Thursday 28 February 2008

Lisbon Debate must be Genuine

In a recent Irish Times opinion piece, Tony Allright called for a rejection of the Lisbon treaty. But his argument is shamelessly disingenuous.

First, he laments the unreadability of the new Treaty. That's how its sponsors wanted it he suggests. According to Mr. Allright, "if it represented an honest endeavour, it would have incorporated the contents of all three treaties into a single, unambiguous, easy to comprehend document". He contradicts himself here, because elsewhere he acknowledges that the first attempt to reform the EU came in the form of a single, rather readable, self-contained constitution.

That constitution was rejected by the people of the Netherlands and of France for reasons that are not at all clearly linked to its content. At the time issues such as unemployment and immigration weighed heavily on voters' minds. There was nothing in the Constitution which could have made unemployment worse or loosened immigration. Arguably the reverse is true.

Furthermore, there is a widely acknowledged flaw in using a referendum to determine people's opinion on a multi-faceted, technical proposal. It is that they may not answer the question they are asked. In part the French 'non' was a response to the question, do you approve of Jacques Chirac? We risk falling into the same trap. If the housing downturn continues and Bertie's finances take a further twist, people may well answer the question, are you satisfied with the current government?

Secondly, Mr Allright took apart a straw man when he pointed to the claims by the Yes camp that Lisbon would help on climate change. I have followed the debate fairly closely and climate change is never among the serious points made by those in favour of Lisbon. Nor does the Yes camp believe that the EU is "advancing towards some mythical nirvana". No-one is under any illusion. The treaty is a pragmatic attempt to forge a stronger, more effective Union in a world increasingly dominated by big players.

Many positive arguments for Lisbon have been made by others in the Irish Times and elsewhere and I will not repeat them here. But any discussion of the treaty must be genuine and bear some relation to the facts. Colourful but empty rhetoric cannot help the cause of democracy and it has no place in the current debate.

Update. I debate this issue with Mr. Allright on his website

Wednesday 20 February 2008

Clinton is a Goner

I'm here in San Fran for the last 10 days or so on a work assignment. (first time here and the city lives up to its reputation as an excellent place to visit. The only shame is that most of my time Monday to Friday is spent indoors. Still, plenty to do and see at night and I did have a weekend as well).

I have kept an eye on the primaries. It's hard not to. The news channels are carrying little else.

Clinton now is all but a goner. Obama's victory in Wicsonsin was not just comprehensive but also devastating for clinton in that exit polls show him sucking in her support demographic - lower paid and women. Oh, and the other thing, is that the old Edwards vote has drifted mostly into the Obama camp.

She began a speech as the polls closed but, in a sign that the Obama campaign now has the gloves off and wants to finish her off, Obama himself began a victory speech from Texas, with Clinton still speaking. In the blink of an eye the networks all switched to the Obama speech, leaving Clinton talking to herself, in tv terms.

The commentators reckon that of the remaining big states which divide delagates proportionally, Clinton would need to be scoring about 65% of delegates to come back - an almost impossible scenario.

I listened to Obama's speech. Certainly polished in terms of phraseology and delivery. And full of emotional appeal - referring to founding fathers, civil rights activists. "They say there is no use in blind hope" he said. And then evoked the student sit ins, beatings, and deaths from the 60s. And said their hard won victories stemmed from hope. It was hard not to be moved. But this is just empty rhetoric. The speech dragged on - it was far too long and keep repeating the same mantra of change with different phrases. But the point is - he has driven home the point that "change = obama". At least among democrats.

Even if Clinton begins to close the gap, the democratic party has to decide then, given the close race, how would be best placed to beat McCain. Some of the so called super delegates could be swung into one or other camp depending on who they though could beat McCain. Most pundits are now saying that Obama would be harder to beat (this was a huge discussion earlier in the campaign but commentators were more divided). I think seeing Obama's momentum and his sheer ability to draw out the vote, and more recently, to widen his demographic, it's probably fair to say he'd be the better bet. Though of course, Clinton is a seasoned fighter and would know how to square up to McCain. In the real fight though, like in the primary, it might just boil down to appeal, charisma, and who carries the mantle for change or improvement. Recall that Reagan didn't win because he won intellectual debates, he moved hearts with his warm avuncular tone and his sincere delivery (after all, he was an actor, and acting is now a key political skill).

For Clinton, it's still winnable, but barely. And it'll be interesting to see how the donations begin to go in the next few weeks. If big givers feel she is more than likely beaten they will decide there is no point throwing good money after bad. And if the money dries up (her finances stuttered a few times) she's surely a goner.