Interesting stuff on the US Presidential contest

There were several things I wanted to talk about in this here blog weeks – or is it months? – since I last posted, but ennui always gets the better of me. Also, MLQ3 always makes some of the best commentaries on the latest Philippine issues in his blog, and the wonderful crew that throw ideas in the comments area of his posts can really make one think.

So, just go to MLQ3’s blog if you want more on what’s happening locally; his recent post on the boardroom battle between the Lopezes and GSIS’ Winston Garcia is pretty thorough.

Alternatively, if you want to laugh while being made to think about the same issues, Professional Heckler never fails to make my day. His latest, taking a shot at former Speaker JDV’s recent anouncement that he’ll be spilling the beans on the ZTE crapola, is quite the read.

Instead, I’ll talk about the US Presidential elections some more (my last post being about the Democratic nomination war, after all), primarily because I just came from a short, but very informative, Digital Videoconferencing talk about it over at the US Embassy. The Americans get to show off their lag-less VC (insert sounds of envy here), and we get to hear some very, very nice information on this race for the most powerful position in the world.

Our speaker-via-remote was Dr. Gary C. Jacobson, a professor of political science and Director for Undergraduate Studies at Yale.

One of the first things Dr. Jacobson told us was the contrast between Party Conventions now and back then. Before, so Dr. Jacobson said, Conventions of the Republicans and Democrats were real venues for policy development and for Party members to be heard. Today’s Conventions tended to have decisions already made, little more than set-piece affirmation events. As a longtime insider of the political parties here in the Philippines, that sounds awfully familiar.

But then, Dr. Jacobson said that the Democratic Convention for this year might see a return of some sort to those days when the Convention truly decided the future of the Party (and, perhaps, the United States itself). The close-fought nomination race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton promises to be a down-the-wire nail-biter.

To the questions on whether the Democratic vote will be split with the selection of one over the other, Dr. Jacobson said that, in Obama’s case, a large number of Clinton supporters – especially if she campaigns for him after the nomination – would most likely vote for Obama. Part of the reason is that the major issues in this Presidential election are the ones where the Republicans are fairing poorly on; although the no. 2 issue for the campaign remains as Iraq, the sentiment on this depends on what exactly is the question on the issue. Is it about the pullout? Is it about the performance, or the validity of the war?

Dr. Jacobson, though, pointed out that Hillary’s situation – and especially in view of what might be the decision on Florida and Michigan – would make things… dicey, in a sense. Its a well-known fact that Hillary is actually not batting for the popular vote among Democrats but is trying to make a case to the one Democratic constituency that has the power at this stage, in a contest as tightly and hotly contested, to give her the nomination: the Superdelegates.

But Dr. Jacobson points out that a Superdelegate “overriding” of the choice of the rank and file could have dire consequences for the Democratic Party. Obama’s supporters just might get outraged that the “elites” of the Party could so easily overturn what is, essentially, the will of the people of the Party. Dr. Jacobson even used the term “Pyhrric” for a Clinton win where Obama didn’t implode. “It will be hard for her to do without wrecking her chances for the presidency.”

Somehow, that also sounds familiar. “Superdelegates” overturning – or, in my experience, not just disregarding but utterly suppressing – the wishes of the Party members. Yes, very familiar, indeed…

Another interesting thing Dr. Jacobson pointed out was that Obama raised most of his funds from small donations – something like 200 – 300$ per person – given online. This was viewed, so the good Professor said, by many traditional fundraisers as a sort of “inversion of the natural order” in raising funds for a candidate, as it appears that money is chasing Obama, instead of the candidate chasing the money.

I was going to ask about the youth vote, but Former Akbayan Rep. Etta Rosales beat me to the punch. Dr. Jacobson gave a figure of something like 30% of the electorate being composed of “young” people, which was defined in Rep. Rosales’ question as between 18 – 40 years of age. But this demographic, Dr. Jacobson pointed out, has traditionally participated the lowest during the actual elections. True, the Democrats have been able to get a very impressive level of support from young citizens of the United States, but the true test of a political party and a candidate is in getting your voters to the precinct. It still remains to be seen whether the well-oiled and highly-motivated Obama campaign machine will be able to bring the ones who’ve made his candidacy largely possible to the polling places.

And this will be very crucial to a Democratic victory over the Republicans. Dr. Jacobson noted that Obama had attracted “unusually large” numbers of young voters to not only take an interest in electoral politics but to participate in it as well.

As a follow-up to Rep. Etta’s questions on demographics, Dr. Jacobson said that the biggest right now in the US are the so-called Baby Boomers. McCain is said to have his biggest support from “Reagan Generation” Americans, while the Boomers are more Democratic in terms of ideology and belief, although not as Dem as the “George W. Bush Generation,” those young (but unsure if they will vote) Americans who have turned out in their legions for Obama and what he represents.

