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Seattle Times Political Caucus

The Seattle Times Political Caucus is an online community aimed at adding diverse voices to our coverage of politics. How we'll use the Caucus will evolve over time. But the idea is to create a conversation with people of various backgrounds and political beliefs. As the election season unfolds, we'll ask participants to weigh in on key political questions and then post their comments here.

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August 31, 2008 4:46 PM

On to St. Paul

Posted by Richard Wagoner

This post is by Keith Houser of Bellevue, who is traveling to both Denver and St. Paul to "to observe history 'unembedded' and write about my experiences." Houser is a member of The Seattle Times Political Caucus.

By Keith Houser

While I approached the Democratic National Convention in Denver with ideas of what might be, I flew toward the Republican convention in St. Paul with reflections on what had already been. Three years earlier, almost to the day, Hurricane Katrina had devastated New Orleans. Now a new storm approached the same city, still languishing, unforgivably brutalized and neglected by the forces of nature and human criminality. It was criminal to do nothing to help the people of New Orleans while they drowned, and criminal to deny the survivors their right to return home three long years later.

The man George Bush appointed to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency before Katrina hit was a political crony with no experience in disaster management. National Guard troops who could have helped save lives were instead fighting Bush's war of choice in Iraq. And while hundreds were dying, stranded on rooftops as the water rose, Bush fiddled for days, among other things celebrating John McCain's birthday with him in Arizona.

Katrina exemplified everything tragic about the past seven and a half years. Our leaders proved they were worse than inept, they were completely uncaring. Troops went into battle insufficiently armed, VA hospitals went underfunded, environmental protections were gutted and unproductive debt soared as if future generations preferred to inherit a country depleted, impoverished, and plundered. We saw it in a slowly crumbling infrastructure in the form of decreasing industrial capacity, rising prices, scattered grain shortages, and in one instance, a dramatic bridge collapse, right in Minneapolis a few miles from where on Monday assembled Republican delegates would be toasting themselves as the world burned.

Like with Katrina, the Republican Party's callous indifference to the people they were supposed to care for would lay naked and obvious for the world to see should they decide to celebrate as the Big Easy drowned again. Perhaps they would be politically savvy enough to know that joy should not accompany disaster, at least on television. Or maybe the storm would whither away and spare the city. Either way, it was a testament to divine irony that nature itself would be reminding us all of what transpired three years ago, and what happens when a free citizenry falls asleep at the wheel by letting the demons in our midst run the levers of power.

This week Bush, Cheney, and their entire entourage of fear-mongering crazies were supposed to be passing on the torch to their new deputy, John McCain. They will find time to continue their festival of madness whether they decide to delay it or not. But one thing is for sure: John McCain represents a continuation of something bigger than himself. Regardless of his "maverick" title, he still panders to, speaks for, and dances with the same forces that have brought nothing but wreckage to our country in particular and our world in general. When I arrive in St. Paul, I'll find out for certain just how passive the locals are in accepting it.

Keith Houser, 26, describes himself as "a white suburban slacker from Bellevue with a knack for understanding belt-way intrigue and synthesizing global macro phenomena into a coherent world systems theory." He isn't affiliated with any political campaign.

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August 29, 2008 8:04 PM

The political fault lines are rattling now

Posted by Richard Wagoner

domke.JPGUniversity of Washington professor David Domke, an expert on the intersection of faith and politics, writes today about the impact of race in the presidential campaign.

By David Domke

Let's just call this the "fault lines" presidential election.

In geological terms, fault lines are locations where friction occurs between differing earth masses - and this friction can cause ruptures, earthquakes, upheaval. The San Andreas Fault in California is perhaps the best-known example of a fault line.

In political terms, fault lines are the demographic and psychological characteristics that often produce friction in a society. In the United States, the biggest fault lines tend to be race, gender, economic class, sexuality, religion, and age. These are lines along which political earthquakes and ruptures occur. And they are the lines upon which presidential elections often turn.

This presidential election now has virtually all of them, and they are coming to a head right here, right now.

Barack Obama on Thursday became the first African American to gain the presidential nod of a major political party, accepting the Democratic Party's nomination. This event took place before 84,000 people in open-air Invesco Field in Denver and 38 million more watching on television - more than watched the Olympic Opening Ceremonies two weeks ago, more than watched the Academy Awards this year, and nearly twice as many as watched John Kerry's nomination-acceptance address for the Democratic Party in 2004. That's what happens when history takes place.

What people saw in Obama's speech was a game-on, take-no-prisoners approach to presidential politics. It was exactly what Obama had not offered since hitting the national scene, and the speech hit a home run - wowing the liberal blogosphere, mainstream news media, and even Pat Buchanan, a former Richard Nixon aide who runs politically to the right of virtually everyone, who said this on MSNBC after the address: "It was a genuinely outstanding speech, it was magnificent ... It is the finest - and I saw [Mario] Cuomo's speech [in 1984], I saw [Ted] Kennedy in '80, I even saw Douglas MacArthur, I saw Martin Luther King - this is the greatest convention speech."

Obama can give a good speech, we know. But what put it over the top was something he drew from his new running mate, Joe Biden - a self-described scrappy kid from Scranton, Penn., who told the nation on Wednesday that when growing up, his mother told him to bloody the nose of any kids who bullied him. With the cameras trained on her watching in the crowd, Biden's mother smiled and said, Yep I did. It was a classic, Archie Bunker moment. Biden's speech had a simple, unspoken tagline: "Made in America."

Obama chose Biden for the VP slot to shore up Obama's lackluster appeal to working-class voters, particularly those who are white. Biden has immediately lit a fire under Obama, a fire that goes straight to the core of all of the millions of Americans who are worried about the economy and whether Obama can serve as commander-in-chief. John McCain's inability last week to identify how many houses he owns was like manna from heaven for the Democrats, and Obama and Biden have run with it.

It's in this environment that McCain one-upped everyone Friday morning, delivering the biggest blockbuster yet: naming Alaska governor Sarah Palin to be his VP running mate.

Palin has been governor of Alaska (the 47th-largest state in terms of population) for less than two years and has little foreign-policy experience, a reality which undercuts the McCain camp's criticisms of Obama's relative short tenure on the national scene. Further, Palin is virtually unknown to anyone outside Alaska or political-junkie circles. So what does McCain get with Palin that made her appealing as a partner? A couple things. Indeed, a couple crucial things.

First, Palin is a woman. This was a high-priority for McCain; NBC political news director Chuck Todd put it this way on air Friday morning: "They really wanted to pick a woman, and there were no obvious choices." The thinking is that Hillary Clinton's supporters in the Democratic Party are ripe to be pealed away from Obama. Some evidence suggests this window may be closing after the Democratic convention, but it's certainly possible. Picking a woman, particularly someone who has cast herself as a reformer, as Palin has, reinforces McCain's maverick image.

Second, Palin is well-liked among conservative white evangelicals in this country, who are the base of the Republican Party but have been less than enthused about McCain's candidacy. A Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults released 10 days ago showed that McCain's support among these voters is comparable to George W. Bush's in 2004, but that there is an enthusiasm gap. In August 2004, 57 percent of white evangelicals said they "strongly" supported Bush; this August, only 28 percent said they strongly supported McCain. That's not a gap; that's a chasm.

Evangelicals like Palin's pro-life position on abortion, and her statement in the 2006 gubernatorial race that she supported the teaching of creationism in public schools was an explicit signal to these voters. On cue Friday, Richard Land, a key leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, declared, "Governor Palin will delight the Republican base." If these voters rally to McCain's side, the Palin selection will be a brilliant move.

On the potential downside though, McCain just made his age and health a key part of this election. He is a cancer survivor and turned 72 on Friday; he will be the oldest first-term president if he is elected in November. Democrats now have an opening to emphasize McCain's age and health, by asking whether Palin is fit to be president. The message of "One heartbeat away" is sure to become a talking point for Palin. Whether Palin is a genius pick or Geraldine Ferraro redux is the question of the hour.

