Friday, October 31, 2008

The Poison Pill (emphasis on pill)

Sarah Palin is a drag on the ticket. Andrew Sullivan was right from day one. It didn't take me long to come around, though. But now there's polling data that shows it unequivocally.

Does this shake me from my conviction that Sarah Palin will get the nomination in 2012? Honestly, my faith has wavered a bit. I guess the question is this: do Republicans still have minimal self-preservation instincts? They haven't in this election. In some ways, picking McCain made sense. But the only GOP bright spot this year is likely to be Lou Barletta, which means the GOP will see this as the only way forward and will go on an anti-immigrant tear. This is also a bad idea, unless one assumes that the GOP wants Hispanics to vote Democratic by margins comparable to Blacks. And that they want to lose the Southwest for a generation.

So who, in an era of blind lashing-out, does the GOP pick for their standard bearer? Someone they don't like that much who used to be quite centrist, or the true believer? I guess we'll see, but if the narrative about Sarah Palin remains that there's nothing wrong with her and that it was the fault of the media and McCain...could happen. Then again, even Republicans are losing faith in her ability to take over. So...maybe?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Memo to the McCain Campaign

Look, I know you aren't asking for my help, and it's not like I'm qualified or anything, but at this point I have to believe that a team of shaven monkeys could run a campaign better than you. Take this mailer which tries to imply that Hillary Clinton somehow endorses John McCain. Pretty transparent ploy for racist HRC voters, right? I mean, what can it hurt? And then you go ahead and put a picture of America's Hockey Mom on the cover? Dude, Sarah Palin is really unpopular among women. She's really unpopular among independents. Actually, she's really unpopular everywhere, aside from in the right-wing cocoon. Women don't see her as an empowering figure so much as a sexist bit of tokenism (which is the correct way of viewing her), and Palin as America's most prominent female politician (ugh!) undermines a lot of the progress that Hillary Clinton made for women during her run.

I understand that you all need to pull out all the stops, but let me speak clearly here: the types of Democrats you're going after aren't Clinton fans, per se. They just didn't like Obama, for obvious reasons. You'll win those votes anyway. So don't bother with this stuff. And play these moves better. For crying out loud, don't pretend like Sarah Palin is some sort of feminist icon. It just makes you all look like idiots (as if the jury is still deliberating on that one).

Still Seeing Sarah in 2012

I still think Palin likely to get the nod in 2012. The polls on this question are not good for her at this point, but Barack Obama managed an insurgency, didn't he? Of course, Palin is not nearly as talented or smart a politician as Obama, but I think circumstances will make it likely. I saw this Matt Yglesias piece on Bobby Jindal getting the GOP nod in four years, and I disagree.

It really does depend on what happens in the next four years, but let me advance my theory:

1) Right now, there are only three Republican pickups of Democratic seats in the House (according to Sabato, as well as others): those would be the seats of Nick Lampson, Paul Kanjorski, and Tim Mahoney. Lampson won because of Tom DeLay’s corruption, and the GOP getting the seat back will be seen as a regression to the mean. Mahoney was felled by a sex scandal, and it’s basically blind luck for the GOP there.

2) Kanjorski is losing to Lou Barletta, who is one of the most overt anti-immigrant voices in the GOP these days.

3) If Barletta wins, the GOP will take note. They will figure that ultra-xenophobia is the way to go, since that’s the only thing that won something for them this year, and John McCain losing handily to Barack Obama will be seen as a sign that they weren’t anti-immigrant enough.

4) This kills a Jindal 2012 candidacy in the crib. It also makes Huck less likely because of his past on the issue, and I seriously doubt that Mitt Romney will win the nomination. This leaves Sarah Palin. Plus, if you read Larison you know that conservatives like to style themselves as the real egalitarians. Picking the first female presidential candidate will appeal to them. The fact that the GOP will lose in a landslide not seen since the likes of McGovern won’t matter to them.

Of course, one should never doubt the Republican capacity for hypocrisy: maybe they run against immigrants in general but not against this immigrant (technically, the son of immigrants). That's perhaps the strongest rationale for a Jindal candidacy, and the Republicans all eventually fall in line. And having an Indian guy calling for immigration restriction would perhaps insulate charges of racism or xenophobia. These are all possibilities. I rather think that Jindal will realize that the timing just isn't right for 2012, and will bide his time until 2016, when the Republicans are ready to try something new. Jindal would be a good visual representation of such a change. I still think, in my gut, that it's gonna be Palin. She is next in line, after all...

Conservatism and messaging

I really ought to point you toward John Cole's virtuosic rant against right-wing bloggers that believe that the only thing keeping the GOP from power is ineffective message communication. Cole rightly points out that it's not communication but the actual message that is the cause of the Republican malaise. Choice quote, referring to Obama's infomercial:

Notice what is missing from that, conservatives? Attacks on John McCain. For 30 minutes, Barack Obama talked about what he thinks are the problems currently facing the country, about what he thinks he can do to help fix them, how you can help him, and why it is important to elect him. He did not spend his time telling you why you should not vote for McCain, he spent his time telling why you should vote for him. You may not agree with his ideas, but you can not argue he has them and is presenting them to the country in a clear and nonthreatening manner.

Now, for a moment, consider what the Republican 30 minute infomercial would look like this year- if I had to guess, it would be ten minutes about McCain as a POW, ten minutes of McCain saying he isn’t Bush, and then ten minutes of bullshit smears about Ayers, Khalidi, socialism, celebrity, and maybe out of sheer nostalgia, Rick Davis could go before the cameras and pull a tire gauge out of his ass.

He also makes a good point of comparing the McCain campaign now to the Kerry campaign of yesteryear in that their only message is that they're not the other guy. Ultimately, though, the current state of the GOP is due mostly to the cancer of protracted bitterness and victimization. At its height, conservatives listened to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, who tried to summon an optimism and vision about the future (we all know what came of the latter's promises, though). This has been an exception, however: most conservatives, of which John McCain is the most recent and his predecessor Barry Goldwater was another, tend to see gloom instead of hope, and ever since Nixon the Republican Party has been built upon a foundation of class- and race-based resentment. One of the things that always gets me is how much the conservative base sees themselves as victims--of political correctness, of affirmative action, etc. Everything is the liberals' fault, and if something goes wrong--if someone loses their job--it's due to liberalism in some form. I remember a few years back, a propos, when Tom DeLay got harangued at a fundraiser for excessive spending and blamed it on congressional Democrats. The haranguer asked DeLay how big a Republican majority he'd need to curb wasteful spending. At this point, DeLay basically broke down and admitted the point--this was around 2005 or 2006, when the Senate was 55-45 GOP and the Republicans had a 30 seat advantage in the House. And the party out of power, the party that the Bush administration famously steamrolled on nearly every policy initiative until 2006 was still to blame for Republican failures.

When you see things through this lens, things make more sense. The Republican Party has made a cottage industry out of capturing free-floating anger and telling people why they're angry. Out of work? Illegal immigration. We'll stop that (but not really). Times are tight? Welfare. We'll stop that (but not really). Mugged on the street? Crime. Liberals. We'll stop that (not really, but we'll take credit for it when it happens under the other party). It makes sense to me that the Republican Party has devolved into little more than anger and bitterness at abstract and vaguely defined cultural targets because that's all they had to begin with. And I've counseled the GOP to try to overcome said bitterness, but I'm beginning to see that that is the only thing that binds their coalition together. So I don't anticipate it happening just yet.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Jindal 2012

What Ross said.

The GOP must become less bitter

It seems clear to me that the first thing that the conservative movement needs to do if it wants to ever hold power again is to move out of Nixonland and forget all the perceived slights and insults at the hands of liberals. Ever since Nixon conservatism has been driven by anger and bitterness, usually directed at minorities and the liberals who champion their interests. As minorities become a bigger slice of the electoral pie, and as a new generation that disdains such tactics comes into its own, it becomes clear that this strategy will have limited returns in the future.

In a greater sense, there is another element to this equation: anger is a weakness, not a strength. And this is something that the right simply doesn't understand. When people are angry, they draw inside. They don't listen to advice, even if it's good. They make mistakes. And this is exactly what is happening on the right at this moment. Anger can be a good tool to spur social change, but being angry for forty years simply doesn't work. It becomes bitterness, and that is of no help to anyone. And then that bitterness has the effect of deranging the rank-and-file, to the extent that they are taking every negative rumor about Barack Obama as fact.

Ultimately, the GOP's "Forty Years of Bitterness" strategy worked for a while, but it ignores the basic fact that people like to feel good. They like to feel good about themselves and about the country. This is what Barack Obama has been offering, and it has not been surprising that it has resonated. Now the GOP needs someone who can purge these toxins and create a new Republican Party that is optimistic and positive. It seems like a Herculean task, though, because the only conservative that really managed to do that was Ronald Reagan, and I think he was an outlier, as he maintained some elements of his earlier liberal mindset even after he went right wing. (Bush had a bit of success at the optimism, future-oriented thing too, to be fair.) More common, though, are folks like Tom DeLay and Newt Gingrich.

