Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wright stuff for McCain?

It seems de rigeur among liberals to speculate when (rather than whether) McCain's campaign will play the Wright card. I'm thinking that this is a proper question, but I don't think it will be very crippling, and here's why:

  1. It will seem like a desperation play, which might make the media/voters discount it.
  2. Unless they have new tapes, it's not news, and literally everybody knows about it. Sure, reminding folks in Indiana and North Carolina who are leaning toward Obama about Wright would be bad news, but I do think that Obama has been successful in defusing the idea that he's a crazy radical. There's no way to tell unless it happens, though.
  3. Obama's camp could hit back in several ways--how about videos of Sarah Palin's nutty preacher, who believes in witchcraft? How about a little discussion of the Keating Five scandal? After Ayres and Wright become part of the conversation again, McCain has nowhere left to go, while Obama has a few aces up his sleeve.
  4. Maybe McCain has some residual sense of propriety? Okay, that was a silly one.

Ultimately, though, if McCain goes there the left can hit him for hypocrisy, since McCain vetoed ads from the Tennessee and North Carolina State Republican Parties on Wright before he decided he'd do anything to win. They can hit him hard on hypocrisy, and they'd have him dead to rights (pardon the expression). So I think there's more of a downside than an upside, but the McCain campaign has become so sleazy that I have no expectation that they will actually refrain, unless they figure the backlash would exceed any benefit. Based on these points, I believe that it would.

I also doubt that the campaign will become explicitly about race. I don't even know what that means anymore. The only thing McCain can do is what he's been doing, which is to bring it into the conversation subtly, like in the evil Franklin Raines/defenseless old White woman ad.

Sarah Agnew

Can this woman go a day without a gaffe? Actually, Palin is much worse than Agnew. Agnew provided many, many gaffes and was crazy, but he could string coherent sentences together when necessary. And he actually ran a state where he dealt with prevalent issues of the time, like civil rights, urban decline, etc. Palin's got nothing like that. It's not that her record in Alaska is bad (though there are clearly some worrisome parts), just that it isn't very applicable to being president. And she is clearly unprepared, far more so than Agnew ever was.

At the end of the day, this pick might well be the worst VP selection ever. We're in Eagleton territory already, except that McCain can't drop her without the same fate befalling him that befell McGovern.

McCain dumbassery alert

Okay, I can understand the Clinton reference: she is a pretty big liar (though she's not as smart or talented as Bill, at that or anything else), but Sarah Palin as Reagan? We'll see how well she debates tonight, but I think the Spiro Agnew comparison fits best. Reagan was an unparalleled orator and debater during his time, Palin delivered one speech whose only novelty was that a woman was delivering it. It was the same culture war garbage the GOP has been throwing out since, well, Reagan. Palin's speech was completely substance free, and it didn't even get at telling us much about her.

I'm actually hoping that Palin turns in an acceptable debate performance. The right-wingers will say that they were right, Palin merely needed to be "freed," and demand for a more public role for her will be overwhelming. And that's when she'll really start to tank. At the end of the day, after McCain loses, the one thing that Republicans will really hate him for will be ruining Sarah Palin's prospects.

Monday, September 29, 2008

I rather like Ross Douthat's narrative here, and the key update in the piece makes this all the more damning for the Republicans. Not only have they just lost themselves this election, but they've written themselves a ticket to the political wilderness for the conceivable future. I've never been more certain of anything in my life.

Oh, wait, the bailout plan wasn't terribly unpopular?

Well, give it to the GOP: they sure know how to time their catastrophic tantrums correctly.

Landslide alert

Obama is now leading in North Carolina, a state that hasn't voted Democratic in thirty years. Couple that with your other factors--reverse Bradley effect, underpolling of Blacks, cell phones not included in polling, etc., and the likelihood only increases. But all of that is hypothetical: what isn't is that Obama is now leading in North Carolina. Bush won the state by double digits. Jimmy Carter was the last Democrat to carry it. Now, Obama is leading in one of the polls.

The bailout fails

So, the bailout bill failed. I find the rationale the Republicans are peddling interesting:

Apparently, the new line from the right -- repeated by Boehner, Gingrich, and some conservative bloggers -- is that House Republicans ended up rejecting the bill because they didn't like Nancy Pelosi's speech on the subject.

I'm sure that this will win over the American people, because they're definitely enamored of whining and pettiness. This is one of those things that you can kinda sorta see the logic of, but it's still really stupid.

The impending trainwreck


Instead of unsheathing Palin, the strategy this week is to attack Joe Biden and try to drive a wedge between him and Obama, another McCain aide said.

For the day, you mean. For a guy who's so old, John McCain reminds me of nothing more than an ADHD-addled little kid, in terms of temperament as well as policy.

I've read some analysis saying that Palin will probably do well because the expectations were sufficiently lowered. Then again, I agree with Nate Silver that this was never the intention. I guess it depends on how well she plays the victim card, because that's all she can play right now. We'll see.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Is the Republican alliance breaking?

I see this as a sign that this country's politics will be moving sharply to the left soon. Abandoning Wall Street, as the Republicans seem to be doing now, could significantly alter the financial landscape of American politics, and the GOP could find itself as cash-starved as an earlier generation of Republicans used to be, and one wonders about the implications if liberals and Wall Streeters were to become closer--would capitalism water down progressivism? Or vice versa? One thing is for sure, abandoning the bailout means that politics are going to be changing, quickly.

BTW, it's interesting that the GOP is still offering pro-Wall Street economic policies while basically saying they could give a damn if Wall Street crumbles. They need a new economic policy. I think a working-class agenda by two knowledgeable young conservatives is just the thing. Somebody send these dudes a copy of Grand New Party!

How it is

McCain just challenged Obama to a game of chicken and he blinked. Obama showed his greater resolve and steeliness and cannily stood up against him. If anyone is still supporting McCain at this point--might I ask why? If he tanks the debate tonight the election is over. I'm beginning to think a landslide is imminent.

Update: Sam Boyd says it best: "If he caves this easily, how can we trust him to stand up to the terrorists?"

Modus Ponens

John McCain said he wouldn't leave Washington until the financial crisis was solved.
John McCain is leaving Washington for the debate.
.: The financial crisis is solved! That was easy!

Seriously, though, this is weak tea from McCain bootlicker Lindsey Graham:

"What's more important than anything that when we go to Mississippi tonight, both candidates can say that the Congress is working ..."

Umm, yeah, Linds. It was working, though, and it had a deal on the table before your dumbass pal lit it on fire in pursuit of glory. In a related story, WaMu was seized by the government. Oh, yeah, and Rasmussen (Rasmussen!) has McCain down five.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Right on!

In McCain's absence, the Senator is willing to make the scheduled debate a townhall meeting, a one-on-one interview with NewsHour's Jim Lehrer, or the combination of the two, the official said.

Yes! Ezra Klein explains why this will be bad for McCain:

This puts the McCain campaign in a difficult position to say the least. It's not going to look terribly frivolous if Obama spends an hour answering voter questions about the housing crisis and his agenda. McCain's absence will speak volumes. But if Congress doesn't reach a deal before Friday night, McCain can't very well back down from his promise. Worse, it's pretty clear that the McCain campaign hasn't been doing debate prep for the past few days, and if he were to change course, he's not going to be as focused and in control of the situation as if he'd been readying himself for the confrontation all week.

Plus, I'm not exactly sure at which point supporting the bailout so openly became a political winner...the polls I've seen show even support at best. McCain will be able to say he's doing something, leadership, bipartisan, blah, but I must confess that I don't really know how this is going to play out. I somehow doubt that it's going to put McCain in the White House, but I also don't think it's a campaign killer. He might get back a point or two in the polls, or he might lose a point or two in the polls. Unless, of course, the media follows the lead of David Letterman and rakes John McCain over the coals for this...or if he doesn't show up for the debate.

