Thursday, July 31, 2008

Here's an idea for John McCain

Instead of making the press, independent voters, etc., hate you because you're acting like a petulant kid, how about doing something significant politically? Here's a thought...right now there are two crooked Republican members of Congress trying to retain their seats. McCain prides himself on honesty and was against corruption. Why doesn't McCain endorse the two Democratic challengers to those dudes in those races, provided Young and Stevens win the primaries? Sure, some Republicans would be upset that he's not being a "team player", but is anyone really going to stick up for those two guys? They're not even liked in their home state. The press would launch into arias. If asked why he opposes Republicans, he could say, "They're not Republicans. They're crooks."

Then again, that would be a principled stand that would probably incur some cost for McCain that would make it more difficult to win. There was a time when he might have been up for that, but now that he's willing to just flat-out lie to win these days I doubt he will.

Update: Evidently the McCain campaign had even lower to sink.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

McCain's arrogance attacks are silly

So, it would appear that John McCain's Rovian strategy of the week to attack Obama is to make him appear "arrogant." Pardon me, but does that seem like pretty weak tea? Are there really voters out there that are going to say, "Well, I kinda liked that Obama guy, but he's a little too arrogant, so I'm going with McCain?" I don't really think it's a fatal flaw in a politician: in fact, I don't even think it's a bad one. If it gets cemented, Obama is permanently innoculated from the flip-flopper charge and I think the downside will be muted. George W. Bush, after all, was elected in 2004 despite there being widespread belief that he was arrogant.

What is striking to me is how relentlessly negative McCain's campaign has become. If this keeps up the public is going to tire of him pretty quickly. I don't know exactly why his campaign has gone in this particular direction, but he'd better right his course.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A post about John McCain turns into a rant against moneycons

No, John, you're supposed to break with the moneycons and stay broken up with them. That's what I've been saying! You're halfway there! Those guys are jackasses and the least you can leave your party after your sure to fail presidential run--which, by the way, is getting progressively nastier and will likely erode any affection the public has for you by making you seem like a mean old crank--is to cut assholes like Grover Norquist and Pat Toomey loose from your party.

Okay, the neocons are worse. Okay, no they're not. The neocons get us to fight disastrous wars, but the moneycons make it impossible to actually govern the country with their wrongheaded theories on money (like supply-siderism) and are ground zero for the evisceration of the middle class. These are bad dudes, and it's not even like most Republicans believe their trash. Come on, Johnny! Do something worthwhile for once in your lifetime!

Why is McCain angry?

Chait's post is pretty much dead on:

Discussing the extremely harsh tone John McCain has taken against Barack Obama,
Marc Ambinder notes, "The contempt that many McCain aides hold for Barack Obama rivals the contempt that McCain held for Mitt Romney a year ago."
...not to mention George W. Bush, who in 2000 McCain and his advisors viewed with even more contempt than Romney during the primary or Obama now. Notice the pattern here? The McCainiacs whip themselves into a moralistic frenzy against anybody who stands between them and the presidency.
And should that person subsequently become potentially useful in McCain's quest for the presidency (first Bush, now Romney), they can convince themselves that he's not so bad after all.

My only complaint is that this post downplays the extreme self-righteousness of John McCain. No matter what McCain believes in (and it appears to switch a lot, as Steve Benen's McCain flip-flop list now has 71 items) he thinks that he's absolutely right and that his opponents are incomprehensible madmen who hate America. He tends to like issues where that can be the case, like campaign finance reform. How can you oppose that without supporting fat plutocrats? McCain probably figures that he's served his country faithfully for so long that he has earned his above reproach status, and that the only people who can question him are people with more service than him. That service (including the torture) has created a pervasive moral superiority about the man, which has kinda grown stale as it's become clear that he really doesn't stand for anything aside from a Hemingway sort of military greatness. I have to hand it to him...most people who see war tend to come away thinking it's insane. John McCain saw combat and seems to have come to the conclusion that we should do it more often. Maybe it's just bloodlust.

