Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Watching New Hampshire

New Hampshire, the granite state, is the first on the calendar of the United States to hold party primaries. NY Senator Hillary Clinton edged over Illinois Senator Barack Obama by 3 percentage points 39 - 36. Former North Carolina Senator Edwards came a distant 3rd with 17% of his party's vote. On the Republican side it was McCain 37%, Romney 32, and Huckabee 11. Both Republican and Democrat votes differed from Iowa results (i.e., Obama, Edwards, Clinton (D), and Huckabee, Romney, Thompson (R).

Last night I took note of how the candidates handled the outcome and how they addressed their supporters once the results became clear.

Such on-the-ground politics is a thrilling part of the American political process. Candidates are close among volunteers and the voters, very personal, yet carry out this work under massive national and media attention. This blend of intimate, person to person politics, in high intensity, high-stakes, impassioned activity is a formula for the arising of fervid emotion and can provide a very helpful lens through which to take in candidates.

As numbers became clear each candidate came out to address his or her supporters, responding to victory, something less than victory, or simply defeat. These speeches are at once thanks and good-bye to genuine, loving supporters, but also speeches to the nation. With emotions so high and the personal so close, these make for good speeches to watch closely.

John McAin should have had the most thrilling night of all, since he was the runaway victor in his party after having been left for dead just weeks ago. For some, sad reason McCain acceded to deliver a travesty of a speech prepared by some hack. He stumbled through a poorly written screed so riddled with grammatical negatives that McCain himself ended up confused. Even its compulsory "end-with-a-show-stopper" clattered about, entangled in its 3-parts, the crowd erupting part way through, while McCain had to quiet them down only to get through a deflated, closing zinger, a most unfortunate energy to announce one's resurrection.

Ron Paul, the Ross Perot of 2008 with wildly devoted followers, ended up in his concession speech excitedly reiterating his plan to dissolve the Federal Reserve, excitedly reporting that his supporters are burning up dollar bills. Not exactly the stuff of political gravitas.


New Mexico Governor Richardson (whom I tend to like as a personality) was unprepared, and said as close to nothing as possible.








Of these, the most important two speeches to watch were those of Senators Clinton and Obama.

New Hampshire results pulled Senator Clinton from the jaws of death. Iowa had shown her vulnerability, and Hillary haters and the vapid commentariat raced to write her obituary though not a single American vote had been cast in a single primary (Iowa being a caucus).

Senator Clinton showed an important strength and important weaknesses in her speech to thank and congratulate her supporters. On the positive side, without a prepared speech, she stayed on message. In essence in what should be an extremely emotional moment, Senator Clinton simply continued to campaign. Her degree of focus and purposefulness in an emotional moment of political rescue emits the political maturity of a candidate that must be taken seriously. (Regardless of whether one ascribes this focus to a "healthy" or problematic place).

Obama did the same. He too stayed highely focused while fully engaging and embracing his New Hampshire supporters.

Senator Clinton paused to acknowledge her Democrat competitors, as did Senator Obama, but this act, just as the speeches themselves proved to reveal the colossal difference between these two candidates.

Barack Obama took the stage before a deafening crowd, and after strenuous effort to gain sufficient calm to be able to speak, the very first words from his mouth were unqualified congratulations for Senator Clinton. He demanded of his purely partisan supporters, "give her a hand," and paused with a silent insistence that this crowd summon up that unexpected and unwanted ability. The applause for Senator Clinton at Obama's request gradually swelled almost as though Obama willed it from his people. Only then did Obama turn to yet another example of his superior oratory. What a burden it must be to run against that. But true oratory is not a glued on skill. That only goes so far. The true question is not how hard it is to run against his oratory, but how hard it is to run against him.

Senator Clinton on the other hand, in the fading exhale end of her remarks acknowledged her Democrat opponents beginning her list with even those who'd already withdrawn from the race! At the end of this long list, the END (!), she included mention of Senator Obama, a silly disjunct from reality, as though the Illinois Senator is just another in an insignificant list of primary hopefuls.