McCain has set up this entire timeline for action, and I don't think there's any need to change the substance of the policy at this point. Merely breaking his timelines by a bit should be enough to make him look weak. He's not going to be able to stay off the campaign trail forever!

Bottom line: McCain will come. And he'll look bad coming and he'll probably do poorly. Since foreign policy is still (inconceivably!) his trump card, it'll hurt.

Update: It's all beside the point now.

I don't think this is true

McCain to vote against the bailout bill? After talking about cancelling the debate? He'd look like a laughingstock. Which he is, and maybe he's just lost his marbles. I don't see how this charade can make him look anything but weak, and Obama's handled it brilliantly so far.

Michael Tomasky says the opposite: McCain votes for the bill. At least one of these guys is going to look stupid in the end. I tend to side with Tomasky. Anyone wonder whether there's going to be conservative outrage over this? No? Actually, I think that McCain's support now being necessary could be an opportunity to split him from his conservative base. Put something in the bill that conservatives really hate, in other words. Then again, considering the lack of conservative outrage over dramatically expanding government's role in the financial markets I'm beginning to wonder if there's anything they won't excuse if it comes from a Republican. For God's sake, they won't even stand up for the limited government principle. I long spell in the wilderness will do them good.

The stunt didn't work

Tracking poll results are based upon nightly telephone interviews and reported on a three-day rolling average basis. The overwhelming majority of the interviews for today’s report were completed before the President’s speech last night. However, it is worth noting that results for the past two individual nights of polling were quite a bit weaker for McCain.

Interesting, though, that Gallup shows the opposite trend. I generally tend to trust Gallup more, because Rasmussen generally has a Republican lean. Then again, if Rasmussen is showing a palpable Obama advantage, it carries more weight with me.

McCain/Agnew '08

The parallels fit, don't they? Both were one-term governors. Both had been local politicians before that. Both were picked without full knowledge of what they were about and what they stood for--both didn't really know themselves what they stood for. And both have been a huge headache to their running mates.

Of course, there are some differences. For one thing, Spiro Agnew wasn't embargoed from the press. For another, he managed to be a good civil rights governor of Maryland, as opposed to Palin's vetoing of benefits for gay partners. And Agnew started out as a reasonable moderate before becoming a nutty right-wing figure, while Palin's already there and trying her best to hide it. The comparisons are actually favorable to Agnew. Of course, Sarah Palin hasn't taken any bribes that we know of. But she's abused her authority in ways nearly as bad (see: Monegan, Walt). Personally, I think using your power to ruin the life of a state trooper is worse than taking money in exchange for doling out construction contracts--it's corrupt but nobody gets ruined by it--but then again I'm in the tank for Obama.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Self-inflicted wound

James Fallows argues that McCain's recent move is a huge self-inflicted wound. I still think the best thing to do is for the Democrats to stall until McCain moves on. If the GOP all votes against it, fine. McCain won't. He's committed to it.

There's something deeply offensive about this...

Hugh Hewitt, via Marc Ambinder:
Today was Obama's Katrina moment and an example of great leadership by John McCain. This contrast was telling and will matter.
Notice how it's not some largely harmless act of bad political judgment, like Bush's Social Security reform. It's Obama's Katrina moment. As though not suspending his campaign is equivalent to an act of deliberate negligence that resulted in the deaths and displacement of thousands of people. Hewitt uses it like a punchline.

You know, it's quite a competition of who makes the most odious right-wing pundit, but it's just got to be Hugh Hewitt. Got to be.

Right on, Ramesh

Here's Ramesh Ponnuru, showing why he's one of the right's leading thinkers:

But it is hard to see what McCain can do to help, and easy to see how his intervention could hurt. He brings, as he himself has admitted in the past, no expertise to the table. And won't Democrats be less likely to cooperate on a plan if doing so will help make McCain be the hero of the hour?

So McCain's move may have been a mistake on substance. It may prove to be a political mistake too: If McCain can't bring both parties together in an economic crisis after staking so much on it, won't voters draw adverse conclusions about his
leadership ability? What do you think?

I hadn't even considered that he'd fail to pass something. I think this gives the Democrats a winning play: make a show of accommodating McCain, but just don't pass a bill by his deadline. McCain fails according to his own timeline, he gets back on the campaign trail (he can't afford to be off it for a few days) having been unsuccessful, Obama attacks him for being presumptuous and a leadership failure. The more I think of it, the less this move makes sense. McCain can get blamed if a bill passes and it doesn't work. He can get blamed if a bill doesn't pass and things get worse. He can even get blamed if a bill doesn't pass and things don't get better. And the odds of the Democrats giving McCain a boost at this point are bad.

He can blame Democrats if a bill doesn't happen, but McCain just took ownership for this bailout package. It's that simple.

What an idiot.

Romney/Bloomberg '08

Sullivan asks if Mitt Romney can be drafted at this late a stage. Wow. Look what you've done, John McCain! You've sent Andrew Sullivan into the arms of Mitt Romney.

Crazy times.

I know I'm biased...

but I have to believe that McCain's campaign is going to take a big hit for this. The press reaction is going to be terrible, and it seems pretty transparent in light of his tanking in the polls and not being able to gain traction on the economy.

The chickens are coming home to roost

McCain's decision to try to grab the momentum by tying Obama to Franklin Raines and Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac didn't seem to work, and now he's hoisted by his own petard. What a dumbass. He's going to say that Obama gets advice from Raines while his friggin' campaign manager is lobbying for them?

The "grab every news cycle" has now backfired, because this is a big story and McCain's going to be playing defense for a few news cycles now. Because now it's looking like influence peddling, which is even worse. I bet McCain's regretting hiring all those lobbyists he said he wouldn't hire at the beginning of the campaign.

McCain couldn't just lose more or less honorably, a la Bob Dole. He had to aggressively alienate all of his media admirers, tarnish his credentials on everything from personal honor to reform, pick a horribly unqualified running mate (in a totally sexist manner, may I add) and flip-flop like crazy on the way to further tarnishing the GOP brand permanently. Where does the GOP go after McCain (likely) loses? They'll have to start from scratch. And McCain will have nothing to show for it.

How fitting that McCain succeeded Barry Goldwater in the Senate, because they make for effective bookends for the conservative era. In the beginning, there was Goldwater: personally honest and decent, with clear ideas and vision--a voice in the wilderness. And then there's McCain, a self-involved liar who coasted into the nomination like he's coasted into everything in politics and offers no vision, no ideas, and only tired culture war rhetoric to distract from the joke the GOP has become.

The Failure of Conservatism

Or, at least, of Goldwater-era American conservatism. I view the financial crisis as nothing less than this, and it seems that the American people agree--at least, that Republicans are responsible for it.

The way I see it, the healthcare issue is a good proxy for conservative vs. liberal debates. Liberals believe that everyone should have guaranteed health insurance. Sure, it costs a bit more on a day to day basis, but when (and it is when) something catastrophic happens, people are protected. Conservatives believe that the day to day costs are needlessly expensive and want to give you that money back, on the theory that most people won't need the ounce of prevention.

