January 7th, 2009
12:53 PM ET

Defending the Panetta Pick

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/07/art.leon.panetta.jpg caption="Leon Panetta's nomination to lead the CIA is under scrutiny primarily because he lacks intelligence experience."]

John P.Avlon
AC360° Contributor

Leon Panetta is an unexpected pick to head the CIA, but he just might be the right man to restore Americans' confidence and internal morale in the organization. Panetta is known for his personal integrity as a California Congressman, fiscal responsibility as OMB director, and his management ability as Bill Clinton's best chief of staff. He views U.S. policy in a holistic manner, and he won't approach the CIA as a personal fiefdom – an approach which has dogged past presidents.

We are, of course, at war – and it might have been preferable to have an experienced intelligence hand at the helm, as Senator Diane Feinstein said in her terse statement after being blindsided by the nomination trial-balloon. But the experienced John Brennan – Obama's campaign intelligence advisor and considered the favorite for the job – was forced out of contention after netroot activists questioned whether he was insufficiently opposed to Bush-era policies like rendition. And the major mistakes which have bedeviled the CIA in the past – such as failing to anticipate the fall of the Soviet Union or the attacks of September 11th – have occurred with internal experts at the helm.


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Filed under: Barack Obama • John P. Avlon
January 5th, 2009
09:16 AM ET

Pop-Culture President – Can he stay ahead of the bailout backlash?

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John P. Avlon
AC360° Contributor

Predictions for 2009:

1) Pop-Culture President: America hasn't seen a truly pop-culture president since the Kennedy Camelot years – and after the historic unpopularity of President Bush in his second term, the shift to the Obama phenomenon in the White House is likely to be especially jarring for the GOP. Obama's actions won't just be covered in Time or Newsweek, they'll be covered in People and Rolling Stone as well. That's a good thing in terms of getting more Americans civically engaged. But it will be a key reason that any Republican attempts to pursue a simply obstructionist "No-Bama" strategy will fail. Obama's approval ratings won't remain sky-high for the course of his presidency, but he will connect personally with the American people in a way that Bush never did.


Filed under: Bailout Turmoil • Barack Obama • Economy • John P. Avlon
December 1st, 2008
09:17 AM ET

Obama's A+ Centrist Cabinet

John P. Avlon
AC360° Contributor

Today, Barack Obama will unveil his national security team – featuring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, and National Security Advisor Jim Jones.

This is something of a centrist dream team, the latest sign of a confident, pragmatic president-elect who is fulfilling promises to appoint a 'Team of Rivals" while defying opposition campaign attempts to paint him as naïvely liberal.

Obama understands that Democrats have suffered from a deficit of confidence when it comes to national security and the economy. His cabinet appointments to date are designed to increase confidence on these fronts. Obama is showing himself to be cut from the same cloth as JFK: liberal on domestic policy, strong on foreign policy and the economy.

Hilary Clinton's appointment will gain the most attention from the media. She is a political star in her own right, possessing a global brand that will instantly add to her credibility in this office. But of course she was also Obama's most challenging rival in the 2008 campaign and his confidence in bringing her into his camp shows that he is the rare politician who is above petty interpersonal politics. Conservatives can take some comfort in this unlikely champion – because on most foreign policy issues she was decidedly to the right of the president-elect, especially when it came to Iraq and Iran.

Filed under: Barack Obama • Hillary Clinton • John P. Avlon • Raw Politics
November 28th, 2008
12:17 PM ET

Reasons for irrational Obama exuberance

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/11/27/art.bothx1127.yt.jpg
caption="President-elect Obama notes in his latest weekly address that the Thanksgiving holiday was established by President Abraham Lincoln during a time of great division and turmoil in the country."] 
John Avlon
AC360 Contributor

Editor's Note: John P. Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics.

It's bizarro world in America post-election-we feel hopeful about our politics and fearful about the markets.