I'm beginning to think that McCain feels his country owes him the presidency, and that Obama's ascendancy is depriving him of the natural fulfillment to a lifetime of service. That accounts for quite a bit of his recent behavior, but if it's true I'm not sure his paens to serving a cause greater than one's self will have any resonance. He's beginning to look like Hillary Clinton in the wrong ways--old, bitter, angry, entitled, and yesterday's news. But he lacks Clinton's positive attributes--policy knowlege, political skill, a hugely enthusiastic base. In fact, to say that McCain often sounds retarded when discussing policy details does a huge disservice to actually mentally challenged people who could surely come up with a more compelling argument than this for the gas tax holiday. I think Obama ought to keep trying to get under McCain's skin, get him even more indignant and angry. Angry people make mistakes, after all, and it's not like there isn't some basis for pusing the anger narrative.

Ted Stevens indicted

Good. I share Matt's incredulousness over the weird this-will-help-McCain spin: is the public really, really going to remember some old pork battles? More likely they'll hear this on the news and be reminded about how corrupt McCain's party is. Seriously, Stevens is like a modern-day Roscoe Conkling or James G. Blaine.

That pro-McCain spin is not just counterintuitive, that's, like, metacounterintuitive. Pretty silly, guys.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Told you so...

I said: the time Obama gets back from Europe he ought to have around a ten-point lead in the polls. He'll probably build on that after the Democratic convention.
Halfway there.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Republican revival?

Reihan Salam's a smart guy, but I don't find his signs of a Republican revival persuasive. It feels like a post that was written this time last week, before Obama's trip and corresponding poll bounce in Gallup (7 points) and Rasmussen (6 points). The New Hampshire Senate race has ebbed and flowed, but Jeanne Shaheen has always been on top and saying that the race is changing based on solely one poll is a bit, shall we say, optimistic. One must always take a Rasmussen poll with a grain of salt when it contravenes conventional wisdom and shows a Republican far closer than any other poll--they kept showing Michael Steele within a few points of Ben Cardin in the 2006 Maryland Senate Race while Steele lost by ten points. Now, it is true that those Q state polls are good news for McCain, but these polls predate Obama's trip bounce and they all contravene prior poll results. Reihan might be right, but this is awfully thin gruel. To be perfectly fair, though, he is identifying "early stirrings" so fine.

As for the rest, I think energy is a big issue, but I don't think that it's necessarily a winner for McCain, as Obama narrowly edges him on this issue. That same data shows that Obama only narrowly leads McCain on the economy, perhaps because of the drilling issue, which indicates only that Obama has more work to do. And while people are more optimistic about the War on Terror and the Iraq War, I don't see this as being so much due to Republican policies as to military professionals--at least, that's how it's perceived as Bush is still roundly hated despite things getting better. He's not getting the credit, and while the Republicans are doing better on these issues than they were a year ago it's not overwhelming.

So, once again, Reihan might be right, but I have some doubts. And I think it'll take until the convention before we can get a clear view of the dynamic for this fall.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The History Books Will Say That The Critical Moment In The 2008 Election

