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Washington Post editor discusses the US elect -

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Washington Post editor discusses the US election

Broadcast: 04/11/2008


TONY JONES, PRESENTER: Well, our next guest is one of the best political brains at The Washington
Post, and one of the most experienced. Bob Kaiser was the paper's managing editor for most of the
1990s. He's now the Post's associate editor and one of its best known columnists.

He joined us in our Washington studio.

Bob Kaiser thanks for joining us.


TONY JONES: Let's start with this late tightening in the polls at some of the key battleground
States. How significant is that and does it indicate a movement of undecided voters towards McCain?

BOB KAISER: I don't think so. Our Washington Post ABC poll, the last version, says it's a
nine-point margin. Some of these big state polls suggest it will be a small amount of tightening,
but I don't think there's been any fundamental change in the last 72 hours.

TONY JONES: If there had been as well, it would have to be balanced out against what is a record
turnout of early voters, which I find quiet extraordinary, but almost 30 per cent of likely voters
appear to have already cast their vote, and heavily in favour of Obama, so it appears.

BOB KAISER: It is extraordinary, but I think this surge of early voting that we're seeing now is a
reflection both of the extraordinary organisation that Obama has created, but also the
extraordinary enthusiasm he created.

There are a lot of people extremely eager to vote, and they're standing in line for many hours to
do so, even before the actual polling day.

TONY JONES: Your own Washington Post ABC tracking poll has something called the enthusiasm index.
Tell us what that is.

BOB KAISER: Well I've forgotten the numbers, but it's more than 60 per cent of Obama's people say
they are very enthusiastic, and less than 50 per cent of McCain's say the same, and that's been
true all year.

McCain never generated the kind of excitement Obama has, and that's a serious problem for him.

TONY JONES: On the very eve of the vote, Bob, some commentators are still saying, "Beware of the
Bradley effect". But Obama's chief strategist David Axelrod says the big story here is not about
how much race has been a factor, but how little race has been a factor. Do you go along with that?

BOB KAISER: Well, you know we'll know soon enough. But I do think the Bradley effect is a cliché
that really isn't rooted in the facts.

We actually published a wonderful piece in yesterday's Sunday Washington Post by Ken Khachigian,
the strategist for Governor Deukmejian who beat Tom Bradley in that famous race, that was supposed
to be the proof of the Bradley effect.

And he argued eloquently, and I thought very persuasively, that race had nothing to do with it, it
was about gun control. There was a gun control initiative on the Californian ballot that year; it
was in the '80s.

Gun stores in California registered 300,000 voters; they all turned out and voted against Bradley
because he was for gun control. It wasn't racial then and I don't think it's a racial thing now.

Sure we have got bigots in America; we have got lots of people that will vote against Obama,
because he's black. But very few of them are going to vote for a Democrat in any case. I don't, I
agree with David Axelrod, it's probably not going to be a big factor.

Now I confess readily that that's my hope as well as my belief, we'll soon know if it's true.

TONY JONES: Well despite all the hype, all the internet activism, all the record voter
registrations and so on, that have been functions of the Obama campaign, presidential elections are
usually about winning over independent voters, and on this you have you own theory: the debates did

BOB KAISER: Yes, I, this is a, I don't know if Australian politics, I don't know if you have a
similar sensation down there, but we really, our elections are referendum on the sitting
governments, the political scientists have persuaded me of this.

And as you know our current sitting Government is the least popular that we've had in a very long
time. The country was ready to vote Democratic, aching to vote Democratic in all likelihood.

But there was a lot of uncertainly about a complete newcomer to the national scene, the first black
candidate for President. And people wanted to be reassured that this guy was okay.

And my argument, that I've written in the Post, is that the three debates between McCain and Obama,
provided him the opportunity he needed to show that he was cool, steady, understood the issues,
knew who he was, was very comfortable in his own skin.

Indeed, you heard lots of people saying, and polls showing too, "Hey, Obama was more presidential
than McCain", and I think that's true, he was more in command of himself. His body language is
quite regal and elegant, and it came across that way.

And I think it had a big, big impact. Even though there was no dramatic moment, there was no
"gotcha" incident in the debates, I think the debates together provided exactly the reassurance
that Obama needed to get the lead that he's got now.

TONY JONES: Yes you mentioned the polls there, what do the available polling data actually tell us
about shifts during that period, and measured specifically against the debates.

BOB KAISER: There's a coincidence between the great stock market crash and the first debate, well
first financial crisis and the bailout, that whole thing, and then the stock market crash that

So you already have your Republican commentators saying "Well, McCain was doing great until the
economy fell apart." But In fact, our polls and all the polls in my judgment show that the first
debate had a bigger impact than any external event.

The Obama lead really opens up in the two or three days after the debate, and it never changed,
it's been incredibly stable ever since really, six, seven, eight, nine points, that what it is all
the way through since the earliest days of October.

And I expect that's, it will be something like that when we count all the votes.

TONY JONES: One thing backing up your theory is the incredible number of people who actually
watched the debates; I think you get a combined total of 242 million people.

