonight in Iowa the US Presidential campaigns really get underway. Everything so far – the debates, the endless pre-campaign campaigning, the breathless punditry – has been but a prelude to the Republican and Democratic Primaries, which ironically kick off not with a primary election but with a caucus.

I haven’t been commenting about US politics much lately, but I have been following things very closely. I’m not one for predictions as much as scenarios, so here goes:

Democrats: The Democratic race has already been as interesting as they come. Of course the big battle so far has been between Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. Pundits and polls have been all over the map trying to call Iowa (and New Hampshire next week), but in a way, Americans and the Democratic Party have already won with three such interesting candidates to choose from. Clinton has been the front-runner from the get-go, and it’s very refreshing that a woman can finally be taken seriously in US Presidential politics. The same, though, holds true for Obama who is interesting because not only is he black but (perhaps more significantly) he’s of another generation of US leadership (born in 1961). Added to the mix is John Edwards, who is the most traditional-looking candidate but is running a feisty, labour-friendly campaign that doesn’t seem to pull many punches.

I have always been cautiously optimistic about Obama’s chances, and I think he could succeed very well tonight. If he does well, he will have taken his support from Clinton. For Clinton, I think she has to win and win big over the whole rest of the field – which doesn’t look to be in the cards. I don’t think it’s out of the question – polls (which suggest that it’s tight between her and Obama) underestimate the importance of organizations in Caucus situations, and I have little doubt that Clinton has a pretty great machine working for her. The deciding factor will be Edwards. There’s still a possibility that the safety factor embodied by Edwards (and the comfort caucus-goers have with him) becomes an important safe harbour for people, in which case we’ll likely have a real three-way race going forward. If not – if Edwards tanks and underperforms based on current polling – then I would lay odds on Obama coming out of tonight as the clear front-runner.

Republican: This is simply one of the most ridiculous races ever. Three very unserious candidates have emerged (Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee), plus one serious but very much past-his-prime candidate (John McCain) and a fifth – Ron Paul – who is so far outside even the Republican mainstream that he shouldn’t be taken seriously… except that he has and continues to raise TONS of money.

I think the key to handicapping this is simple: who will the Republican Party feel they have to “get past” in order to set themselves up for 2012? McCain isn’t the guy – this is likely his last Presidential campaign regardless of how well he does. Paul? Nah, not really. I think it comes down to Giuliani and Romney at the end, and whatever the result tonight, the party will find a way to put one or the other in place in the General election. I think they’d most like to get Romney out of the way – he’s such an appealing guy in such completely superficial ways that to let him fail in 2008 would clear the Republican decks for an entirely new crop of candidates in 4 years. Now or in 4 years Giuliani will shoot himself in the foot, so I doubt anyone’s too worried about him.

White House Press Secretary

Tony Snow today was trotting out a new talking point: that Congress has no oversight authority of the Executive Branch. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has the story and provides a strong opinion about all of this that should be read. To me it’s just the latest in a long line of really remarkable efforts by the White House to completely re-configure US governance from the top down.

It brings to mind an important question: has the Bush administration’s primary and overarching goal been to strengthen Executive power beyond anything recognizable in US history?

Every policy that has been pursued by the Bush administration – and I include the Iraq War in this – can easily be seen to have been done in the service of increasing Executive power. And when you consider that many of the muckety-mucks – including most notably Cheney – came out of the Nixon era, it starts to look like a pretty reasonable theory.

When we look at why something like the invasion of Iraq happened, people bring out all kinds of theory about NeoCon dreams or restoring American force in the world or (even) a justifiable response to presumed terrorism and terrorist intentions on the part of Saddam. But what if all of those reasons are simply incidental? What if the ultimate reason to start a war was just to cultivate more fertile ground for strengthening the Executive Branch?

The implications are staggering when you turn the equation around like that – not Executive privilege as an outgrowth of the needs of wartime, but as the underlying reason for the war in the first place.

Under the title, “Bush’s America,”

Andrew Sullivan noted that the US has declined to sign a UN treaty “prohibiting governments from ‘disappearing’ individuals or keeping anyone in secret detention.” While I agree with Sullivan that this is shocking, I don’t think there’s anything particularly Bush-ish about the move. In fact, this would seem to be a continuation of a thread in US foreign policy that goes back to his father and continued throughout the Clinton presidency – and it’s important to note the continuity.

This common thread has been for US officials to work with other countries and the UN behind the scenes on a particular international agreement, and directly or by proxy (i.e., Canada and the land mine treaty some years ago) get it to the point where it becomes a viable international treaty, and then refuse to sign on. Usually the inability of getting anything through a divided Congress is cited – but you can easily make the case that the overarching but quiet US policy is to engage in extensive international rulemaking that will compel others to act in well defined ways both internationally and domestically – while exempting itself from those same agreements. In a way, it’s a continuation of a two-century-old vision of US exceptionalism – but this time the effort is to formalize this as a matter of law around the world.

Examples include the aforementioned landmines treaty, Kyoto, the Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty, the International Criminal Court, etc. If I had done a PhD, this was likely going to be one of my research subjects – international rulemaking and power in the post-cold-war era. (BTW I also raised this point in 2002 and in 2001 among others.)

Breaking news:

Disgraced Enron founder Lay dead. “Ken Lay, the disgraced founder of Enron Corp. who was convicted in May on charges of fraud and conspiracy, has died… of a heart attack at a family home in Aspen, Col.”

The most recent example

of a well-oiled (and certainly well-funded) astroturf campaign: Hands Off the Internet
and it’s subsidiary site, Nothing like fake grassroots advocacy to get the creative juices flowing!

I haven’t commented at all

about the US NSA wiretapping stuff, but last week Boing Boing published a great excerpt of a William Gibson interview in which he commented on the story: William Gibson on NSA wiretapping. Pithy quote: “…there aren’t many people really shocked by this. Our popular culture, our dirt-ball street culture teaches us from childhood that the CIA is listening to *all* of our telephone calls and reading *all* of our email anyway.”