Thursday, January 31, 2008

Wedge Issue in 2008

Gay men and lesbians who survived the 2004 presidential election against republicans who successfully used same-sex marriage as a wedge issue in 11 states are relieved not having to fight this battle again. If polls are correct, this will be a democratic year and the gay community seems satisfied with either Clinton or Obama as president. In stark contrast to the republican race, this year will be a watershed year for the Democratic Party with potentially the first woman or African American party nominee/president, and the first gay-sponsored debate back in August, among others. Gays are an important voting bloc in states like New York, comprising between 5-13% of democratic voters. As the race tightens, Clinton and Obama are aggressively courting gay voters.

It is easy to forget past struggles when tides are turning in the gay community’s favor such as more and more states are granting civil unions, in one state particular, Massachusetts permits same-sex marriage, and recent passage of federal anti-discrimination laws to include sexual-orientation. While polls showing greater public tolerance and gay issues becoming non-issues, another group is increasingly being marginalized. This year’s wedge issue will be immigration, and intrusive anti-immigration laws at the state and local level have torn families apart, and driven a myriad of Hispanics from their communities. Gays (and other minorities) must wage in the debate and cannot be complacent because of recent successes. At minimum, we are bound by one belief - the fundamental principle of human rights and dignity applies to all human beings regardless of citizenship status.

As pastor Martin Niemöller famously said during the Holocaust, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.” The time to speak up is now.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The (Mis)Education of John Edwards

John Edward’s consecutive primary losses ended his five year bid for president. His “two America” campaign theme and populist approach did not resonate well with democratic voters. After seven years of gross mismanagement and disastrous neo-con policies, democrats hunger for change, competency and unity. While Obama represents freshness and change, Clinton’s experience and policy prowess reassures weary working class voters. Democrats seemed to move beyond the "have and have-not" argument in this election. Pressing challenges such as the Iraq war, home foreclosures, rising healthcare and educational costs, and economic downturn unite people. When facing a real or potential crisis, there is only one America.

Edwards’ campaign should have focused on unity – the need to bridge the gaps between the rich and poor, the old and young, the educated and less educated, women and men, straights and gays, and blacks, whites and browns. Democrats probably would have responded positively given the divisive racial and gender rhetoric in the early primaries. Edwards’ two America message was equally divisive and thus, failed to be a credible alternative to Obama and Clinton. Edwards, 53, is a young and promising leader. Perhaps he should return to his roots in NC, run for governor, and return in 2012 or 2016.

The Curse of "Momentum"

Lately, the word momentum has been used and repeated by political pundits, commentators and bloggers so often that you think it is some kind of magical force. On the contrary, momentum defied all conventional wisdom in this election cycle and is proving to be a curse.

After winning the Iowa caucuses, Obama was riding high on the wave of momentum going into New Hampshire with polls showing double digit leads. He lost by 3%. With two consecutive primary wins (three if you count MI), the Clinton campaign thought momentum would bring her to a close second place in South Carolina despite trailing in the polls. Obama defeated Clinton as expected, far from close, but by a shocking 28%. Coupled with the Kennedy endorsements, mainstream media claimed momentum was blowing Obama’s way. However, in the renegade Florida primary Tuesday night, momentum again stubbornly failed to come through. Clinton beat Obama by 17% and won almost every demographic group in the exit polls. (Think what you may of Florida’s primary, it is hard to discount the 1.5 million Democratic voters.)

Given its track record, I am not sure I want momentum on my side. Perhaps it is trying to prove a point – no candidate is entitled or has exclusive rights to it. To the candidates, may momentum, umm..not be with you.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Obama's Dilemma, Clinton's End-Game

Obama's landslide victory over Clinton and Edwards in the SC primary this past Saturday demonstrated the strength of his organization, grassroots support, and campaign message. He won by double digits riding on the wave of African American support (a whopping 80%) but at the same time, failed to broaden his appeal among White voters. This presents a dilemma for the Obama campaign as they look forward to Super Tuesday on Feb. 5 when the majority of the 22 states have closed primaries and increased White, Hispanic and Asian American voters. Should his campaign focus on states with strong African American presence such as GA, AL, and MO, or divert resources to more expensive, but delegate rich states such as CA, NY, NJ, and AZ where Clinton is leading by double digits? Latest polls show Obama only leading Clinton in GA but competitive in MO, AL and TN.

Clinton, on the other hand, has aggressively campaigned in Super Tuesday states since winning the Nevada caucuses. By down-playing SC, Clinton risks permanently damaging relations with a substantial bloc of core democratic constituencies that make up about 15% of general election voters she desperately needs to win in November. The Clinton campaign probably calculated that winning White, Hispanic, elderly, and female voters may be enough to eke out and win the nomination, and ask for redemption by selecting Obama or someone with an indisputable civil rights record for the #2 spot at the convention. Both campaigns face tough choices ahead. One thing is certain, the only campaign without a choice is Edwards'. Having lost four crucial primaries, Edward's game may not reach Super Tuesday.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Ideal Running Mate

The eventual Democratic nominee will be battered from the hard-fought, divisive and racially-charged primaries. Clinton or Obama will most likely search for a low key figure as a running mate to unite the party. Scanning the list of current democratic governors, the most attractive candidate is Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) for several reasons.

