There are reports today that the CBC has secured a pre-visit interview from US President Barack Obama. Congratulations to the team at the public broadcaster, for any network that’s what they call an exclusive in the biz.
These sorts of of coups are usually a combination of networking, of credibility and of audience, but to be serious, it’s mostly like anything else in politics, media or business; it’s the strong interpersonal contacts that one builds up that open most doors.
This reminds me of when I found myself at the intersection of US politics and the media. Last year, during the election at which Obama would ultimately succeed, his GOP opponent John McCain took a history-making detour to Canada. Never before had a major-party candidate for President visited our country during an election.
Since the event was political, and in Ottawa, the political flacks of this town registered through their centralized guild that is the Parliamentary Press Gallery. Since the press conference would occur off of Parliament Hill and outside of the sphere of control of the Gallery, I called the press office of the McCain campaign. Could a blogger get credentials for a press conference with a presidential candidate? Yes.
During McCain’s speech at the Chateau Laurier a producer from CBC spotted me and was puzzled by my media credentials and asked how I got credentialed. I told them that I called the campaign and easily set it up. The producer then explained that it had been very difficult for them to get a one-on-one interview with the GOP nominee and asked if I could make a call to set up an interview for the CBC. Political capital is a real currency in both Washington and Ottawa. Though I have some friends over at the public broadcaster, I wasn’t about to spend any capital on the CBC that day.
This week President Obama will make that first foreign visit of the 44th Presidency. In the tradition of Presidents Reagan and Clinton, Canada will be his first international destination. And, as in most “gets” in news media, it does come down to who you can get on the phone.
My congratulations to the CBC for their good connections — already established and newly formed — into the Democratic Party, it will serve them well as they cover the Obama administration in Washington. However, nobody was shocked when Fox News scored exclusives with the 43rd man to serve as POTUS during his two terms.
I’ve been back in Ottawa for about 36 hours after making the trip to Washington DC to observe the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. It goes without saying that the inauguration was a historic event as the United States turned a page on centuries of troubled history as the first African-American ascended to assume the highest office in the nation. I write this blog to report on the news, to offer opinion, and to give an account of my experiences. I’ve never been to a Presidential inauguration and I’d like to share some of my observations of those couple of days in DC.
After going through an unusually thorough screening with Homeland security, I boarded my Air Canada flight with a number of Canadians and Americans heading to Washington. When traveling, one often see travelers reflecting, in a clichéd way, their departure point or arrival. On a trip to Hawaii, for example, you might see an inordinate number of leis and cheap plastic “grass” skirts on fellow passengers, in Vegas, empty plastic souvenir ‘hurricane’ margarita cups. On this trip to DC, a number of Canadians and Americans were decked out in the colours of the American flag. Minister Peter Kent was on my flight, on his way to represent Canada in DC as minister of state for the Americas.
Landing in at Reagan national airport, I was immediately struck by the shops which had switched from generic Americana to 99% Obama merchandise. One t-shirt I saw had a mock headline that read something along the lines of “Now is our time” with a photoshopped image of Obama’s head on Michael Jordan’s body going for a slam dunk from the top of the key wearing a Superman outfit. I immediately became determined to find the most tacky and absurd Obama memorabilia during my trip and if this was a location as mainstream as the airport, I’d hold my greenbacks for the streets of DC.
I took the metro to the Capitol and after fighting the lines leaving the metro, I found the line that snaked around the buildings which held the congressional offices. As I had a ticket set aside for me, I joined the queue. After making my way inside and after having picked up my ticket, I crashed a mid-western pre-inaugural party in the congressional district. It wouldn’t be the last party I crashed on my trip, but for the main event, I had my golden ticket.
Next up, I made my way over to a party held by the British mission in DC. On the way, in Dupont Circle BDS-afflicted revellers were tossing shoes at an 30-foot tall inflated cartoon effigy of George W. Bush. In 24 hours, what would these people have to do with themselves? After the British party, I made my way over to Clarendon with some GOP friends to attend a leftwing netroots blogger party sponsored by big labour, netroots nation, blue state digital, and a host of well-read “progressive” blogs. With drink tickets, guitar hero, and a live band, the festivities certainly had a hobbyist-gone-mainstream feel. I met some very talented people working on social media the Obama side of the partisan divide.