The problem happens when catastrophe strikes. Conservative philosophy ceases to work, as the government still pays--only, this time, for the more expensive pound of cure. Why does this even make sense? Well, it goes back to the (so far as I can tell, uniquely American) belief that nothing bad will ever happen to them. It's a very irresponsible belief, and indicative of an overly emotional and immature worldview. Such a description, sadly, fits America to a tee. At the end of the day, Americans are optimistic. This is our greatest strength as a people but, as is often the case, also one of our greatest weaknesses, for it leads us to undertake irresponsible behavior--and let's make no bones about it, much of the conservative agenda these days is deeply irresponsible--and the people who promote it accuse opponents of defeatism. Such it was with the Iraq War--planning for the best case, no consideration of catastrophic scenarios. Same with Bush's foreign policy in general until recently, same with his economic policy. They all make sense if you assume an ideal situation--CEOs would never defraud the public! Iraqis will greet us as liberators! Abstinence education will work in stamping out teen sex!--but things rarely turn out perfectly.

A generation ago, conservatives branded themselves as realists and liberals as utopians. At that time, they might even have been right. But these days it just doesn't seem so. Now, that generation of liberals was arguably too much in favor of expanding government into every sphere. But reasonable regulation keeps things from getting too out of control, which might be why it seems like every major round of deregulation leads to serious crises soon after (S&L and the California brownouts come to mind). Conservatism has become too divorced from anything resembling prudence to make it a credible governing philosophy.

Now, keep in mind that I've been discussing American conservatism. Other countries have conservative parties, and oftentimes those parties win. Think Sarkozy in France, Merkel in Germany, Berlusconi in Italy, and most likely Cameron in the U.K. in a year or two. These parties hold principles that many conservatives stateside would agree with: lower taxes and spending, more of an emphasis on privitization, free trade. But none of these politicians advocates ripping up the social safety net in their respective countries, because it's glaringly obvious that doing so just limits the ability of the government to mitigate crises that only the government can handle. And, like it or not, only the government can do something about the financial crisis. This might be because old Europe realizes that you can't just plan for the best and hope that the worst never occurs. But they're ultra-liberal, so conservatives here can just ignore them and say that sick people can just go to the emergency room instead of providing "expensive" universal health care, despite the fact that the U. S. spends more per capita on health care than anywhere else. There is simply no counterargument to UHC except to distract, all the while succumbing to delusion and denial. Conservatism as a philosophy--at least, the conservatism that has been ascendant since the 1960s--is now done. The sooner conservatives realize this, the sooner they can start rebuilding.

Bush the absent

Where the hell is this guy? Is he even still the president? We've not heard word zero from this guy, and evidently Bernanke and Paulson are now his co-regents for the time being. I realize he's unpopular, and I'm sure he does too, but a solid response to this financial crisis might go a little ways toward not having a completely toxic legacy.

My guess: Bush just doesn't care anymore. He's proposed his solution via Paulson but he'll sign anything because he's written his legacy off. He doesn't want to lead on this because he's checked out and already feels repudiated. As well he should--he's been a lousy president, and that's more than likely how he'll go down in history. And his unwillingness to go on TV and, you know, tell us what's going on confirms his deficiencies as a leader.

Update: Bush is going to be on television tonight to talk about why Congress should pass his plan. Hmm...timely.

Update 2: Clay Risen says what I said, and brings up Lyndon Johnson, another hated President during a crisis:
Within minutes of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination on April 4, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson had his aides cancel a trip to Hawaii and book airtime on the networks. Within 24 hours he had gone on television twice, met with Congressional and civil rights leaders, and made a high-profile appearance at the National Cathedral. And this was a man so unpopular that he had pulled out of the presidential race just four days earlier (his poll numbers had since shot up, but he was still a lame-duck president). Johnson's appearances didn't prevent the ensuing riots, but as a demonstration of grief and concern from the nation's political establishment, they likely had a dampening effect on further outbursts of violence.

Oh, Sarah...

We know she's a religious fanatic. We know she's prone to Cheney-esque levels of secrecy. We know that she has a tendency to pursue personal grudges and vendettas with political power. But did you know she dabbles in cronyism, too?

Bush in a skirt. That's all you need to know.

"He was raised by White people"

That's not a bad way of fighting fire with fire, prejudice-wise. Whoever came up with this line of argument w.r.t. Obama gets it.

McCain's perverse honor

Jon Chait gets it right here:

The pattern here is perfectly clear. McCain has contempt for anybody who stands between him and the presidency. McCain views himself as the ultimate patriot. He loves his country so much that he cannot let it fall into the hands of an unworthy rival. (They all turn out to be unworthy.) Viewed in this way, doing whatever it takes to win is not an act of selfishness but an act of patriotism. McCain tells lies every day and authorizes lying on his behalf, and he probably knows it. But I would guess--and, again, guessing is all we can do--that in his mind he is acting honorably. As he might put it, there is a bigger truth out there.

And Obama's the entitled one?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More race baiting

Another McCain ad, another juxtaposition of scary black Franklin Raines with a poor, defenseless, old white woman. These jokers have no shame, and it's quite clearly an effort to bait Obama into an argument about race. Steve Schmidt makes Karl Rove look downright chivalrous--at least Bush didn't use race baiting during his campaigns, and at least Bush's team would base its criticisms in some reasonable interpretation of facts. John Kerry did take the expedient path, fair enough. To think that I'd miss Karl Rove as an adversary--and that John McCain would run a far nastier campaign than Bush--well, it's surprising.

Why doesn't McCain just let them crash in one of his many houses?

Most folks are stressed about their finances, and they're overwhelmingly backing Obama.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Will Obama flub the first debate?

Nate's logic is impeccable, but it presupposes that Obama will not do well in the foreign policy debate. I tend to think that he might be able to surprise a few people. Obama's been right on a lot of foreign policy issues so far, McCain's been wrong on a lot. Obama's generally had smart things to say on the subject, McCain's had a lot of gaffes on the subject. His foreign affairs/military expertise is based almost entirely on his life story, and at many times he's struck me as an ill-informed rube.

I'm not saying Nate is wrong, but I think the situation might be even worse for McCain, since the expectations are already going to be sky-high for him on this debate.

Well, it wouldn't be the first time...

Wait, the Republicans wouldn't try to use other peoples' responsible behavior to save the financial system to their political advantage, would they? Not yet, anyway. McCain's making rumblings about opposing the bailout bill, though.

He's against peace in the Middle East?

Yet another reason not to vote for McCain, though actually it's all a part of the same one we've known all along--he's a knee-jerk neocon outmoded partisan who is too damn dumb to be in the White House.


Last week, John McCain suffered an unfortunate, H. W. Bush style gaffe about the fundamentals of the economy, got caught flat-footed with the economic crisis, saw his poll numbers and favorability ratings erode, lashed out at Obama and gave a sorta apology for how terrible his campaign has been. So, naturally, he won the week. And this is the same MSM that determines which politicians are "in touch" and which are not?

McCain's New Line Of Attack: Obama's no reformer

...at least for a few days, when he suddenly changes it to something else. Whatever happened to "country first"?

Evidently McCain has yet to realize that it's much more important to create negative narratives of one's opponents. His campaign's been trying to hammer at literally any opening they can find, tactics in McCain's case being the major consideration instead of strategy. He does manage to drive the conversation by saying bold and often stupid/reckless things, but he doesn't seem interested in driving it anywhere in particular. It reminds me of this statement:

Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it. You know, I just do things. The mob has plans, the cops have plans, Gordon's got plans. You know, they're schemers.

This is, of course, The Joker speaking to Two-Face from The Dark Knight. But it points to something serious: John McCain simply lacks a vision of what his campaign is supposed to accomplish, aside from winning. That is always a goal of a campaign, but it shouldn't be the only one. One could, additionally, push a policy agenda, call for a different kind of politics, to promote procedural reforms--in essence, to advance a vision for America's future. John McCain has not done this because he doesn't have a new vision for the future, as is evidenced by his unbelievable flip-floppery. I'm not even sure what's driving this old codger at this point--it's not any deep embrace of conservative principles, since he's flung them overboard this past week. It's not a reform agenda, since his is largely toothless. What's he doing?

