Finally, I Get Published By Somebody Who Is Not Me

My op-ed entitled The Science of Iran’s Nuclear Behavior.  Many thanks to The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, especially Jess Kuhn for making this happen.

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Lefty Blog’s Endorsement of Whoever’s Left in the Presidential Election

Following our fellow reputable publishers The New York Times and The Economist, this blog has something to say about this election.

After a fierce campaign so close as if trying to tell one’s left hand from one’s right, it is time for Americans to choose their President.  And so it is for the rest of the world, never mind that they have no say on the matter whatsoever—my son who is in elementary school is still being asked by his teacher to vote in class tomorrow, never mind that he is underaged, and not a citizen. Now even though at this point the left hand (read: rest of the world) does not know yet what the right hand (read: Yanks) is going to do, it will all become clear, perhaps even before the last Californian at the poll booth votes—that is, if the West Coast states; also known as the left-hand-side of America; know there is an election going on, given how little they have seen of their candidates.

The election of Barack Obama as the 8th left-handed president of the United States was a landmark for us minorities, and cut our ever-closing American president handedness deficit to 28 (8-36).  However we would have to agree with the NYT on the fact that his election did not usher in a new era for minorities in America, given that he did not pass any new legislation that recognized our rights as minorities during his term in charge.  However, we believe that such legislation, although firmly out of left field, remains a greater possibility under Obama.  Our hopes are left slightly dimmed but unextinguished.

Voters need to know the last four right-handed presidents since Kennedy.  They are: Johnson, Nixon, Carter and W. Bush. Compare their tenures with those of the last four left-handed presidents: Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton and Obama.

This is in fact all that we have to say that is relevant to the election (we are after all a small publication).  The rest is left to you, the (eligible) voter.  The picture below sums up our choice for the 2012 presidential election (and serves as evidence for those of little faith in our fact-checking).

(We are not sure why we use the word we to describe ourselves, when there is clearly only me behind this publication.  Sure sounds a lot more authoritative though.)

Article Review – Barack Obama: Organizing for America 2.0

What happens to the most successful online presidential campaign organization after its presidential candidate is elected?  President Obama decided to transform it into an organization geared primarily to support his policy agenda.  The idea seemed promising.  The grassroots structure and channels that had been forged, together with the volunteers that had been enlisted, would now be harnessed towards canvassing public support for the president’s policies.

However, some things will inevitably be different.  First, the personnel.  Many decided to move on, probably due to the very different nature of OFA’s work.  Second, the organization would be run from the Democratic Party rather than just a just-for-Obama vehicle.  Third, the nature of its work.  Instead of the more exciting, fast-paced work of political campaigning, it will be the more mundane, daily grind of soliciting public feedback and support for Obama’s policy initiatives.

There are supporters and detractors to OFA.  Those for the idea, not least some Republicans, say that it keeps Obama’s core constituency energized.  Some Democrats are not exactly enthused, concerned that the refreshed set-up will generate greater pressure on Democrat lawmakers.  Finally, it runs the risk of alienating supporters who will inevitably have different views from Obama’s policies on specific issues.

Surely such a successful grassroots organization is so valuable that it must be kept well for the next election in four years’ time, when online proliferation is set to be even more widespread, and the returns from a good online strategy and organization, even greater.  The question is how and in what form this organization should exist.  Obama for America was a unique organization with a very specific mission.  It is hard to just morph it into something else without it losing something in the process.  Given the larger objective of keeping its existence, I would suppose just getting it to do virtually anything just to keep its engine running, would be a good thing in itself.  But might as well make a virtue out of necessity, and let it serve some useful purpose in the meantime.

Obama has made OFA something quite close to the original OFA.  However, my opinion is that, judging from its results, it has not worked out that well.  A look at the Wikipedia page of OFA yields underwhelming reading—it has only ever done work pertinent to Obama’s healthcare reform, and not very significant work at that.  It has also come under criticism from some quarters (see one example from the Washington Post) for the way it has (or has not) worked.

In my home country Singapore, the government has its own structure to gather feedback and send out feelers on legislation and policies.  This is not conflated with partisan politics and elections.  I feel what Obama has done with OFA has served to confuse.  What originally started out as a clearly-partisan campaign platform, will find life difficult as a platform for government policy.  This is because of the fundamental difference in the target audience. In campaigning, it exists and is designed to reach out to Democrats and undecideds.  In policy, it cannot be the same audience, lest it alienates further those who did not vote for Obama, and receives feedback from those who are least likely to criticize it.

When so much of the debate over the last four years has been about bridging the partisan divide, the net effect of OFA is to exacerbate the problem.  Obama could have done this better by maintaining it as a just-for-Obama vehicle, rather than let it become an organ of the Democrat party.  Better still, keep the organization trained on campaigning and election business, and if he needed an organization for his policies, create a new, non-partisan one.  He should remember that he campaigns to his supporters, but devises policies for all Americans.