One can view the decline of American conservatism in recent years as a narrative of people getting over the 1960s because they are losing their houses. Of course, there will be holdouts, but it's more than just political style: bitterness is a cancer that makes people doubt their own abilities and demonize people who are successful for that reason alone. Of course, this is a variant of what Barack Obama said, and the GOP has been complaining about it since. It's going to take a while for them to get the point. I suspect it will come after a few more presidential election losses, and after blaming the "liberal media," ACORN and Saul Alinsky ceases to be comforting to American politics' version of the New York Mets.

The emerging Democratic majority

Continuing in the vein of my last post, the trends are emerging in this election: Democrats are strong on the West Coast and the Northeast. The Democrats are also strong in the Midwest. These things aren't new. What is new is that the Democrats are stronger in the Southwest, and you better believe that this is what keeps Karl Rove awake at nights. The Latino vote in New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado is going for Obama, and he'll probably win all three states. He probably would be competitive in Arizona, were it not for the presence of John McCain on the ticket. And Texas might well be a swing state a few election cycles out from now.

What's more is that the GOP lacks the ability to conduct outreach to these voters. Culture war pablum doesn't work--it's too specific to white folk. Bush had a promising approach by appealing to hard work and social conservatism, but that ended with the xenophobia that the right evinced during the immigration debacle.

I think we are seeing the beginning of the trends mentioned in the titular book by Teixera and Judis. And if the party goes into even more of an anti-immigrant fervor (as I think is likely) it's going to be a while before they recover. Right now, between the West, the Northeast, the Midwest, and the Southwest, Obama has a path to 270 electoral votes that doesn't require winning GOP-leaning states like Ohio and Florida. Make no mistake about it: these are historic times.

The death of conservatism

Matt Yglesias continues his trend of making conservative-friendly predictions. He dismisses notions of the death of conservatism, which is correct but beside the point. The point is: will conservatism survive as it is presently constituted, or will it have to change dramatically in order to survive?

Yglesias doesn't really say, but I think it's obvious that some future philosophy that calls itself conservatism will eventually reign ascendant. I'm guessing that this will happen in about forty years--if you look at the last few ideological cycles, that is about the length of time these things last (1968 = the beginning of conservative dominance, 1932 = the beginning of liberal dominance). But 1928 conservatives and 1964 conservatives were different, as are conservatives these days. In the latter two periods, conservatives really wanted to kill the welfare state. These days, despite conservative bluster in this direction, the GOP has not really been willing to move in this direction. Case in point: Bush's privatization scheme for social security. It was killed largely because Republicans in Congress opposed it, and they opposed it because their constituents did. Conservatism has moved to the center on the welfare state (though it is anathema to actually admit this, as Mike Huckabee did). Similarly, conservatism used to be firmly isolationist (in 1928), but since then it's become hawkish. Doesn't really make much sense philosophically, as wars necessitate big government and government controls everything in wartime, but this assumes that small government is actually a goal of conservatism these days. I have yet to see evidence that it is.

So, around the 2040s, some form of conservatism will emerge if cyclic history is preserved. And, more likely than not, it will differ from past conservatism in that it will be more tolerant. There won't be any choice: the fastest-growing "faith" in America is atheism. If it comes to be 25-30% of the electorate, it will become too big for conservatives to ignore. Plus, Hispanic outreach will eventually be necessary as they'll become a bigger part of the population. And if, as people predict, the GOP decides to move into a more strident culture war-oriented direction, it will push lots of people in a socially liberal direction. Eventually, they'll have to clean up and appeal to these groups, among others. Predicting the future is impossible, but I think that the impact of minorities on our society has fundamentally changed the landscape of our politics, and the sooner the GOP realizes this, the better off they'll be.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Why an ideological war?

Marc Ambinder ponders:

Conservatives find it absurd that Americans are about to elect the most liberal president of the modern era and aren't terribly upset by it...Obama has been talking about the larger GOP governing philosophy for a while now, but until recently, the race hasn't seemed like as much of a referendum on Republicanism; it's been more of a referendum on the Bush years.

What changed?

The GOP went all in on an ideological war.
It really is bizarre. Actually, Obama's unwillingness to fight an ideological war has irritated the heck out of many on the left, like Paul Krugman. And I think that Ambinder is correct here--Obama hasn't attacked conservatism so much as Bush in particular. Were the Republican Party run by canny strategists rather than the likes of Steve Schmidt, and Boehner and McConnell, they might sense an opportunity here: if Obama is railing against Bush alone, then the post-Bush GOP could just go ahead and dump Bush, say he wasn't a conservative, and not defend the guy. Then they could introduce their real conservatism, which isn't sullied by big government intervention, etc. And if Obama is as big a flop as conservatives claim, they just need to wait until 2010, when Obama's big-spending plans inevitably increase inflation to double-digits and double the price of TVs. And yet, they aren't.

What is really happening here is that the conservative era is passing, and it ain't passing quietly. What frightens Republicans the most isn't the thought of a liberal in the Oval Office, they lived through Clinton and thrived for a time. No, what frightens conservatives is that Obama will be successful. At this juncture, all the knowns of politics are out the window. Everything is up for grabs. An Obama win erases all the traditional advantages of conservatism--if Obama manages to turn around the economy and proves a competent commander-in-chief, the Republicans will be out of power for a generation. Well, maybe not, but the only Republicans that will be able to win will be Eisenhower-style centrists that fundamentally preserve whatever progress that the Democrats make. In other words, you might see Charlie Crist elected president in 2016, but not Jeb Bush. People like Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal--the rising conservative stars--might well wind up unelectable (then again, Palin is already there). In other words, the apocalypse is upon us.

Now, if conservatives were confident in their ideology they would have nothing to worry about. But the financial crisis has shown that a key plank in the right's chest since, oh, forever (i.e. free marketeerism) is dead. And if California keeps gay marriage intact, it will be tantamount to a second leg of the chair being destroyed. Conservatives are seeing their worldview and assumptions crashing down all around them, and they're making a last stand by throwing out everything they can because, if Obama wins, they won't get another chance for a long, long time. So, naturally, dirt will now be thrown. The GOP will not go down easily, and if Obama (as is likely) wins, there will no doubt be attempts to block everything on Obama's wish list, and much of the same conspiracy theorizing as accompanied the Clinton years. But will anyone listen? Nobody seems to be now.

Now, some conservatives, like Andrew Sullivan, Ross Douthat, and David Frum have moved on and have new ideas on where to take the GOP. But an Obama victory would permanently change the landscape, and the old rules (like liberal=effete, left coast gasbag) would be gone forever. Some people are frightened of change. And, to paraphrase one of the excommunicated priests of conservative thought, the conservative movement might well be reaching the end of its history.

Friday, October 24, 2008

So Barry Goldwater wouldn't be a Republican today, Junior?

Goldwater's son is pretty oblivious:

My father would never endorse a candidate or a party that wanted to grow government, raise taxes or in any way step on our freedoms.

No. Never. Wait, which party is he talking about? Actually, while his argument is a bit fallacious I do think the narrower point is true. Barry Goldwater did have principles, and his son pretty much states them correctly here. I doubt he'd be a Republican if he were alive today.

It's the ethnicity, stupid

I was pretty much indifferent to this story about the mugging in Pennsylvania. I mean, aside from fundamental human compassion for the woman I didn't think it had much to do with anything else important. Then it turned out to be completely fake--the black Obama-supporting mugger who carved up her face simply doesn't exist. And, in conjunction with McCain's Evil Franklin Raines/old white woman spot and the Giuliani "Obama's soft on crime" (i.e. he's a black dude who doesn't want to lock up brothers) spot, the deliberate attempts on behalf of the McCain campaign to push this story adds up to a definite strategy of race-baiting. And the Fox News VP agrees. McCain's a race-baiter. So, can we just kick this vile man's ass next Tuesday?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

McCain's Two Americas

John McCain isn't a movement conservative, so these things don't come naturally to him. But let me offer him some advice, based on my long-time watching of movement conservatives (by way of this piece):

Saying that certain parts of America are "real" is okay in certain circumstances. If you want to go to Indiana and say, "This is real America," the statement is not objectionable because Indiana really is America. So is New York City, for that matter. The subtext of such a statement is that New York City isn't really America, and there is some pretty subtle but palpable division going on there. Ultimately, though, such sentiments are so banal that they don't even really count as offensive anymore.

Things get trickier, though, when you actually go out and say that certain parts of states are the "real" area of that state, or that New York City (and Washington DC!) are not really parts of America. These things are supposed to remain an implicit part of your pitch. They're supposed to pass the ego and hit the id. When you state them explicitly, it just makes you sound like a divider, and even a lot of people who might agree are going to be taken aback to hear their prejudices rendered in such relief.