Although, from my reportage above, it sounded as if Dr. Jacobson appears to be a Democratic apologist, he’s not. He was simply pointing out the difficult issues facing the Republicans this November and underscored how much of a… force of nature (my terminology) the Obama campaign has been. Dr. Jacobson pointed out that the in all of the issues for the elections, the Republicans only outscored the Democrats in one category: terrorism. He also pointed out that the recent performance of the Republicans in various congressional contests showed just how disenchanted the American public is with them. In fact, in one rather funny instance in the talk, Dr. Jacobson told us about a headline on Bush shaking McCain’s hand. The question he asked us was, where did we think that headline came out? The unanimous choice in the room was in the Demcorat’s website.

I guess you could say that Dubya, like a certain little girl in a palace somewhere near a rather stinky river, is like a millstone dragging his Party’s candidates down with him.

Dr. Jacobson even pointed out that in areas where John McCain is supposed to be an expert in – i.e. defense and foreign policy – and where his presumed opponent – Obama – will be weak in, McCain still has problems. In the question of whether he would make the same decisions given all we know now about Iraq and Saddam Hussein, McCain said he would. Which makes me understand why in my favorite satire comic strip, Non Sequitur, the current series is a critique on McCain bordering on making him sound like an idiot. Whereas the Democrats are simply debating on how quickly the extraction of American troops will happen without seriously compromising the situation on the ground.

The one real area, so we were told, where Obama could be attacked is his qualifications in terms of experience. McCain is emphasizing his experience; as the oldest ever to be nominated by a major political party in America for the presidency, he certainly can lay claim to a good amount of that. Hillary Clinton’s selling point early on was her being “battle tested” and knowledgeable about the Great Game. Dr. Jacobson made us realize the truth in this weakness of Obama when someone asked about the implications of an Obama presidency to ASEAN and to the Philippines. Dr. Jacobson replied that he didn’t know.

And that this was Obama’s problem: much of the criticism of him stems from his unknown track record when it comes to such important foreign policy issues. How will he deal with the central issue of the Middle East? What about NATO? Russia? The so-called “Axis of Evil” his crazy would-be predecessor coined? “One of the risky things about Obama is the clarity of his stand on foreign policy issues,” Dr. Jacobson said.

Dr. Jacobson gave two pieces of information about the general campaign that close observers of it may have been thinking but haven’t found the solid evidence to say it truly exists.

The first one involves a “behind the scenes” campaign by McCain’s supporters against Obama to put the issue of Race into the forefront. Dr. Jacobson pointed out that the issue of race doesn’t show as heavily as it does in polls because of the social stigma attached to being racist. Someone might tell a pollster that s/he would vote for Obama despite racial considerations, or would not because of reasons other than the color of his skin, but its there and its real.

One proof of this could be seen in the persistence of the mistaken belief that Obama is Muslim. To a people that suffered mightily due to Islamist terrorists in 9/11, and is under constant threat from them, who elected the wrong man to the presidency of the most powerful nation on Earth a second time because of that, sad as it may sound but this is a real issue. There is quite a good number of people who said they would not vote for Obama because he’s Muslim. Which is crazy because he’s not, as that painful episode with his former Pastor should have shown.

Which leads to the second scary thing. Sometime after Obama started wracking up the caucus/primary victories, and people started making connections with JFK, rumors that the highly-possible first black president of the United States of America would also be the first black president to die via an assassin’s bullet went flying around. Dr. Jacobson said that this might not be far from reality. One should remember that while America is the home of the good and the brave, its also the soil from which sprang a couple of crazy people. Some white supremacist out there might do something… rash. So maybe its a good idea that Obama has the most Secret Service security among the three remaining contenders.

All-in-all, it was a very interesting discussion. And if anything, this only proves that, if for no other thing, the US Presidential Elections of 2008 has gone beyond the shores of the country in which the votes will be cast. The high amount of interest among people who know they won’t even be able to vote in caucus like the US Territories can shows that the impact of who will lead the only existing hyperpower has on the world.

Next one’s in September, after the Conventions are done. And my boss has said he’s making this part of my “focus list.” I can’t wait, then ^_^

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3 Responses to Interesting stuff on the US Presidential contest

  1. Tom Heneghan says:

    If you’re interested in the issue of Obama, Islam and whether he might be a Muslim apostate, you might want to check out “Muslim scholar responds to ‘Sharia smear’ against Obama” — http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2008/05/30/muslim-scholar-responds-to-sharia-smear-against-obama/ — on the Reuters FaithWorld blog.

  2. Rob' Ramos says:

    Checked your article out, sir Tom. Interesting, the turn of events surrounding this issue that refuses to leave Obama.

    Which is the scary part. Given all the coverage on his former pastor, and now the news of Obama leaving his parish, how come people STILL think the guy’s a Muslim?

  3. Pingback: Manuel L. Quezon III: The Daily Dose » Blog Archive » Form or substance

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