was when Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki endorsed Barack Obama's Iraq plan. After hearing that, I told my brother that the election was over. And I stand by it. McCain's whole pitch was that Obama's Iraq plan was dangerous and misguided and that the surge was working. The latter is, now, completely irrelevant. Obama's plan is now pretty much how it's going to be, and McCain has no fallback. He has no Plan B. I think this news means that Mitt Romney is 10-1 as McCain's VP candidate as he supposedly has economic stewardship in his favor, and McCain's going to have to try to campaign on the economy, which is not friendly territory for the Republicans. My guess is that McCain will wind up pursuing several threads in the general election:
  • He'll keep talking about how he was right about the surge, which won't matter as he was wrong about the war to begin with, was wrong about what to do next year, and is going to have to triangulate to remain even viable in this election. Which he's already doing.
  • He'll go after the economy and basically make the standard GOP attacks about how he wants to lower taxes for gazillionaires hard-working middle class voters and the Democrats want to raise them. That will no doubt warm Grover Norquist's heart but taxes just aren't a big issue this election year, despite the GOP always wanting them to be.
  • He'll keep trying to subtly advance the smears about Barack Obama (exhibit A: McCain says "I don't know" if Obama's a socialist), and destroy all good will among folks like me who used to like him. He says he'd rather lose a campaign than lose a war, but apparently he's willing to become just as bad as the GOP pit bulls he used to hate in order to win an election.
  • Many, many more uses of his trademark (and unbelievably irritating) catchphrase, "my friends." (Okay, that was a funny one, but probably true too.)
I'm pretty sure this is how it's going to turn out. Obama's going to win, in my opinion. He's already experiencing a bounce in the polls, and by the time he gets back from Europe he ought to have around a ten-point lead in the polls. He'll probably build on that after the Democratic convention. I don't think there's any way John McCain will be able to erase a lead that big. Certainly not by saying he was right about the surge. Maybe if he did something bold like promise to balance the budget...not that I really want that to happen as I have other priorities, but I would like the debate and I think things worked better when Democrats were a bit more willing to spend and the GOP was a bit tighter with the purse strings. But I don't think McCain will do something like that. He sees himself as a reformer but he's not really that...his version of reform is less about cleaning house and reorienting the GOP and more about taking courageous (in the MSM's point of view) centrist (read: liberal) stands against his party on boutique issues like campaign finance reform.

But I just don't see him making such a bold shakeup. Even if he did I still can't see him winning. He's up against an historic candidate whose election might well atone, in the eyes of the world, for our darkest sins, both old and current. McCain simply can't offer that. Plus, virtually nobody seems too excited about his candidacy.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Telecom immunity

I highly recommend this thoughtful blog post by Andrew Sullivan (I've been citing him quite a bit recently!) about telecom immunity. I tend to agree with him. Then again, I've never been much given to paranoia. My feeling is that, well, it's not like we don't know when the Bush Administration has abused its powers. They're not too good at keeping stuff like that under wraps. If they go too far overboard and start locking people up for jaywalking they'll be toast. I don't think they will, though.

I don't trust the Bushies, but I do think I understand them, and I trust them to act in accordance with their established motives. I do think they really believe what they're doing is helping the country. I don't really agree, but there's no evidence they just want to start locking people up, or clamping down on opposition leadership, or whatever. I don't speak out much in favor of Bush, but let's be fair: he's not Joseph Stalin. I just don't see the data points to show why I should be terrified about this.

I don't think it's wrong to be upset by the outcome of this whole thing, but I'm not terribly worried. It is Bush Derangement Syndrome of a sort to just be worried about unjustified, nameless fears, but just because that asshole has done lots of bad things doesn't mean that he'll necessarily want to do every bad thing.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Social conservatism in this time and place

I actually agree with Andrew on a scope-of-government issue! Amazing! Seriously, though, Ross Douthat's point is well taken: divorces and so forth fall hard upon working-class families. Conceded. So what can we do about it? Aside from many, many more homilies about the importance of family and the scourge of gay marriage?