Plus, John McCain just shouldn't be doing these things. They're not his forte. It's a different generation, a different mindset. He's not a divider at heart, and that's why these attacks are so clunky. And that's not necessarily a compliment--one could easily say that he's too much of a coward to say this stuff to other people and stand by it, at least until now, when all decency has been varnished from John McCain.

Oh, and by the way, my McCain apologizing ended when I read the text of that Giuliani robocall. Before that, I was willing to argue that, for all of John McCain's sins, overt race-baiting is not one of them. And then I read that. McCain is trying to make crime an issue? Cause it isn't. But saying that Obama wants to let "murderers and rapists" walk free, and that he doesn't care about protecting families, is about as blatant a use of the race card imaginable in this day and age. The other robocalls were pretty minor--the Obama and Ayers stuff is tiresome and misleading, but oh well. The Giuliani one was wretched. This man has gone from one of our most respected politicians to a hateful laughingstock after running a vicious, divisive campaign.

You know something? That last sentence was about Giuliani, but doesn't it apply to Mac as well?

Foreign policy

Daniel Larison makes a good point:

Obama has made the Democratic ticket the ticket focused on foreign policy and national security to a much greater degree than past tickets, and he has campaigned throughout the cycle on the assumption that foreign policy is actually one of his strengths despite his lack of experience. Whether he meant to or not, Biden has done something unusual for a Democrat in emphasizing the dangers and potential threats in the world, which reflects a similar sort of confidence that the Democratic ticket is simply better when it comes to foreign policy.

Yes. This is actually something that appealed to me about Obama from the beginning. He's not afraid of a foreign policy debate, and he's not interested in making foreign policy strength into a test of, "Who's going to bomb more countries?" But he doesn't flinch from it at all. He didn't buy into what Hillary Clinton did, which was that you have to show toughness in the same way that Republicans show toughness in order to be credible on foreign policy. Obama has never been about that.

This is pretty different from how things have gone in the past. The CW is that Democrats win on domestic policy and the GOP wins on foreign policy. Bush's disasters have made the foreign policy mantle up for grabs, and McCain is doing as well as he's doing because he's personally identified with the issue, criticized the conduct of the war, etc. But even so he doesn't really have much of an advantage on the issue.

Larison and others think that Obama's going to wind up being similar to the neocons he wants to supplant. I think he's smarter than that, but if he does a good job he might make Democrats the national security party for a generation, and the GOP will be that much further away from relevance. And a president pretty much makes his own foreign policy, as opposed to domestic policy. The future of American foreign policy begins and ends with Barack Obama, if he's elected.

It's all about Pennsylvania

McCain has to win Pennsylvania. His team says so. They're going to lose Iowa, New Mexico, Colorado and Virginia, plus all the Kerry states quite handily. Winning PA in a long-shot is his only, naturally, he's cutting ad funding from the Keystone State. Johnny, Johnny, Johnny. This man can still theoretically be elected POTUS and he has yet to convince me that he can think strategically, as his tactics change literally every day.

Update: This makes literally no sense to me. McCain can't win without Florida, but even if he wins Virginia he still loses if Obama gets the Kerry states plus Iowa, Colorado and New Mexico. Virginia has a more Repub-friendly history, I guess. Is this decision tantamount to a concession? He's given Obama an uncontested path to 270.

Update 2: Pennsylvania's "getability" is probably exaggerated. The Republicans keep underestimating Obama's wiliness.

Georgia and the GOP

Say after me: John McCain can still be elected president. John McCain can still be elected president. John McCain can still be elected pres--oh, shit:

According to a new Democracy Corps poll in Georgia, Sen. John McCain leads Sen. Barack Obama by just two points, 46% to 44%.

As McCain himself might say, my friends, this is not good. Georgia should not be close. Ultimately, John McCain cannot afford to lose any electoral votes, but losing something like Montana or North Dakota is not necessarily fatal. Losing states like North Carolina and Georgia, which have a lot more electoral votes, is just terrible news. The ultimate irony of this election might well be that Obama wins more votes in the South than anyone since Jimmy Carter. I don't think anyone saw that coming.

In a greater sense, though, I think this election will see the GOP in some really dire straits. They internally predict a 30 seat loss, it could easily be 50. This means that the Democrats would have around 290 votes (2/3) and would probably control the House for a generation. The Senate is not much better. And there's the little matter of the White House, of course. The Republican Party is not going to want to moderate--indeed, it will be even more conservative after this election--and it is going to figure that Bush screwed up because he wasn't conservative enough and that they can just wait it out before the nation turns rightward again. Maybe they're right, but the coming generation and the influx of Latinos are going to change the political landscape. And if the GOP can't even win Georgia convincingly, its situation in politics is hopeless--it's going to be like the British Labour Party during the 1980s.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Epic Fail

I recommend reading this piece by John Cole. It's so hilarious. This line had me laughing so hard:
Going through the article, almost every piece of fail was birthed and nursed into maturity by Schmidt, starting with this gem:
The smartest bit of political wisdom he ever heard was dispensed by George W. Bush one spring day at the White House residence in 2004…

Lipstick on a pig (and this time it really means Palin)

There seems to be something of a debate about whether, with John McCain's defeat looking likely, Sarah Palin will get the GOP nomination in four years. I think it's likely, as I've said before, but some of Larison's commenters got me thinking.

I think the reasons such a thing are likely are several fold: for one thing, we've seen in this election that conservatives are not only outside the mainstream--they actively loathe it. Right now, the evidence is pretty strong that Sarah Palin is a drag on the ticket. Voters feel that she isn't ready to be president. This is not actually a new finding. And, wouldn't you know it, some conservatives like Kathleen Parker and David Frum, being of sound mind, actually said so, and got thousands of letters in hate mail for their trouble. Neither Parker or Frum is anything but a staunch conservative, and they were voicing what about 55% of the country thinks. And they got pilloried for their efforts, and nobody seemed swayed.

So, the fact that Palin is seemingly unelectable doesn't seem to be a problem for these folks. Maybe after some distance from the election they'll reflect and realize that Palin was a huge mistake, but is there really any precedent for this? George W. Bush is loathed by every group but Republicans. He's still generally popular there, despite presiding over the Iraq War, Katrina and the financial meltdown. Something tells me that these folks aren't generally the most reflective people around. All Palin has to do is make herself a Fox News fixture, make lots of appearances and help candidates raise money, and continually tap into class resentments and I think she'll be a lock. There's just a large block of Republicans who believe that Sarah can do no wrong.

Now, she'll have no institutional support in 2012. In fact, I suspect that many pillars of the institutional GOP will wind up sitting the election out, or perhaps even supporting Obama. Nevertheless, the grassroots support will be there. It will be 1972 all over again. And there is no question that Palin wants it, as her ambition is plainly evident and uncoupled with even a veneer of caring about common folks. In other words, she's like Bill Clinton, only a much worse liar. I also suspect she'll bound forward, ignoring the polls showing she's unelectable, because denying reality is a staple of hers. Just check out Andrew Sullivan's "Odd Lies of Sarah Palin" series, or her response to the Troopergate report coming out. This is a woman who no doubt already feels entitled to the presidency (because of her small town upbringing or some other asinine rationale) and will vigorously pursue it.

And, getting back to the title, the reason why I think she'll lose is because I don't think she'll really improve in four years. She's just not a worker, which might be why she went to six colleges. She already believes she's qualified to be president, and she no doubt has her cocoon of wingnut cadres who effusively praise everything she does. Why become informed about policy when you already draw huge adoring crowds, especially when it's not in your nature? Contrast this to Joe Biden, who worked hard to become a foreign policy expert after he lost in 1988. She'll have a bit more experience, but her experience right now doesn't really seem to be worth a damn. I struggle to see how splitting the spoils of oil companies is going to help us figure out the financial crisis, and that's about all she's got to offer.

Update: Jon Chait agrees with me. That's all I need to hear.

Update 2: This conservative take on why Palin would be a poor political leader is very, very sharp. She undoubtedly would be a poor political leader, but the current right is too blinded by resentment to realize this and they'll pick her anyway.

Smart cons for "socialism"

The ever-readable Daniel Larison agrees with Ross Douthat that spreading the wealth isn't socialism:

As I noted before, labeling Obama as the wealth-spreading candidate is not only politically stupid, but philosophically misguided as well. It used to be that conservatives believed and could articulate the belief that market economies were on the whole better at allocating resources and equitably distributing wealth than economies subject to a great deal of state intervention. The time was when broad and even distribution of wealth was a Jeffersonian and conservative goal to provide for a broad class of property-holders as the basis for social and political stability. It was not a description of a left-wing or welfarist plot. So much for that.

I am an advocate of redistributing wealth by using government policy, but I am not a socialist. Well, if I am, I'm some squishy moderate form, like a moderate social democrat, which in the grand scheme of things ain't that far left (though I am as far as this country is concerned). I advocate policies like strong labor and progressive taxation because they work, and because they have a track record of working, but more important is that they work toward my goal of an egalitarian, prosperous America. I don't want to tax rich people more because I hate rich people, as many of them are great people. In other words, tax policy is not a first principle with me, but rather a tool to achieve a first principle. Now, to be fair, that principle is not incompatible with socialism, but I think it's safe to say that my vision of society differs significantly with Karl Marx's vision. In fact, those visions are incompatible. I generally think the free market does an okay job of allocating resources, and I favor some smart safeguards to keep it from overreaching and getting too powerful. Karl Marx believed in public ownership of all industry. These visions are not the same.