The answer, by elimination, simply has to be that John McCain is simply chasing power, and without even the veneer of change that Bill Clinton, to use a related example, adopted during his run. The brazenness of McCain's race to the bottom of the barrel has been stunning, and I can't recall another potential leader basically breaking any principle once held to in order to gain some momentary advantage. Not even John Kerry comes close...his supposed flips pale in (heh heh) comparison to some of John McCain's recent flops. For it before voting against it is nothing compared to this. People voted against Kerry based largely on that quote, but it's peanuts compared to voting against your own immigration bill (then saying you support it again), changing your fundamental economic philosophy, reversing yourself on experience being the primary criterion for leadership, etc.

It's all connected. It's all about tactics with no real strategy behind them. Plus, the honor is entirely absent from all this. For someone who touts military service so highly, McCain doesn't make much of a soldier. See also Steve Benen.

Friday, September 19, 2008

McCain, panicking, does stupid shit

Yeah, count me in with the people who think that McCain's newest gambit--to tie Obama in with Franklin Raines and Jim Johnson, two people the public has never heard of--is unlikely to work.

Let's think through this argument on as simple a level as possible...Obama has ties to two people who used to run Fannie Mae. Fannie Mae failed. So, this means Obama...maybe shouldn't get advice from these dudes? Okay, fine, perhaps, perhaps not. But how does this translate into an argument against voting for these guys? McCain employs many people with a similar background. Obama's campaign will say this. Maybe they'll even cut an ad...as good a chance as any to mention that McCain has 83 Wall Street lobbyists on staff.

The McCain campaign simply cannot bear to lose a news cycle. Maybe they'll get some attention for this, though it's Friday and who watches the news on Friday night? Maybe instead of running around like a crazy person, saying a zillion contradictory things, maybe McCain should take a day off, talk to experts, learn about the crisis, and come up with a message.

Nah, panicking is easier. What a doofus.

Sarah Quaylin

Jon Chait has a characteristically sharp (in more ways than one) piece equating Dan Quayle with Sarah Palin. It's really good. It's funny--she's actually becoming a drag on the ticket. I didn't think that would happen.

I have to say that this election cycle has given me hope in America. It really has. The McCain campaign has, for some time now, traded on the notion that Americans are too stupid to get what's going on. Keep repeating lies after they've been debunked--the people won't know. Sarah Palin will distract from McCain's lack of charisma and failed policies--she'll be a big shiny object that will distract everyone from the deficiencies of the ticket. Oh wait, we meant that she'll shake things up. And, while we're at it, let's change our messaging every day to what's popular at the moment, hoping that Americans have an attention span like a 5 year old ADD kid on meth. And it ain't working. But he's putting his country first, right?

After McCain's speech, which marked something of a departure from his usual rhetoric, I was worried that the public was going to buy it. But they haven't, and as soon as McCain started reverting to his (new) old ways, the public figured he was full of shit. I'll say this about Americans--whether in the case of Sarah Palin or John McCain's lies and, for lack of a better term, policies--we know when we're being sold a lemon.

A question I'd like to hear asked in the debates

"Senator McCain, do you believe Senator Obama is a patriot?" Make this weasel get on the record. Enough of this "Obama doesn't put his country first", "he'd rather win an election than win a war" shit. And I think that one could make a strong case at this point that the former is more true if one replaces the first word with McCain.

It is worth noting that these statements make explicit something that had been implicit for a long, long time: that Senator McCain sees himself as the embodiment of honor and goodness and high principle, and thus anyone who opposes him is an evil, dishonorable, unprincipled cretin. We see it in the issues he emphasizes, such as campaign finance reform. He likes being on the side of the holy. But after 8 years of this sort of messianic thinking I think we should not do this again.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sarah Palin is the apocalypse

Or so says this dude (via Andrew Sullivan). What I continue to find incredible is that there are people who think this is a reason to support her. Just remember that there actually are a lot of right-wingers who, despite their purported love of country, outwardly lust for its destruction as well as the destruction of the entire world. Just remember that these harbingers of patriotism believe that the 60-70% of this country who want to keep Roe in place are evil unAmericans. How can a majority of Americans be unAmerican? Then again, being able to compartmentalize--certain groups of people are real Americans while others just aren't--is something that even GOP leaders like George W. Bush do. And let's not even talk about the betrayal of American values inherent in things like torture, the shredding of civil liberties, anti-immigrant hostility, cutbacks in veterans' benefits, etc.

The left gets the rap of being unpatriotic, largely due to the once-real presence of Abbie Hoffman-type radicals. Even during the 1970s they didn't make up the bulk of the left. But the right can have people who lust for America to be destroyed--they have the most shallow, flag-waving and nothing more patriots around and nobody calls them on it? We on the left should start calling bullshit.

Problem: the opening act is the draw here

Radio Iowa attends a McCain-Palin rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa where Gov. Sarah Palin spoke for the first 12 minutes and then Sen. John McCain spoke."I look up, about five minutes into McCain's address and see a steady stream of people walking out of the rally. They just came to see Palin apparently."

Via: Political Wire.

Tzipi Livni wins!

Israel's troubles are over! Just kidding. I'll say this: she can't do much worse than Olmert. I once heard a joke about the erstwhile Israeli PM to the effect that it's usually not possible to measure his political support because it's within the margin of error.

Seriously, though, I think Olmert's failures have some lessons to teach us. He took over for Ariel Sharon, a man for whom I have some very ambivalent feelings but who was assuredly competent. He then proceeded to allow Hizbollah to bait him into fighting a disastrous and unnecessary war with Lebanon. The beginning of Olmert's end occurred right off the bat. And I think this is a real danger of John McCain's ultra-hawkish foreign policy. One of Osama bin Laden's primary goals, post 9/11, was to bait us into fighting a big foreign war to get us to overextend ourselves. The GOP was only to happy to oblige--after all, tools don't mind being used, right?--and then we have Iraq.

Luckily--luckily--it appears that we might be able to extricate ourselves from Iraq with minimal embarrassment in two years. But overestimating one's enemies and adopting a paranoid worldview that sees a threat around every corner has very real costs, despite the conventional wisdom that such a course of action is the most prudent. What we need is prudence--the ability to assess and prioritize threats. McCain clearly hasn't got that. Barack Obama does.

Why is McCain being superficial?

Jeffrey Goldberg says, "So, what do you do when one of your core ideas is out of sync with the predispositions of the American public? You spend your days talking about lipstick on pigs. This might win him the election, but I'd rather see him debate preemption."

Kevin Drum says:

"But there's another piece to this. As near as I can tell, McCain, deep in his gut, has convinced himself that Barack Obama is flatly unfit to the president. He's too inexperienced, he's an empty suit, he's naive, and he'll end up surrendering a weakened and declining America to Islamic extremism without a fight. The campaign corollary to this is obvious: the truly honorable course if you love your country is to do whatever it takes to make sure Obama never gets near the Oval Office. If that means running a campaign that sullies your own reputation — well, you just have to suck it up and pay that price. History will eventually exonerate you. In McCain's mind, the fact that he's willing to sacrifice his own reputation is a sign of just how deeply he loves his country."
The former would have made sense were it not for the rank dishonesty coming out of McCain's campaign. He's not just being irrelevant, he's lying like crazy. But it's partly true. The latter strikes me as far more likely, and it sounds almost exactly like the reasoning behind Hillary Clinton's aggressive-till-the-last philosophy. Obama can't win the general election, so doing anything to beat him is justified. Now, it's that Obama can't win the War on Terror, so doing anything to beat him is justified. This is one point of view, and it conveniently conflates self-interest with greater interest by making one's ambition inseparable from the greater good. It's not unlike officeholders who justify running for higher office by talking about how much more people they can help. Yes, true, but they'll also, like, have much more power to wield. So it's win-win, right?

