Democrats in a hopeless state

Boy, that’s quite a defeat for the democratic party. Its party time for Bush and his team. After four years of economic downturn, rising deficit, war etc. etc. the voting patterns across the US don’t seem to have changed despite the “far-right” stance of the Republican party.

I am surprised that the democratic party did not make a more concerted effort to grab one of the states in the heartland. It appears that they completely disregarded these states. From this perspective, in hindsight, it might have been better for Kerry to have chosen Gephardt or some other VP candidate who could deliver at least a state or two.

I think the moral of the story for the democrats is that they better find a Presidential candidate who can carry a couple of red states in the American heartland (a la Bill Clinton) in 2008. Hillary Clinton, perhaps! At least you can be sure that the best democratic campaigner will be out there in full swing.

It’s President Kerry, I think.

Despite all the media and pundits promising a close race and lawyers lined up to fight the battles in court, I think John Kerry will win the presidential elections and win convincingly. Here are some reasons why:

The Debates: Kerry did a fine job in all three debates winning them 3-0. Until these debates he was relatively unknown. But in these debates he came across as a very knowledgeable on policy issues (on par with Bill Clinton) without the arrogance and over-confidence portrayed by Al Gore. He also showed his lighter side and sense of humor in answering the question about what he had learned from his wife and daughters. Last but not the least he showed that he was a very shrewd politician at heart when he dragged Cheney’ s daughters name into one of his answers.

The Campaign: Despite all the talk about lacking charisma, Kerry did all the right things to run a very inclusive campaign. The important thing was that pretty much everyone in the democratic party was on-board the campaign. Unlike Gore, he took all the help he could from Clinton and signed on as many of Clinton former team as possible. Besides, he ran a campaign that was relatively scandal free (no serious revelation barring the failed swift boat campaign), with no special surprises.

The VP Candidate: Though I think Kerry didn’t really care a whole lot for Edwards, he did the smart thing by selecting John Edwards as his running mate. For whatever its worth, Edwards managed to energize the party base after Dean screamed himself out of steam. There was no chance of Edwards stealing Kerry’s limelight given his relative inexperience. In short, as a team they served each others purpose.

Newspaper endorsements: Kerry landed a number of key newspaper endorsements (not sure how much of an influence these are) like the NYT, Washington Post, Economist, Financial Times etc.

External Support: Michael Moore, and the rest of Hollywood had made a very visible plea to the voters to dump Bush. Again, its hard to measure the impact of that, but it was definitely something that benefited Kerry more than hurt him. To his credit he did a fine job of tapping this support to energize the voters bringing in the actors, singers and other entertainers at the right time to draw the crowds.

Young, first time voters: The amount of money raised online, the number of student volunteers, and the overall presence online was far stronger for the democratic party than the Republicans. John Kerry did a fine job of tapping into the online momentum that the Dean campaign had put in place.

Anti-Bush: There has been an incredible anti-Bush wave in the US and across the globe that one can’t but notice. Several people overseas were hoping that Bush would loose the elections. There were no shortage of people who felt “anybody but Bush”. All these voters will most likely vote in favor of Kerry. While he might not have done anything to win them, I think he made sure he didn’t do anything to loose them!

Lastly, I think Bush and his team have chosen to operate too far to the right all through his first term. Having lived here for over a decade I think the majority of US citizens are uncomfortable with such extreme positions and are more accommodating and moderate. The best proof of this are the results in an election with an all time high turnout.

All in all, I think John Kerry will become President by a comfortable margin.

A few interesting links

Interesting news and sites I learned about lately:

  • If you are closely following the presidential elections in the US, here is one you’d love. This site follows all the various polls and gives you an estimate of the electoral votes for Bush and Kerry.
  • Fired from Delta Airlines for blogging . I guess it won’t be long before companies have strict guidleines for blogging.
  • Truly fascinating fund raising effort from the Firefox browser folks $250K in less than 10 days.
  • If you use gmail, just fyi.
  • If you are into following VCs, investments and other tech stories from silicon valley, this a useful blog

The Vice-Presidential debate

Saw the debate. The format certainly suited Mr. Cheney’s style, but he couldn’t help coming across as a “school principal who knew all the answers” like Tom Brokaw aptly put it. Mr. Edwards on the other hand looked young, charming, but almost canned. He certainly does his best to emulate Clinton, but he just can’t come close. Nevertheless, I think he held his own throughout the debate. On the crucial question of being a heart beat away from the Presidency, I thought Mr. Edwards did a less than convincing job of answering the question. Instead, he quickly diverted attention from it. Mr. Cheney didn’t quite jump onto the issue (and even if he did it lacked impact because of his low-key style of delivery) as I think he should have. I guess he doesn’t like to talk whole lot about it, because in his case he gets to be President while he is still the Vice-President! Mr. Cheney did his party’s campaign some damage when he referred to http://www.factcheck.com instead of http://www.factcheck.org