Nevertheless, I don't understand how someone can actually be for concentrating wealth in the upper class, which is what McCain seems to be supporting here. What we have here is one of two things: either McCain has no idea what he's saying or what he stands for, and he's just trying to exploit an opportunity. Either that, or he actually favors an upward distribution of wealth. I'm putting my money on option one for now, but it seems like broadly shared prosperity is something that everyone should value, and if conservatives can make a genuinely airtight case for why their way of accomplishing this is better I'm willing to listen. But, advertent or not, right now John McCain seems to be saying that egalitarianism is an undesirable goal. He's actually arguing for aristocracy, in the middle of an economic downturn. Out of touch? No, I'd say he's firmly in touch with the Republican plutocrats that have been running this nation for eight years. I guess we should give them points for being honest with us now.

Palin's presumptuousness

I think America will miss Sarah Palin in about two weeks, considering that she's great for boosting everyone's self-esteem (largely by making such a fool out of herself):
"Our opponents think that they have the women's vote all locked up, which is a little presumptuous," Palin said. "Little presumptuous, since only our side has a woman on the ticket."
Yes. Not nearly as presumptuous as thinking that the mere act of putting a woman on the ticket would make women defect to McCain in droves, though. I can't tell you how utterly sexist it is to insinuate that women will base their vote solely on "sisterhood", all the while abandoning all their principles. This definitely wasn't true of Clinton supporters. The sisterhood factor was just that--a factor--but Clinton was legitimately liberal on domestic policy and a credible president and more experienced, so there were other acceptable reasons to support her in conjunction with sisterhood.

This reminds me of the (long-abandoned) meme that Obama is presumptuous. Is this a sign that it's coming back? Like most McCain attacks this was simple transference. Obama is presumptuous because he had an emblem that looked like a presidential seal, while John McCain is sending emissaries to Georgia after the Russians pay a visit, already conducting his own foreign policy as though he were in 1600?

Obama has the audacity of hope, the other side has the audacity of a dope.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Powell boost?

So, the Very Respectable People in the media have seen fit to say that the presidential race is tightening. And, for a little while, that looked to be the case. But now:

Obama is ahead 50.5%-43.1%, a lead of 7.4 points, compared to the 50.5%-43.7% Obama lead from yesterday...

Yes. While some of the state polls are not as favorable to Obama (I don't trust any of the polling coming out of Ohio these days, although I think Obama has an uphill climb there) I wonder if Colin Powell didn't help Obama out just a bit. The conventional wisdom was that he wouldn't, but there was a tightening for a few days, until the Powell endorsement began to sink in. Plus, Obama's leaving the campaign trail has given the media something to talk about, mostly by playing up his roots and blunting the radical black socialist attack. Obviously, it's a little bit callous to play politics about something so personal, and I wish his grandmother all the best. But it isn't bad optics, as a sort of lemons-int0-lemonade sort of thing.

As for the state polls, it doesn't appear that Obama is losing support so much as McCain has been gaining it, no doubt from disillusioned Republicans finally getting on board. Just check out, which illustrates the trend clearly. In any event, a tie in Ohio and Florida probably goes to Obama, who has been more serious about ground game all along.

Monday, October 20, 2008

McCain is giving up on Colorado

And focusing on Pennsylvania instead, hoping to flip it despite Obama's double-digit lead. Chotiner is quizzical about this move, but it makes perfect sense to me. Yes, on the surface, concentrating all your firepower on a state where you have two weeks to overcome a double-digit deficit, and particularly a state which hasn't gone Republican in twenty years, might seem like a really bad idea. Then again, if you make the assumption that Pennsylvania is a blue state that has its share of racial hangups--it helps that it's one of the demographically oldest states in the nation--and you intend to unleash an onslaught of Jeremiah Wright ads during the final stretch of the campaign, it actually makes a great deal of sense. And, realistically, it's one of the only Democratic states in which this would work, the only other conceivable one being Michigan, which the McCain campaign pulled out of not so long ago. Plus, this plan (if it works) has the advantage of allowing the GOP to also lose Virginia, as seems quite likely now.

I think it's pretty apparent that this plan has some deficiencies. For one, it's predicated upon the notion that a good chunk of Pennsylvanians are closet racists who won't follow through on their intention to vote for Obama once the dog whistle has been blown. But let's assume that it works, and that McCain manages to win Pennsylvania, while Obama wins all the other Kerry and Gore states while also picking up Colorado and Virginia. He's got healthy leads in all these states. Even if McCain's dream scenario were to come to pass, he'd still have to win Ohio, Missouri, Indiana, North Carolina, Nevada, and Florida. This doesn't even mention second-tier states, like North Dakota and Montana that might well also be competitive, as well as Georgia, West Virginia, and Arkansas. Obama will not win all of these states. But he only has to win one, any one (aside from Arkansas, North Dakota and Montana).

So, in essence, strap yourself in for some Jeremiah Wright goodness. It'll be coming to a TV near you soon.

What does he stand for?

Chris Orr on what McCain's Veep choice says about him:

Lieberman and Palin are, after all, about as distant from one another--ideologically, culturally, characterologically, even geographically--as two contenders for the GOP vice presidential nomination could possibly be: a Jewish, pro-choice, moderately liberal, not particularly colorful, Northeastern, Washington establishment (former) Democrat for whom foreign policy is always Topic A vs. an emphatically Christian, pro-life, very conservative, hyper-colorful, far-West, anti-establishment Republican for whom foreign policy has never been an identifiable concern at all. [snip] The fact that, denied the guy he really wanted, he opted for someone at the opposite end of pretty much every imaginable spectrum, suggests that he has very little idea what he really believes, how he intends to govern, or what role he'd expect his vice president to play in his administration.

What the McCain camp is saying when it says he wanted a running mate who reinforced the "core message that he was a maverick," is that he wanted to make a choice--be it left or right, a play to the center or a gift to the base, a close personal friend or someone he'd barely met--that everyone would agree was "outside-the-box" (if you're feeling generous) or "exceptionally risky" (if you're not). As has become abundantly clear over the last several weeks, this love of placing reckless bets, of inventing heroic dramas in which he can star, is central to McCain as a public figure. It's also perhaps the most compelling reason he should not be president.

Yeah, no kidding. A man who risks the fate of our nation in such a manner ought to be disqualified from being president. Historically, a VP was almost completely irrelevant to the political process and was treated accordingly. Starting with Nixon, the VP spot became a launching pad for the presidency, and starting with Gore it became an important and highly influential office due to its proximity to the presidency. What this reasoning proves is that the VP office for McCain is little more than a sinecure to complement McCain's moral vanity and self-conceit and, of course, to get him elected. Country first.

Of course, these days his campaign doesn't have a single message or argument at all, but rather are engaged in the act of shouting over themselves.

Who are you?

One of the most striking things about the McCain campaign is that they not only are willing to rationalize any hypocrisy or sleaze, but that they do it in such a ridiculously laughable fashion. Read this interview between Jeff Goldberg and McCain aide Marc Salter, who wrote McCain's auto-hagiographies. What emerges is what we already knew: John McCain is a great and good American hero, and anyone who disagrees is a bad person. But they can't even make it seem like anything other than spin. His answers to all the sharper questions Salter answers are all of the form, "We're nothing compared to how bad Barack Obama is," which happens to be untrue and stupid, since it's an implicit admission of guilt. Which also happens to be Rick Davis's rationale for revisiting Jeremiah Wright. They're intentionally getting wrong what John Lewis said in hopes of inciting racial backlash. Lewis didn't call McCain a racist, but said that the mob mentality at some of these rallies is reminiscent of the Wallace rallies. And it is. In any event, Ambinder is right, "And blaming Rep. John Lewis, he of certainly intemperate comments, for McCain's decision to lower himself? That sounds like it was cooked up in a fit of anger, not rational thought." John McCain: a uniter, not a divider.

GOP vs. Conservatism, plus a crystal ball

I think that, if conservatism is to survive and be ascendant once again, it is going to need to distance itself from the Republican Party. By yoking themselves together, they have tied their fortunes together, and when conservatism serves the interests of the Republican Party--which is not a philosophical movement so much as a vote-gathering machine--then it is the philosophy that will get watered down in the search for votes. And we have seen all this happen over the past few years, while a new generation of rightists has welcomed the confluence and dismissed the complaints of the Andrew Sullivans of the world.