For all the talk about Obama acting "entitled" to the presidency it seems to me that McCain exhibits this particular trait more. Same with arrogance. Think about it. He doesn't think a lack of policy ideas, a joke of a running mate, having facilitated an awful Republican regime for the past eight years--none of this is disqualifying. In fact, he feels so entitled that he ran a slimy campaign. That's the only way to reconcile a sense of "honor" with what the man has actually done--because he deserves it. It also shows why he despises Obama so deeply. But this is a man who doesn't believe he should be held accountable for all the failures of the president he vigorously supported four years ago. He expects us to just trust him to do better, while depriving us of any important information to make this decision on our own. Considering how fucked-up the country has become, it can only be construed as rank arrogance.

Big Trouble in Little Britain

Imagine that most of the major labor unions in America, despite mostly being pro-Democrat, started sending signals to the Republican Party about potentially supporting the GOP. This would be interpreted as a huge deal, since unions form the backbone of the Democratic Party and losing them would be catastrophic to the party's chances. Now, considering how hostile the GOP has been to the unions over the past few years this isn't a danger here, but it's happening in Britain right now, and it just goes to show you how hated Labour is right now, as well as how successful David Cameron has been in reorienting the Tories to the center.

Despite the best efforts of the Rove right, Obama still quite popular

Over the past 20 years, Republicans have generally run nasty campaigns for the presidency, rife with baseless and unfair smears on Democratic candidates. This election has been no exception. But, amazingly enough, it's not working:

  • Obama's favorable rating of 45% is a shade higher than McCain's of 44%. And in this poll Obama's fave numbers are up six points since August.
  • Sixty percent think Obama "understands the needs and problems of people like yourself" -- compared to only 48% who say the same about McCain.
  • Sixty-six percent think Obama "shares the values most Americans live by" -- more than the 61% who say the same about McCain.
  • Fifty-seven percent think Obama is "someone you can relate to."

Wow, what a difference actually fighting back and throwing an elbow or two makes!

Now, there are some (many!) who think that the Bradley effect will kick in and that lots of racist Whites won't vote for a Black man. I don't think that's true, and I especially don't in the wake of numbers like these. Obama isn't a typical Black politician, and the Bradley effect has run its course, which is why (if you read the Wikipedia article) it hasn't been an effect on statewide elections in years.


McCain is confused about Luis Zapatero being the PM of Spain and not an anti-American dictator from Latin America. Or he's mindlessly belligerent. Or he's angry with Zapatero for bringing troops out of Iraq. It's bad.

If I were in the Obama campaign, I'd seize on this. At the least, it makes for a good out of touch moment, plus it hurts him on foreign policy, his "strength". Maybe Obama could say something like:

"Senator John McCain got a little confused yesterday. He started talking about the Prime Minister of Spain, who he confused with a Latin American dictator. This is coming from a man who calls himself a foreign policy expert, and he can't even name the leader of one of our key allies? Come on, folks, if he can't even get his so-called strength of foreign policy right, how can you expect him to do a good job on the economy? And it's disturbing that, like our current president, McCain immediately reaches to threats and ultimatums as a default position on foreign policy. It's time to end the bullying ways of the Bush Administration and elect leaders who believe in tough-edged diplomacy, as Joe and I will do, if the people see fit to elect our ticket."

Not sure how much weight the public places on foreign policy gaffes--Bush had a million of them, remember--but I think this is worse than those. The perception of Bush was that he was an idiot, an interpretation borne out by time. Making a gaffe didn't change that perception. However, McCain is supposed to be a foreign policy expert. A rookie mistake like this could have legs, especially if the nets pick it up. And I really do think Obama will do well in the national security/foreign policy debate, so a mistake like this could soften up the ground for a bad debate performance and make people more willing to accept that McCain's old, doesn't know what he's talking about, etc.

Oh, yeah, and in 2000 we weren't at war. We are now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A question of character

Noah Millman is soured on Sarah Palin:
But now I have more . . . experience with Governor Palin. And pretty much
everything she has said or done since her appearance on the national stage –
beginning with her acceptance speech – has soured me on her. It’s decreasingly
plausible to me that she’s who I thought she was when she was nominated. Based
on her performance on the campaign trail so far, she’s a shallow and demagogic
politician. And if, on the off chance, that’s not who she is, then it’s
instructive that the McCain campaign seems to be eager to have her play this
particular character.

Sometimes I get the feeling that the old DDR slogan applies to the GOP as well: between intelligence, self-honesty, and obedience to the party it is only possible to have two, not all three. It's nice that every once in a while I read a right-of-center thinker who doesn't just spout the party line. It keeps my faith in our political process strong.

I'll confess that I thought I'd like Sarah Palin initially as well. Regardless of my appreciation for her executive talents I had hoped that she'd make an okay executive. As a citizen of a nation that might yet see Palin as its vice president it is in my interest that she be up the to the job. I love my country and I want it to be helmed by competent people, whether they agree with me or not.

It's clear that Sarah Palin is not competent for the office. It's also clear that John McCain isn't either. He thought he could put a Palin-shaped band-aid on his campaign and that everything would be fine. Instead, he's committed the same exact sort of error as George W. Bush has countless times: by assuming that he had some sort of magical sense of being able to sense what a person is made of with just a small encounter. He overestimated his own intuition. Bush's examples of this were egregious: with Vladimir "I looked into his soul" Putin, Michael Brown, Al Gonzales...one thing a president ought to be able to do is to be a good judge of character. When making appointments, when conducting diplomacy, or really any manner of things, this skill comes in handy. And McCain clearly doesn't have it.

Palin's popularity precipitous

It's gone down, big time. Matt Yglesias uses this as a retort to the many, many people who said that attacking Sarah Palin was bad, that it would cause a backlash, etc. I think it has more to do with the simple fact that, as people have gotten to know Sarah Palin they've come to like her less. And that's totally understandable--her social views are hard right, she's clearly not up to the job of president, and despite having an appealing story and personality she has some sleaze in her background. Plus, there's that (much-lauded!) convention speech that I think was not as effective as many think. She came across as just another partisan Republican while McCain was trying to make a show of bipartisanship.

Still, she's now got a negative approval rating? I didn't think it would happen this fast. My initial thought after that speech--and hearing all the Republicans talk about how they had found their Obama--was that they'd actually found their Hillary Clinton, minus all the policy knowhow. Something tells me that she's not going to be the magic band-aid to bring John McCain into the White House.

President Palin

Scary, yes. But less likely if she wins this year. Despite the odds of McCain dying in office being higher than those for Obama, they're still pretty low. I doubt McCain will want to just serve one term. I bet he'll run for president in 2012, though I can't imagine any scenario where a McCain administration--with immigration reform as one of its top priorities--doesn't split the GOP in two. So that makes it likely that, should McCain win in 2008, Palin would run for president in 2016 as a non-incumbent standard-bearer of a split party.

Obviously, there are so many variables unconsidered that this is a bit silly. But consider this Obama victory scenario: Palin could run in 2012 if she wanted to. It could be 2016 if Obama was a reasonably successful president. Voters don't like one party being in power for too long. Obama might well be followed by Palin as president, and she wouldn't have inexperience to keep her down. And she'll probably run the same kind of campaign as George W. Bush did in 2000--moderate seeming and reformist. And, based on what we know, it would probably turn out much like Bush's. Watch out, fellow libs.