It is this difference (namely the manner in which each of these candidates publicly acknowledged the other) that showed in such high relief also in the speeches themselves. Hillary's speech extended her campaign strategies, whereas Obama's speech reprised his vision.

Senator Clinton very clearly continued to shade and shave the campaign strategy and message chiseled by her architects, whereas Obama seemed to need only to draw upon that which sits within. It leads one to feel, or at least to suggest that in Senator Clinton's remarkable discipline to stay on point we experience a menacing political discipline and calculation, whereas with Senator Obama one feels ease, and the relative absence of calculation. Being on point is being himself. The political discipline seems to spray forth in the wake of a harmonizing vision.

If it is true that Obama represents an impassioned presence, and Clinton represents the ultimate political machine and mastery, then we truly have a momentous race to behold, one about which no one should be neutral.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is a great summary and a refreshing way to appraise the candidates. I saw the leading candidates responses and agree that Clinton was OK, McCain weak and Obama glorious. Edwards was also strong and Romney OK (and both were gracious to the winners, especially Romney I felt.)
Now that there is a real race for both parties I hope that we will see the mettle of all the leading candidates. Since the most untested is surely Obama, I am particularly interested to see how he fares. Does he have the substance to match the fabulous oratory and the idea that in his very being he personifies a fresh start.
Matt Cherry

Thomas Cromwell said...

Hi Frank. I tend to agree with your observations, and although I did not have the interest or patience to listen to all the speeches last night, I did catch some.

Here are my two cents.

There seem to be two ways to look at these candidates: one is their positions on important issues; the other their humanity/character/personality.

I find the Democratic leaders fairly close to one another on policy, but very different in the character category.

Personally, I don't agree with most of the Democratic positions, such as increased government spending on socialized medicine and a hasty withdrawal from Iraq. More fundamentally, I don't agree with the picture they paint of America as a land of poor, disenfranchised, almost helpless people who need the government to make their life worthwhile.

But, on the side of character, I find Obama the most attractive. He has generally avoided the digs and barbs at opponents that are so mean-spirited. He seems to be motivated largely by authentic altruism. I just think he is wrong on most of his policy positions, but there is hope he would learn on the job and be honest enough to change course as needed.

Clinton is scary (yep). She is SOOOO driven by ambition, by her desire to lead America, to shape it in her image, to show the world how great she is. This self-interested ambition is the core problem with her character, and it shows, again and again as she tries to calculate her way through this election, including moments of emotion and comments about her rivals, the current president and anything else.

Edwards. Now there is a pandering schemer! His speech last night was shameless, the same sort of thing he used to sway juries to award huge damages to his clients. He used to get rich on the back of his ability to conjure up emotion and sympathy for victims; now he wants to get the White House by doing the same thing on a national scale, presenting himself as the defender of the poor, sick, downtrodden. The America he portrays is a twisted version of the reality. He just thinks it sells well.

That said, I think the real debate is taking place more substantially on the Republican side. It has to do with how you deal with national security, illegal immigration and the like.

And it has to do with vision, leadership and management capabilities, critical issues that the Democrats are barely touching and on which are all very weak.

I tend to see McCain as weak on character. Yes, he has a reputation for straight talk, but also he can be the most mean-spirited, as he demonstrated in his snide remarks addressed at Romney in a recent debate. Also, beyond national security, he does not stand out as a man of vision and leadership. I don't mean to offend anyone, but he strikes me as ultimately a small man who had done brave things but is not up to leading the nation.

Giuliani is a bit the same for me. He did well in NY at 9/11, but he does not seem a man who has real national stature. Watching him does not inspire me. I do not think he can inspire the nation to greatness. Could be wrong, of course!

Romney I like. I think he is capable and clear thinking, and a proven manager. What he lacks in national experience I believe he can add to his resume quickly. Running the government is primarily a management issue: how to maximize limited resources. On policy, I think he is sound.

Huckabee is a very smooth talker and likable person. I think he might turn out fine, but in a 'better Jimmy Carter' sort of way.

Thompson does not have the energy or passion to lead the country, and few relevant qualifications in executive experience.

Thomas

familyofmoon said...

I was wondering why you made no comment on Mitt Romney, after all he did come in second.