The only way it's going to work is for the Republican Party to become a mainstream party that is linked to conservatism but that will include the more moderate elements necessary to win elections. But it appears that we are headed in the opposite direction. The Republican Party that emerges in 2009 will be, in an even greater sense, Sarah Palin's party. Let me lay out my version of the next eight years, and we'll see how it turns out:
  • John McCain loses the election this year. It's about five points in the general election, maybe more, and Obama wins a big electoral college victory. At least, he picks up North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, makes big inroads in the Southwest and the Midwest.
  • The GOP loses two dozen more House seats. The Dems don't quite make it to 60 seats in the Senate, but it's close.
  • As Kevin Drum predicts, this turn of events makes the right feel that it wasn't negative enough against Obama. They basically reprise their Clinton-era tactics, but they fall on deaf ears as Obama turns out to be a good president and the economy slowly turns around and the GOP doesn't have congressional majorities to spend so much congressional time investigating Christmas lists and whatnot. The GOP struggles for relevance by inventing ever more outlandish Obama consipiracy theories. They become totally irrelevant to the process.
  • In 2010, the GOP manages modest House gains--maybe around 10 seats, mostly among conservative Democrats (like Travis Childers in Mississippi) who were elected out of disgust for the Bush-led GOP but become more receptive to the ultra-right GOP. They actually lose some more ground in the Senate--New Hampshire is a likely target, but there might be retirements in Ohio, Arizona and Pennsylvania, and all three states feature deep Dem benches. The GOP spins this as a victory.
  • The GOP nominates Sarah Palin in 2012. Some disagree with the probability of this, but she's next in line. Palin will keep a high profile, becoming a FOX News fixture, and she'll start making trips to Iowa in, I don't know, December 2008. She'll take a page from Hillary Clinton and talk about the historic nature of her candidacy. The right, always liking to take a shiv to the left, will want to deny the Democrats the historical honor of nominating the first woman candidate for president.
  • Palin will lose in a McGovern-like landslide. Vast swathes of the center-right apparatus will wind up walking away from her campaign.
  • After Palin loses, the Brooksian conservatives will reassume control of the GOP and push it aggressively toward the center. They start grooming a moderate Republican governor--perhaps Charlie Crist of Florida--for 2016. And the base will fall in line.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The one place where the Bradley Effect is probably in effect

I agree with this bit from Andrew Sullivan:

My view is that McCain will win Ohio. He will win all of Appalachia. There was only one reason white Appalachian Democrats suddenly discovered Hillary Clinton was their idol, having despised her for years. It's the same reason McCain will win Ohio. It has nothing to do with Clinton or McCain.

Yes, sadly, and there will be much hand-wringing about racism. But Obama will win Florida. And he doesn't have to win either, really. He's in really good shape to win--just capture the Kerry states, plus Iowa, plus New Mexico, plus Colorado.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The most racist thing I've ever seen

Here. Decent Republicans ought to be ashamed of their party.

On the debate

Matt Yglesias has some insight into McCain's debating approach:
If you watched the previous two presidential debates, plus the VP debate, plus about half of the Democratic primary debates, plus the prime time speeches at the Democratic National Convention, and you’ve seen a dozen Obama surrogates yakking on cable a dozen times each just since Lehman Brothers went under then it gets kind of boring to watch Obama stay calm and repeat his talking points on the key issues.

But the debate is targeted at folks who haven’t watched all that stuff. And a lot of McCain’s best moments will have gone way over the heads of most people.

Inarguably true. I just find it odd that McCain goes out of his way to run a sleazy, dishonest campaign--indeed, one of the worst in memory--and then winds up making arguments that only appeal to high-info voters, who are presumably the ones that have been following the McCain farce and are most embarrassed by it. Oh, the irony.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Golden Nuttie

I propose an award for the wingnuttiest, craziest, not-grounded-in-fact rumor mill hysteria post about Barack Obama by a right-of-center pundit. I think that Tony Blankley is a nominee. He recently wrote a little something for Rasmussen Reports:

"In the Democratic primary, he was a long shot. But a month before the election, his main opponent, Blair Hull, a wealthy Chicago futures trader, was forced to publish divorce papers that revealed, among other charming details, his wife's claim that he had once threatened to kill her.

"In the general election, lightning struck again. His opponent, the engaging Jack Ryan, had run a campaign as a different sort of Republican. But a few months before the election, his divorce papers revealed that, while he might have been a different sort of Republican, he was from precisely the same stable of Obama political opponents. He had, it turned out, once tried to force his former wife to go with him to sex clubs in Paris."

Was Obama really the innocent beneficiary of these rare events?

Let's unpack this here. Did Barack Obama's rise to power involve a little bit of serendipity? Yes, it did. Every politician's career is going to be due in part to luck, to being in the right place in the right time with the right message. But it says something of the right that they've totally exhausted what (evidently little) dirt they legitimately had on Barack Obama, and they've now started speculating on whether or not Obama was somehow responsible for getting Blair Hull to threaten to kill his wife and to get Jack Ryan to take his wife over to the Borg Alcove, if you know what I mean. So, the obvious answer to this question is, "yes." Unless you want to believe...what, exactly? The most obvious answer to me is that, with the exception of Bobby Rush, Obama had some really weak opponents in Illinois.

Of course with the wingnuts it's not about making a cogent argument, but rather about "raising questions" and hoping something sticks. Unfortunately, the right has become so cloistered and solipsistic that they simply cannot engage the public any longer. I find it endlessly fascinating. They are still mistakenly under the impression that they are the tribunes of the people, that they speak for Joe and Jane Sixpack in Middle America. Only the Sixpacks are seeing the markets, they're listening to the news, and they're worried. They could care less about all these insane rumors, and every one that passes is another brick off the wall of what used to be the influence of the right. And the conservative movement will soon enter its richly deserved oblivion--marginalized, discredited, and with a reputation for fabulism and nastiness. When will the American David Cameron have to arrive on the scene to fix up the right?

McCain's story is inadequate on multiple levels

Daniel Larison, characteristically, has some smart things to say about the suckiness of McCain's campaign:

If you assume that all you really need do is show up and wait for the other side to fail, you will lose and probably quite embarrassingly at that. McCain never made the case for himself, because he assumed that he would be the default winner once the public decided Obama was unprepared.


What is striking about McCain’s failure is how irrational it was to approach an election this way amid conditions that everyone acknowledged to be very good for Democrats. It might make sense to coast along on biography and belittling your opponent’s readiness and depth in a year when you have the wind at your back, a coherent message and a party label that is not radioactive, but McCain had none of these advantages.

This is the result, no doubt, of an incredible ego (McCain's). But it's inevitable. McCain has never had to persuade voters, as he's coasted to however many victories he's had because of his bio. The one time he was in a tough race before this one--against Bush, in 2000--he lost because he wasn't able to persuade GOP voters to abandon Bush for a centrist Maverick. His bio wasn't enough then, and it isn't enough now.

Now, John McCain has a great bio and a great story. No doubt about it. But I think that, in addition to relying on bio and Bushian policies, one of his biggest problems is that his story isn't the kind of story that screams "president". Now, when you run for Congress--an institution generally conceived of as being slimy and corrupt--a story like John McCain's is a huge asset. Not taking early release from the Hanoi Hilton does indeed show honor and courage (though it's not much in evidence these days) and that's a good thing to have when you want to run to be the Gentleman from Arizona's First District.

But the thing about the story is that it isn't a story about McCain's leadership. Now, had McCain's story involved leading a company of troops in Vietnam to destroy some Vietnamese radar or something like that, it would display those same positive qualities but it would also demonstrate a few other things, such as steadiness under fire, charisma and a willingness to lead regardless of personal risk. These are qualities that I want in a president, and McCain's story does not speak to those things because he doesn't possess them. He speaks of his honor and courage and all the rest, but those things alone aren't enough to make a good president. Jimmy Carter had such qualities in abundance and it didn't really work out for him. Lyndon Johnson was a man of, I would say, some rather weak character, but he was still the greatest president we've had in the past fifty years.

All things considered, strong character often coincides with effective leadership. But it doesn't always do this. The only thing predictive of strong leadership is, well, strong leadership. And when all is said and done, John McCain simply is not an effective political leader. What is surprising is that so many people believed this with precious little justification to do so.

What do I think? Well, what do other people think?

Sam Boyd demystifies dial testing. I find this new trend of showing dial testing as being somehow vaguely insulting. It's sort of like a laugh track on a sitcom, which tells you what you're supposed to find funny. Then again, it's not like CNN is manufacturing this itself, and it is coming from actual people. I guess it's more like sitcoms filmed in front of a studio audience, then, which is still annoying but less fake.

Then again, I watch the debates online on C-Span.

Dept. Of Things That Won't Get McCain Elected

Stephanopoulos, via Swampland:
Could McCain pledge to serve only one term? Could he challenge Obama to more debates? Could he announce a bi-partisan cabinet?
Why would people freaked out about the economy take solace in John McCain serving only one term? They don't seem to want him to serve even a single term right now. Why would McCain challenge Obama to more debates? Because he's done so well in the last two? And announcing a bipartisan cabinet is the sort of thing that captures the imagination of David Broder and his ilk, but I find it hard to see why an Ohio machinist who is out of work is going to flock to McCain because he's going to make Blanche Lincoln his Secretary of Education. This seems less like a list of things McCain can do to get elected, and more a list of things that Beltway pundits would be able to endlessly dissect for a week or so. And you can add mentioning Bill Ayres to that list.