It's the opposite of what we've come accustomed to in recent years, times when if the economy's grooving than all other factors fade away-even war itself-or as it was ten years ago, when the internet bubble happily distracted us from the Monica-mess.

But right now we're enjoying a bit of bliss after a 22-month build-up, and President-elect Obama is basking in approval ratings well ahead of his final vote-total...


Filed under: Barack Obama • John P. Avlon • Raw Politics
November 7th, 2008
12:15 PM ET

President-elect Obama's first press conference: Balancing Idealism and Realism

John P. Avlon
Author, Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics

Today is President-elect Obama's first press conference. In some ways, it's the most consequential press conference of his administration, because as the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

President-elect Bill Clinton's first press conference proved disastrous enough to derail the first years of his presidency. A planted question by a conservative reporter about gays in the military was framed as a litmus test on Clinton's trustworthiness and willingness to fulfill campaign promises. Clinton couldn't resist taking the bait and talked about it at length, giving it the appearence of a new administration priority.

As one of Clinton's advisors later said, "It sent precisely the wrong message. I'm not saying he shouldn't have taken that position, but as the first thing he did? It was exactly the sort of 'liberal elitist' issue that we'd been trying to submerge throughout the campaign. It sent a signal that he was going to govern differently from the way he campaigned – as an old Democrat."

A similar risk exists for Barack Obama. He won largely because he inspired people to believe in a post-partisan approach to problem solving, as a rejection of the hyper-partisanship of the Bush era. Now is the time to add substance to that centrist style by reaffirming his pledge to appoint a bipartisan cabinet and prioritize policies that can unite the country around the administration like energy independence, rather than getting distracted by divisive liberal special interest issues like 'card-check" or the so‑called "fairness doctrine."

Obama's first appointment of Congressman Rahm Emanuel to be Chief of Staff sends a message that he does not want to repeat the mistakes of the past. Emanuel was a veteran of Bill Clinton's transition and has learned the lessons that led to the 1994 Republican revolution. Announcing the reappointment of Secretary of Defense Gates would be a good way to build that bridge to the center on the basis of a responsible transition to a new administration led by a president who understands the need to balance idealism with realism.

Filed under: John P. Avlon • Raw Politics
November 5th, 2008
11:05 AM ET

Obama's election by the numbers

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/11/05/art.obama.elex.bigscreen.jpg caption="President-elect Barack Obama looks out into the crowd after his acceptance speech at Grant Park in Chicago"]
John P. Avlon
AC360° Contributor

First things first: Today is a great day for America. We have a new President of the United States. Behind that remarkable fact are the statistical trends and milestones that made Barack Obama's election possible. So take a second to study the numbers so you can sound smarter in election-related conversation, or just get some perspective to further appreciate this moment.

By winning 52 percent of the popular vote, Barack Obama joined the ranks of FDR and LBJ in being the only Democratic presidents to get more than 51 percent of the popular vote in the past 100 years. Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton never cleared that hurdle. That's an achievement in itself.

In many ways, last night was a step towards realignment. A few days ago I posted an analysis of six swing counties that could determine the election's outcome. Barack Obama carried each and every one by a margin close to 10 points. Obama won the swing voters in the swing counties in the swing states that he needed to win this election. 

Filed under: 2008 Election • Barack Obama • John P. Avlon
November 5th, 2008
08:30 AM ET

So this is what it means

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John P. Avlon
AC360° Contributor

It means a new beginning for America, the restoration of the American Dream, the conquering of old divides between left and right and black and white.

Filed under: 2008 Election • Barack Obama • John P. Avlon • Raw Politics
November 4th, 2008
09:45 AM ET

How to watch this election

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John P. Avlon
AC360° contributor

We cover politics as a horse race, but at the end of the day politics is history in the present tense. Today is a pivotal point in our nation's history. Here's how to watch tonight's election:

Early returns will tell us whether this is a blowout or tighter than expected. Three early states offer the best indication: Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida.

