Kendrick Meek, Ken Livingstone and the Tea Party

All politics is, to some extent, tactical. It would be nice to think campaigns could be run, elections could be won and things got done on the basis of ideology alone.

 But as Nick Clegg could probably point out, power invariably involves settling.

America goes to the polls this week, to choose a third of its senators and all of its congressmen. Two years after Barack “the Messiah” Obama swept into the White House, the Democrats are set for major losses and a likely return to a Republican majority in the House.

This is not actually as bad as it seems; it’s astonishingly rare for the incumbent party to come out of the mid-terms with more seats than they had (when Clinton did in 1998 it was the exception, and more a reaction against Republican machinations than the start of a new political tradition). Still, it’s not great that the Democrats are going to go kaput, especially when you consider that a good number of losses are likely to be at the hands of Tea Party loyalists like Christine the not-so-teenage-witch O ‘Donnell.

Still, given the polls and predictions, it’s surprising to see that efforts to secure a non Tea Party outcome in Florida have failed so miserably – and even more so that a Democrat is the one responsible.

The situation is this; Until a year or so, Governor Charlie Crist was something of a golden boy in the Republican, even tipped as a potential 2012 contender. But his support of such abomination as the stimulus, plus an Obama shaped hug, led to a challenge from the right by Tea Party king Marco Rubio and Crist striking out as an independent.

Mr Rubio is an unreconstructed right-winger, fond of soundbites like this one: “The problem is that when government controls the economy, those who can influence government keep winning, and everybody else just stays the same.”

Paranoid? Him?

Of course, there’s still a Democrat hoping to steal the crown, the wonderfully American named Kendrick Meek (can you imagine, President Meek…it’s like a bad spoof film). Meek is drawing about 15 per cent in the polls, Crist around 35 per cent and spades ahead is Rubio, with 42 per cent.

So the choice is this – moderate voters can go for a Democrat with very little chance, or an independent with not much more. Whether the former or the latter, the likelihood is that Mr Rubio will be off to the Senate.

Unless, of course, tactical voting comes into it. I’m no mathematician, but the combined moderate vote is more than a match for the Tea Party support. Surely, it would make sense for one of Mr Crist or Mr Meek to step aside so that, in Chuchillian terms, the best-worst candidate can prevail.

Makes sense, right? Good tactics? Bill Clinton certainly thought so, which is why he tried to broker a deal to get the undeniably weaker of the two, Meek, to do the gentlemanly thing and depart the race. Allegedly there were promises of a good DC job for Meek in return for giving up on a dream that has no chance of being realised anyway.

But while politics is about tactics, politicians are often more about ego. Ergo, Meek refused. Meek, indeed.

Madness. Meek must know that by refusing a deal he boosts Rubio immeasurably, when having Crist in the seat would do far more to prevent the Republicans blocking Obama’s legislative programme in the next two years.

Maybe two years ago, in the giddy rush of “Yes we can”, principle could come first. But Obama’s approval ratings are plummeting, and the prognosis for the next two years isn’t good. What a shame Meek couldn’t act tactically, just this once.

Not that I’m suggesting he should have actively campaigned for his opponent. Supporting another party above your own. That would be absurd, certainly not acceptable behaviour for, say, Labour’s mayoral candidate for 2012.

Oh, but wait. Apparently that’s exactly the sort of behaviour one can expect from Ken Livingstone, who was spotted on the stump for new Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman last week – despite the presence of one Helal Abbas, Labour’s candidate.

Yes, politicians should be pragmatic and tactical. But while Mr Meek doing the gracious thing would have had a purpose, Livingstone’s support of a Respect-backed politician had no such point.

It’s ironic to think, then, that tactical “anyone but Ken” voting was so key in Boris’ victory last time.

Rogue (book) trading

Whoever said that all publicity is good publicity must have had an in with Sarah Palin.

The sideshow that is the former-Alaska Governor and McCain running-mate’s life is going to make for riveting reading.  At least, thats what the publishers of ‘Going Rogue: an American Life’ must be banking on.

HarperCollins have ordered a whopping great 100,000 more copies of her autobiography.  It’s also made the top spot on US  Amazon’s best-seller list.

A prophesy on the outcome of the 2012 presidential election, or just an indication that audiences continue to be fascinated with the one-time Beauty Queen from Wasilla?

I’d hazard – and hope – that it is the latter.  One thing is for sure, I know which book is next on my must-read list.


One year on; why Obama needs to get moving

So. Twelve months later does the world still think Barack Obama is the messiah?

Well, no. Choose from any of the following – prevaricating over whether to send more troops into Afghanistan, the whole healthcare kerfuffle, the disappointing poll results in Virginia and New Jersey last week, the fact that he hasn’t solved the Middle East conflict or saved the planet from global warming – you name it, Obama hasn’t done it.