I'm beginning to think that social conservatism is pretty much a worthless ideology in practice at this point. All sociocons do is tell us what everyone knows but nobody can fix, and then repeat said information at ever-increasing volume and remind us about the good ol' days. Umm, what's the point of this? I'm trying to think of a social issue where the sociocons have a valid plan to make things better. Not family matters, and certainly not abortion, where the prevailing right-wing plan (i.e. ban the shit out of it!) will be unenforceable, will cause many more deaths among women getting the procedure illegally, and will almost certainly necessitate the creation of a vast new regulatory apparatus or a beefing-up of existing law enforcement options to deal with the millions of these things that happen every year. So much for small government. The GOP has fuck-all to say about the problems in the Black community beyond the standard bromides of self-reliance. Well, drug dealers are self-reliant. This is not the problem. And the drug war? Education? No ideas, nothing. If anything these days, sociocon thinking tends toward trying to make life as miserable as possible for the types of people they don't like (e.g. like opposing non-discrimination laws against gays) not so much out of some grand principle as much as just to be a bunch of cussed bastards. To be fair, I'm not accusing Ross per se of any of this thinking--he's smarter than that--but just the prevailing thinking of the right right now. I think the time has come for a spell in the wilderness. It'll be better for everyone.

Why Obama's "centrism" doesn't bother me

This from Fred Barnes (via Sullivan): "The tack to the middle has been mostly a fuzzy feint that didn't lock him into any new positions." Umm, yeah. Barnes says this like it's unchivalrous or something for Barack to have done, but I don't think Obama's done anything unfair. He's made some ingenious rhetorical feints that have made him appear to be more centrist without giving up anything. That's not unfair at all--it's called good politics.

Now, to be sure, this does bother a certain class of Democrat. Let's just say it's Paul Krugman. Krugman's a world-class economist, to be sure, but when he talks about politics he's so naive as to be practically unreadable, and his emphasis throughout the primaries was about being as combative as possible. With Krugman, it's all about partisanship instead of politics, and his desire toward combativeness is based primarily on a visceral loathing of Republicans rather than a deep commitment to liberalism. Not that I'm saying he's not got the latter as well, but I always wince when he complains about being mistaken for someone with Bush Derangement Syndrome. Mistaken?

But people like this don't really know much about politics. Let's look at this cynically. In politics, as in sports, the goal is to win. Not to beat the other team to a bloody pulp and annihilate their self-confidence. That's nice but not necessary. If it is possible to win with a message of conciliation--if that's the message that is the best suited to the election cycle--then that's what you play. Now, I don't believe Barack Obama is that cynical, but I do think he's the greatest intuitive presidential candidate since Richard Nixon. His message simply fits the times in which we find ourselves. Unity--especially after a divisive reign--is a powerful message. Maybe he'll deliver, maybe he won't, but it's a pretty darn smart thing to be saying. And that's why Obama's got a damn good chance of winning.

There will be plenty of bloodying-up of the Republicans this cycle, but the idea that the best way to win an election is by drawing sharp contrasts on every issue is a bad one because not everyone in this country is a hard-core liberal. People sense that Obama's a reasonable guy, and they sense he's liberal, and they still like him. So, in this way, Obama says something that makes people think he understands them. They hear it and say, he's not too bad, and overlook some of the policies they disagree with him on. In other words, people want to have their cake and eat it too. Which is not to say that Obama's policies are unpopular--just check the polling on the subject--but that the group who support his health care policy aren't the same as the group who support his environmental policies, and so on.

I guess this is all by way of saying that America is a nation of centrists. I don't think there's too much antipathy toward liberals these days, but Krugman's insulated world of center-left NYC elites causes him to extrapolate things that don't really hold in the real world.

McCain and gambling and other stuff

I really like this analysis of the gambling habits of John McCain and Barack Obama, but I'm not sure it's exceptionally helpful--in fact, in the case of McCain, it gets things backwards. McCain's problem has not been that he's taken lots of high risk moves (though he's taken a few) but rather that he's not been nearly risky enough. If he keeps doing what he's been doing for the past four months he's going to get his ass kicked in November, and probably by a pretty huge margin. Yet he remains steadfastly committed to his base-centric-plus-some-independents plan. And it ain't workin'.