1. Executive Experience: Richardson's solid resume, with over two decades of government experience (legislator, cabinet secretary and governor), provides the necessary gravitas for both candidates, especially Obama. No presidential candidates have successfully won the White House without first occupying the governor's mansion since JFK. More importantly, for Clinton, Richardson presents a softer side of the Democratic ticket, diverting attention away from her bare-knuckled primary campaign tactics.

2. Demography: Richardson, the popular governor of New Mexico, will strongly position the Democrats to sweep the four southwest states' 25 electoral votes - New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Nevada combined. With the southwest wins, the Democrats can afford to lose Ohio or Florida and still win the White House. Also, Richardson will motivate Hispanics to vote in droves for Democratic candidates across the country and potentially solidify their alliance with Democratic party.

3. Uniting the Base: Clinton and Obama's primary campaigns created serious tensions in the party's base, primarily along the lines of race and gender. For Clinton, Richardson will increase her share of men and African American votes. For Obama, Richardson will deliver the crucial Hispanic votes. These are core constituencies the party must hold on to win in November.

Finally, Richardson, facing term limits this year, will not jeopardize the party's position if picked to be on the Democratic ticket. The majority of democratic governors will not be up for reelection until 2011, and those who are do not face term limits. On that basis and the reasons mentioned above, I believe Richardson is the best VP candidate for the Democratic party.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Where is the Asian American Voice?

Recent highlights of demographics in early presidential primary states seem to ignore the Asian Pacific American (APA) votes. Discussions in mainstream media focus on the importance of African American, Hispanic, women, and Catholic votes, and make no mention of Asian Americans. Asian Americans often appeared to be an afterthought when raised by leading presidential candidates.

Given the political polarization, one would think APAs would be kingmakers in the 2008 election. For example, noted that APAs constituted 6.1% of the electorate in Nevada, a swing state that Bush won by 2.5% in 2004. In 2006, Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) narrowly beat Sen. George Allen by some 7,000 votes largely because he solidly carried the 160,000 potential APA votes in Virginia. Asian Americans make up about 4-6% of the population and polls after polls show both parties running neck in neck with only a few percentage separating them. Why is the APA voting bloc still being ignored? How can we raise our profile as a community so that APA votes matter and are courted by the candidates?

First comes the why and I think there are several factors. 1) Perception: APAs are perceived as a fractured community with no unifying voice to forcefully deliver their message. 2) Political Apathy: Although APAs make up 4-6% of the population, the number of actual registered voters are minuscule, making them a less potent force in swing states. 3) Non-monolithic Voters: 2004 presidential exit polls showed APA votes were almost evenly split in key states between Bush and Kerry, making them an undependable voting bloc by either party.

The 2008 election cycle offers the APA community the opportunity to change the dynamics. It is inherent in the Asian culture to stay neutral to promote harmony and not take risks, fearful of betting on the losing party. We cannot afford to be timid anymore. This is the time when APAs must take a political stand publically and fight for candidates and party that share their issues, values and concerns. Second, APAs must pull their resources together and demonstrate that they can deliver for their candidates and party. Finally, first generation and older APAs who are citizens must exercise their rights and vote to ensure the voice of future APA generations is heard.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Al Gore for Equality

I wish you were running for President this year.

Hillary's Momentum

There is no doubt Hillary Clinton has the momentum and her march towards the Democratic nomination is looking more and more palpable, notwithstanding earlier setbacks in Iowa and comments about MLK. Hard to believe that after the disastrous Iowa results, she came back to win New Hampshire and Nevada, and currently leading by double digits in the polls ( in delegate rich states (CA, NY, NJ, and FL) that will vote on Feb. 5, Super Tuesday.

I thought the Clinton camp brilliantly turned the race comment to their advantage when Obama's supporters made a big deal about it, a strategic error I think will cost Obama the nomination. Obama might have gained the African American votes but at what cost? After the NH and NV primaries, Obama is looking more and more like a one race, one hit candidate, losing the Hispanics, Whites and women votes. While Clinton is pursuing a national campaign, Obama is stuck in South Carolina fighting the other Clinton, and defending his Reagan comments. As the electorate is starting to focus on the presidential race, Obama is forced to answer the "where's the beef" questions on the economy, national security, mortgage crisis, health care, etc. Hope and change may sound nice and warm, but who's going to pay my bills when I'm laid off, and my mutual funds/stocks worth only pennies?