I really like Barack Obama, and wish that I could agree with his political positions, because personality-wise he would be a wonderful president. Jimmy Carter was a nice guy, Bill Clinton was persuasive and "charming" but they showed that personality is not enough to effectively run a nation.

I like Mitt Romney politically, and wish that he had more "personality." He needs to SHOW his softer side, his passion, and an understanding of the average american - unfortunately there seems to be so much resentment to his wealth.

I liked Thomas Cromwell's comments, though I think Huckabee is using humor to hide his mean spiritedness.

Gene Hart said...

Appreciated your review. I agree, McCain's was a scripted speech w/o life, especially being shown right after Romney's and Huckabee's heartfelt ones on CNN. Didn't hear any comment about theirs from you, so I'll throw out some thoughts. Romney underscored family values in his talk. Huckabee was very personable with all his volunteers. Romney gave us a strong willed and clear headed type of visionary approach but w/o much emotive quality. Huckabee had the emotive and feel good appeal. He's strong w the Christian base but not a lot else it seemed.

In all its a little disappointing that candidates aren't in themselves more complete. If we could take pieces of each for a composite candidate, we would be happier. But this is America.

Anonymous said...

Hi Frank,
I really appreciated your summary, especially since I know little about Obama (is he just going to be shooting star?) Hillary is experienced but I don't think we are at all ready for "First Spouse Bill" - how would that play out?
I have voted Republican (what else?) in the last I don't know how many elections but maybe it really is time for a change (or is that just more rhetoric?)
Eileen Williams

davo said...

Frank, yours is a very thorough and thoughtful observation. I tend to agree with many of your points about Obama. Hear are some additional views. I have been studying Obama (and considering him) for over a year. While I have some concerns on some of his positions (no candidate can get everything right) I do believe he has the integrity and truthfulness to be able to "grow" into the position--as many have done in past history. However, in addition, I also believe he is a phenomenon. A man whom "history has brought forth" at this time. A man not unlike (the unlikely) President Abraham Lincoln (also from Illinois)who also came from "no where" politially and rose to legendary status in his short life. To close, I will share a sucinct view.

The guys in the chairs (pundits and talking heads) are getting it all wrong! They should listen to “their guys” in the field. they are out there “feeling the heat” and seeing the “light”. Obama is not about talk, rehetoric, and campaign slogans. He simply inspires the people who come out to see him. The more people “see” him the more they “feel” they want to be a part of the biggest most exciting politcal story in America’s recent history. He has engergized the young people like no one except perhaps JFK. When he speaks he doesn’t just talk about ideas–he gives the vision about how those ideas can be substantiated. This is the sign of a True Leader. Barack Obama is a man for this time in history. A new man for the 21st century.

thanks

Anonymous said...

Hi Dr. Kaufmann -

When listening to Obama's speech last night - I was impressed - I too, as Elieen stated, have traditionally voted republican, and although Romney seems attractive, Obama's oratorical skills and spirit - almost reminded me of Dr. King. Today I think I will take a look at his website to find out what his policies are. I think he's young enough, and speaks of bi-partisanship enough to offer a new kind of politician - one who can mend the rift between our two major parties. Thanks always for sending me your thoughts.

yasmincs said...

Frank
i agree with your opinion, howeever I beleive that john Edwards should not be overlooked as he is passionate about living for the sake of the MiddleClass to defend and give back what inheritance they deserve. I also beleive New Hampshire is a Republican State and I feel they passed the Vote to the oponet that is less likely to win against them which is Hilary..I really want to see a change in USA however hilary and McCain represent the old guard and I pray that this is not the direction we are taking
Sincerly Your Friend Yasmin

Peter Duveen said...

Hello Frank.

I caught parts of Clinton's speech, and snippets of the others. I tried to find what i could on the internet, but it was a little too slow.

Hillary did come over on one point though. She was able, with apparent sincerity, to credit the people of New Hampshire with her victory. That went over very well.

As far as Ron Paul is concerned, while I did not hear his speech, I think he is still getting used to the spotlight. Hillary is an old hand at it, and even Obama, with the miraculous amount of coverage afforded him by the press since he announced his candidacy, certainly has more of the hollywood image. It is for this reason, however, that Ron Paul's followers deserve notice. It is apparent that they are people who are very much focused on content, not appearances.