‘Yes We Can’ has become the rather less marketable, ‘yes, maybe, probably not’.

There’s nothing harder to beat than high expectations, and if November 2008 dealt Obama a resounding win, it also gave him a lot to live up to. Speculation aside, I don’t think that the off-season elections can really be seen to have taken the temperature of the Obama presidency. Far more interesting will be the votes next November in the mid-terms, when a third of the Senate and all of the House will be going to the polls. Remember 2006, when Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats swept to victory? Turned out to be a fairly good reading of America’s mood.

Likewise, that Obama hasn’t actually yet achieved the exhaustive list of promises he proffered in his campaign is hardly surprising, and the yet in that sentence should not be ignored.  Still, perhaps as a result of having a fixed term presidency, the media tends to view the first eighteen months as the only time a president will actually achieve anything, before he has to refocus his energies on re-election.

But is that really the reality? Well, history suggests it very well could be.

Consider what can probably be seen as the two most important examples of major domestic change in America over the last century; Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society.

In his first 100 days FDR put his foot down on the path to restoring economic viability with the Emergency Banking Act, as well as instating many of his notorious Alphabet Agencies, including the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), the National Recovery Administration (NRA) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

Likewise, Johnson, catapulted into office after JFK was assassinated, had introduced by the following August several social welfare measures including the Economic Opportunity Act. In July 1964, after 75 days debate, segregation was outlawed by the Civil Rights Act. And the huge array of key domestic legislation that LBJ is remembered for (when he is remembered at all for his successes), all took place in the first session of Congress of 1965, just after he had been elected as president with a vast majority.

So too, with foreign policy. Harry Truman gave the go-ahead to drop the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki just months after assuming office and so ended the Pacific leg of the second World War.

Not that it was all smooth sailing from then on. With three and a bit more terms in charge, FDR did plenty more, doing battle with the Supreme Court and the Nazis to name but a few of his achievements. For LBJ it was a downward spiral into Vietnam, urban rioting and all manner of other disasters.  For Truman, it was the narrowest of narrow victories in 1948.

But however you look at the rest of their presidential runs, the first year or so, the honeymoon period, was pretty darn important.

 Conversely, bad things also happened in the first year or so to some presidents, and they stuck. Whether Ford really recovered from pardoning Nixon is debatable – but it certainly didn’t win him enough support to win reelection. Everyone’s favourite peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter, spent his first year antagonizing half the Democrats inside the beltway and trying to pass an unprecedented amount of legislation, which didn’t win him any favours. His role in brokering the Camp David Accords in 1978 didn’t keep him in office in 1980, when Ted Kennedy and then Ronald Reagan campaigned on an ‘anyone but Carter’ platform. 

George Bush senior promised ‘no new taxes’ in his election campaign, and eighteen months later was embroiled in a bitter row with the Democrats that led to a tax raise and helped Clinton push him out of office in 1992. Triumph in the Gulf War in 1991 as his presidency was entering its third year couldn’t help him keep power.

So does the first year really define the presidency from then on?  Not really, when you look back from the vantage point of history.

Truman’s legacy is as much successes like the Marshall Plan, or disasters like his firing of popular wartime hero General MacArthur during the Korean war. No matter LBJ’s early successes, his name is synonymous with Vietnam. Regardless of his first year in office, Nixon’s will be the Watergate presidency.

But isn’t in interesting that the presidents who were markedly capable in their first eighteen months, the ones who fulfilled their campaign promises and made what must have been the tough calls, were the ones the voters offered a second term.

FDR, Truman, LBJ (a stretch since he only won the one election, but it was still technically two different terms), all got the thumbs up for four more years. Whatever we think of George W Bush, his decisive action going into Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11 had to play a part in his reelection.   

And look at the ones who didn’t excel from early. Since the 1940s, when the presidency took the shape it has today, Ford, Carter and George H W Bush have been the only single term presidents. See a pattern?

This is all generalization and represents a very simplistic analysis of these presidencies and the relevant elections. Reagan, who regualrly scores highly in popularity polls, had notable successes like his role in the end of the Cold War much later, while his first two years were not marked by many Reaganomic wonders. Equally, Clinton screwed up any number of times in his first few years in office (although the midterms of 1944 saw massive Republican gain under the auspices of Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, and Gingrich has been tipped as a possible 2012 candidate.)

Still, while its to early to call time on the Obama legacy, the lessons of history do beg the question; when is Obama going to get moving and follow up on his pledges.

Because the clock is ticking on the Obama Presidency. By this count, he only has another nine months.