Monday, August 18, 2008

Dispatches, Volume 14

Drilling We Can Believe In

Back in the Lion's Den...
Ever since Robbie X’s henchmen welcomed me to the “lion’s den” on New Year’s Eve, 2002, I’ve come to enjoy planting myself in places we’re I’m least welcome. In the lion’s den, nothing can go worse than expected. Tim Spellman and I checked into Obama’s Denver office a week ago. The play was a swirling hive of activity, the reliable volunteer crowd being joined for the week by the thousands of Invesco Field hopefuls, promised a chance at the lottery for Convention tickets in exchange for six hours of volunteering. We weren’t there long, however, until the young local wheeling dealer, Adam D., asked us to head down to Colorado Springs. “It’s Focus on the Family country, total battleground, and they need all the help they can get…plus the female organizers are totally hot.”
Colorado Springs, Colorado’s second biggest and certainly ugliest city, is located in the heart of El Paso County, the 17th most Republican county in the country. To call it Republican country is an understatement- of the 153 elected positions in the country, Republicans control 150. And these aren’t your anti-government Western libertarians either- they are camera-in-your-bedroom Orwellian conservatives, mixed in with sprinklings of pure racism.
The notorious Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave represents the counties just east of El Paso. Musgrave achieves biannual notoriety for sponsoring a bill banning gay marriage, calling it “the most important issue our nation faces.” Musgrave was endorsed by the KKK last May, and has been called one of America’s worst ten Congressmen by Rolling Stone. During a phone bank, Timmy asked a voter if he would be supporting Obama, to which he responded, “I’ll never vote for that slippery little coon.”
One African-American woman seated about ten feet from me had the most fascinating conversation. When she originally pressed an old man on the phone for why he was not choosing Obama, he answered that he “didn’t think it was a good idea to say,” but that he would call back later. Call back he did. He explained to the woman that his biggest fear about Obama’s candidacy was that if he lost, blacks all over the country would riot, believing their candidate had been cheated. Did she not feel such concerns? Our volunteer incredulously responded that she had absolutely no fear of blacks leading mobs through the streets in reaction to an Obama loss, and had never heard anyone else express such concerns either. Besides, she noted, that didn’t explain why the gentleman would be concerned with an Obama win.
The man paused. “An Obama win,” he cautiously spelled out, “would mean that the blacks would think they controlled everything. It would be dangerous for our country.” Our volunteer, unperturbed, pointed out that Obama was half-white, so perhaps he was a leader that neither blacks nor whites could lay claim to. I could see the man shaking his head through the phone line. “The blacks won’t see it that way,” he sighed. “They just won’t.” The conversation ended in a civil manner. The man said he had never spoken to an Obama supporter before, and had rather enjoyed the experience. Our volunteer similarly complimented him, and invited him down to the volunteer center, perhaps an opportunity to meet an Obama supporter in person. He chuckled and agreed. “Oh, by the way,” he added, just before he hung up, “You are a particularly educated and articulate black person. Not like those others.”
Not that Colorado Springs was all bad. We stayed with awesome psychiatrist named Lynn, who had a spacious house in the mountains, and a hot tub that ran 24 hours a day. My mornings would begin and my evenings would end in that hot tub, staring up at the stars, or down at the valley below. Nightlife in the Springs, however, was less than ideal.
On Monday we had the pleasure of stopping at a bar where the male/female ratio was twenty to zero, the worst scene I’d dealt with past afternoon hours since Calcutta. In “Cal” the bars are packed with stuffy-looking Indian males, ten to one ratios, soft pop music blasting (including a full-length version of “Doe, a Deer”) and all eyes glued to the monotonous, interminable cricket matches. But to their credit, in Cal, folks don’t sit at the end of the bar and criticize New York for no reason. Three old-timers babbled on for about 15 minutes about how little New Yorkers understood about the world, given that they lived in an ant-hill, like little ants, running around without understanding things like the price of gas, how to drive or mow a lawn, or how the world really is outside of their ant hill. We jumped in, explaining that we were from New York, driving on a cross-country road trip, and quite familiar with the impact of fuel costs on the price of goods and services in New York City. They explained some sort of mountainous car racing that was popular in the region, and we all left having learned something.
We felt sad leaving Colorado Springs behind, mostly out of sympathy for the overworked young organizers throwing their hearts into the battle. I’ve worked at a lot of campaign offices, and what struck me in Colorado Springs was the complete absence of leadership figures with any significant campaign or Hill experience. What they lacked in experience, however, the campaign team easily replaced with grit and determination. They are doing Obama proud, and I wish them the best of luck. The next time you want to donate to the campaign, I recommend paying $25 for a kit of buttons, bumper stickers and yard signs to be sent to the Springs office, so these go gettin’ organizers can hand them out to El Paso Democrats who have been abandoned by the national Democratic party for generations.
There is a path to victory in El Paso. One of our last nights Tim and I hosted a house meeting, an Obama innovation similar to Dean Meet-ups, where 10-20 strangers congregate at a house in the neighborhood to talk about the campaign. The Obama campaign has stressed that the purpose of these neighborhood groups is not only to win the election, but to serve the dual purpose of mobilizing in support of Obama administration policies, and voice dissent loudly and clearly when the Obama administration strays. The meeting’s composition was surprising- an 80 year-old libertarian, an anarchist couple, a few sometimes Democrats- almost no one who had volunteered for the party before. We chatted, ate pizza, watched Obama’s South Carolina victory speech (in my opinion, his best speech ever), and marveled at the eclectic coalition that could turn this James Dobson enclave into a battleground.