The huge problem I see in this election cycle is one that has plagued the last several elections--election fraud. There were some voting irregularities reported in New Hampshire, and an interesting statistical analysis showed that hand-counted ballots as opposed to those counted by diebold machines would have produced quite a different result. For example, Obama would have won if just the hand-counted ballots were counted. Ron Paul would have trumped Guiliani.

The polls predicted a win for Obama, but when he lost, it was assumed by media pundits that the polls were at fault. But there are two sides to the equation here--the polls AND the vote count. In other words, the vote count could indeed be the problem here. I saw no analysis of the polls showing why they should have made such poor projections.

I believe we are in an era of election fraud, that there are few safeguards in terms of accurately counting votes. In America, we usually take for granted that votes are counted accurately, but this is a poor assumtion. Quite honestly, from beginning to end, I believe that the process is quite rigged, that Hillary is the "heir apparent," and that if we don't take a good look at what is happening, we are merely assenting to the death of democracy.

Peter

Bulgaa said...

Hello Dr.Kaufmann and other commentators, I found very interesting to read and analyzing your comments. I'm young mongolian who is preparing for the Mongolian Parliamentary Election in June, 2008. I want to learn about politics more. Especially from the US people and your thoughts are very helpful for me. Even, I do not know much about US Election system and different nations values, people's way of thinking (every nation is different), but I know that all people in the world want to live happy and looking for a great leadership. I will be happy if you will teach me about this or just send mails to me. Thank you all, and I hope America will find great leader, because I believe in Americans' brilliant mind.

Anonymous said...

Hello Dr. Kaufmann: I was grateful to hear your critique of the various acceptance speeches and responses from your friends.

What is essential in determining the best candidate as well is: informing oneself of all the stances of all the issues of all the candidates. On a website search of "Election 2008", I found a great table that outlined this in its entirety which helped me to know, compare and contrast the various candidates more thoughtfully. Each candidate's website is also an important resource.

As we prayerfully offer this nation to God in these next few months, let us seek to govern ourselves before we seek to govern the world.

Sincerely, Susan Herrman

Ray Mas said...

Frank,

Thank you for your astute observations. But I have to disagree with you on McCain. Even though his victory speech was clearly botched, McCain's strength of character still came through. In observing McCain, I would have to say that his biggest weakness is his temper. As I understand it, he was known for this even by his North Vietnamese jailers. But his pugnaciousness in a the Hanoi Hilton might be an inspiring story, it may not be the right quality in working with others. In this sense, I think he is similar to George Bush, and it is not a good character trait.

However, McCain does come off as a genuine, sincere patriot, and you can sense that his suffering in captivity had a fundamental influence on his life.

Although Mitt Romany seems a capable person, I cannot escape the feeling that his public persona at any rate is stiff and plastic. He may be very different in private, but in public I think that there is a widespread feeling that he is somehow "phony."

My sense is that Romney is a very disciplined guy who, as a successful businessman kept his cards close to his chest. But that does not necessarily translate to a warm public persona.

Ray Mas

pross@bww.com said...

Dear Frank,

Thank you for taking the time to put together your thoughts on this important occasion.

I have a single issue: that the war in Iraq should be over yesterday and that whoever I vote for will have that position. This country will remain hobbled until that is done.

I have worked for three presidential candidates: Lyndon Johnson (while only 14) for the Great Society, George McGovern because of his opposition to the Vietnam war Johnson blundered into; and for Jerry Brown despite what he did to public education in Calif with his stupid property tax concession, because of his flat tax proposal even though, as a business person, the tax system favored me.

My first choices in this contest were Edwards, Kucinich, and Paul because of their populism and their overt antagonism to the war in Iraq.

Your most thoughtful assessment of this campaign puts us on notice that reckoning day is nigh.

Are we Americans ready to give up our individual freedom again? The Bill of Rights is dying. Who, among the remaining candidates will fight for it?

Great commentary!

Peter Ross

Anonymous said...