McCain == Major? plus why Obama needs to put immigration reform front and center.

Sullivan picks up on something Ross Douthat mentioned: would McCain be a John Major-like figure if he won this year? I think it might be more accurate than either one realizes. Major had a more moderate reputation than Margaret Thatcher, like McCain, and was considered generally decent and honorable, like McCain (until recently). But the Tories' time had passed by 1992, and aside from rampant corruption the tories had massive and divisive internal disputes over many issues, most notoriously EU membership. Sound familiar? Just sub immigration in for the EU and it maps almost exactly onto the present situation. Mickey Kaus has put the odds of comprehensive reform passing during a first McCain term at about even, and much lower for Obama. I think this is about right, and I also think that this is one of the few domestic policy issues that McCain actually cares about, since he's mentioned it so friggin' many times. But it's a trap that he almost certainly wouldn't be able to extricate from, and the fault lines of the Republican party make it pernicious to try. Hell, Bush couldn't marshal the GOP behind his plan, and they love that guy. They don't even like McCain.

I actually think that Kaus is dead wrong when he says that Obama would be unlikely to pursue immigration reform. I think that he ought to make it his first order of business once elected. There are few issues as divisive to Republicans as immigration reform. Forcing Republicans to side with the business/moderate wing who supports immigration or the sociocon/know-nothing with that hate it. It would be immediately divisive and messy, and permanent divisions might form that Obama could exploit.

Let's put it simply: Obama wants to enact healthcare. He can either do it before or after he tackles immigration. If he does it before, the GOP will be able to circle the wagons and try to filibuster, perhaps successfully. A smaller minority is easier to corral, and "moderate" Republicans generally tend to follow the party leadership, ceteris peribus. However, if Obama were to press for immigration reform first, and if Republican Senators were to be called mean names by grassroot activists on the right, they might be miffed enough to buck the party leadership and sign on to a popular health care bill. It's Nixonian and, dare I say, brilliant. And if Obama is half the politician I suspect he is, he's already thought of this.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Post-fact conservatism

Ross Douthat contends that, while McCain's campaign sucks, the dishonorableness of his campaign won't necessarily impede the ability of the GOP to advance conservative solutions. He uses George H. W. Bush as an example of a substance-free campaign that didn't cramp conservatives' style. I think he's 180 degrees wrong on that--Bush Sr. won a campaign based purely on culture war freak out. Since he won with this garbage instead of on the issues--and certainly not on Reagan's coattails, despite what conservatives say--future conservatives like George W. Bush and, well, John McCain would be able to avoid the issues in future elections. Issues have become almost beside the point, a quaint notion that is less important than what the public "takes away" from the individuals. You better believe that Bush 41 was fundamentally associated with this trend.

McCain's campaign should concern Douthat more, since McCain is not just using a culture war strategy--he's using a post-fact strategy in which substance and truth don't matter, to say nothing of new ideas, outside of fuzzy and abstract ones like "change" and "reform". For a guy who is a thinker and actually has proposed some serious conservative ideas for the GOP, I wonder if he's really comfortable with a Republican party that just doesn't care about anything aside from winning elections by scaring the bejeezus out of the populace.


So, at a moment when McCain's campaign is being called out from all quarters as being dishonest, they decide to stretch the truth and say that...John McCain was responsible for the BlackBerry? I wonder whether this will become a media gaffe like Gore's--I suspect it'll get some play, especially if Obama's team keeps relentlessly pushing it.

I really hope they do. It took the "internet" gaffe to turn Gore into a parodical exaggerator. There needs to be some concrete instance where McCain's campaign says something so dishonest and ridiculous that average folks hear it and say, he's full of shit. This could be that instance.
It's been heartening to see Obama seizing the initiative in the presidential race the past few days. What's more, it would appear that the national polls agree.

Monday, September 15, 2008

McCain = no reformer!

Ross Douthat makes an interesting point about McCain's reform agenda:
McCain went to places Republicans don't usually go, and proposed a series of informal debates that represented a departure from what presidential candidates usually do ... but when it came to those policy speeches, he didn't seem interested in taking big risks or making hard choices, and this no doubt affected how (and how often) the press covered his campaign. In their first races for the presidency, both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton promised to take their parties in new directions, and both offered substance to back these promises up; the press treated them like new-model candidates because there was actually good reason to think that they were. McCain, by contrast, has promised to take his party in a new direction, but the centerpiece of his reform agenda is ... cutting earmarks. Maybe that's a laudable goal, but "compassionate conservatism" or "ending welfare as we know it" it sure isn't, and you can't fool reporters into thinking that it is.

It's passe, at this point, to say that McCain's reform agenda is toothless. But it's not only toothless, it's parodical. McCain is actually going to reinforce the worst elements of the Republican Party, while killing the odd earmark here and there. It's a joke. McCain could have actually pursued some reform and modernization of the Republican Party. He could have, for example, ended the tax cut mania and made balanced budgets and effective government the new standards of the GOP. He could have said that he'd appoint X number of Democrats to his cabinet, and that he would hire more cabinet officers like Hank Paulson and Bob Gates and fewer like Mukasey, Gonzales, or Ashcroft. He could have made an expertise argument, he could have pursued a "Sam's Club Republican" strategy, he could have, he could have. He could have pursued nearly infinite paths to reforming the GOP. But he didn't.

Why is this? It gets at why McCain is a poor choice for President: he just doesn't care about most aspects of U. S. policy. He's assuredly not a wonk, and even in his pet areas he often flubs facts. How many times has he messed up Sunni and Shi'a? Foreign policy is supposed to be one of his strengths! He can't hide that he could give a damn about healthcare policy. His interest in being president seems largely that he's interested in going down in history as a wartime president whose steely reserve etc., etc., greatest since Lincoln.

So, given this, why wouldn't McCain adopt a "one more heave" approach to winning this election? He's neither engaged in the specifics of policy, nor is this Goldwater Republican particularly interested in a government that works. He's going to be a foreign policy president first and foremost if he wins. This might be why Republicans settled on the guy: they sensed that the hellraising McCain of 2000 had given way to the let-sleeping-dogs-lie McCain of 2008, who has become so desperate to make his mark in some way that he was willing to give in to the right wing. But is this leadership? And will the Republicans thank McCain for this if he somehow does get elected? In the short term, maybe, but McCain would be paving the way for an even more intense political obscurity for the Republicans if he won an election that by rights ought to have gone to the other side and then continued to pursue policies that the public was tired of. What we're talking about is called vision, and nobody could accuse McCain of having it. Maybe pressing for real reform might have unnecessarily split up the party now. Maybe that's inevitable. But the Republicans expected to lose this one anyway. Wouldn't it have been better to try now, and take a better chance than running a sleazy, dishonest campaign and picking an unqualified token for veep, all the while trashing your reputation and honor with the people who basically gave you a career (the media)?

McCain had the opportunity to really leave a legacy for his party, and instead he opted for the easy way out and tried to put a Palin and Rove sized band aid over his party's problems. Time will tell if it works. I don't think it will.

Does the right realize what they've bought with Palin?