Ultimately, I don't see how John McCain can win over people freaked out about the economy. He doesn't get why people are worried because he's a national greatness conservative. Grousing about these sorts of things suits McCain not at all. He wants America to accomplish Great Things, even if it doesn't matter what those great things happen to be. It's not like McCain hasn't said anything about the economy--the problem is that he's said too much, and he's said the wrong things at the wrong time. He's come up with too many ideas to sort through, though the comfort is that it's unnecessary since his plans are universally loathed. He's talked about tax hikes and spending a lot. It hasn't broken through. Obama's message, though, has resonated well, McCain needs to appropriate it.

Maybe the best thing that McCain could do to get elected is to announce that he's dumping Sarah Palin for Barack Obama. Or that Obama will be his Chief of Staff or Secretary of the Treasury. Which is to say that I don't think he's going to be able to turn things around. In fact, I expect him to be especially sedate in this debate since he's going to be facing Obama across a table, and McCain can't bring himself to look at the guy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

And Obama's the one with questionable associations?

McCain's transition chief worked for Saddam. Wonder if Obama will bring that up in response to McCain's Ayres remark? I'm not holding my breath for speculation over at The Corner to the effect that Saddam ghostwrote McCain's books.


I have to say that I'm not too terribly concerned about this. It is something to be a little worried about, though. I'm quite sure that at least some elements of the right will dedicate themselves to smearing Obama from the beginning of his presidency until the end. But those smears didn't destroy Bill Clinton--he actually left office with very high approval ratings, and George W. Bush had to run in 2000 as a "compassionate conservative" who wasn't of the DeLay ilk.

Here's how I see it: if Obama wins, as is likely, and especially if he wins with a mandate, it will be a clear sign that the public favors his policies on the economy and healthcare. He'll likely have a healthy congressional majority. If he's anywhere near 60 votes in the Senate he's going to get healthcare done--even in a relatively anemic scenario like 55, he'll be able to enact Wyden-Bennett and thus deal with healthcare.

I doubt that the honeymoon will last too long, but Waldman is dead right about the stakes: Obama could easily go down in history as the most important president since FDR. The Republicans don't want that to happen, but they didn't want it to happen with FDR either. FDR had virulent enemies and he overcame them. Bill Clinton had less success, but then again, Clinton's judgment was really questionable on so many things, so there was plenty for the loony right to latch onto (and did the allegations that Bill was running a drug smuggling operation really resonate with the public?). With Obama the Corner gang are already grasping at straws. If Obama manages to do accomplish some serious measures w.r.t. healthcare and energy, plus reviving the economy and ending the Iraq war, the public is not going to be terribly interested in Bill Ayres ghostwriting flights of fantasy.

The significant thing here is that the article ignores a pretty important fact about the Republicans: the impending GOP intramural slugfest. It's gonna be bad, and it might well distract some attention from the evils of Obama, such as the right thinks they are.

How McCain could have won

He still can, and Howard Wolfson continues in the curious Beltway tradition of premortems. It has gotten me thinking a bit, though. What would I have done differently if I were John McCain?

It boils down to two things: dump the base and respect peoples' intelligence. That's right, dump the base. Most of them will find their way back because they hate/fear Barack Obama, so don't worry about 'em. Winning the base alone is not enough this year, and McCain's strategy seems to have been to move far to the right and hope that he'd have enough residual centrist cred to appeal to the center. It did not work.

Instead, McCain could have run an Eisenhower-like campaign. Ostentatious centrism might have worked well this year. He could have avoided flipping on the Bush tax cuts to begin with, or flip back after the primaries and say that he'd changed his mind and that the cuts should be allowed to expire. Adopt something like Obama's tax plan, junk the giveaways to the rich. Sign on to the Wyden-Bennett health care plan, say that Obama's plan for UHC is too socialistic or whatever, and that his plan is better. Become (and remain) the more green candidate in the race, and point out that Obama's record on these issues leaves something to be desired because of his support for coal. Talk about spending and promise to balance the budget for real by means-testing social security and other entitlements. Commit to public financing of elections, saying that part of the reason there's so much spending is because of campaign contributions. Announce that he'll have no litmus test for judges, and that he'll end the Iraq War and have everyone out in four years. He could even say that the surge made victory possible, and that Maliki's endorsement of Obama's plan represents victory.

And he could have picked Bobby Jindal for VP. The pick would have made a splash, just like the pick of Palin did: he's a young conservative governor with a reformist record. But Jindal has many other advantages. He's from the South. He is fluent in policy and can speak in complete sentences. He's a plausible president in a way that Palin isn't, and he's a serious conservative thinker instead of a vapid repeater of talking points. Such a decision would have appeared less calculating in terms of trying to capture disgruntled Hillaryites, and while it might have looked like an attempt to steal the historic label away from Obama by picking someone of another race, it would be less calculating than if, say, McCain had picked J. C. Watts, and certainly less cynical than picking Palin. It would have been a base pick for VP, just like Palin was, only it would probably have been accepted more by the public at large because Jindal isn't an idiot.

I spend so much time on the VP pick since I do think it was McCain's biggest mistake in this election cycle. Picking Jindal, being right on the social issues, and relying on base loathing of Obama might have been enough to secure the base, while moving sharply to the center on domestic policy issues (and maybe even on some foreign policy issues) and maintaining his honor would have been winners for the center. Maybe he could even have admitted that George W. Bush was a failure. Oh, the bittersweet memories of what might have been...wait, what am I saying? I want McCain to lose! Of course, I would have preferred him to lose in some way like this, rather than because he's just an incompetent, stupid, and sleazy pol. It taints the mandate.

Bait, taken

McCain says he will bring up Bill Ayers at the next debate. That should definitely work. Here are the possibilities of how I see it going down:
  • 55% chance he chickens out and doesn't do it at all
  • 35% chance he mentions it obliquely, but it is a glancing blow at best (with McCain looking at his shoes while he says it) and Obama brains him on the counterattack
  • 7% chance he mentions it aggressively and looks like a dick, and Obama brains him on the counterattack
  • 3% chance McCain pulls it off
This might seem a bit overly optimistic for an Obama supporter. I don't think it is. John McCain has shown, time and again, that he's clumsy with the knife. Has he landed a blow against Obama, aside from the celebrity nonsense, at any point in this election? It isn't like that was him, anyway. And the post makes it sound like Obama successfully manipulated the guy, which is good news for Putin and Ahmadinejad during a putative McCain presidency. It isn't like they aren't watching and aren't going to take advantage of that...

Senator Dumbass strikes again!

Monday, October 13, 2008

A warning

A sad and hopefully not prescient prediction of what McCainism might lead to. Rabin is sort of a hero of mine, and it's important to remember that it only takes one of these nuts to get a gun through security and that's the ballgame. Thankfully the guy's got secret service protection.

A question

What would you say about an election where the Democrat was seen as a stronger leader, was more trusted on taxes, was seen as more effective in a crisis, and the Republican (and a war hero to boot!) was struggling to pivot off of uncomfortable subjects?

It would be a mirror image of 2004, where John Kerry, a war hero, tried mightily to pivot off of defense issues and onto the economy in a way that distilled his weaknesses. And that's what this election has wound up becoming. Incredible.

Joe Biden's moment

In his home home state, Joe Biden has a 2:1 ratio of favorability to unfavorability. He blows Sarah Palin and John McCain out of the water. One of the interesting things to see this election cycle is just how popular Joe Biden has become. Initially, he had something in the range of a 40-39 spread in most polls, but he's actually become quite popular, and he's popular in areas (like Pennsylvania and Florida) where it's really helped the Democratic ticket. From that standpoint alone the pick was an astonishing success, and with Palin it's been the mirror image.

I always figured that, the more people got to know Joe Biden, the more they'd like him. I actually never thought (initially) that people would like Sarah Palin less the more they saw of her. This election has given me much more faith in American democracy than I had before, much more faith in Barack Obama's ability to truly change this country, and much more faith in Joe Biden. I'm feeling optimistic, though I can't wait for this election season to be over.


Which is more unusual: that Christopher Hitchens endorsed Obama, or that he actually made a fairly persuasive case for doing so?

What will McCain's obit read?

When the books are closed on the McCain campaign, I think that the final verdict will be that their chief mistake will not be that McCain moved too far to the right in a year that punished Republicans, but rather that he believed that he could move to the far right while still maintaining centrist credentials. His loss will not be attributed to running a sleazy campaign per se, as other people have won the presidency by doing that, but rather that McCain believed he could run such a campaign while keeping his sense of honor intact. He won't be remembered as just being out of touch in talking about the issues, but in being of the mistaken belief that he could tell voters what issues should matter to them while ignoring the issues they told him they cared about. And, lastly, John McCain thought that he could maintain an image of cool, steady leadership while acting erratically, panicking and overreacting every time Barack Obama managed to win a news cycle, and ultimately coming off as a man who is all talk and no action, who speaks of honor and decency all the while he equates his opponent to a terrorist and won't look at the guy during a debate.