The Old Testament is for restraining the crowd, the people.
The New Testament is for restraining the Leaders, the Governors. So is the US Constitution.
All the presidential candidates are nice and great personalities. What the most important is - all of them are on the floor of the New Testament! Promises, which is certainly an Old-Testament value, are not the main thing in the campaign; neither are the visions (read prophecies). The key point in US elections is the relatedness of the would-be President to Liberty (which is a New-Testament values). And the cost of Freedom is very high. Though human race is ready to follow US Government.
Thanks
Samvel Jeshmaridian

Matt said...

Your observations are stimulating and thought provoking, Frank. Thank you for taking the time to present them so well. There is one obvious point which you seem to have overlooked, however.

Mrs. Clinton is the only woman in the field. As one of my newly politically conscious daughters pointed out to me, that means many votes will see her as a symbol of real change in perspective.

Personally I prefer a solid family and honest moral character. Obama gets my vote as does Mitt Romney on that score as far as I know.

I would say that as a primary state, New Hampshire offered more of a referendum than Iowa. In other words there may have been a greater measure of mass opinion in the former. Keep in mind that local organizing is a powerful and often underestimated force in politics. It both measures the interest and will of the grass roots while at the same time educating citizens about the process.

My suggestion to Obama would be to include his wife and family as much as possible in whatever he does. America needs a family in the leadership role with a model husband and wife, father and mother and children.

Watch Maryland which now has an early Primary on the 15th of Feb.
It is all very exciting.

Matt Goldberg in Severna Park, MD

steve.evans said...

Greetings and Salutations everyone.
It's good to have one such forum to comment on the observations of a respected American mentor, thank you Frank.
As a student of American politics, a Vietnam veteran and keen observer of human nature I cannot easily take candidates seriously espousing the current Democratic line or platform regardless of their well rehearsed political savvy or personal dynamism. Compromised with the abortionists, rabid gay rights positions, and among many more, the obvious the self serving unions, they have perverted almost beyond measure the ideals of their great party. I could not see myself voting for any one of them. See Carter and Clinton as classic examples of their unprepared leadership.

The Republicans rate only a little better. The lack of courage to assess the obvious abuses of unprincipled capitalism run amok thru the medical industrial complex, businesses abetting and serving the most perverse of interests and our government utilizing it's God and constitutionally given authority to hide behind for crass political partisanship is only surpassed by our continual ability to elevate limited qualified leaders to the fore who serve our parochial interests.
As has been said prior, it's a poor form of governance but the best we got!
I love America and that for that which it stands but... we have a lot of work to do!
Until we can, thru prayer, coupled with experience that leads to wisdom, raise up, with God's blessing, the youth of today, hopefully from our Second Generation, the kind of deep seeded love for Heavens ideal we will suffer the yearnings inherent in the field of candidates we have today.
Of course, the rub here is how to educate the electorate...

As dire as these comments may appear I am absolutely confident love and truth will reign supreme.

Thanx Frank-

Steve Evans, from OZ

Anonymous said...

Frank, This is a very insightful review of the candidate's emotional and philosphical
perspectives, as well as the way in which each copes with victory, or a second place
finish in Obama's case, although interestingly both Obama and Clinton on the D side, won 9 delegates each in NH, a tie. So, Obama leads in this critical and major component of the primary/caucus contest, having placed well ahead of Clinton in Iowa.

It would have been interesting to here your review of the speech of Mitt Romney, who like
Obama, came in second, but also probably has the lead among Republicans in the delegate
count.


While "winning" a state caucus or primary has significant political, emotional,
and momentum building consequences, it is surprising that no one, in the media at least,
thinks that winning delegates for the respective national conventions has any meaning
whatsoever. Yet, it is the delegates at convention, which has a major part to play in who
is selected as the nominee.

There is often a sense driven by many in the media that this "primary season" is
a single elimination contest, hence the dramatic conclusions that "Mitt is
dead," or surely will be if he does not win the next event. In fact, it a long
marathon or more like a college basketball conference schedule, where it is the tally at
the end that determines who plays on not the annointed "loser' in NH.

Greetings,
Bill Brunhofer