I find this interesting (via Ross Douthat): Cowen suggests that the right has unwittingly lost control of their movement by pegging it to a blank slate from Alaska. What if she turns out to be a Buchananite? What if she's uber-neocon? The right wing doesn't know, and they don't really seem to care, because all the factions think she's "one of us". It's interesting how all the criticisms that the right has made about Obamania over the past year or so have all come true, even more so, on the right. People projected (and still project) their hopes onto Barack Obama, but he has become the embodiment of the Democratic Party at this point in history. He stands for what Democrats stand for, and has said so many times. Palin doesn't seem to stand for much aside from untruth, and Republicans are so desperate for something to save them from a richly deserved political oblivion that they've basically handed everything over to Palin on some pretty flimsy evidence that she's really one of them. God only knows.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Palin the Inquisitor

She asked to ban books three different times? The most charitable explanation is that this is a Rove-style play at divisiveness. And it's not charitable.

Now, I know that Palin styles herself as a penny-pincher. Such a notion is debatable. But I'm not sure that this is the way to go about saving money?

Which of the two candidates was a more active legislator?

Hilzoy looks at what the two candidates actually did in Congress. As it turns out, while McCain has enacted slightly more bills, Obama has been far more active in passing amendments. And Obama has been far more broad in his legislative interests. So far this term, McCain has passed one of his own bills and has another one on the calendar, and it is a pressing one:
S. 84: A bill to establish a United States Boxing Commission to administer the Act, and for other purposes.

Clearly, McCain's very interested in the most important issues of the day. In the meanwhile, Obama has two bills pending:
S. 453: A bill to prohibit deceptive practices in Federal elections.
S. 2433: A bill to require the President to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to further the United States foreign policy objective of promoting the reduction of global poverty, the elimination of extreme global poverty, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by one-half the proportion of people worldwide, between 1990 and 2015, who live on less than $1 per day.

That's not change we can believe in!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Imagine that

Canada's going to have an election next month. That's right. And it just got announced. What? You mean that they don't get a year and a half of insipid theater criticism and television smear ads? How can they possibly make a decision? They don't have enough misinformation to make a bad choice!

This election has made me believe that some sort of legislative remedy is necessary for our system. For starters, how about nobody can declare their candidacy until January 1 of the election year? No nominating contests until March, finish those in June, Conventions in August/September? So it ends sorta similar, except there's a whole year cut out? We could get even more radical as well. Ultimately, though, what nobody seems to comment upon is that a longer campaign season=more money that needs to be raised. Democrats don't take as much money from special interests since the ActBlue direct donor model has taken off, but there's still quite a bit from those interests. Not as much as the Republicans do, to be sure. In any event, more money usually means more corruption, right? Less campaign time means less corruption. And lest you say that this isn't enough time, let me remind you that no other democracy I know of takes more time to elect a leader, and we'll still have nearly a year to figure it out.

One would think good-government types would have figured this out. Congress really needs to step in here.

Wait for the debates!

TNR has been doing a bunch of these "What Obama Should Do" featurettes. Most of the advice hasn't been so good so far, but I think this piece by Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania is characteristically astute:
The first and single thing he can do, and I believe he will do, is to do well in the debates. Because once the debates start, people will remember its Obama and McCain they're choosing between. And there's no way McCain can hide behind Governor Palin, regardless of what the status of Palin is these days. Once the debates start, it will remind people that there are two people they're choosing between. And I think Senator Obama has a real opportunity in those debates to focus on the issues. You can't hide behind 30-second ads; you've got to talk about the issues. And I think Obama can win the debates significantly, and if he does so, I think he'll become president. That's first and foremost. That dwarfs everything else.

I think this is exactly right. I actually had this thought today. I'm predicting that, coming out of the debates, Obama will be either tied or ahead in all the polls. Why? For most of the reasons Rendell states, actually. I think Palin fades once the debates start--she'll have her own debate, which she'll likely bomb--and the focus gets back onto McCain, who severely doesn't want to debate domestic policy at this point, and I think that he'll probably lose the foreign policy expectations game for that debate. Obama is scarily informed on this stuff, though McCain is supposedly the expert. The best McCain can do is an as expected, while Obama can quite possibly exceed expectations. If he wins that, it's over.

According to the schedule, the first debate is on September 26 and is on foreign policy and national security. I think Obama can exceed expectations there. The second debate is a town hall on October 7 and is a town hall meeting. McCain might have a slight edge there, but both candidates are good at town halls. The third debate is on October 15 on domestic issues. Obama will probably do well there as well.

Ultimately, though, debate season's main advantage is that reporters will (hopefully) be talking about policy stuff because there will be policy stuff to cover. In any event, that's what will be on peoples' minds. And if that's the case Obama is in good shape.

So, thanks, governor. I'm feeling much better right about now.

Did he really say this?

McCain admits (sorta) that he's out of touch. I suspect a strong Obama ad in the works for the near future.

Things return

It looks like Ross Douthat is coming back down to Earth after the reality of the Palin pick is setting in. For my part, I don't necessarily agree with pundits who say that Sarah Palin is the same as George W. Bush. Unqualified, certainly, and her pedigree is lacking. Running, say, California would be a decent way to prepare for the presidency. There is much diversity in the state, both economically and demographically. We've got farms and factories, tourism and tech. If, say, a Republican governor of California who was successful were running for president that person would probably do a decent job, because America is also pretty diverse demographically and economically. If there were a GOP governor of California who had, oh, a few years of foreign policy experience too, that would be unbeatable.

Unfortunately, being governor of Alaska does not impress me. One of the most difficult things about running a state (at least in running 48 of them) is that you have to balance budgets every year. And since raising taxes usually isn't an option, the process is a challenge (just ask Arnold!). Palin never had to deal with such a situation since her state is a recipient of massive federal welfare on one hand, while it benefits from huge quantities of oil on the other. Palin never had to make tough budget decisions, for one. And since she's dealt with a petro-economy, she likely doesn't understand how to nurture industries like ag and tech. Certainly she has no experience with it. And we know she's clueless about foreign policy. It's not just experience--it's the type of experience. To be fair, Obama and McCain don't have any executive experience, but at least they live outside of the magical fantasy land known as Alaska, where money literally bubbles up out of the ground. If Palin becomes president, she won't be able to count on Ted Stevens earmarking big infrastructure projects her way to shore up the nation.

And, honestly, I could give a shit about "reform", whatever that means, at this point. I want Obama to win, but otherwise I want a competent government that legislates from the center. The GOP has not given me any confidence that such an eventuality would occur if they keep running things. Plus, I simply find it hard to believe that Republicans are the best qualified to clean up the messes caused by Republicans. Reforming one's own party--especially with the tenuous relationships McCain has forged with members of his party--is extremely difficult, especially when in power.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

An interesting thought

I realize they're doing it for their benefit now--and to thrill the base--but I wonder if Serwer isn't right and that the McCain campaign's ultra-protectiveness of Sarah Palin might not eventually give the impression that she can't stand on her own two feet. And this is a problem for them. At this point I'm mainly worried that Palin's star power won't wear off and that she'll suck the air out of the room to discuss anything else. If it starts to dissipate--if the luster wears off and there's a Bennifer-style backlash to Palin's celebrity--then McCain's in trouble. Then again, right now he seems to be taking inspiration from the U. S. Men's soccer team by getting up by a small amount and trying to run out the clock. It does open a possibility for Obama to try to rebrand himself as the serious, solutions-oriented candidate, which I hope he does. I have some ideas for possible Obama ads on this theme, I'll share them in time.

Raising questions on Palin

A large portion seems to think asking questions on Palin's experience is out of bounds. I guess just having had some kids and giving a good speech is enough to convince some people. And James Fallows parallels the Clinton Bosnia story with Palin's "bridge to nowhere" story. He doesn't say that the press has been cowed by conservative bullies who treat any question about Sarah Palin's thin (and misleading) record as bias. I am.