In the current battle for the Presidency, a lot has been said about “flip-flop”. First the Republicans accussed John Kerry of flip-flopping. Now the democrats say that President Bush is the one who has been flip-flopping. When does one flip-flop? Obviously, it happens when you are not sure of something. Ironically, when asked specifically about it (What’s wrong with a little flip-flop every now and then?) in the debate, both candidates evaded the question and instead accused each other of flip-flopping!

When significant decisions that impact millions of people across the globe have to be taken, its understandable that there might be a legitimate reason to flip-flop. In fact, it might be better to flip-flop and analyze the situation a little longer before coming to a decision. In President Bush’s words, “Its hard!” Perhaps, if we hadn’t been so sure about Iraq and instead flip-flopped a little we might not be in the mess we find ourselves in today?

In the summary, I think Mr. Cheney came across as tough, hard-assed and uncompromising while Mr. Edwards did appear a little light weight at times. I don’t beleive that either side did enough damage to the other to impact public opinion or the race for that matter. In short, this debate will be forgotten by the time the second debate gets underway, which incidentally is in a couple of days.

Arundhati Roy’s talk in the Bay Area

Arundhati Roy is clearly a crowd puller, especially in the bay area. By the time I got to know about the talk at UC Berkeley on 18, August 2004, the event was already sold out despite the $21 cost per ticket. However, I had the privilege of watching the recording of her talk on Booktv (C-Span II). (I think this was a talk she delivered in San Francisco and not the one at Berkeley). The event lasted about a 100 minutes in all including the speech and the Q&A.

Overall, the content of her speech was interesting and engaging. She read her speech from written text and her responses during the Q&A session were not necessarily as impressive or as insightful as her speech. Her strength clearly lies in writing than in speaking. She is brilliant in word play and has the ability to draw interesting parallels that most people can relate to. Some of the points I recall from the speech (I am writing this from memory and not from notes. Note taking is not my strength, unfortunately!):

  • Terrorisim is the privitization of war! (I thought this was a nice way to present the idea)
  • Extending her view that George Bush and John Kerry are not very different she drew an interesting parallel about two soaps (ivory coast and one other name I can’t remember) both being products from P&G. “You’ll have Bush without Bush if Kerry were elected”. She said a similar situation exists in India –while she described the BJP as blatantly fascist, she said the Congress party’s policies are not very different on most issues.
  • The people of a country pay the price for the mistakes of their Govt. In Afghanistan, the people suffered because of the US attack instigated by the Taliban; In Iraq the people suffered because the US chose to get rid of Saddam; likewise the US people suffered the 9/11 attack because of the US govts policy in the middle east. The difference she pointed out was that barring the US where we have a democratically elected President (or so to speak as she pointed out tongue-in-cheek) the others are oppressive regimes. In short, people have been forced to suffer for no fault of theirs. The US population on the other hand, needs to feel responsible for its predicament and can’t entirely blame its govt.
  • She described Call Centers as an extension of racism. “Sure they are better off because of these jobs, but requiring people to work odd hours, pretend to be somebody they aren’t (Rosy , Roxanne etc.), and speak with a fake accents, is a form of racism!”.
  • When asked about the US, she said she admires Americans and thinks that because the people here are far more well off than the rest of the world, the Americans can mobilize and make a difference to humanity as a whole by influencing the role of Govt. and the military establishment than people any other part of the world.
  • She talked about the role of Big Media (how Afghanistan no longer gets press, and soon the same will happen to Iraq, The World Social Forum event held in Mumbai in Jan 2004 got no coverage whatsoever in the mainstream media in India despite the huge turnout. btw, if you care to learn more about this vist the Independent Media Center etc.), the questionable motivation behind several NGOs (their source of funds etc.).
  • On Iraq, she thought the US should withdraw and repatriate (and pay in $) the loss. She referred to the “thugerry of Cheney, Rumsfled and Wolfowitz” At one point, prior to saying something controversial she said, “If I have to go to jail, I would rather go to jail in India than here in the US”
  • “Sarkar” (govt in hindi) and “public” (“this is now a hindi word used extensively to refer to the people”) — she referred to these at various points in the speech. She said that it was important that everyone understand that sarkar is the servant of the public and are not kings! She described her moving experience of an entire village in the Narmada destroyed by its own people. Apparently, the people in this village were forcibly relocated by the Govt. to less than acceptable new housing in a different area in return for destroying their existing homes.
  • She dodged a question about more fiction writing by her or simply forgot to respond to it because the “mc” combined too many questions together.