Hey, if McCain wanted to make a bold move I'd welcome it. It would make things more interesting. I'd love to see him try to drop one of the legs of the GOP's stool to appeal to independents--really, significantly breaking from the GOP line on any major area of policy would be better, if for no other reason than that I'd like to see the GOP move a bit to the center and shed some crazies. I've suggested cutting the supply-siders loose numerous times, largely because there aren't many of them and most Republicans aren't of the tax-cuts-so-help-me-God camp. It'd be harder for McCain to raise money, sure, but he'd still be better than Obama to those folks and the balanced-budget types would be ascendant (and I'm actually sympathetic to them). Also, it would probably cause chaos, which is also good for me. But I think it's becoming clear--especially when one considers that Obama is managing to win the center despite not giving up anything of substance along the way--that McCain's going to have to do something like this or just settle for losing and being the last of the Reagan era of GOP presidental candidates. Is he comfortable with that? I'm beginning to think he is, and the Republicans ought to be very afraid of it.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Is conservatism hopeful?

This is a fair point, though I have got to ask--is conservatism really about hope? I know about Ronald Reagan's spin on conservatism, but I've always seen him as kind of sui generis. Most of the conservatives that I've known, and most of the stuff I've read about conservatism since Goldwater, has generally tended toward the resentment side of the equation. My thought experiment to prove this would be as follows: first off, try to name a grievance-centered conservative political leader from the past forty years. There are many from which to choose. Now, try to think of another hopeful conservative leader from the same time period. My mind draws a blank. Maybe George W. Bush? Then again, there is a difference between being hopeful for the future and just hoping things will turn out well. Bush does the latter.

In the abstract, of course, conservatism (in the Burkean sense) can definitely be hopeful and just seeks to preserve the institutions, traditions, etc., of a society. But American conservatism is anything but Burkean. Even before Goldwater it has consistently held that culture has been corrupted, that we face enormous external threats that we are now ill-equipped to handle, but it has never actually proposed solutions for those problems so we wind up getting bitter crankery about these problems that stick around so that the next generation of conservatives can bitch about them. How can we make progress if the same issues stick around one election cycle after another? But the Republicans won't just move on and accept progress in any number of areas. They keep the wounds open so that people will keep showing up to vote for them out of bitterness. The entire GOP cosmology, at this point, largely depends upon keeping the grievances of the 1960s, and their attendant bitterness, as the motivating factor for people to vote. How does hopefulness fit into a worldview where you keep fighting the same losing battles, and when many conservatives feel that teh liberals are simply too dastardly and powerful to lose?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Right patriotism vs. left patriotism

I tend to agree with Matt Yglesias that there's not much real difference between the left's version of patriotism and the right's version thereof. The idea that the left sees dissent as the greatest expression of patriotism and that the right just likes what America does, right or wrong, is clearly not correct to anyone who has, well, talked to a conservative person before. They dissent on many things that America does--like, say, abortion rights--and consciously work to make the country better according to the dictates of their respective consciences. Now, I'm not sure this is necessarily out of a patriotic motivation, but it's difficult to argue that dissent and patriotism are incompatible if you're one of these folks. Also, I wonder just how many of these conservatives really believe that liberals hate America. It's always seemed like a pretty cynical construct to me.

I suppose the major difference between the different (outward) forms of patriotism is that the left's version isn't all that exclusionary. I don't recall a single time a liberal has called a conservative unAmerican ever. And I think that's why saying, for example, that America's policy of torturing people is unAmerican would be a good thing for the left, because it is and also because liberals tend to find such charges icky in general but here it's true. America's never done it before. We generally believe in treating people humanely. Most of us, anyway. Hearing, say, Barack Obama tossing around charges that X is anti-American because he/she supports torture would have a certain novelty to it. Liberals have become so stigmatized by patriotism attacks that they no doubt find them distasteful, but in this case it happens to be true. I wonder if there are any other issues where this would work. Maybe immigrant-bashing as America's generally been pretty accepting of outsiders who come here to work, though there's been a pretty strong anti-immigrant tradition in American history as well.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.