The fault lines - and so many of them - have emerged. Next week it is the Republicans' chance to make their case to the American public. Two months until election night.

David Domke, a former newspaper journalist, is a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington. His latest book, "The God Strategy: How Religion Became A Political Weapon in America," was published in January. He can be reached at domke@u.washington.edu.

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August 29, 2008 4:35 PM

McCain's running mate

Posted by Katherine Long

Sen. John McCain surprised many observers Friday morning when he selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate. We asked the Seattle Times Political Caucus: What do you think of his choice, and does it make you more or less likely to vote for him? Read all of their answers here.

Many Republicans and quite a few independents praised McCain for a bold, interesting choice. Some were swayed by her addition to the ticket, while others were not so sure.

Sarah Andeen of Kirkland says she's voted for McCain before (as a write-in), but remains undecided. "Her lack of experience on the world stage is not a huge issue -- I think she could probably step up to the plate and learn what she needed to, but in general I do not think she has the people skills to be effective at creating bi-partisan coalitions and while her accomplishments as a whistleblower are nice, they do not completely balance out her own ethical issues. So this choice has sealed John McCain's fate in the negative column for my vote, but it is still not yet in the pro-vote column for Obama. Which is disappointing."

"I have to give it to John McCain for picking a candidate who may be as maverick as he claims to be," wrote Dave Iseminger of Capitol Hill. "He certainly didn't pick a safe choice and I am extremely excited to hear her speech at the convention next week."

Iseminger went on: "I would heavily consider voting for McCain-Palin because during the 2000 primary I liked McCain quite a bit. His bold choice and her ethics make them an intriguing ticket. I don't know quite what to make of her experience and the proximity to the presidency she will have if elected. I'll reserve judgment on that until I hear and research more." Nevertheless, Iseminger hasn't yet changed his plans to vote for Obama.

"I wouldn't ever vote for McCain, but choosing Palin was definitely a bold move for a candidate that doesn't seem to make too many bold moves," wrote Dan Rosson of Seattle. "I think though once the initial surprise dies down, Democratic women will fiercely campaign for Obama, and it will end up not being a great choice. It was certainly a risky one!"

"I am a huge Mitt supporter and I like her a lot," wrote Apollo Fuhriman of Bothell. "She brings a whole new dynamic to the ticket and will be an excellent Veep!"

Steven Fenton of Snoqualmie is a fan, too. "The selection of Governor Palin to become the Vice Presidential nominee is historic and refreshing. Democrats would be ill-advised to dismiss her too lightly. Though she is already being embraced by conservative Republicans, her appeal may be much broader than just the traditional conservative base."

Scott Kastelitz of Bothell is impressed with Palin's background, and is leaning strongly toward voting for McCain now. "After reading more about Palin, I realized she's young and vibrant, which the Republican ticket desperately needs. I was surprised to learn that as governor of Alaska, she presided over a tax increase on oil company profits, so that shows she's not afraid to stand up to the big boys."

William Marx of Seattle offered a number of interesting observations, including this one: "Hillary supporters sensitive to attacks on female leadership may easily scoff at Democratic attempts to paint a picture of naivete as further media sexism. Yet, Hillary supporters may also see the obvious pandering by McCain for their vote. If the end result of this frustration leaves female Democratic voters at home while energizing female GOP voters, this issue could very well be a net positive for McCain. Interestingly enough, McCain's selection begs for Hillary Clinton to take up Obama's cause much more than she ever planned or may want to. If so, she could consolidate the very schism McCain is attempting to exploit. "

Sheila Harrison of Renton, who says she was a precinct delegate for Clinton, doesn't think Palin will have much crossover appeal for Clinton's supporters. "By putting Sarah Palin on the ticket I feel that the McCain campaign is making a blatant attempt to garner support from those of us who supported Hillary," Harrison wrote. "What the McCain campaign fails to understand is that most of us didn't support Hillary because she was a woman; I strongly agreed with her positions on health care, the economy, the environment, and her foreign policy stance. The fact that she was a woman did contribute to my admiration of her, but I certainly wouldn't have supported her if I didn't also agree with her positions."

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August 29, 2008 4:19 PM

Celebrating Denver's rebellious minority

Posted by Richard Wagoner

This post is by Keith Houser of Bellevue, who is traveling to both Denver and St. Paul to "to observe history 'unembedded' and write about my experiences." Houser is a member of The Seattle Times Political Caucus.

By Keith Houser

Freak power is alive and well in Denver, for better or for worse. Throughout the week Christianists with five-foot-tall color posters of aborted fetuses have been demonstrating downtown, as have a smaller group of screwball lunatics protesting homosexuality. There wasn't much subtlety to the large sign that read "HOMO SEX IS SIN," or the hateful gibberish propagated by the man holding it. Counter-demonstrators gathered, one with a sign denouncing "Christiain fascism," apparently made in a bit of haste as she had misspelled the word "Christian." Fairly soon after I arrived on the scene of that particular standoff, riot police showed up to act as a barrier between the two groups, and I left to find more aberrations to a city otherwise overrun by mild-mannered Democrats.

The delegates to the convention took to the gentrified downtown like tics on a dog. It was in their nature to feed on what they were bred for, and considering that most were well off enough to be able to afford coming to Denver, they wallowed in all things bourgeois with a visible lack of interest in the overall state of the city. Strolling away from the bizarre pro-theocracy demonstration from earlier, I passed dozens of fancy restaurants whose outdoor seating teamed with suited men and well-dressed women, all with their laminated convention passes proudly displayed. The ad hoc police state didn't seem to bother them, and the cultural mutants of all stripes who had come out of the woodwork to spice up the week were actively disregarded. Nibbling away at overpriced meals and sipping red wine, there was a general detachment from the very reality around them.

It wasn't long before a man dressed head to toe in bright pink clothing glided by on an equally pink bicycle, peace slogans written both on his bike and his own gender-bending attire. Moments later I saw two more, riding about the streets on bikes covered in pink tassels, with pink stockings, pink skirts, pink shirts, pink paper crowns with pink signs saying "Impeach Bush," "End the War," but nothing explaining their affinity for the color pink. Every few blocks I walked more pink peace bikers sped by, always in groups of one or two. This was undoubtedly the work of Code Pink, the peace group that tenaciously disrupts congressional hearings from time to time with the help of their favorite color. While most were women, a few men had joined in the fun for the convention.

This was quite a contrast to the bulk of the anti-war folk in town, overwhelmingly pissed as hell and wearing red and black. Smiling men in tutus touch a different part of the brain than the angry young socialists the body politic tends to associate with Molotov cocktails and clenched fists. While the former had strength in bright colors and positivity, the latter excelled in mobilizing large blocs of people that were impossible to ignore. It was the difference between guerrilla and conventional warfare, the goal of both being to convey unconventional messages to an immobilized general public.

The city of Denver had spent $50 million on security to ensure that organized dissent would be confined and muffled. One wonders how many low-income apartments and neighborhood health clinics could have been built with the same amount of money. While in my experience the police were very professional and friendly as individuals, when given orders to attack in formation, brutality reared its ugly head. Mass arrests of demonstrators occurred the first day, plus the incarceration of an 80 year old man returning books to a library. Groups of armored men rode on the outside of police vehicles, speeding off to various places at all times of day. The enormous posters of Barack Obama on the sides of buildings added a cult of personality to the formula, as did the periodic whir of helicopters and sirens in the distance.

But this was America, and rampant commercialism took the edge off the multimillion dollar lock-down. There must have been hundreds of individuals hawking Obama gear to anyone who came near them. While I had sympathy for the humble T-shirt peddler, it was the pushing of environmental snake oil that was truly shameless. Billboards for "clean coal," ethanol, and filthy corporations attempting to green-wash their own awful records were ubiquitous. Even the free soft drinks being distributed by promoters had messages on them describing how their bottles used 30 percent less plastic than their competitors. I wanted to think that no one could possibly be dumb enough to fall for this transparently dishonest marketing campaign, but then again Barack Obama was promoting "clean coal" and ethanol himself as part of his energy policy.