This is what hopelessness looks like…
While things are tough out in El Paso, Republican efforts nationally are so embarrassingly poor that the genius of Karl Rove in delivering these idiots the White House for two terms becomes all the more apparent. You can feel the Republican desperation every time John McCain launches a desperate seventh-grader ad criticizing Obama for being too popular and attractive. Every time Sean Hannity whines to his dejected listenership, “You want change. How about off-shore drilling? That’s change!”
It would be too simplistic to compare the Straight Talk Express to a train wreck. If you want a sense of what life in the McCain camp, think to anytime you’ve played a team sport like basketball or soccer where your opponents are simply superior to you. Your offense misfires. Your defense is porous. Teammates turn on each other. Time-outs are called, and strategies are changed, all to no avail. Now Old Man McCain thinks he can reenergize his campaign by picking an exciting comparatively young white male running mate. Republicans frothing at the prospect of Mitt Romney as Vice-President will eventually be reminded of why they weren’t excited by the prospect of Mitt Romney as President: He looks and sounds like a used car salesman, has no core principles, and can only talk about his economic experience in so far as his role in laying off factory workers when he was at Bain. The only person who could actually help the McCain campaign at this point is Mike Huckabee, but McCain has shown about as much interest in Huckabee as he’s shown in understanding the mortgage crisis, the basics premise of Social Security, or Czechoslavakia’s split into two nations, one called the Czech Republic, and one called Slovakia.

Meanwhile, Back in Obamaville…
Meanwhile, things continue to roll along for the Obama campaign. The continued wall of silence around the Vice-Presidential deliberations are an outstanding testament to the discipline of Obama’s inner circle, a discipline that will prove invaluable when the administration endures difficult times in the years to come. The campaign has announced what looks to be a stellar convention line up.
On Monday night (the 25th), the party will highlight its female leadership with keynote addresses by Speaker Pelosi, rising party star Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Michelle Obama, whose stirring speech will put aside preposterous rumors about her lack of patriotism and racism.
On Tuesday, Mark Warner is the perfect choice to give the keynote address. The popular former governor is on cruise control in his Virginia Senate race, up 20 points or so on Republican Jim Gilmore. He no doubt views his Tuesday night prime time spot with a lustful look towards his future, aware that the slot launched Obama’s rise to stardom. Hillary is also speaking that night, and has the burden of supporting Barack Obama like she really means it.
On Wednesday, a slow parade of boring Senators take the stage before Bill Clinton. For Bill, this speech will profoundly shape his legacy among the many progressives and yellow-dogs disgusted by his behavior during, and even since the primary. His speech for Kerry was good, but could have been given behalf of any nominee. It’s time for him to tell America why Barack Obama is ready to lead, not why the 90s were so great when he was in charge.
And yes, on Thursday the Big O will enter Invesco Field to a crowd of 78,000. Don’t let anyone tell you this ticket process wasn’t a complete fiasco. No individual arm of the campaign had more than about 15,000 tickets to work with, with the Colorado Obama campaign, the Colorado state party, the Convention organizers, and the thousands of delegates and party bosses from around the country all sticking their hands in the pot. I certainly felt bad telling long-time activists and big-time supporters (not to mention close personal friends) that there was just no way they were getting tickets. For Obama to deliver an acceptance speech in front of every diehard and deserving supporter, he’d have to give it in the Washington Mall, and you can bet the press would call THAT presumptuous.

On the Road Again...
Anyways, the stretched morales of Colorado Springs, the torrential rains of Route 25, and the madness of Denver are all behind us now, as we sit in a non-Starbucks coffee shop in Pearl Street in Boulder. This afternoon (the Lord’s afternoon) I was kicking it on a couch enjoying the mindless offerings of TNT when a commercial came on for Bush’s Baked Beans. The owner of the small bean company’s face bore a harsh grimace, in recognition of the low brand quality the name “Bush” exudes these days. It’s as if the commercial screamed, “From the people that brought you two unsuccessful wars and a dismal economy, new baked beans!” These are tough times for Bushes everywhere, and for the rest of us caught in their calamitous path.
But places like Boulder offer friendly refuge. We’ll probably hang here for a bit, registering young hippie voters, before we go the promised land, Woody Creek, Colorado. If you don’t know what’s there, you definitely haven’t been listening to the Songs of the Doomed, like we have, speeding along underneath the Rockies on Route 36, still living the dream, regardless of obstacles life puts in our opticals to slow us down

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