Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Belated Thoughts, Old News

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 552

I realized this morning that I left a couple of posts from last week dangling with a promise of concluding thoughts, and hadn't followed through. D-oH! So here are wrap up thoughts from last week's doings at iPol.

Chris Dodd
On July 8, I made the drive from Des Moines out to Council Bluffs to catch the final stop on Dodd's "River to River" tour of Iowa. This was also to be the last of Dodd's joint appearances with legendary singer/songwriter Paul Simon.

I loved going to this event. It was like something out of a Capra film: picnic in a park by the river on a blazing summer's day, when in rolls a presidential candidate for a short speech, followed by an unplugged set from a famous singer. The crowd responded well to Dodd, and boogied (the average age at this event was waaaay north of 40, so, sadly, "boogied" is the appropriate term to use in this instance...not a pretty sight!) like mad to Paul Simon classics like "Me and Julio Down by the School Yard." But I couldn't help thinking of another Paul Simon chestnut, "When Numbers Get Serious;" if Dodd doesn't come up with a very, very big play on his own or catch a major break at another candidate's expense, he may not have the wherewithal, financially or electorally, to stay in the race much past Iowa.

And that would be a shame, if for no other reason than it's the underdog, small campaigns like Dodd's that make events like the one in Council Bluffs possible.

Barack Obama
Ever since Obama declared his candidacy earlier this year, he's had a problem, albeit one that most other campaigns would love to have: meeting expectations. Every Obama event is attended with the question of when, or whether, Barack Obama will emerge as a true heavyweight destined to make his mark on history. I'm sure many would say that he's already done that; but if Obama's candidacy ended today, how many would still believe that? Since the first day of his candidacy, It's been all about potential for Obama, with the question being when will he make the leap from political phenom to presidential sure thing.

So I thought it a shrewd move, as well as a hopeful sign, when Obama built his July 10 Des Moines town hall event around a combination of Iraq, his signature issue in this campaign, and the economy, which heretofore hadn't come much onto his campaign radar. Obama pulled it off, but it wasn't his most stellar moment in the campaign; when it came time to go into detail about the direct cost of the Iraq war to the IA03 congressional district which includes Des Moines, Obama had to resort to reading the stats from a crib sheet. Not the image you want to project when trying to convey gravitas.

None of this made the appearance a failure for Obama, necessarily. But Obama's graduation to heavyweight will have to wait a bit longer, it seems.

Throwing all this into sharp relief, of course, was the simultaneous appearance of Hillary Clinton, only a few blocks away, at an event also themed around Iraq. As with all things in this race involving the Clinton-Obama rivalry, the two events generated lots of pundit chatter, but to no conclusion.

Bill Richardson
The transcript speaks for itself, so I will only add that an exclusive, one-on-one interview with a major presidential candidate, let alone one with four Nobel Prize nominations under his belt, has got to rank as the highlight in any blogger's week.

Joe Biden
I must admit, I found Joe Biden to be extremely impressive during his appearance at the Iowa Historical Society on July 13. A big part of the rap on Joe Biden is that he is said to be long winded when speaking, never passing up a chance to deliver a thousand word answer when one of a hundred words would suffice. I actually found the opposite to be true at this event: Biden brings out so many policy points and supporting facts so quickly and in such detail that any attempt to live blog his remarks is bound to amount to a summary, at best; there's no long "get to the point" lag time to allow you to compose your post at leisure.

Another point that gets made against Biden is that while he comes across as professorial (understandable, since he does, in fact, teach constitutional law), he doesn't come across as presidential. I've been inclined to agree on this point, up until this event. But walking out of the building afterwards, it occurred to me that there may be one president from the last century who provides at least a plausible correspondence with Biden in terms of temperament and presence: Harry S. Truman.

But before Biden should let his thoughts wander anywhere near such comparisons, he'll need to continue to work on smoothing his campaign technique, particularly when it comes to physically crowding voters he is addressing - he really gets right on top of them, in many cases uncomfortably so for the voter. And it remains to be seen whether the strategic political mistakes Biden admitted and discussed at the event can be reversed to an extent that gets him out of single digits in Iowa, or anywhere else. But here's wishing him luck, all the same; Joe Biden has got too much policy acumen to remain confined in the Senate.

OK, so much for old business. There's 181 days to go between now and the caucuses on January 14, and lots of twists and turns to come.


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