How Obama’s campaign can achieve lift-off

July 11, 2012

The latest Gallup tracking poll shows a dead heat between Obama and Romney: despite his Supreme Court healthcare triumph and a steadily if slowly improving economy, the current president clearly needs a secret weapon to boost his re-election hopes.

That weapon, I put it to you, could be a helicopter. It pushed LBJ over the line in his second bid to become a US senator, in a race that was just as close. Robert Dallek’s mammoth but marvellously readable two volume bio includes an entire chapter devoted to Johnson’s eventual triumph.

We learn that to cover the state of Texas as efficiently but as dynamically as possible, the congressman took to the skies in a three-man bladed aircraft that was, in 1948, a novel sight. But Johnson took this unfamiliar mode of transport to new heights of electoral impact:

Flying a few hundred feet above the ground, Johnson had the plane hover over communities not on their itinerary, where he would shout over a loudspeaker , “Hello down there. This is Lyndon Johnson; your candidate for the US Senate.”

While he added a little spiel appealing for their votes, aides showered startled folks below with campaign leaflets. […] Occasionally, Johnson had the pilot make unscheduled landings, where he would greet amazed onlookers personally.

It gets better: LBJ, always a glad glad-hander, amped up the personal touch even when he couldn’t land:

Aides also compiled lists of people in small towns between stops who at one time or another had written the Congressman. As they flew over them, Johnson said: “Hello, there, Mr. Jones. This is your friend, Lyndon Johnson. I’m sorry we can’t land today, but I want you to know that I’m up here thinking of you and appreciate your kind letter and comments. I just want you to be sure and tell your friends to vote for me at election time.

Like any sensible campaign leader, however, Johnson knew when to delegate:

The business of talking over the loudspeaker to folks between towns became so routine that Johnson had one of his aides or the pilot do it while he rested. Handing the microphone to one of them, Johnson would say, “Tell them about me.”

So sod the battle-bus, the push-poll and the hockey stadium, the super-PAC and the motorcade, what Team Hope needs to push it over the edge is the sight of its commander-in-chief standing with one foot on the landing strut of Marine One in mid-flight, one hand firmly clasped by a bodyguard with the other on the button of a loudhailer. “Hello down there. This is Barack Obama; your candidate for US President…”


Margins: Tudor weddings, Tudor funerals

July 5, 2012

I’m currently enjoying Thomas Penn’s Winter King, a history of Henry VII’s reign and the founding of the Tudor dynasty; a time of almost constant plotting and counter espionage.

I remember studying the era at A-level, but only wish I’d had a gripping narrative account such as this to bring the events to life: apart from vague familiarity with some of the names (Perkin Warbeck, anyone?) almost all of it feels entirely new to me.

Particularly vivid is Penn’s recreation – much from primary sources – of the wedding of Henry’s son Arthur to the pre-Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon. Catherine processes from the Thames past incredible pageants, with costumed actors and vast mechanical models depicting mythical or astrological scenes chosen to illuminate the marriage as destiny fulfilled.

It’s impossible, in short, not to read without thinking of last year’s similarly bombastic royal wedding. The parallels abound. Here is renowned statesman and philosopher Thomas More, unable to contain his adoration for the bride-to-be, just as correspondents throughout the world swoon over Duchess Kate:

Take my word for it, she thrilled the hearts of everyone; she possesses all those qualities that make for beauty in a very charming young girl. Everywhere she receives the highest of praises, but even that is inadequate.

To complete the picture – eerily similar despite the centuries elapsed – More gives an acidly derogatory verdict on the rest of the bridal party: Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting look like ‘refugees from hell’.

I wonder, however, whether when the sad day comes when our current Queen departs this sceptred isle for good, her funeral procession will be able to hold a candle to that of her early 16th Century predecessor, Henry’s wife:

At Fenchurch Street and the top of Cheapside stood groups of thirty-seven virgins, one for each year of the late queen’s life, dressed in white, holding lighted tapers.

I mean after all trends in life expectancy, along with changing sexual norms would surely make this a pretty tricky act to follow.

Supreme Court ruling on healthcare changes… nothing?

July 4, 2012

The decision of the US Supreme Court to uphold Obama’s healthcare reforms made headlines and frontpages around the world, but early polling suggests it’ll have little or no difference on the outcome of the presidential election.

It seems that even if just over half of Americans want to see some or all of the law repealed, most of the slim majority are more likely to volunteer to perform open heart surgery on their own grandmother than vote for Barack anyway.

This would seem to be the natural implication of new poll data from the more-reliable-than-most Public Policy Polling, whose first sounding since the Court’s decision (showing a 48/45 split in Obama’s favour) is… you guessed it: exactly the same as the one before.

I suppose a residual yet potentially important question is what effect the ruling will have on voter turnout in November, and in a tight race turnout is key.

But when you dig behind the numbers it’s hard to believe, say, analysis in Politico of a different poll, suggesting that ‘Republicans are more likely to be fired up by the ruling than Democrats — and could vote in stronger numbers in November.’

Hard to believe because:

Although much of Washington fixated on the Supreme Court last week, the Kaiser poll found that only three in five respondents were aware the court had ruled.

Social commuting?

July 3, 2012

When last a commuter (now there’s a way to start a blog post!) – a few years ago, from Aylesbury – I was able to work, sleep, read or listen to music in transit. I once again find myself encased in a train for a couple of hours a day. But as well as working, reading and enjoying music (I haven’t yet slept, believe it or not, apart from last week after a couple of beers with Rich and having just told him how I never sleep on trains – typical) I have a new option open to me: I can keep in virtual touch on Twitter. Over time will this make my commute immeasurably better, will its appeal wane, or will tweeting actually make travelling worse? The case for the defence: commuting can be lonely, however crowded, and certainly dull, and there’s plenty of evidence to show that interacting with people is good for the soul. Against this: given loads of the twitterers I follow are also people who I work with or who tweet about stuff that reminds me of work, is Twitter simply going to make it even harder to switch off?

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