The urge to be strange just for its own sake also manifested itself. While walking by one of the few circles of hippies scattered about downtown playing drums for money, a young man dressed as the Dark Knight's Joker held up a cardboard sign that read "Smoke Weed! Do it!" while commanding all bystanders to do the same with his loud menacing voice. "@#%! smoke weed! Smoke it! Mother @#%$ smoke weed now!" Enjoying the theater, I followed him for a while, only to encounter another Joker, hellish grin and all, with a Harvey Dent for President poster on the corner. Yikes, I thought, the tender delegates will never set foot in Denver again. My appetite shifting for something bigger, I changed direction to head to the park to see what might be metastasizing there. Five frowning men holding McCain signs walked by, followed by a team of 10 riot cops determined to prevent a brawl. My feet were tired and the heat and altitude weren't helping my quest to be at as many places as possible.

But I made it, prodded along by an enthusiastic Denverite playfully walking behind me singing "Vote for Obama" through a megaphone, bobbing his head with such satisfaction that I wondered if Obama was just an excuse to share his warmth with the public. His glow stood up to the militant crew of burly men in the park, all wearing matching "9-11 was an inside job" T-shirts. They looked like they had been the targets of violence before, and were prepared for it. Further away, bad folk music echoed from a stage while much better visual art was on display nearby. Without much to do, and riot police watching everyone, I decided to leave, though not before picking up a flier for an "Open the Debates" rally with Ralph Nader.

Why not? If the Democrats had taken over the city, then it would be enlightening to step inside at least one rebel enclave not in danger of being raided by the police. I had caught sight of a few of Ralph's supporters downtown, who at their own peril milled about in Ralph Nader T-shirts. Nothing provokes the same level of hate and contempt from the otherwise docile Spineless Democratus than to inform the creature that your vote will be given to America's Jedi instead of his or her own nominee. The beast begins to stir and is quickly aroused into a fury, gnashing its teeth with the kind of rabid intensity one would think it would reserve for Republicans. Ralph has done more for this country than any other individual alive today, and it is my firm conviction that the man is immortal, bound to run for President again and again until he wins the job in 2136 and America finally gets a single-payer health-care system.

I had to see how those at his rally stacked up against the Obama supporters. When I arrived, Denver University's Magness Arena was filled with 4,000 left-wingers, cheering with unbridled enthusiasm as each speaker made his or her case for opening the debates to all third party candidates. Cindy Sheehan called George Bush a boil on the ass of democracy, one that should be lanced, but only as a treatment for a deeper disease that would take longer to cure. One woman, obviously touched by the event, stood up from the audience and gave over $4,000 to the Nader campaign, while others followed, some tearfully telling how much it meant to them to have someone who tells it like it really is. Ralph came on to thunderous applause, his speech climaxing with the statement that "if we emptied the prisons of non-violent drug offenders, and filled them up with criminal CEOs, watch how quickly the food in prison improves." In the middle of his speech, I recognized Austin radio host Alex Jones quietly take a young cameraman up to the front of the arena and then leave for the back. I gulped in anticipation of a "9-11 truth" disruption, and a few minutes later it came, someone shouting "9-11 was an inside job!" from the back of the room. The heckler was quickly shouted down but Ralph didn't seem to notice.

I saw him later that night in a cafe I visited, his co-conspirator Jello Biafra laughing heartily as Ralph in
contrast slowly chewed his food, tired and methodical like the rumpled asexual he is. In the midst of conversation with a new pal, I plotted to buy Ralph a drink as soon as we finished talking. A few geeky organizers from the rally came up to the bar and began to order beer, one of them crudely hitting on the stressed out bartender but deservedly getting shot down in a lesson in manners I doubt he'll remember. In time I looked up and the enigmatic Ralph Nader had disappeared.

So many questions. Did he really think he was helping to spark a nationwide social movement by running for President over and over again? I saw the merit in the most prominent voice on the left of the American political spectrum doing what it took to be heard. People needed to be reminded that there are more policy options than what the two major parties were giving them. But why did he vanish between elections instead of transforming his campaign's network of volunteers, donors, and e-mail recipients into a participatory grassroots organization capable of local direct actions and community organizing? Maybe he didn't know how. Or maybe he wanted us to do it for him.

Ralph Nader, Code Pink, the rowdy socialist protesters, the 9-11 truthers, even the mischievous demon in the Joker make-up were another side to the convention that probably most of the people gathered in Denver would prefer to sweep aside. They were gadflies, provoking discussion at the price of other people's tranquility. Every authentic leader in history spoiled the system of their time, disrupting the status quo and letting their ripples speak for themselves. The feral side to public discourse existed because our mainstream was too narrow for everyone, and they demanded their voices be added to it. By the end of the week the rebellious minority had won my loyalty, proving on the discordant streets of Denver that diversity, however uncomfortable for some, was better than the alternative. And that, we should all acknowledge, is what democracy is all about.

-----------

On the last day of the Democratic National Convention I awoke later than planned, a situation compounded by my delayed realization that the clock on my laptop was off by an hour. I rushed out the door to make my way to Invesco Field where Barack Obama was going to be accepting his party's nomination later in the evening. Without a car, a ticket, breakfast, or credentials of any sort, I was determined to get inside. I found the start of the queue to Invesco downtown and walked with it for the better part of two hours, joining tens of thousands of others in crossing a freeway that the city had shut down to facilitate foot traffic, asking everyone who might know how to get inside.

"They're all sold out."

"No way in hell."

"I've got a ticket but I bought mine for $300, so you're going to have to beat that."

It was all rather frustrating, marching uphill for hours in the blazing sun, crowded in a slow-moving line, hungry and demoralized. How no one died of heat stroke was beyond me, but at least we were approaching a half-way point on the route, where the people in line could stop for food or gaudy merchandise. At the same bend that designated the upcoming oasis of refreshment a small protest was raging, demanding that onlookers accept that the decrepit Democratic Party was but one of two wings of the same bipartisan junta plundering the world for the sake of Dick Cheney, Warren Buffet, the Pope, 50 Cent and the Queen of England. Two young socialists berated a man trying to sell them overpriced water, yelling "@#$%-off, man! You shouldn't be trying to rip-off people for the nectar of life!" I asked them if any more demonstrations were going to happen, and they advised me to follow the existing protest moving down the street around the stadium, eventually handing me a free burrito in a gesture of good will.

I munched away in despair, taking pictures but unable to come to terms with the fact that I could get a seat on the hill overlooking the stadium at best. Then a homeless guy sat down next to me and cracked open a tall can of beer. "You want a ticket?" he asked, explaining how his cousin hooked him up with one to sell so he could get a dinner and a hotel room for a night.

I told him yes, but I didn't have quite the money he was looking for. We sat there looking down at the stadium while he drank. His words were slurred, his comments vulgar, and he was missing a front tooth. But his ticket was undeniably real. After awhile he left to try to sell his ticket elsewhere, asking me to watch his plastic bag of energy drinks he had picked up for free from a promoter. An hour and a half passed while I guarded his treasure, but he never returned. My jealousy grew as I watched people shuffle along towards the arena.

Finally Al Sharpton walked in line below the retaining wall I was sitting on, strutting along as if to flaunt the
fact that he was going where I couldn't. At that point I snapped, frantically looking about for someone with a
ticket, even if I had to betray my location and the very energy drinks I swore to the friendly hobo I would protect. I looked up and a muscular guy in an Obama sports jersey waved a ticket in the air.

"I'm not gonna rip you off like those other guys out there bro. Bro, I'll sell it for one hundred."

"Deal!" I blurted out, running off to the ATM and returning for my prize.