BOB KAISER: That's right. Now of course a lot of people watched more than one, and many people,
like me, watched all four, but still it is a huge audience, and, you know, we forget how many
people who don't normally pay attention to politics, and there are an awful lot of Americans in
that category.

They tune in to these debates; these are the special events of our modern presidential campaigns
that really attract a lot of viewers.

And so a lot of people met these guys for the first time. And you know, I talked a lot about
Obama's, how he handled himself there, McCain also handled himself in a revealing way, and it was
not reassuring to a lot of people.

In the first debate he simply refused to look at Obama. Young people, particularly my daughters
among them said, "Did you see that, why didn't he look at the guy, it was so strange."

In the second debate, the town hall style debate, Obama, McCain paced around the stage nervously
and looked very uncomfortable.

And people picked up on that too. So really it was a very clear victory, I think, for Obama, those
three debates.

TONY JONES: Yes questions of demeanour, and you referred to his regal status and bearing, but it
extraordinary isn't it, the inexperienced black Senators, a couple of books under his belt, a
pretty thin resume was able to convince undecided voters even to overlook his race, and believe
that without the experience he could actually run the country in a crisis.

BOB KAISER: Well, when you say, "Overlook his race", you're implying something I don't think I
agree with, and I don't think most Americans consider dark skin to be an impediment in these

TONY JONES: No, no, no you've certainly misunderstood me, I'm actually referring to the strain of
racial antagonism in the country, which people are prepared to evidently overlook in his case.

BOB KAISER: Yeah, well, yes, but I'm saying many white Americans don't share that racial
antagonism, it's a minority that does, that's, we don't have to get into that -


BOB KAISER: - I think you're right, it is extraordinary, and I think frankly the reason is that the
guy is extraordinary.

You mentioned his books. I hope they are published in Australia because they are absolutely
fascinating documents, the first one particularly.

I would say that that 'Dreams From My Father' is the most revealing memoir that a politician in
America has published certainly in my adult lifetime, if not ever.

It's revealing, honest, straight forward, full of life, full of passion, and emotion, he didn't
hold back there, and it's a very unusual thing for a person like him to do, and then to go ahead
and run for President after having published such a book.

It's quite remarkable. And I think, I hope I'm right, politicians always disappoint us, I'm ready
to be disappointed again, but I do have the feeling this time that we've got something quite
unprecedented in America, in the recent era certainly, an extremely smart, extremely thoughtful,
self possessed, self confident figure.

There was a wonderful moment this week when John Stewart, I don't know if you know that name, he's
a very popular -

TONY JONES: Indeed we do.

BOB KAISER: - comedy interview show guy here, yes, and Obama was on his program, and Stewart
expressed a sentiment which I certainly felt myself in recent weeks, which was, you know, "Why do
you want this job?"

As Stewart put it, " When you got into the race it looked like a pretty nice car, but look at it
now, it's all run down", referring to the United States and the world in general and Obama gave a
remarkable reply I thought.

He said, "You know, you get into public life to make a difference, and when the situation gets as
bad as it is now you realise you really could make a big difference, this is a great opportunity to
get things done", and that's arguably correct, but I was really struck by the reply, I thought it
was really quite impressive.

TONY JONES: Do you agree then with the analysis that this is a transformational election like that
in 1980 when Ronald Reagan offering up change to the American electorate had a landslide victory
over Carter?

BOB KAISER: I see a lot of similarities between the two races and I've written that more than once
this year. I do see a real comparison between the two.

You know, whether it's transformational or not depends on the election result or what happens
consistently obviously.

Reagan in fact transformed less than he'd hoped to originally, and, you know, never got a
Republican congress after the first two years that he could depend on.

So it wasn't his as transformational as this could be, because it looks now as though Obama and the
Democrats will have huge majorities in the Senate and the House, so there's an opportunity for
transformation, but it hasn't happened yet.

TONY JONES: Of course the irony in that connection between Obama, and Reagan, is that the other
argument is that effectively, if Obama wins, it is the effective end of Reaganism.

BOB KAISER: I don't know if there is a Reaganism, but it's the end of the Reagan era. I felt that
for the last six months that we just were coming to the end of that.

Part of it involves a natural pendulum in American politics, part of it is the result of too many
years in which working people and ordinary people's incomes have not gone up.

Family income in America has been stagnant for 10 years, and people are feeling that a lot. Though
the better off people have done extremely well, starting with Reagan and ever since, but the
working stiffs haven't done well, and they know it and they're angry about it.

There's a swing of the pendulum back toward more government regulation, rather than less, and
certainly the meltdown in the financial markets will contribute to that.

So, yes, I do think you're right; it's the end of the Reagan era.

TONY JONES: Well Bob Kaiser, we'll leave you there, we're looking a little too far into the future
since the election is still to come. But I must say...

BOB KAISER: Yes, we are.

TONY JONES: We've enjoyed your company, and it's very interesting to hear your analysis, thank you
very much.

BOB KAISER: Thank you, nice to talk to you.