August
18th 2008
The roads to the White House

Posted under: American history

The roads to the White House are the Ohio and Pennsylvania turnpikes (I-76 and I-80/90), from Philadelphia running west through Pittsburgh, Akron, Cleveland, and Toledo; and I-75, which runs through Michigan from Mackinaw City south through Detroit, then into Ohio and through Toledo, Lima, Dayton, and Cincinnati.  The man who really wants to win the election this fall will put himself on bus and drive east and west, north and south on those highways, getting to know the people of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan extremely well, and he’ll talk about the price of gas and the state of the U.S. economy constantly.  Paul “Cassandra” Krugman has a great column today (h/t TalkLeft) explaining why Barack Obama needs to up his economy talk, and fast.  (However, I disagree with Krugman that Obama is OK on the specifics; he needs to hammer those specifics into people’s heads and explain why his specifics are better than John McSame’s specifics.)

Obama is doing OK in Pennsylvania but he’s losing ground in Ohio:  PPP says the race in Ohio is tied, other polls show it very close, and that’s bad in a year when the GOP brand is mud, the Dems swept the 2006 elections in Ohio, and the people there are very open to regime change in the Oval Office (especially in the downtrodden Ohio Turnpike corridor and Democratic stronghold that runs through northern Ohio, from Akron and Cleveland through Toledo.)  Obama can win those states if he goes there to ask for their votes and explains how his policies will help them.  The people of Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania remember the Clinton years fondly and are predisposed to trust Democrats more than Republicans with the economy–but they also need to hear from the candidate himself what he can do for them, and why his leadership matters.

I’ve always thought that Obama’s strategy of dissing and/or largely ignoring Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania (except through ad buys) was foolish in the primary, but it’s suicidal in the general election.  Focusing on Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada, even if Obama wins all three states, is risky.  (Colorado is looking dubious–he’s narrowly behind in Colorado and has lost a small but significant lead since July, and this state is wary of change even in places where it’s not politically right-wing).  Nevertheless, these western states won’t compensate for losing Michigan, Ohio, and possibly Pennsylvania.  Looking for new votes in new regions is a great idea, so long as you don’t ignore your natural constituencies in uncool, older, rust-belt states.  Guess what?  Older people vote, and their grandkids?  Not so much.  Remember how all of those college kids who weren’t being polled because they only had cell phones were going to save John Kerry four years ago?  How did that work out for us?

So, why doesn’t Obama get himself on a bus and get to know the people in the truck stops in Monroe, Maumee, Perrysburg, Findlay, Tipp City, Kettering, and Hamilton?  (Inquiring Democratic minds across the country want to know!)  Obama has shown a real antipathy to embracing anything having to do with Bill and Hillary Clinton or their records.  It wasn’t just a primary campaign thing, like when he wrote off Kentucky and West Virginia because he wasn’t going to win there, and Hillary Clinton was going to win big.  This has become a big theme of his summer campaign:  anyone or any state associated with Bill or Hillary Clinton is dead to him.  He has gone out of his way to punish her supporters like Charlie Rangel and Wes Clark by denying them any role in his convention, and–this is unbelievable–he has zero campaign offices in Arkansas.  (Yep–the place where the state Democratic Party chairman was murdered last week?  The one southern state that is run by Democrats now?)  And as Krugman points out, he’s so far shown himself uninterested in reminding people specifically which years in the 1990s were so good, and why. 

Imagine, if you will, that Hillary Clinton squeaked out a narrow win in the primary and didn’t immediately name Obama as her running mate.  Imagine that she refused to speak at all about her plans for getting out of Iraq, or that when she did, she spoke without passion or evident interest.  Imagine that she refused to open any campaign offices in Illinois, and refused speaking roles to prominent Obama supporters among Democratic party leaders like Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, and/or Bill Richardson.  Now, shut your eyes and try really hard to imagine the media coverage and “friendly advice” from the party she’d be getting if she did even one of these things, especially if she were flatlining in key state polls in mid-August.

One of the things that I really didn’t get about the Republican Party of the last fifteen years is that they were such sore winners.  They won–and won again–and yet they still seemed so angry, filled with ressentiment, and were so punitive towards their political enemies.  They seemed more interested in pursuing political grudges than in, you know, governing.  It’s disappointing to see the Obama machine go down the same road concerning fellow Democrats.  (D’ya think that you might need the Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee on your side down the line?  Do you want him making your life easier, or harder?  How about the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO when South Ossetia blows up again?  And just how many electoral votes do you think you can afford to lose?)  If the party isn’t united at the convention and through the fall, it will be Obama’s fault and his fault alone.  The Democratic Party wasn’t born yesterday, most of us in it weren’t either, and he isn’t running to be the first Democratic president of the United States.  We all get there together, or we’re not going anywhere.

10 Comments »

10 Responses to “The roads to the White House”

  1. Indyanna on 18 Aug 2008 at 3:06 pm #

    I’ll be pounding the eastern part of that highway system (I-76) a lot this fall, beginning on Sunday (with visions of an exciting new job and a big new house in my future?) Things are politically quiet in Philly, with everyone down-tha’-Shore and all, as they traditionally are in late summer. Hillary window signs have been coming down slowly,
    if at all and Obama signs blossoming at best irregularly. We’ll see what happens when school starts, and it will be very interesting to see what the political temp. is like in Transaltoonia. It was somewhat underimpressive seeing our guy chilling in Hawaii last week while his soldier-opponent scooped up the godsend opportunity of Russian tanks rolling through the Caucasus. The V.P. question becomes more and more interesting. Has anyone seen any of those “O-for-Progress” hand-signs on the street yet?