I clenched the item and jumped in line, wading through the next mile of zig-zagging paths surrounded by chain-link fence. From where I was, Al Gore could be seen on a giant digital screen inside the stadium, no doubt nagging the Democratic Party faithful about the environment in as monotonous a voice as possible. According to someone in line Obama was due to make his speech in a few minutes. At the entrance of the building, I grumbled as I passed through a security screening as intensive as any airport's, though finally conceding to myself that at least Al Sharpton wouldn't have the upper hand. After another twenty minutes of pushing my way past the masses clogging the stadium's hallways, I made it to the section written on my ticket, only to be turned away when an event guide informed me it was full and I would have to go to another section. Ugh. I pushed through more blank-looking human obstacles lining up for hot dogs and fried lard or whatever this place was selling and made my way to the tip top of Invesco Field, panting from exhaustion and finally collapsing in my seat.

Taking it all in, I realized I had a bit more time than expected. Dick Durbin took the stage, a pathetic hack of a politician, as did Joe Biden, Narcissus incarnate who at least had the courtesy to keep his self-adulatory prattle to a minimum. The men in the audience disproportionately gave praise to Joe, but everyone rose to their feet when the Centrist Messiah took the stage.

Black, white, men, women, young, old, though especially young, screamed like spectators in the Coliseum of ancient Rome as their celebrity gladiator took center stage. All were united in fervent praise for their Leader, whose voice made time stop for tens of thousands of impassioned onlookers.

I was scared. They loved this man, and trusted him. They knew he represented the better angels of our nature, and I knew he did not. He spoke of civility in politics, which I was sure he was sincere about, but when he got to policy specifics, I was terrified at the applause he continued to garner. They really trusted him.

Natural gas, "clean" coal, "safe" nuclear power. He promised a revolution in unclean, climate-collapsing
boondoggles, all to "end our dependence on Middle Eastern oil within ten years." But the United States was never addicted to using Middle Eastern oil, it was addicted to controlling it. Most of our imported oil was coming from Canada and the Atlantic basin.

When he promised to escalate the war in Afghanistan, the crowd cheered as well. My God, I thought, only Obama could get away with this. His promise to send tens of thousands more American soldiers to prop up a corrupt coalition of warlords under the leadership of a former Unocal consultant in a mountainous terrain perfect for guerrilla warfare didn't resonate with me. As the crowd cheered and whooped, I sat alone in my seat, unclapping and disturbed at the ease at which one man could move so many decent people to support something so wrong.

A couple of smiling women wanted me to take their picture as Obama left the stage and fireworks erupted all around us, that night on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech. I could see the dreams in their eyes, sparkling with hope and an enrapturing belief that for once they had a champion in which to put their faith. I couldn't tell them that I lacked their enthusiasm for Barack Obama. They were too beautiful in their optimism. The camera flashed and I noticed that even though Obama wasn't in the picture, people were still celebrating. Over 80,000 people weren't cheering for him. They were cheering for hope itself. And that was something I could believe in.

Keith Houser, 26, describes himself as "a white suburban slacker from Bellevue with a knack for understanding belt-way intrigue and synthesizing global macro phenomena into a coherent world systems theory." He isn't affiliated with any political campaign.


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August 29, 2008 12:20 PM

A thumbs up for McCain's VP pick

Posted by Richard Wagoner


This post is by Brendan Woodward of Woodinville, who is an alternate delegate from Washington state to the Republican National Convention. He's been interested in politics since high school and worked on former Congressman George Nethercutt's U.S. Senate campaign in 2004.

By Brendan Woodward

A fellow conservative activist e-mailed me this morning and says that "To know Sarah Palin (John McCain's choice for vice president) is to love her as a candidate, a public servant, and an American - this is change that works!" Also she hunts, rides a snowmobile and is easy on the eyes. What more could a Republican delegate want on his way to the Republican Convention?

They say that all roads lead to Rome, but in Alaska few roads lead anywhere. Certainly, none lead out of Juneau (it's true, check it out on Google maps). Yet perhaps a new trail is being blazed by a woman who has proved herself to be a competent executive and maverick American mother.

As America gets to know Sarah Palin over the next week, I expect the refrain of conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh to echo throughout Republican Convention parties: Babies, guns and Jesus, hot damn!

Sarah Palin is change that I believe in. She is a reformer who stands against earmarks and corruption. She is a conservative who believes in life and traditional marriage. She is an executive with experience managing the interests of an entire state. And she is not just another D.C. good old boy. She is the change that we need, and I have hope that the Republican Convention will make history of Denver.

Brendan Woodward became politically active during high school as a volunteer with the John Carlson Campaign for governor and later was a staffer on George Nethercutt's run for the U.S. Senate. Woodward attended Wheaton College and started a home business selling carbon offset credits and consulting for organizations interested in fighting climate change. He said he's excited about John McCain's free thinking brand of politics that promises to protect American families, economy and national security.


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August 28, 2008 3:23 PM

Commemorating women in politics

Posted by Richard Wagoner

This post is by Carey Christensen of Stanwood, who is volunteering at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Christensen is a member of The Seattle Times Political Caucus. She'll file occasional dispatches about her experiences at the convention.

By Carey Christensen

Although I am an Obama supporter, as a woman, it was easy to feel the poignancy of the Emily's List event celebrating the 88th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Gathered to commemorate the strength of Democratic women in politics, we were again praising another man at the top of the ticket. It had been oh, so close!

Hillary Clinton was the top draw at the Sheraton Hotel Ballroom; she spoke early and eloquently in the line up, in order to accommodate her busy schedule. She took many of the thousands in the crowd with her when she left, obviously some not interested in the rest of the speakers, who included Nancy Pelosi and Michelle Obama.

A surprise treat was the unscheduled appearance of Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire, who was tapped as a last minute speaker when the originally slated governor could not attend. Gov. Gregoire was given the choice responsibility of introducing Michelle Obama, which she did with a forceful endorsement of the Obama/Biden ticket that was fortified by her early support for Obama, including their joint appearance at the Key Arena in Seattle in February. She was able to tell the crowd that she and Michelle had already formed a close working relationship based partly on Michelle's fundraising efforts for her in the state, a relationship that Mrs. Obama emphasized in her own remarks.

Another Washington state point of pride was the appearance of Darcy Burner's picture and bio on the revolving big screen slide show of "Rising Stars" that played repeatedly before the event began. Supported by Emily's List, Darcy is hopeful of unseating Rep. Dave Reichert in the 8th District.

My daughter, Elizabeth, and I then took in the general scene along Denver's 16th Street Mall, filled with convention goers and locals alike. Protesters were easy to find, usually attended by a squad of police officers and an audience that treated everything more like a circus sideshow than a political event.

Regarding security: I heard reporters interviewed on Denver radio yesterday say that the security was tighter for the convention than it had been for the Olympics in Beijing. This is easy to believe, as law enforcement is ubiquitous, including bicycle, horse, and motorcycle mounted squads, foot patrols, roving SWAT teams, and rooftop riflemen. It makes you wonder what can’t be seen!

My next report will be after Obama's speech at Invesco Stadium. Hope it lives up to the hype.

Carey Christensen, 50, has worked on several political campaigns and has served six years as the Washington state representative for the Parkinson's Action Network, traveling yearly to Washington, D.C., to learn and lobby. "I grew up a Republican, and cast my first vote for Gerald Ford in 1976, then for Reagan in 1980. That was the last time I pulled the lever for a Republican."

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August 27, 2008 11:21 AM

Sunburned and weary, a DNC volunteer relishes her work

Posted by Richard Wagoner

This post is by Carey Christensen of Stanwood, who is volunteering at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Christensen is a member of The Seattle Times Political Caucus. She'll file occasional dispatches about her experiences at the convention.

By Carey Christensen

This morning in Denver I find myself bloodied, burned, sore and weary, and I wasn't anywhere near a protest. The blisters and sunburn are courtesy of 10 hours on my feet under the blazing Denver sun on behalf of the DNC Transportation Special Services team.