I find it interesting how complicit the press is in assuring its own irrelevance. The press evidently feels that balance is important--that reporting critically of one side without reporting critically of the other in equal balance is not okay. But this is silly, and any honest person would admit so, unless one assumes that both sides make the same amount of errors. In this election, though, we have seen out of John McCain's campaign a deliberate attempt to game the system by constantly uttering falsehoods (the most recent of which being the idiotic pig remarks and the misleading ad on Obama and sex ed) and continuing to say them once they've been debunked. Steve Schmidt, McCain's campaign manager, has gambled that the press doesn't want to be seen as biased by pointing out such lies. Unsurprisingly, he gambled correctly. The press has said these things are untrue. They haven't kept saying it. Not with any energy, anyway.

Evidently, the model for the media has shifted from searching for the story, being skeptical, gathering all the facts, looking past the conventional wisdom, and reporting the truth into being an aggregator of press statements and he said, she said arguments, at least when it isn't obsessing about the gaffe of the day. It says a lot about how much rot there is in the institutions we had hoped would protect us, and a lot about the character of John McCain, who would much rather win an election than try to improve the shoddy state we are in by actually running an above board campaign. The irony of his "country first" argument is biting. He cares nothing about the country. He used to respect the press's role in a democracy, and now they're an enemy to be bullied. I agree with Andrew Sullivan: John McCain lacks the character to be president. And the media lacks the capacity to even report a simple story: did a woman tell the truth? McCain has been corrupted, as has the media, which has become too enamored of "access" and fame to do its job. I am beginning to have little use for either.

Howard Wolfson is making some sense

Here. I think that the hand-wringing he refers to among Democrats who are panicking about McCain's (expected) convention bounce might have believed, intellectually, that McCain would get a bounce but didn't really think it would happen. That's sorta what happened to me. But aside from Gallup tracking most polls show it being within the margin of error. So I'm not panicking for the moment.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sarah Agnew has another ethics complaint

Seriously, this is too much. I'm beginning to wonder if this pick wasn't a deliberate McCain strategy to discredit and destroy the religious right. I know it wasn't--it was just good old-fashioned ineptitude. Nevertheless...

A parable

It's the weekend before the Democratic Convention. Barack Obama has yet to announce his running mate, and the speculation is fierce. Is he going to select an experienced Washington hand like Indiana Senator Evan Bayh to smooth the gaps in his resume, or another fresh face like Kathleen Sebelius to complement the change message? It's Saturday morning before the convention. Obama supporters wake up and check their phones to see if they received a text message, and they indeed have. It reads:

Barack has chosen Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo as his Vice Presidential
running mate.

How do you think this scenario would play out? Republicans would denounce the pick as evidence that Obama is not serious about governing. They would label the ticket the least experienced in history. They would say that Fargo is not qualified to be president, and all of this would be entirely true and fair. The media would begin a feeding frenzy--what if Obama had just chosen Fargo because he met her once and developed a rapport? The media would find some questionable things in her past, since everyone has some questionable things in their past, and the Obama ticket would probably go down in flames.

The only difference as I see it between that situation and the one involving John McCain is that Fargo has eight years running a dynamic and diverse city, while Sarah Palin has about a year and a half running a state dominated by parochial interests. And Sacramento has a bit less people than Alaska. But let's take this in perspective: a complete WTF? is totally in order here.

A thought

Did John McCain's announcing his VP pick on his 72nd birthday coincide with a conscious strategy to pander to evangelicals by assuring them that they'd get one of their own in the presidency if he dies in office? And if it wasn't, does it matter?

Palin and the convention

Her speech was well-delivered, as I figured it would be. Much more cutting than I thought it would be. And breathtakingly dishonest to boot. Obama's never authored a bill? Never done anything about nukes? Wants to raise taxes on the middle class (this is implied)? McCain never changes what he says when he's in front of a specific audience? (Okay, that was the funniest line of the night for me.) Etc., etc. For a woman whose religiousity is one of her defining attributes she's not too big on the whole "thou shalt not bear false witness" deal, and the only defense is that she doesn't know the truth because she's clueless and someone else wrote the speech for her. Ugh.

I doubt it will appeal too much to independents. I'm sure plenty of them tuned in to potentially hear something new and just heard another Republican moaning about taxes and Obama. She's a woman, but the GOP missed a big opportunity to try to make her appeal to moderates/independents. And dissing Harry Reid and the "do-nothing [Democratic] senate" goes down not as smoothly after yesterday's "Mr. Bipartisan" speech from Joe Lieberman, no?

Before her speech, I guess I had figured that Palin was the true-believer evangelical mom (not unlike my mom) that I encountered many times during my childhood. I don't think that's true anymore. She reminds me far more of the moms who would earnestly lecture you about Christian values (and the terrible liberals eroding them!) but who you then hear are cheating on their husbands. Not that I'm implying that Governor Palin is doing any such thing, but the hypocrisy is the same. A Christian woman who has such capacity for lying is something else. I've decided I don't like her all that much, though I suspect that the point of her speech was to make people like me dislike her.

As for the convention in general, this post sums up my thoughts well. Where's the overarching theme? The Dems had two at least: Barack Obama will fix the economy the Republicans screwed up, and John McCain = George Bush. The GOP approach seems scattershot, and the only themes seem to be that John McCain was a POW and that Obama is bad. I'm sorry, but at this point people just aren't going to be swayed by these things.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Sarah Palin makes the cover of US Weekly. This coupled with polls showing that less than a third of the country thinks she's ready to be president, and a half-dozen scandals everywhere you shake a stick. Maybe she'll be able to clear this terrain. I don't know. But I wouldn't be surprised if she sucked the air out of the room at the GOP convention, so much so that McCain doesn't get much of a bounce.

Nice to see McCain's recklessness finally caught up with him.


As the Palin cycle hits ever new heights of absurdity (Her husband wanted Alaska to secede from America! She tried to fire a librarian for refusing to ban books! Way to do your homework, McCain campaign!), I think it's worthwhile to note that John McCain has done something that any old soldier worth his salt (at least any soldier who didn't nearly flunk out of Annapolis!) ought to know to avoid: he surrendered the initiative.

The Palin pick, as it turns out, was so obviously half-baked and ill-conceived (not to mention poorly executed) that it's hard to imagine that this is the action of a sane person. But John McCain is not insane. In fact, the thinking behind picking Sarah Palin was sound, and it would undoubtedly have been a fine choice were there no further surprises--that is to say, if she were properly vetted, and that is to say had she not been picked. Pretty much everyone admits that this choice was a hail mary play to try to shake up the race. There's another term for that. It's called surrendering. The. Initiative.

Had McCain gone with Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty as a running mate he would have been better able to control the news cycle. If he wanted something of an historic pick Romney would have fit the bill, and he certainly could have helped with the electoral math. By picking someone based on his gut instinct rather than based on a knowledge of all the available factors he allowed his campaign to be hijacked. By surrendering the initiative he risks losing control of his message altogether. For someone who has staked his candidacy on his military experience he sure doesn't seem to know much about a campaign--political or otherwise--is all about.

The damnedest thing is that there was really no reason to believe that John McCain's campaign was finished. His negative ad campaign paid big dividends this summer, and although the Democrats had a good convention and Barack Obama got a nice bounce there's no reason to believe it wouldn't have subsided and that McCain wouldn't have rebounded a bit. McCain might well have exceeded expectations in the debates as Obama is less impressive in debates than in giving speeches. A strong second-in-command might have reinforced McCain's experience message. Saying something like, "the most experienced ticket in history," could have been an effective counterpoint at Obama. Instead he's done the military equivalent of sending your troops in after just a few minutes of cannon fire and before the artillery arrives. Stupid.

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.