  2. Historiann on 18 Aug 2008 at 3:17 pm #

    Hey, Indyanna–if there are any campaign stops in Transaltoonia, I hope you’ll send us some fresh reporting and photos like you did in the spring when the Big Dog came to town!

    I can’t knock the guy for taking a vacation–heck, I wish GWB would take more of them! Everyone needs a vacation, and for presidential candidates, it obviously has to happen before their conventions. (I’m sure McCain will be taking some down-time while the Dems are partying in Denver next week.) It’s disappointing that Obama’s World Tour didn’t reap many dividends in the polling, so far as we can tell. It sounds like the Iraqi government leaders would vote for Obama, if they could, as they endorsed his schedule for troop withdrawl.

  3. Roxie on 18 Aug 2008 at 3:45 pm #

    Brilliant political analysis, Historiann. I especially like the “Imagine if Hillary were acting this way” paragraph. I am astonished that Obamaniacs are still blaming the Clintons for everything that has gone wrong for the Lesser since he became the presumptive nominee, when it’s perfectly clear his problems are entirely of his own making: backing off positions he held during the primaries, dissing the Dem base, campaigning in Germany rather than Ohio. And somehow that’s all Clinton’s fault, despite the fact that she’s been out on the trail enthusiastically promoting his candidacy! He’s a fool if he doesn’t select her for veep.

  4. Historiann on 18 Aug 2008 at 5:05 pm #

    Hi Roxie–I thought you’d enjoy that bit about “imagine if Clinton…!”

    I’ve never thought that he’d ever even consider Clinton for VP. There are a lot of good reasons for him not to want her–primarily because any president would have to be wary about a former president being married to someone so high up in hir administration. You have to admit that they’re the ultimate power couple, and I can understand not wanting to deal with that. He might surprise us all, but if he’s dissing Charlie Rangel and Wes Clark, then you know that HRC is lower on the list than my neutered 9-year old kitty-cat on the list for VP.

    But, I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll happily admit my wrongness again. Like back in February and March, when I predicted that the Democrats would all be united and singing Kum-Bye-Yah on their way to Denver! But, I’m wrong about that because I thought that whoever won the nomination would move to unite the party, not to further divide us.

  5. morninmist on 19 Aug 2008 at 8:28 am #

    Hi Historian,

    Obama is NOT uniting the party. But that was evident early on when Dean and Donna got out there and started talking about the new alliance within the Dem party. The base -the workers and women are not their base anymore and they do not care. They repeatedly talk of new people they are registering-the independents, the young. They are the heroes to the Dem party now.

  6. Indyanna on 19 Aug 2008 at 9:54 am #

    I’ll definitely be looking for opportunities to file some campaign content from the bituminous flats, Historiann. I can’t begrudge the guy a vacation, but the possible reemergence of the Cold War isn’t quite the backdrop the ‘Change team was looking for, I’m afraid. We love Joe Biden back here, and often think of him as representing the “Three Lower Counties of William Penn’s original grant, but I’m not sure this is the game-changer ticket he may still need. If Biden and Lieberman were the veep candidates, though, the “Battle of the Two Joes” in their debate would be a great throwback event. Two flatfoot sluggers going at it, like watching grainy old black and white newsreel boxing footage from St. Nick’s Arena.

  7. Historiann on 19 Aug 2008 at 10:47 am #

    Indyanna, I’m no fan of Joe Biden, but he’s proved lately that he’s not afraid of landing the first punch, and Obama (like all presidential candidates) needs someone who can kick bottoms and take names.

    And morninmist–we can live in hope that Obama will unify the party at the convention, can’t we? I think it’s good to reach out to new voters, but not at the expense of the old reliables (who reliably show up to vote!)

  8. Rad Readr on 20 Aug 2008 at 7:02 pm #

    Oh my, visions of Joe Biden at the Anita Hill hearings have been upsetting my stomach since I heard that he might be the one. Did he end up voting for Clarence Thomas?

    I’m still hoping for a Hillary surprise come VP announcement time — but the last few weeks have been so disappointing that…

  9. Historiann on 20 Aug 2008 at 7:48 pm #

    Rad–you’re dreaming if you think HRC has a chance in hell! Obama is doing this his own way–he don’t need no stinkin’ Clintons. If it were working, I’d say bully for him, but the polls get worse and worse as the summer wears on.

  10. What was excellent advice in 2008 looks positively prescient now! : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 30 Oct 2012 at 10:12 pm #

    [...] I always thought this was a particularly good one, and not just because I grew up at the intersection of I-75 and the Ohio Turnpike.  I know a lot of you on the East and Best Coasts probably like to make fun of us yokels from Ohio, but like it or not, friends–those yokels will be picking your next president for you!  (And this yokel, now living in another swing state, has already cast her vote by mail, helping to pick your president too.) [...]

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