Yesterday I joined fellow volunteers and delegates on the downtown shuttle to the Pepsi Center, a 30-minute wait for a 15-minute, six-block ride that got us close enough to walk another six blocks to the perimeter entrance. The trek continued, through security (remove ALL those campaign buttons), around the CNN Grill, until we finally glimpsed our destination, the Pepsi Center. But, no, we kept going, past the arena and the media center until, thankfully, we arrived at Parking Lot F, our Special Services home. It was a journey that left everyone gasping and grasping for water and sandwiches as soon as we found the shade of the volunteer tent, not yet expending a minute doing anything resembling work.

Within minutes, transportation workers were whisked on golf carts to serve as greeters at all of the arena entrances. I was deposited at the one serving both delegates and media, and our group quickly coalesced into a cheerleading gauntlet, greeting everyone (including a bemused James Carville and Donna Brazile), with cheering, clapping, and a hearty "Welcome to Denver!" and "Obama (fist) bumps" were given to anyone sporting one of his buttons (there were lot's of Obama buttons). Outward displays of support for Hillary were less apparent. The DNC has made it clear that this is Obama's party, and those delegates who still support Hillary tend to speak in whispers.

As the convention began, we took a short break before getting a new assignment: parking the cars of the "electeds" - members of Congress and governors arriving for the primetime speeches. The VIP's were deposited at the arena entrance, carefully shielded by a white tent; their cars (mostly black SUV hybrids) were then deposited in our lot by their drivers. This is as close as I got to any politician: moving cars used by Madeline Albright, Walter Mondale and our own Patty Murray (her assigned volunteer driver "loved" Senator Murray, and thoroughly enjoyed ferrying her to many meetings during day). The Secret Service with Jimmy Carter's motorcade told us they would park anywhere they liked. We were chastised by the "parking professionals" not to let it happen again. Right. We'll let you tell that to the guy in the suit with the shades and the State Patrol posse.

The setting sun relieved the heat, the traffic subsided, and I was stuck in a parking lot between the glittering arena that held all of the excitement, and the tent holding off-duty volunteers and the big screen TV showing all of that excitement. Every once in a while I'd hear a big cheer, wonder who was speaking, and then return to asking arriving chauffeurs, "Lot F or Lot VF?"

No shuttle on the return trek home; I walked back to the light rail station at the Colorado Convention Center among throngs of celebrating Democrats. I crashed on the sofa at my parents' house, put up my aching feet, and settled in to catch the analysis and highlights of everything that had just happened a few feet from where I had been standing, but could not see or hear. Would I do it all again? Yep, later this week, toes bandaged and sunscreen in hand.

Carey Christensen, 50, has worked on several political campaigns and has served six years as the Washington state representative for the Parkinson's Action Network, traveling yearly to Washington, D.C., to learn and lobby. "I grew up a Republican, and cast my first vote for Gerald Ford in 1976, then for Reagan in 1980. That was the last time I pulled the lever for a Republican."

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August 26, 2008 3:14 PM

Conflicting vibrations in Denver

Posted by Richard Wagoner

This post is by Keith Houser of Bellevue, who is traveling to both Denver and St. Paul to "to observe history 'unembedded' and write about my experiences." Houser is a member of The Seattle Times Political Caucus.

By Keith Houser

When I arrived at Denver International Airport on Monday I was fueled by one hour of sleep and a thirst for information. I had approximately zero knowledge of the city I was entering and about the same level of experience with conventions of any sort. Stepping off the plane I immediately noticed about four young volunteers for the Democrats greeting newcomers to the city with welcome signs and cheery smiles. I grabbed a bottle of water from a store in the airport and glanced at the most prominent headline on the newspaper stand: "TO THE STREETS" was written in large type above a picture of angry protesters waving their fists at the camera. I'm not used to demonstrations generating much news coverage at all, regardless of the amount of people involved, but the paper had obligingly reassured its readers that their number was "much lower than expected."

Waiting for the bus I took in as much as I could. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and the air was thick with a kind of bright heat that I'm not familiar with. The horizon was a perfect horizontal line, stretched for miles in all directions without so much as a tree to keep it varied. Lifeless dirt and yellow grass were the only details to a bleak landscape distinguished by its flat idleness. The people standing around my bench made eye contact with one another in a casual fashion Seattle should aspire to. Being several miles from the epicenter of this week's events I couldn't be too sure whether the mood I was reading was representative of the people of Denver or the kind of breed the Democratic National Convention attracts. Confident but politely subdued, the people around me were a mixed bag of young thoughtful metros and graying adults indifferently fiddling with their cell phones.

The airport loudspeakers informed me that the "terror level has been raised to orange," though the significance of this was lost on me as the "terror level" always seems to be above yellow and below red. I discarded the advice to be paranoid and climbed aboard the bus, taking a seat toward the back next to a geeky gentleman looking into a map of Denver. There certainly were a lot of nerds on the bus with me, though they were from a subgroup much more benign than our own khaki-clad computer industry drones, and marginally less socially awkward.

I was soon told by the nice dork to my right that there's a place near the convention center where over a hundred bloggers from across the country will be gathering to tap away at their keyboards throughout the week, for the hefty entrance price of a hundred dollars. It might be worth it to chat with politically minded folk who like to write, but I figured more good would come spending the same amount of money on beer with strangers. A man at the back of the bus loudly talked into his phone, proudly informing everyone there that "his carbon footprint would be zero" thanks to the bicycles provided to delegates for free. I was more impressed by the spectacle out the window, where neatly stacked bales of hay made a pathway from the road to the front of a large white tent. A big sign read "Road to the White House," though the fee charged by the enterprising lad who thought that one up was known only to himself and inquiring minds curious enough to pull over.

Once off the bus I noted the multitude of empty cafes and open parking spaces. Maybe the teams of police and security guards patrolling each block had persuaded consumers to avoid downtown. Or maybe Denver is always dead on Monday afternoons. Three bags in hand, I clumsily walked around the city center looking for a place to rest until a shaggy Greenpeace member made a stab at selling me something.

I tell him $15 a month is too steep a price for saving the planet. He persisted as I steadfastly denied him access to my bank account, almost buckling under the pressure of his sincerity. A loud convoy of unmarked SUVs and police cars whizzed by. We paused as it roared past us, himself mentioning how annoying it's been with the police escorting politicians around the past two days. I asked him if there had been any disruptive protests and he assured me that they commenced the day before and will be going on all week. "Earlier today some guy was yelling at 'homos' down the street with a megaphone," he added. Odd, the thought of a hippie activist on the same block as a deranged bigot, both preying on the same crowd for opposite reasons. He finally let me go under the sole condition that we bump fists in solidarity.

Nearby I found a restaurant with outdoor seating, and umbrellas to protect my pitiful Irish skin from the oppressive sun. I demanded beer at once and soon I was scribbling notes on my legal pad with the kind of zest that comes with cold drinks in an alien environment. A waitress comes over and asks what I'm writing. "My heart is in humor but my mind is in politics. This is an attempt at some kind of synthesis. I will be King one day." She informed me that she also writes, though "mostly foo-foo poetry." In an eager stream of consciousness she tells me that she's an avid Ron Paul supporter and wishes she could go to Minneapolis to see his Rally for the Republic counter-convention like I am and that the recycling bins on every corner are new as of this week as are the surveillance helicopters and that I should go to Pat's on 17th and Market tonight to go play beer pong and take advantage of $6 pitchers. Two drinks later she gave me her number and left me unsure how to proceed.

I met up with my gracious host soon after. Unwilling to spend money on lodging, I had found someone online willing to grant me the use of their couch for free. Once off her shift, we went to her house to drop off my things, and sped off for a late afternoon tour of the city. The waitress from earlier had told me that a group of protesters were going to gather at the Mint and try to levitate it off the ground and shake the coins out of it. Driving by I could see a thick row of bizarre young people in front of the building chanting "Peace, Justice, Freedom" in unison, directing their mantra to the old building itself. Heavily armed police on horseback watched in confusion as the grinning unwashed vainly tried to lift the structure.