If Barack Obama wins all three there's almost no scenario under which he could not be elected the 44th President of the United States. But if McCain flips Pennsylvania, get ready for a very long night.

Two other early states to watch are Indiana and North Carolina – if Obama is able to wrestle these states out of the conservative column for the first time in decades, it is a realigning landslide.


Filed under: 2008 Election • Barack Obama • John McCain • John P. Avlon • Raw Politics
November 3rd, 2008
11:42 AM ET

These 6 swing counties could decide the election

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/11/03/art.swingcounties.jpg caption="John McCain holds a campaign rally in Ohio on Friday, part of a two-day bus tour through the crucial swing state. "]

John P. Avlon
AC360° contributor

"All elections are about how independent voters break," attests Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center. And with less than 4 days left in election '08, all eyes are on these swing voters in the swing states – they hold the key to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in their hands.

But where do they live – what are the swing counties in the swing states and how have those areas been trending? Armed with 20 years of presidential election data, I set out to nerd-ishly answer that question and found the top 6 swing counties in the top 6 swing states. Each of these states have multiple counties with close votes – I've chosen the swing county with the most votes. Think of it as an election night cheat sheet, moving from east to west, as the polls close and the next president gets elected.

Florida – Pinellas County:

With the scars of 2000 still fresh in Democrats' minds, Florida remains the biggest swing state, with 2.3 million independent voters and 27 electoral votes – equal to Virginia, New Hampshire, Nevada and New Mexico combined.

There are 3 counties in the sunshine state where Bush and Kerry split the vote 49/49 – Monroe, Orange and Pinellas. But the largest of these is Pinellas, which split the vote 225,686 to 225,460 – giving a 226 vote edge to Kerry. By comparison, across Tampa Bay, CentCom's home of Hillsborough County went 53 to 46 percent for Bush. Gore won Pinellas by 4% in 2000, and Clinton cleaned up with a 9-point lead in '96. But when Perot ran in 1992, he got 24%, leaving Bush 1 and Clinton almost tied at 37% each. It was a fall from grace for Poppy, who beat Dukakis by 14% just 4 years before. Pinellas has been represented by Republican Bill Young since 1970, making him the most senior GOP member of the House. The verdict: even with the aging population of St. Pete and its popular pragmatic conservative mayor Rick Baker, the county's been moving away from the GOP tortoise-like for the past 20 years. With Florida housing prices in free-fall and the Tampa Bay Rays losing the World Series to the Phillies, there is little patience for the status quo in St. Pete: it's advantage Obama.


Filed under: 2008 Election • 360° Radar • Barack Obama • John McCain • John P. Avlon
October 31st, 2008
12:01 PM ET

Halloween Masks and Hate Politics

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/31/art.candidatemask2.jpg]
John P. Avlon
Author, Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics

This Halloween, you can buy Obama and McCain zombie masks showing the candidates bloodied and bruised, ghoulish and un-human – just the way their opponents like to imagine them.

In recent weeks, things have gotten ugly on the campaign trail. Desperate, angry and running out of time, partisans on the right and left have become increasingly bitter and polarized. They're trying to scare you into voting against the other guy out of fear. After all, hate is a cheap and easy recruiting tool. But it's going to make uniting the country that much more difficult for the next president.

On one side of the aisle it starts with the repeated claims on the stump that Obama is a "socialist" who "pals around with terrorists." But this stokes unhinged anger among supporters both within and without the campaign.

So Virginia GOP Chairman Jeff Frederick tried to fire up volunteers by comparing Obama to Osama bin Laden, saying "both have friends that bombed the Pentagon." The Chairwoman of Otero County Republican women's group in New Mexico, Marcia Stirman, wrote a letter to the editor of a local paper in which she called Obama "a Muslim socialist" and then clarified "I believe Muslims are our enemies."

Filed under: John P. Avlon • Raw Politics
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