Politeía Digest

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American Pie – May 20th.

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Primary elections help define President Obama’s role in midterm elections

The biggest primary day this year brought some resolution to one of the trickiest questions confronting Democrats as they march toward the fall elections: What role will President Obama play?

Strategists at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue say it is now clear that, although Obama’s name will not be on the ballot, it will fall to him to build the case for the activist approach that he has pressed his party to take over the past 16 months. And just as important, they say, he must take the lead in making the argument against the Republicans.

His ambitious agenda is “why the president was elected,” said David Axelrod, Obama’s top political strategist. “We need to make the case as to what we are doing, and why that’s consistent, and why we don’t want to go backward.”

Bolstering Democratic hopes that this message can resonate — even in the current anti-establishment political environment — was an unexpectedly large victory Tuesday night in a House race that both parties had seen as a test of their strategies for the fall.

While Obama did not campaign in the special election to replace the late congressman John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), he did play a major role — as the Republicans’ favorite foil in a conservative Pennsylvania district where he is deeply unpopular. But by tailoring his message to local concerns, Democrat Mark Critz won handily against a GOP candidate who framed the vote as an opportunity to register a protest against Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Having fallen short, Republicans were tempering their heady predictions of taking back the House this fall. “Last night is evidence of the fact that we have a lot of work to do and we can’t get ahead of ourselves,” said House GOP Whip Eric Cantor (Va.).

How, when and where to deploy a president is always a sensitive call in a midterm election. Typically, non-presidential-year elections are the sum of hundreds of highly individualized races. If they are run on national themes, and as a referendum on the chief executive — as in the 1994 campaign that elevated Newt Gingrich to House speaker — that is generally not a good thing for the party in control. Read more in The Washington Post.

WikiLeaks works to expose government secrets, but Web site’s sources are a mystery

BERLIN — For an organization dedicated to exposing secrets, WikiLeaks keeps a close hold on its own affairs. Its Web site doesn’t list a street address or phone number, or the names of key officers. Officially, it has no employees, headquarters or even a post office box.

Yet, about 30 times a day, someone submits a sensitive document to this cyber-whistleblower to be posted online for all to see. Politicians’ private e-mails, secret CIA reports, corporate memos, surveillance video — all have been fair game.

The three-year-old group was catapulted into the spotlight last month when it released a U.S. military video of a helicopter attack on Iraqis, graphic images that drew a worldwide audience.

That might have been just the warmup. Newly leaked material — including what WikiLeaks officials describe as an explosive video of civilian casualties in Afghanistan — is being prepared for release, part of a growing treasure trove of formerly secret documents and recordings that exceeds a million records.

The site has provoked official and corporate anxiety for years, but now WikiLeaks is tapping new technology and a growing list of financial backers to move closer to what the group says it has long sought to become: a global foe of excessive government secrecy and an enabler of citizen activists, journalists and others who seek to challenge the powerful.

WikiLeaks has pioneered an approach that capitalizes on its secretive nature. Lacking a home base or traditional infrastructure, it is almost entirely virtual, relying on servers and helpers in dozens of countries. It is accessible anywhere the Internet goes, yet it is relatively immune from pressure from censors, lawyers or local governments. Its founders say those who submit material to the site typically do so anonymously. Read more in The Washington Post.

Voter Insurrection Turns Mainstream, Creating New Rules

Americans have been cursing their incumbents — and periodically rising up to eject them from office — since angry Bostonians took a bucket of tar and some feathers to their customs commissioner in 1774. Such uprisings have become an almost cyclical occurrence in Washington, and after this week’s primaries in Arkansas, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, 2010 seems destined to be one of those years.

Word has reached Washington that an anti-incumbent tsunami is roaring its way, and frightened politicians are already trying, sometimes comically, to put some distance between themselves and the tide. “My gosh, these people in Washington are running the country right into the ground,” Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, lamented this week, despite having lived and worked there for the last 34 years.

But to suggest that this week’s primaries are just part of the latest revolt against incumbency, brought on by pervasive economic angst, is to miss some deeper trends in the electorate that are more consequential — trends that have brought us to an unprecedented disconnect between, on one side, the traditional shapers of our politics in Washington and, on the other, the voters who actually make the choices.

The old laws of politics have been losing their relevance as attitudes and technology evolve, creating a kind of endemic instability that probably is not going away just because housing prices rebound. Nor is that instability any longer driven only by ideological mini-movements like MoveOn.org or the tea parties, as some commentators suggest. Voter insurrection has gone as mainstream as Miley Cyrus, and to the extent that the parties in Washington take comfort in the false notion that all this chaos is fleeting, they will fail to internalize the more enduring lessons of Tuesday’s elections. Read more in The New York Times.

Written by Theophyle

May 20, 2010 at 11:47 am

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