Concluding our tour we headed back to the apartment where I collapsed from exhaustion on the couch. After a solid forty second nap I was awakened, springing to attention to head downtown for another whiff of history. The sun was setting, and with helicopters overhead we walked along at a rapid clip. There was a large crowd of pedestrians, perhaps 100 in all, being forcibly pushed down a street perpendicular to our own. Police in black riot gear were forcibly clearing the streets, and not a protester was in sight. We avoided being clubbed or trampled, though the fate of others closer to the hardened boots and clubs was visibly less fortuitous. Resentment rippled through the onlookers and dozens more riot police marched to reinforce their fellow cops.

"Wow. I've never seen that before," remarked my associate.

"What, fascism?" I asked incredulously.

"Well, actually when the Broncos won the Superbowl, there were riots, but not since then."

I imagined that a jubilant outbreak of property destruction would be quite a bit easier to pacify than an ideologically charged angry mob. Either would be more difficult than pushing people around who just happen to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. In keeping with the authoritarian aesthetic of the hour, storefront after storefront was crowded with police, particularly the Federal Reserve building and the nicer hotels and restaurants. Delegates wearing Obama T-shirts mingled with the locals, both migrating away from the turmoil a few blocks away.

We finally arrived at our intended location, and I took a seat at the bar. Lighting equipment with NBC logos printed on it had been set up in the other room, apparently for use later as they had been left unattended. The bartender had little use for the convention and had the TV set to sports. I scribbled down more notes until the guy sitting next to me decided to make conversation. He worked for a private security firm and was in town for business, also informing me that the police had been clearing the street I passed earlier to make a path for Michelle Obama, all the way from the Westin Hotel to the convention center.

The rest of the evening is something of a haze in my memory now. The locals were happy to talk with me, though as the night progressed their commentary became more slurred and tangential, shifting more from political conversation to base gossip with every passing hour until what was once thoughtful banter descended into the foggy realm of unconscious jabbering. From what I gathered, everyone seemed pleased that the convention was giving them something to talk about, whether they were Democrats, protesters, or hapless pedestrians shoved out of the way of our rulers. These days people hunger for controversy as much as inspiration, and so far the Democratic National Convention is providing all camps with at least one or the other.

Keith Houser, 26, describes himself as "a white suburban slacker from Bellevue with a knack for understanding belt-way intrigue and synthesizing global macro phenomena into a coherent world systems theory." He isn't affiliated with any political campaign.

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August 25, 2008 8:46 AM

A "white suburban slacker" takes on the DNC

Posted by Richard Wagoner

This post is by Keith Houser of Bellevue, who is traveling to both Denver and St. Paul to "to observe history 'unembedded' and write about my experiences." Houser is a member of The Seattle Times Political Caucus.

By Keith Houser
A quintessential Seattle evening bid me farewell as I prepared for today's journey to Denver. Gentle drizzle will undoubtedly give way to something alien, and with any luck, strange, upon my arrival. The Mile High City has come a long way since its days as a 19th century criminal backwater, an evolution Seattlites can appreciate looking back on their own history of transformation from soggy lumber town to shiny tech center.
Progressive change defines the history of both cities, and will be the theme of this week's Democratic National Convention. Early today I left to see how well it resonates with the people of Denver.

Conflicting vibrations can be felt emanating outward from Colorado. Glib pronouncements of pride and celebration are readily projected by the party faithful while draconian security measures quietly add a more ominous tone to what is supposed to be a purely festive occasion. As opponents of the city's makeshift concentration camp are calling it, the "Gitmo on the Platte" looms large for those of us who remember what happened 40 years ago in Chicago. As does the government "fusion center" set up to integrate surveillance activities in Denver between the Secret Service, U.S. Northern Command, the FBI, and state and local law enforcement. Public demonstrations will be confined to a predetermined area away from the convention center, surrounded by chain-link fence. I doubt the locals appreciate the militarization of their city but I'll have to check with them.

Just how democratic is the Democratic Party? They obviously fear the demos enough to keep them out of sight, lest they spoil the event by waving a sign at a delegate. Or reminding the starry-eyed party optimists that the Democrats in Congress have signed onto virtually everything Bush has ever asked for. War funding continues, as do post-9/11 police state institutions. It has been my contention for the past seven years that Democrats have been the willing collaborators of the Bush administration not only due to their innate cowardice and ideological similarity to the GOP, but also because they understand something that most of us don't: as the American people continue to suffer under the Bush-Democrat alliance, the Republican Party will take the blame, leaving the Democrats to reap the electoral benefits.

It has been in the interest of the Democratic Party to help Bush ruin America.

And Barack Obama's recent choice of Joe Biden as his running mate underscores this principle. Biden, champion of the Jim Crow War on Drugs (that aren't alcohol), eager supporter of the Iraq War from the very beginning, and supporter of the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill that made life harder for millions of debtors, exemplifies how committed to change Obama really is. That Biden will help Obama in northern Appalachia, make a great attack dog over the coming months, appeal to older voters, and protect the campaign from accusations that it is weak on experience and national security is beside the point. The choice of Biden demonstrates that Obama cares more about winning than governing. That is the fundamental problem with the Democratic Party today.

So as delegates descend on Denver, congratulating themselves between speeches in a four-day-long exaltation of empty rhetoric, I will abstain from embracing Barack Obama the way so many of my generation have already. He represents an improvement over a long line of fraudulent populists, and that might be reason enough to vote for him. But it isn't enough to replace my frustration with enthusiam.

Keith Houser, 26, describes himself as "a white suburban slacker from Bellevue with a knack for understanding belt-way intrigue and synthesizing global macro phenomena into a coherent world systems theory." He isn't affiliated with any political campaign.

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August 24, 2008 3:08 PM

A warm welcome to Denver

Posted by Richard Wagoner

This post is by Carey Christensen of Stanwood, who is volunteering at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Christensen is a member of The Seattle Times Political Caucus. She'll file occasional dispatches about her experiences at the convention.

By Carey Christensen
Airline passengers arriving in Denver Friday night were greeted by dozens of smiling volunteers in Broncos-orange T-shirts emblazoned with "DNCC Denver '08"; 12 hours later I was wearing one too, decked out in official gear for my tenure as a Transportation Special Services volunteer at the Democratic National Convention.

My daughter and I are in Denver for our annual summer vacation with my parents and extended family, timed this year to coincide with the Democrat's big meet-up. Elizabeth, a sophomore at the University of Washington, and I are the black sheep Dems in a large family of bedrock Republicans (a lot of love, a little understanding), and we're excited to soak up a week of progressive politics in the Mile High City.

Saturday morning I took Denver's efficient light rail train from suburban Littleton; 22 minutes and 11 miles later I was at the Colorado Convention Center, queuing up with hundreds of others to receive our volunteer assignments. I was given the orange shirt of the Transportation Division (yellow for Human Resources, green for Recycling, red for Access Control, etc), and joined my fellow workers for a rousing welcome and pep talk from Leah Daughtry, CEO of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. Party strife was not evident in this group of partisans who whooped and cheered at the mention of the Obama-Biden ticket and the historic nature of this convention that will nominate the first African American contender for president of the United States.

My credential allows me access to the Pepsi Center security perimeter, but no further. I'll be working as general concierge, meeting, greeting and assisting delegates and media up to, but not through, the doors to the convention floor. Close, but not close enough - I'll still have to watch the proceedings on one of the televisions provided for volunteers.

This week I'll file reports from the Pepsi Center on Monday and Wednesday. Tuesday, the 88th anniversary of the women's right to vote, I'll be at the Emily's List event featuring Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and Nancy Pelosi. On Thursday, Elizabeth and I will join the 75,000 filling Invesco Field for Barack Obama's acceptance speech.

In between I'll be taking in the sights and sounds of the convention at large, paying special attention to the nomination drama featuring the Clintons, Hillary's disgruntled followers, and signs of meaningful party unification. Can't wait!