Make no doubt about it: John McCain made a bet this year, and that bet was that the American people were too stupid to see through his bullshit. As it stands right now, it hasn't worked. And, if nothing else, we all should feel good about ourselves for that.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Credit where it's due

John McCain attempts here to try to tamper down some of the ugliness are overdue, and hopefully he'll stick with it. One can only hope that he sticks with it. He's not going to win this election, and I'm not sure why he's taken this fact so personally. The Republicans were never very likely to win. Maybe it's sunken in that he's not going to win without some sort of earth-shattering event, and he's trying to preserve his reputation for after the election. Which is so much the better. We'll see if this takes, though.

Talk about misunderestimated!


This season, Obama has had the good fortune to run against two people who held the peculiar belief that they were entitled to the Presidency, and who, as a result, badly underestimated him. The fact that he seems to never let that condescension get to him, however, has nothing whatsoever to do with luck, and everything to do with temperament and character. Since I agree with McCain that we will need a steady hand at the tiller in the years to come, I'm glad to see it.

What really shocks me is that McCain underestimated Obama despite having seen the Democratic primary process play out. His response to this wasn't, "Hey, this guy beat Hillary f-ing Clinton in the Democratic Primary! He's going to be tough to beat." He never seemed to take that win seriously. I guess he must have thought Obama was just lucky. But nobody is that lucky. Obama's win was the result of having a top-flight strategic team and running against a candidate who had Mark Penn. It's oversimplifying things quite a bit, and this is not to diminish the role played by Obama himself (if anything, he deserves much credit for assembling his team) but that is basically why Obama won the nomination. His guys were the best in the business. Hers not so much. And you can see that again in the general election: Obama's strategists have greatly expanded the map, and those who think Obama is too safe and insufficiently bold ought to look at polls out of North Carolina (two today that give Obama the lead), Florida and Ohio. The financial crisis helped, but this was Obama's team being very, very smart.

I just find it amazing that McCain made the exact same mistakes as the Clinton campaign, but without the bright spots of her run. Thank you, Senator Dumbass.


Colin Powell doesn't appear to be too concerned with besmirching his reputation any further...
John McCain is doing very, very poorly among Hispanics.

I'm now completely convinced that Barack Obama will win the election

And if you want to know what it was that made me think this way, it's right here.

Fox News tells us what we already knew...

Basically, that Obama is leading by a substantial margin, and people don't care about Bill Ayres. But we knew that already. I guess when this country loses $2 trillion worth of wealth in a week, and people are worried about another great depression...yadda, yadda, yadda.

Washingtonese for "backlash"

"I decided that I was not all that interested in returning to Washington for six years based on the judgment of voters that I was not as bad as the other two guys. I want folks to vote for me, not against the other guys." - Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN)
Good for Connecticut.

My prescription for the conservative crisis

This David Brooks column is good, and I was struck particularly by Democratic dominance over professionals. Ultimately, a political party that spurns these sorts of folks, along with learning and reason in pursuit of some sort of gut-level intuitiveness is a party that doesn't have a future. I have recently been wondering whether we'd see a truly conservative third party spring up soon, taking with it the likes of Colin Powell and Chuck Hagel and those sorts of guys. Let the GOP become the right-wing party like Europe's right-wing parties that gets 20% of the vote. I think a new conservative party (and why not call it the Conservative Party?) could emulate the Cameronite approach in the U.K.: social moderation, a deep (though not dogmatic) belief in limited government and lower taxes, a commitment to fairness and equality, a focus on helping the middle and working classes above all, a willingness to experiment on different policy solutions and a focus on efficiency. Plus, a commitment to realism on foreign policy would be another good thing.

Honestly, I'd love to see a party like that on the scene here in America, and I'm beginning to think we will. Put simply, I think that the rot at the center of the Republican Party is unfixable. Just watch those recent McCain rallies on YouTube for evidence of this. Let the GOP keep a smattering of seats in the Bible Belt and the Rocky Mountains. A revitalized Democratic Party running against a legitimately conservative party would be helpful to everyone. What would need to happen would be for a number of prominent Republicans to formally defect and build a new party, the way Ariel Sharon did in Israel. I wonder if, after this election, conservatives like David Brooks might not be open to such a possibility.

Thanks, General!

Dave Petraeus says we should talk to Iran. Obviously, he's a weakling who hates Israel, and I look forward to McCain saying that at the next debate.

The irony of the McCain campaign

Is pretty manifest at this point--he postures himself as a "country first" patriot, but it's become alarmingly clear that he's the kind of guy who is petty enough to whip up enough fear and loathing so as to make his country unmanageable than run a civil campaign that he would likely lose. And the fear and loathing probably won't save him, and it will probably only marginalize the GOP even more in the long run. Saner voices--like that of David Frum--should be listened to. America is at its best when it has two functional and public-minded political parties. The Republican Party of today is neither.

And, ultimately, it might not even be ungovernable, especially if the Dems get 60 in the Senate.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Palin takes him down among indies

Another sign that Andrew was right, and that Palin was McCain's biggest mistakes.

Things going on while John McCain tries desperately to get people interested in Bill Ayres

  • The stock market has taken another in a long series of nosedives.

  • The Alaska Supreme Court has dismissed an attempt to delay the publication of the investigation into Sarah Palin's Troopergate scandal.

  • And, oh yeah, people are totally freaking out about the economy.

And, of course, McCain's still talking about Ayres to anyone who will listen. Even though he said he wasn't going to. The yo-yos over at The Corner no doubt approve. Meanwhile country is losing about a trillion dollars of wealth a day.

I have no real quip here. Just an observation that is damning enough on its own.


Joe Klein writes about Obama's winning traits. Basically, the gist is that in the debate, John McCain used questions about the bailout to rant and rave about insurance companies, while Obama tried to establish rapport and explain what the crisis meant to the person. It reminds me of a very good Daniel Larison post about the perils of McCain's populism, and how Obama has been wise to avoid the style. I think that Obama has run a winning campaign, and John McCain has not, but I also think that John McCain was a singularly poor choice for the GOP. Had the GOP run Giuliani, Thompson, or Ron Paul they'd be losing by fifteen points. But would Romney or Huckabee fared better?

In fact, I think Romney might well have been the strongest GOP candidate. He has a grasp of finance, has a good resume, and he could have made a plausible argument on things like healthcare (his most impressive achievement in Massachussetts) that McCain just doesn't care about. Plus, it's not like Mittens bore any responsibility for Iraq, and I'd imagine that Iraq would have disappeared quickly from the issue roster in this alternate timeline. I recall Romney repeating any number of loathsome right-wing talking points, but I don't recall him being personally offensive to other candidates. The converse was certainly true. I would imagine the race would be quite different, and far more respectful. We wouldn't see such nastiness because Mitt is a businessman who knows how to take a loss, not a soldier who sees a loss as a grave dishonor and defeat from which he (and America) will never recover. Plus, an actual intellectual debate on political philosophy might have taken hold to an extent it hasn't this year. Barack Obama is smart and informed enough to give it a go. John McCain is too ignorant and stupid to defend conservatism. Romney ain't.

I also wonder whether Huck might have made a good candidate. He's more moderate on domestic policy than the GOP hard-line, and he can project empathy really well. He connects with people. I kinda like the guy, despite his being a hard-line theocon. Another point for Romney, as he has technocrat blood in his veins. At this moment, after a disastrous eight years of Republican rule, most of that with a GOP congress, the GOP had an opportunity to pick someone competent, someone who had true leadership skills. And they didn't. They must not want to save themselves.

Bring it on

Obama takes my advice and challenges McCain to say the Ayres stuff to his face. Good. I think this taunt could be damaging if it catches on. If Obama makes McCain look like a coward who lets other people make sleazy attacks for him and who won't stand by them when on national TV, then this is not a good thing for America's Hero®.

Next Stop, Berkeley

Thank you, Chris Orr, for echoing me. WTF is McCain thinking?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Right-wing solipsism

Tomasky gets at something here that I've been thinking about for a while: the Ayres stuff--and the pathological obsession with it on the right--is really not that effective with the public in general. It is effective with right-leaning pundits. Right-leaning pundits so see themselves as tribunes of the people that they just assume that they speak for the people. But, in actuality, they do not, and I think we're beginning to see the possibility of a new American consensus with the right on the outside looking in. I get the sense that they realize this, and that it's driving them crazy.

In any event, the fact that prominent members of the right seem to legitimately believe that Barack Obama is a communist shows you just how much that movement has descended into paranoid delusion.

Maybe he just likes corn?