Next day was inauguration day and the common wisdom was to show up at the metro as early as possible to make one’s way to the Capitol. Despite my best efforts, I arrived to the metro station to find it packed with people. Apparently, record ridership was recorded on the previous day with 600,000 people passing the DC metro gates. It’s a bit harrowing standing on a platform packed 20 rows deep with anxious DC residents and inauguration tourists when one indeed has to “mind the gap” between a packed station and the tracks. On the train, however, people were in good spirits despite the overcrowding.
I eventually made my way from the metro to the ticketed checkpoint area. On my way, more Obama kitsch tempted me as spontaneous capitalists popped up everywhere to hawk everything from Barack Obama action figures to Michelle Obama t-shirts. The ticketed area in front of the inaugural platform in front of the Capitol building had rows of seats for a few thousand people. Looking back at the national mall towards the Washington monument, we could see millions of people. On television, it was reported that 3-4 million people were packed in to see Obama take the oath of office. Looking across the mall, when the motorcade drove up the street, it was a shimmering sea of red white and blue as people waved their flags.
Sitting and waiting for the ceremony to begin, I spotted New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg sitting a few rows ahead. Bloomberg was considering a run at the presidency this cycle and would have contested as an independent versus Obama and McCain. I made my way over to Bloomberg to say hello. The mayor was a registered Republican, however would have run as an independent. Some speculated that his run would have made him a viable candidate for a running mate to the Republican or Democratic nominee seeking the presidency through the independent swing vote.
The inauguration ceremony went off fairly well with only the Roberts/Obama oath blunder as the only notable exception. Obama’s speech was adequate at best and I don’t think it met the oratorical expectations that people have expected; “ask not what your country can do for you”, Obama’s speech was not. I believe that this presidency will be about managing and decreasing expectations that have been built up during the campaign. After the wrap up of the inauguration, Obama made his way to the other side of the Capitol building to see President Bush and his wife off in a marine helicopter. We saw the events on a big screen on our side of the building and a few seconds later saw the helicopter pass over the roof of the Capitol and over our heads. Everyone waved at the helicopter, though while some gave a warm wave goodbye, others were not so friendly. The helicopter passed over the national mall and Canadian embassy. The embassy would be my next stop.
The Canadian embassy is located on some of the best real estate in DC. The building is about a stone’s throw away from the Capitol and had a great view for guests of the Canadian ambassador. Party guests at the embassy included former ambassador Frank McKenna, Jason Kenney, Peter Kent, Michael J. Fox, Newt Gingrich and… for some reason… er… Star Jones?
After taking a bit of a break from inauguration festivities, a few of us on the right headed over to David Frum’s to mark the launch of his new website New Majority. While inaugural balls were going on elsewhere in the city, I had a couple of invites for the post-inaugural Google party. The party was downtown by the Reagan Center and was the media/Washington insider gathering was well-attended by CNN, MSNBC, DNC and RNC people.
The inauguration of Barack Obama was about the closest thing I think I’ll see to a coronation. To be sure, Obama was elected through the democratic process, however, the fanfare, ceremony, celebrity, commemorative-plate-esque atmosphere and the millions of people caught up in it was certainly something I don’t expect to see again.
Barack Obama inspired many, from Democrats in the primaries to electors during the campaign. He was an incredible campaigner. Now comes the hard part: he has to govern. With a worsening economic crisis and an ill-advised and massive economic bailout coming, transformational is bound to become transactional and we’ll need more than hope to pay off the interest.
More photos (click any photo on this page to enlarge):
The Obamas wave to the crowd on the National Mall
Joe Biden is sworn in as VPOTUS
John Kerry imagines what might have been
At the inauguration of President Barack Obama
The inaugural band packs up below the inaugural platform
President Obama’s limosine drives by the Canadian embassy
As for Obama kitsch, this hand puppet was too good to pass up
What that Barack? You’re pro-death-penalty, pro-Afghan-mission, anti-same-sex-marriage, and for private healthcare?