Carey Christensen, 50, has worked on several political campaigns and has served six years as the Washington state representative for the Parkinson's Action Network, traveling yearly to Washington, D.C., to learn and lobby. "I grew up a Republican, and cast my first vote for Gerald Ford in 1976, then for Reagan in 1980. That was the last time I pulled the lever for a Republican."

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August 20, 2008 2:17 PM

Political ads: Truthful or persuasive?

Posted by Katherine Long

Political ads from the Dino Rossi and Christine Gregoire gubernatorial campaigns are filling the airways, both on TV and radio. This ad by the Rossi campaign blasts Gregoire for raising the gas tax, and this one by the Gregoire campaign accuses Rossi of raising gas taxes and more. We asked the Caucus: Are these ads truthful? Do you think they are persuasive? Do you find these kinds of political ads helpful in deciding which candidate to support?

Many Caucus members took time to refute or defend the ads point-by-point -- you can read all of their answers here.

Generally speaking, most Caucus members were less than impressed by these two examples of political ad strategy. "These kinds of political ads do almost nothing except to reinforce the distaste people already have for the candidate they don't plan on voting for," wrote Alex Berezow of Seattle.

Berezow noted that the ads are "practically unverifiable," and he's bothered by "the dishonesty with which politicians manipulate each others' voting records. Is it possible that Rossi voted against funding health care for children? Sure, it's possible. But, what if that health care bill was attached to another bill that was something Rossi wasn't willing to support? Then, he has to vote 'no' on the entire package--including the health care bill. This is a common trick used by most politicians--and it's extremely dishonest."

It's all about the base, wrote Brian Thomas of Renton. "Both ads are designed to stir up anger with base voters and get them motivated. The two biggest motivators in politics are anger and fear. Both ads have a grain of truth in them but only a grain. Both are misleading and disingenuous but that only matters to pundits. Never make the mistake of thinking voters are moved by facts and truth."

Dane Jack Sands of Ballard echoed the words of several other Caucus members who can't imagine why anyone would be swayed by such material. "I know that spending on these kinds of ads is highly correlated with a successful campaign, so I don't expect anyone who wants to win to stop; but anyone out there who decides who to vote for based on 30 second advertisements ought stay home on election day."

"Anyone who bases their decision on a television ad is an uninformed voter and shouldn't be casting a vote at all," agreed Sarah Everett of Seattle. "There has to be a better way of delivering the candidates' messages to the voters. How about old-fashioned town hall type meetings?"

Gregoire's strategists might want to pay heed: Her ads seemed to spark a stronger negative response among Caucus members than Rossi's. Jean Withers of Seattle had this reaction: "Almost conversely, it seems odd to me that, as a strong woman who supports strong women, I find the tone of Rossi's ad more appealing than the tone of Gregoire's. I surmise that her strategists have chosen to take a VERY abrasive tone in damning Rossi. By contrast, his ads seem to present information more calmly and cohesively. Hers are so abrasive that I flinch whenever I hear one."

But Sheila Harrison of Renton finds "Rossi's ads most disingenuous, as if he hasn't ever been part of state government, when in fact, he was very instrumental in shaping the budget and fiscal issues that Gregoire inherited. Gregoire, for her part, needs to be positive in her message and really clearly point out what she has done positively to improve the lives of Washington citizens."

Finally, Paul Graves of Queen Anne takes newspapers to task for the words they use in covering critical ads. ""Rossi does not 'blast' Gregoire; Gregoire does not 'accuse' Rossi. They criticize, they argue, they point out, they refute, and, when done well, confute. Perhaps a little less sensational coverage would work wonders for keeping the candidates on the issues and honest."

Ah, if only it was that easy!

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August 19, 2008 1:32 PM

What do you think of today's primary?

Posted by Katherine Long

Our question to the Seattle Times Political Caucus today: Is the new top-two primary system an improvement over our latest primary, which required voters to pick a party ballot? Were you satisfied with the choices of candidates in the various races? If you vote at the polls on Tuesday, how was turnout? Was it busy at your precinct or dead as the night? What did you think about the election results?

Eric LeMay, South: What's interesting already by the question is that I bet most of us voted a week or more ago. Tuesdays ain't what they use to be for elections.

Benjamin Lukoff, Seattle: There's never really any choice, and this primary is no different. Top-two is better than by-party, though. I am tired of subsidizing the parties' nomination processes. Let's get out of that completely and lower the bar to get on the general election ballot.

Hugh Coleman, Kelso: My ballot came in the mail and I voted at that time. I had no problem with the way things were handled. I wish there were a fewer less offices with only one candidate.

Ken MacDonald, Seattle: The effort to isolate the primary from the parties in the voters pamphlet looks like a joke to me (ie "prefers GOP" or "prefers democratic"). The notion seems to be popular in an increasingly one party region.

The biggest non-partisan political unit is the City of Seattle. We get a continuous stream of left wing candidates running on issues they immediately ignore when they get to public office.

I had never thought much about it before getting the new primary system. But looking at it in a more thoughtful light we could get a county council and state government as inept as the Seattle school board has been or the Seattle City Council, both of whom have a track record of grandstanding rhetoric while failing to take care of the fundamental business of the city. The bags fees and endless racial parsing have not improved education, parks, transportation, or public safety.

Bill Wippel, Normandy Park: I voted absentee. I was wondering if the facts in the voters pamphlet concerning candiates are accurate? If they allow candidates to write their own material for this, is there anyone checking that what they say is the truth?

Dean Olson, Seattle: It's too late for primaries and I miss the League of Women's Voter pamphlet. Even the junk mail has not been informative.

David Spring, North Bend: I am predicting a low voter turn out for the primary Hard core Democrats and hard core Republicans will vote, but there is little incentive for the majority of independent swing voters to bother with it. The problem is not just the Top Two primary, it is the lame idea of having a primary in August. At least half the State of Washington is on vacation this month. How undemocratic can we get to hold an election when everyone is out of town?

Jim Morrell, Sedro-Woolley: This was a huge improvement over the last primary where we had to commit to a party. I was able to vote (write-in) for whomever I chose to vote, and I voted across party lines as I often do. While I lean Republican, there were Democratic candidates and a couple of people from independent parties who had merit, and their ideas were better than the ideas of the incumbent or other major party.

Of the rights we are guaranteed in this country, one is freedom. In this case, I had the freedom to choose the individual whom I thought was the best possible candidate regardless of party affiliation. In the previous election, I was denied that right, and I was forced to choose individuals from one party, regardless of how inept they were, or how baseless their ideas were. In a couple of cases, I didn't vote for a particular office because I couldn't stomach the candidate.

The main groups of people that don't like this system are the bigwigs of the parties. They can't exert their power and controlling behavior over us to force us to vote within one party. That's not what's best for the country or the State of Washington. We want the best people in office, regardless of party affiliation, with the best ideas to get us out of the mess we're in. Limiting choices to one party not only restricts my freedom as a voter, it also allows mediocre individuals with a clear lack of vision, foresight, and talent to run highly influential offices in government. Hence, we have the some of the loathsome conditions we currently experience.

This is the best system for primary voting, and I am one happy camper. I'm also out of the claws of the party leaders' narrow restrictive system.

Bob Barren, Seattle: I have been thinking about this top two primary. The subject of a TV commentator during an interview (generally) said that instead of picking the top Republican or top Democrat, we will now be picking the best person. I am having trouble with this concept. Growing up I saw the PRI party in Mexico choose the best candidate. They were always ideologically the same. No matter what they offered as to their differences. They thought the same. The American political system offered homogeneity but you also got choice. The top two primary is removing that choice. In the end you will have different candidates with the same ideas. The people will not have a choice in the end. I do know that it is common for tax and routine legislation slipped forward in off year elections or primaries where only the most loyal and most activist tend to vote. Unpopular legislative action has a better chance to vote. I fear that is happening to ideas as well. The opportunity to consider true choices is limited. I do know that that has happened I many authoritarian countries, like Mexico under the PRI. I certainly don't want that model of government repeated here.