Is McCain visiting Iowa again? This is a state that Obama has had locked up forever, and that he'll probably win by double digits. McCain isn't even seriously contesting it. Iowans don't even like McCain that much, which might be due to his avoiding the state like chicken pox during the 2000 and 2008 primaries, or maybe because back when he was flip-flopping on every issue to please the hard right he couldn't be bothered to become pro-ethanol. C'mon, John! In for a penny, in for a pound, no?

At what point is this going to become less of a presidential campaign and more of an opportunity for McCain to travel to fun places for a month? He could spend a week in Florida, do some events, and just lay on the beach. He could follow that up with a quick tip to picturesque New Hampshire, then he could head to California, visit San Diego and Orange County. California's probably about as competitive as Iowa these days.

Note to Cindy McCain

Umm, yeah, here's the thing: nobody cares about what you have to say. Seriously. I don't mean this as an insult, but I just gotta say it. You are not a public officeholder. You are not running for public office. You have no experience in public policy, and what you have to say adds nothing to the conversation. In other words, you have no standing from which to attack Barack Obama, and I don't see why any media outlets would even bother to cover your idiot-ass remarks, but that's a whole other hill of beans.

You are not going to be the new Jackie Kennedy come November 5. You are only going to be the rich wife of a famous senator. Cool your jets. I know this might seem harsh, but it annoys me when the spouses get involved in this way. You can go out stumping and talk about your husband in personal terms, fine. But this sexist idea that the women married to presidential candidates have to or should put their lives on hold and invest themselves wholly in their spouse's endeavours is irritating, and that the media covers the remarks of political spouses as part of the neverending freakshow of modern politics is a pet peeve of mine. I didn't like it when Bill Clinton did it (though he has a bit more standing than Mrs. McCain). I can understand that they want to be famous too, but why don't the candidates rein their spouses in?

Say what you like about Howard Dean, but we didn't have this problem with him.


GOP to use "that one" as a part of a publicity campaign against Obama. At least it makes sense historically.

A Farewell to Ayres

Steve Benen ponders why McCain's campaign is scrapping the Ayres attack. He settles on its ineffectiveness, which I would agree with, and which can be seen below:

Basically, McCain's been able to win a few more voters. Not many after several days of this stuff. Obama is not hemorrhaging any voters to these attacks. Plus, they would probably increase McCain's unfavorables substantially.

Ultimately, McCain played a game of chicken with these smears and he blinked first. I guess that shows that he does have some small bit of honor remaining. Or maybe he's just already tired of this message, like he has of pretty much every message after a few days, as he is running the ADHD campaign.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Projection in the extreme

Cindy McCain says that Barack Obama has waged the dirtiest campaign in American History. My God, the projection here and in McCain's Albuquerque speech is staggering. I'm beginning to think that McCain and the people close to him are legitimately crazy and have lost touch with reality.
Joe Lieberman's own fake political third party has turned against him. Is there anyone, besides John McCain, that can still stand the guy? Then again, it's not like McCain has too many friends, either.

What I've been thinking...

vis-a-vis Palin:

But personal attacks by someone who swing voters think a) lost her debate and b) isn't qualified to be vice-president (and by extension isn't really qualified to be making vicious attacks) probably aren't going to be the thing that does it.

Now, Republicans like it because they love it when someone takes it to those damn liberals. That anger at liberals has become displaced and free-floating--it used to be that they hated liberals because of civil rights and crime and social welfare, etc. But a lot of that has totally lost its salience, and the hatred still remains. I don't confess to understanding it, but there are simply a lot of people in this country who think that liberals, as a group and in literal terms, just hate America, the troops, American culture, and all the rest. It's bigotry, of course, and there is no corresponding sentiment on the left. Many liberals really dislike Republicans, but it's almost always based on actual characteristics of the right: their devotion to the rich over the poor and middle class, their indifference to the environment and global warming, their peremptory style of campaigning and governing. When the left attacks the right, it is invariably of the variety that the right doesn't get it or doesn't care--in other words, we allege insular thinking and callousness--and perhaps corruption as well. We do not, though, generally believe that the right is trying to secretly establish a fascist state or something like that.

This is what you see these days with Palin on the stump. People who hate the left for no particular reason anymore are frustrated and are ready to explode once McCain or Palin starts up on the patriotism question. But Palin's crowds are getting smaller. I have to believe that more and more people are realizing that McCain-Palin is a disgusting ticket running brazenly on cynical attacks and identity politics, and here's hoping that reasonable Republicans and independents realize what the GOP has become and jump ship.

Culture war

If some satirist of the left had made a movie parodying the right side of the culture war a few years ago, it couldn't have come close to matching the current Republican campaign. Ezra puts it best: "I can't remember George W. Bush engaging the culture war with anything even approaching this ferocity in 2004. " No he didn't. Then again, Bush did actually have a policy agenda, it's just that the agenda was shitty and so unpopular that he tried to deflect attention by focusing on attacking John Kerry. McCain and Palin could give a damn about policy, and the culture war is all they have. To be fair, John McCain does have some inkling of a vision of where the country should go: he wants to get us into a war with Iran. But he can't say that, so it's culture war time.

I really don't think it's going to work this time, and I think it might actually backfire and thus be the end of white grievance-centered conservative politics for the conceivable future. Cue Jindal in '16, running as a post-grievance "different kind of Republican." I honestly don't see how the GOP can walk themselves back from this one: now it's unpatriotic to even suggest that innocent civilians are being accidentally killed in air strikes? That that's some kind of affront to the American soldier, rather than stone cold fact. Please, spare me, madame governor. Get thee back to your house and make sure the Russians aren't coming.

Democrats take heart, plus the revolting McCain and Palin conservative catharsis show

Liberals worried that Barack Obama will be "Willie Horton"-ed should take some heart that, after several days of Republican smearing, things are still going well for Obama. Obama still holds a commanding lead in the daily tracking polls, and the one time battleground states of New Hampshire and Pennsylvania now look to be out of play for McCain. Minnesota, too. At this point, McCain has virtually no chance of winning a blue state, and his deficits in Florida, North Carolina, Colorado and Ohio, while perhaps correctible, are difficult to see changing absent some major game-changer.

Nothing new here, just a reassurance post. Liberals panic whenever the GOP starts up with the nastiness, but I think this effect, such as it is, is overrated. Bush won in 2004 by smearing and attacking, but it was also the reality of the time that the economy was doing alright, Iraq hadn't collapsed, and the Democrats were unable to assert themselves on national security in a way that instilled any confidence in their ability to handle these issues. The smears certainly undermined Kerry's case, but the truth is that Bush's fundamentals at the time were strong. Liberals see attacks coming and commit post hoc, ergo propter hoc, but I think a case can be made that conservative outrage is showing diminishing returns as a campaign tactic. It basically got Bush I elected in 1988, and Nixon used it to legendary effect, but Bush only won in 2004 by three points, despite the worst that Rove could throw at 'em.

As a matter of fact, I wonder if this isn't the year where these tactics won't backfire. It's okay to give a wink-wink-nudge-nudge about so-and-so being weak on terrorism, but when you have Sarah Palin whipping up crowds such that they say things like "kill him" and "traitor" and all the rest, I have to think that decent Americans are going to be a little appalled. The Republicans now look and feel like McGovernik Democrats--far out of touch with the mainstream, full of overblown and overheated rhetoric, and angry. Obama is certainly a canny politician, and one wonders if he might be able to use some of this stuff to begin the archetype of the "angry right" similar to the "angry left" that dogged Democrats for decades. There is an opportunity here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Full Circle

McCain resorts to the Manchurian Candidate attack...the very one that Bush used against him in 2000.

Straight Talk Express has a cat in the carburetor

Amusing take on John McCain's most recent speech by Marc Ambinder. Excerpt:

The American people know my record. They know I am going to change Washington, because I've done it before. They know I'm going to reform our broken institutions in Washington and on Wall Street because I've done it before. They know I'm going to deliver relief to the middle class, because that's what I've done.

The problem is: Americans don't know that McCain is going to reform broken institutions. They don't know that he's done it before. They don't know that he's going to deliver relief to the middle class. They don't, en masse, trust McCain in this area. They trust Obama.

I've heard the selection of John McCain by the GOP hailed as the only possible way to forestall a humiliating landslide defeat in 2008. I think this has turned out to be backwards. Sure, McCain would have been a good choice for the GOP had Iraq remained the key issue in the election (speaking from an analysis standpoint, not as a citizen), but he's proven the worst possible choice in an economic crisis. Not only does he not know anything at all about the crisis (or economics generally), but McCain's always been a "national greatness" conservative, and what he would no doubt consider babying voters through the knocks of the market (put another way, reassuring and showing leadership during economic crises) is simply not the stuff great nations are made of, at least as far as McCain's concerned.

One wonders if Mike Huckabee might not have been a better choice, as he can project empathy and can talk to the American people (though he's pretty ignorant of policy, too). Romney could probably explain the crisis to the American people. Either one would have probably been better than John McCain, who is now shooting his wad a month before the election.

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.