The election of Barack Obama is historic in many ways, most significantly in the progression along the troubled history of race in the United States. On Tuesday, Americans turned out in record numbers to give Obama a decisive win and vault the first African-American into the highest office in that country. The Obama team also set new records along the fundraising front and may indeed set a precedent for the financing of elections in the future.
According to opensecrets.org, a website on money in politics run by the Centre for Responsive Politics, Senator Obama raised $639 million during the 2008 Presidential election cycle with 91% of that sum coming from individual donations. Comparatively, Senator McCain raised $360 million, 54% coming from the same type; the majority of the dollars from each candidate’s campaign came from people making personal donations to their favourite candidate. A striking difference between campaigns was Obama’s refusal of public funding. The Illinois senator took $0 of public financing while his Republican counterpart from Arizona took over $84 million to make up 23% of his campaign’s spending power.
We didn’t start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington – it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.
It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation’s apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth. This is your victory. — President-elect Barack Obama, Chicago November 4th, 2008
In Canada, the Reform Party under Preston Manning started a tradition of passing the hat in church basements and legion halls during rallies, speeches or simple administrative meetings. A donation of $5, $20 or $100 was passed on to bring change to Ottawa. The tradition continues today under Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, though in a much more sophisticated way and one that is buoyed by databases and telemarketing. Conservatives have historically raised an average individual donation of about $100 while Liberals used to depend on fewer but larger sums. Jean Chretien –perhaps to kneecap his long-coveting Prime Ministerial successor — changed the way election financing was done in Canada by banning corporate and union donations. Chretien replaced the private financing of political parties by special interests with public financing by government. For each vote that a party earns during an election, that party receives $1.75 per year from the federal treasury.
On the surface, this reconfiguration of campaign financing seems to rebalance the funding equation from powerful institutions to those that ought to have the first and last word in any democracy. Indeed, voters are empowered not only when they give campaigns their vote but also when they do so with the knowledge that instead of corporate or union backing, there is a small financial sum that comes with each ballot cast that sustains parties instead. However, while Chretien’s system solves one problem, it creates another.
In Quebec where a province defaults to the inert rather than the principled, a problem exists with Chretien’s model of campaign financing. The Bloc Quebecois, doing all it could to supress its core principle of sovereignty for that province, rather stood against — indeed, as a block to — Conservative ideas in the 2008 general election and against Liberal corruption in 2006. In the first half of this year, the Bloc raised just over $70,000 but received $1.5 million in public financing. Donations are a result of direct support whereas that larger windfall comes from standing against something rather than offering something better. The Bloc Quebecois would not exist if it had to rely upon direct non-governmental financing from supporters.
This summer, I met a member of the Obama campaign’s senior staff in New York City. Discussing the presidential campaign and some Canadian politics, I was told that the Liberal Party had approached the Obama campaign to attain some insight into their fundraising capacity and to create a similar system in Canada so that a large number of small donors could fill their campaign war chest. The staffer told me that after initial discussions, the Liberal Party never followed up in any significant way.
A tried-and-true election strategy for the Liberal Party has been to strike fear into the electorate about what a Conservative administration might mean for Canada. In the last election we were warned that a Conservative majority would allow Harper to finally implement his hidden agenda. Yet the Conservatives in power have not been innocent of taking this lower path either. Defining Stephane Dion as a weak leader and scaring the electorate as to what his “tax on everything” would mean to the economy took a negative track and suggested people vote against, rather than for the Conservatives. People are goaded out of fear to vote against and they often hold their nose for the not-as-offensive choice they end up “supporting”. Since money comes from support, we should break the model that rewards false support and strengthen one that challenges parties to offer ideas rather than fear. Government subsidization of political parties hurts Canadian politics.
The motto of Barack Obama’s campaign for President was “Yes We Can”. Under the current Canadian system, we give welfare to parties for being best able to convince Canadians of the other parties, “No They Can’t”. If we made politics about the positive (Yes), responsibility of self (We) and enablement (Can) rather than the negative (No), what one’s opponent would do (They) and a need to stop them (Can’t), perhaps we could reduce voter apathy both at the ballot box and when parties pass the hat. If we gave voters more power to finance those they support rather than sustain those they least detest we could shift Canadian politics for the better.
On Tuesday, American politics changed. It is time to end campaign welfare so that we can replace politics that scares with that which inspires.