Nathan Janes, Seattle: My main concern in any election is that I be allowed to vote as I see fit. If ANY tax dollars are used for an election my choice should not be limited to one party. Whether the primary is Top Two or not is irrelevant. If the parties want to control the voting in the primary, then they should fully fund it. If ONE CENT of tax money is used, my choice must never be restricted.

Jeff Grubb, Panther Lake: Voting in the primary is your chance to wave goodbye to all the minor parties, which will never be seen again in a general ballot. The top-two is a nasty little patch to the original blanket primary,a patch that does not fix the minor problem they wanted to fix in the first place (individuals crossing party lines to vote).
If the major parties really want to keep the primaries for solidly registered supporters, that's cool. But the state should charge them for the use of the facilities and support in order to help them select their candidates.

Bob Barren, Seattle: Looking around the local net and some of the local newscasts, it appears that this is a largely mail in election. That has some interesting potential for electioneering and political communication. More and more personalized, targeted information dissemination, most likely email, is going to have the best effect. The candidates who come out of this primary need to groom their email lists and look to acquire lists from like-minded groups. Snail mail is pushing the digital transformation.

Sarah Everett, Seattle: I believe the top-two primary system is an improvement over the pick-a-party primary we had in 2004. In past elections, I have rarely if ever split my ballot, but even I didn't like the idea of having my choices limited by a "party ballot". However, I don't think the top-two primary system is an improvement over the blanket-primary we had for nearly 70 years prior to 2004. But that's a moot point now, obviously, because the blanket-primary system was ruled unconstitutional.

The problem I see with the new top-two primary system is that minority candidates stand very little chance of advancing to the general election. Prior to this election, every party nominated a candidate during the primary and that candidate advanced to the general election. That's not the case any more- the new system is not a nominating process. As a conservative/republican living in the state's largest Democratic voting district, I may never have a candidate to vote for in the general election. That means my "minority" views will never be represented in Olympia. Unless I'm missing something, that doesn't seem fair.


Rob Meyer, Kettle Falls: As of 1:00 PM in Stevens County, they say the turnout will be LESS than the predicted 46% state-wide. I find that hard to believe.

At the Glass Repair Shop this morning, I saw three ballots on the owners desk, ready to mail (we do All-mail-in over here).

At the Pharmacy, every employee was talking about having mailed in, or delivered their ballot in person...as I did later this morning.

Stevens County Auditor said their had been a "steady stream" come in since ballots were sent to voters, but they had no numbers or predictions.

Expect a Rossi/Gregoire gubernatorial final...but Rossi will take Stevens (and probably Ferry and Pend O'Reille Counties) by a 60-40 or 65-35 margin in November.

More later, if I don't lose power again (major wind-storm and major wildfire down in Creston/Davenport area last night and this morning is wreaking havoc with power lines and phone lines).

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August 14, 2008 12:25 PM

Why Obama benefits when the campaign turns to race

Posted by Richard Wagoner

domke.JPGUniversity of Washington professor David Domke, an expert on the intersection of faith and politics, writes today about the impact of race in the presidential campaign.

By David Domke

The consensus among political journalists and pundits is that if race becomes a salient matter in the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama is in trouble. The thinking goes something like this: If white voters are reminded that Obama is black, or start to think through a racial prism, the nation's first African American major-party presidential candidate will lose.

In the words of NBC News political director Chuck Todd: "Anytime race is THE topic du jour in the campaign, it's a bad day for Obama. Period."

I disagree.

Let's review the three most racialized moments in the campaign.

obama_grin.jpg

JAE C. HONG / AP

First there was the tit-for-tat in late January, as the Democratic Party approached the South Carolina primary. Obama had won the Iowa caucuses, Clinton had won in New Hampshire and Nevada, and in the days before the Palmetto State's voting, the Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigns traded accusations that each was bringing up race for political advantage. When Obama won a landslide victory, Bill Clinton dismissed it as Jesse Jackson redux, drawing significant criticism for the comparison. Was Obama damaged by all of this? Not hardly. Bill Clinton, however, has yet to recover.

Next there was the Rev. Jeremiah Wright remix of God bless America, in which Wright presented an image of an angry-at-America, angry-at-whites black man. The political and media punditry quickly sounded the death knell for Obama's candidacy, and indeed Obama sank in the polls. The Gallup Daily Tracking Poll in mid-March showed him leading Hillary Clinton 50 percent to 44 percent before the Wright videos emerged, and five days later it was Clinton up 49 percent to 42 percent. But within days Obama was back in the lead, following his profoundly adult speech on race in Philadelphia.

Most recently we had the he said-he said showdown between John McCain's and Obama's campaigns, beginning with McCain's "Celebrity" advertisement linking Obama with Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Some say that tying Obama to young, sexualized white women was an attempt to prime racial stereotypes about black men. For his part, Obama said the McCain campaign was trying to tell everyone that Obama "doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills." The Obama side later acknowledged it was a ham-handed attempt to highlight race without saying so explicitly.

The McCain camp immediately jumped on it, saying that it was the Obama camp who was playing the "race card." Sensing an advantage, the McCain campaign has subsequently gone all-in with its advertising strategy, and has now released a Web advertisement that declares "Hot chicks love Obama." ABC News' Jake Tapper put the count of young white women in the ad at a minimum of 4. Subtle it ain't.

Since the McCain-Obama back-and-forth began, the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll has shown an interesting pattern. On July 30, when the Celebrity ad was released by the McCain campaign, Obama led McCain 45 percent to 44 percent. On each of the following two days the candidates tied at 44 percent, but nearly every day since Obama has gained ground - and as of Wednesday he led, 48 percent to 42 percent. If Obama was hurt by the racial dynamics, these numbers don't show it.

So how to explain all of this?

I'll offer two lines of argument.

1. Obama is hurt by race when it is a below-the-radar subtext, but he benefits when it is brought explicitly into the light of day. This is exactly what research in political psychology suggests: that only subtle, implicit racial messages work in today's U.S. politics. The evidence suggests that most Americans don't want to act upon their embedded racial prejudices, so when these biases become apparent to them, voters take intentional steps to act differently.

In South Carolina, Bill Clinton's claims that Obama's race helps him among black voters and Clinton's reference to Jesse Jackson made race explicit, and subsequently Obama benefited. With Jeremiah Wright, Obama was hurt in polls when people simply saw Wright's rants, but then Obama bounced back after his "More Perfect Union" speech directly addressed racial divisions. And in the aftermath of the salvos with the McCain camp two weeks ago, the news media now are giving closer scrutiny to the racial dynamics of the campaign. Such scrutiny, this pattern suggests, will help Obama.

2. There are two political groups that are determined that Obama will not suffer the same fate as Democratic Party nominee Michael Dukakis in 1988, when the George H. W. Bush campaign rode the infamous "Willie Horton" ad to victory.

The first are African American voters, whose support for Obama is at unprecedented levels for a Democrat. In response to the Wright flap, for example, media reports suggested that blacks often rallied to Obama's side.

Second, the "swiftboat" experiences of John Kerry in 2004 has put the Obama campaign and supporters on high-alert against what it considers unfair criticisms, subtle or otherwise. The Obama campaign launched its site in June, "Fight the Smears," and on Wednesday Kerry himself launched a site, "Truth Fights Back." Both of these sites, ironically, draw upon Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign's war-room approach of instant responses. These kinds of tactics ensure that the Obama campaign will weigh in quickly with its viewpoints, and can go on the offense whenever race comes up. That makes certain that they're significant players in defining the debate.

These factors have made race a complex factor in this presidential campaign - which is as we might expect, given its deep, embedded, and often-contradictory positioning in American culture at large. The evidence simply doesn't suggest that Obama is always hurt when race is part of the campaign. In fact, it appears to be exactly the opposite, so far.

David Domke, a former newspaper journalist, is a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington. His latest book, "The God Strategy: How Religion Became A Political Weapon in America," was published in January. He can be reached at domke@u.washington.edu.

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