Immediately following Ms. Roy’s speech, one of the folks on the stage innocently said to the camera man, “Can we find out from the camera man if its ok if we did it on the table!” (he was referring to the fact that Ms. Roy was back on the chair after the speech and if it might be ok for her to answer questions while she is seated!” (the guy was embarrassed as soon as the crowd was roaring with laughter at the snafu!).

Overall, I enjoyed the C-Span telecast. Besides, I can’t complain having saved myself a painful drive in traffic, plus the certain frustration of finding parking in Berkeley, and the $21 entry fee.

Clinton on Letterman Show

Bill Clinton was on the David Letterman show last nite. It was bound to be an interesting event for several reasons. Firstly, Letterman loves to dominate his show. This means that he does most of the talking and very often tends to interrupt the guest and sometimes even cut them off. He can’t do that to Bill Clinton, the former President and hence once upon a time one of the most powerful men on the planet, could he? Maybe, maybe not. Besides, Bill Clinton has not appeared on a show like this since appearing on the Arsenio Hall show more than a decade ago. So there was an element of what’s this guy like in a more relaxed mood, with no real job and no real pressure. Can he sit back, relax, and enjoy a few laughs? Last but not the least, Clinton has been the butt of so many Letterman jokes over the years!

So what was this show like? Well…personally, I was a little disappointed. Clinton was quite stiff all along. He only laughed once, and that too in a pretty restrained manner. Letterman was unusually restrained too. He would ask a question and wait patiently for Clinton to complete his answers. Very often Clinton launched into his favorite political wonk mode with answers laced with stats and numbers. His answers were long drawn, but not once did Letterman interrupt. Also, I think Letterman focused more on policy and politics and hardly any questions were of a personal nature. It would have been more interesting had Letterman asked questions like — What is it like to be President for 8 years, and then be out of job, and still be quite young, and very capable? What is his typical day like? Would he run for office again? Rumors about Hillary’s political ambitions! In summary, I think both men where a little overwhelmed in their respective ways making it not as great an event as it could have been.

Spare them the spotlight

Do the spouses and kids of candidates have to be paraded all around at these conventions? The recent Democratic convention saw families of the John Edwards and John Kerry actively participating in “pitching” for them. It is more than likely that the same will happen at the Republican convention. The argument is that this is an opportunity for the country to get insights into the personal side of these candidates. Unfortunately, these events are so scripted like “product demos” that even if these individuals wished to reveal something new about their spouses, its more than likely that it will be staged and crafted. The net effect is that we have speeches from family members that hardly come across as genuine, but instead appear fake and untrue. We know they love their spouses, we know they think their spouses are the greatest (even Hillary told us that!), we know they will do anything to impress us to vote for them, then why bother? Moreover, it puts so much pressure on these individuals to be dragged into this whole drama that the candidate is involved with as they run for public office.

I watched Teresa Heinz Kerry’s speech the other day at the Democratic convention. She is not exactly a great speaker, didn’t exactly reveal anything personal about John Kerry, and is hardly qualified to talk policy. I think the same is true of Laura Bush. These are two women who are probably more comfortable doing their own things, than making speeches at political conventions. It would be better off if they stuck to press interviews and appearing in public with the candidate and stayed away from giving speeches, especially at conventions. This way, if you really care about the candidates personal background you are likely to research it and find out for yourself. At the same time, it will make sure that people don’t end up casting their vote after falling for a dog and pony show at a convention.

Finally, here is what I think is interesting about Teresa Heinz Kerry and is likely to appeal to most Americans — She appears relatively simple and certainly does not look like a woman who has over $500M+ assets. She wears minimal make up and does not fuss over her hair. She can speak five languages, was born and raised in Mozambique and is not afraid to ask people to “shove it” (which BTW is both good and scary at the same time!). What I knew about Teresa Heinz Kerry, I knew even before her speech and I think that was more than sufficient. I would have preferred (and the DNC would have been better served in my opinion) instead to hear a few more up and coming stars of the democratic party like Barack Obama.