Thursday, January 31, 2008


Jennifer Rubin, liveblogging the Democratic debate for Commentary, 8:53 P.M.:

The Smirk Is Back

Obama starts talking about 6 weeks of Clinton equivocation on drivers licenses for illegals and presto– the Hillary smirk is back. The mean eyes come back too....

James Poulos, liveblogging for The American Spectator, 9:53 P.M.:


On the Bill Question. What else? ...

ANOTHER cackle on "dream ticket." DOUBLE cackle at "big difference between those two." Maybe that's actually her real laugh after all?

Wlady Pleszczynski at AmeSpec, 10:37 P.M.:

Re: Hillary Wins

Can't disagree with you, Phil. But she did cackle extra hard at a few points....

Wow -- I'm not sure my simple Democratic brain can handle all this Republican intellectual ferment.

CNN says al-Qaeda's #3 is dead.

The dead man is not to be confused with the six al-Qaeda #3s who had been killed or captured as of May 14, 2005, or the al-Qaeda #3 who died in late 2005.

And the newest al-Qaeda #3 is not the al-Qaeda #3 who was said to be in Iran last summer, according to The New York Sun, and was also said to be in Iran in 2003, according to The New York Times.

Nor is he Adam Gadahn, the American al-Qaeda member who's also called al-Qaeda's #3.

Just wanted to clear all that up.

In a presidential campaign that has involved battles over everything from Iraq to driver’s licenses, one sweeping topic has gone curiously unexamined: Does it diminish American democracy if we keep the presidency in the same two families that have held it since 1989?

--Nicholas Kristof in today's New York Times

"Unexamined"? On what planet is this subject "unexamined"?

Could it be Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton?

--The Guardian, 11/8/00

Battle Royal: Bush, Clinton, Bush--Clinton? It sounds like the War of the Roses.

--Michael Barone, Wall Street Journal, 1/29/07


--MSNBC's First Read, 7/23/07

Bush, Clinton, Bush ... Clinton?

--AP, 9/28/07

The Trance: Bush . . . Clinton . . . Bush . . . Clinton . . . Getting very sleepy . . .

--Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal, 10/5/07

Bush Clinton Bush Clinton…

--Dan Savage, The Stranger, 10/5/07

US ponders Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton White House

--AFP, 10/15/07

--Denver Post, 12/6/07

Bush. Clinton. Bush. Clinton?

--the Caucus blog at, 1/20/08

Y kant Nicholas read?

Since the Florida primary results came in, I've noticed a number of people asserting that we should go after McCain by suggesting that his years as a POW resulted from his own screwup -- because he was shot down.

Oh, please, people. Drop that. Just drop it.

Think for a second about how you felt when Ann Coulter wrote this about Max Cleland: "Cleland lost three limbs in an accident during a routine noncombat mission where he was about to drink beer with friends. He saw a grenade on the ground and picked it up. He could have done that at Fort Dix." Or, later, when she wrote that he "was a victim only of his own clumsiness." (Go here for the real Cleland story.)

And don't tell me it worked against Cleland -- it didn't. Linking him to bin Laden in a campaign ad -- yes, that worked. But that was in 2002. Coulter didn't bring him up until 2004, when he'd been an ex-senator for a year and a half. Max Chambliss and the GOP didn't go after him that way in '02.

Attack the McCain of 1967 and you become exactly what the right and the GOP want you to become: you become people who hate the troops, not just the (old or new) war.

It's going to be very difficult to make this case, but the person we need to keep out of the White House is Senator McCain, not Lieutenant Commander McCain.


HOWEVER: Captain Ed says a similar message is being e-mailed right now:

The rumor mill tells e-mail recipients that McCain lost four or five airplanes as a naval aviator. One incident, though, doesn't even involve McCain except as a victim of someone else's error, and the rest of them don't provide any context at all.

This is being spread by right-wingers -- for instance, John Derbyshire at National Review and nativist sleazebag Steve Sailer -- and, well, you know the rules: It's OK to do this if you're a Republican. (Besides, once these guys stop bellyaching and agree to back McCain, they'll probably blame these e-mails on us. And the mainstream press will probably believe them.)

Alec Baldwin has done us a service by preserving a staggeringly racist column purportedly by Barack Obama -- or, rather, by "YoMama Bin Barack." The column was published in a weekly newspaper in the posh parts of Long Island, then withdrawn from the paper's Web site as its author, Rick Murphy, issued the usual I-had-no-idea-this-would-hurt-people copout of an apology.

Click on the images below to read the thing; my thoughts follow.


OK, let's get an obvious question out of the way: Does this kind of thing mean it's a risk for Democrats to nominate Obama? No. People who laugh at this aren't going to vote for Hillary Clinton, either -- at the end of the day, they're going to vote for whoever they see as the white-manliest candidate in the race, and inevitably that's going to be the Republican (i.e., they would never have voted for John Edwards, either, at least not after another thousand wisecracks about his haircuts). Note in the apology, by the way, that Murphy's prior column also offended a lot of people, and that one was supposedly written by Hillary Clinton. (I'd be curious to read that one, but I haven't found it.)


What I get from the Obama column is not so much a belief that Obama conforms to ugly racist stereotypes as much as anxiety at the notion that he doesn't -- it's as if Murphy has a desperate need to force Obama into a racist pigeonhole because the thought that he might have to take Obama (or any black person) seriously, or accord black people any respect whatsoever, is too much to bear.

You hear the same thing in Don Imus's racist shtick -- not just the remarks about the Rutgers basketball team, but the bits from one of his 1970s comedy albums that I quoted last year:

... Newark mayor Kenneth "King Kong" Gibson has announced the nomination of the city's first Hispanic municipal court judge and the first black woman to fill a second vacancy on the court. Judge Guillermo Alfredo Espanata Ortega Ortez Astellego Jijuete Chingao will assume his duties as quickly as he can get his car started and get to court. The other new judge, thirty-year-old Rebecca Golin Johnson Lincoln Jefferson, will assume her duties as soon as she, in her own words, "gets damn good and fuckin' ready, honky!"

Stop accomplishing things and get back in that stereotype, dammit!

(And I'll throw in Howard Stern, too -- go back to his first book and find pearls of wisdom such as "You know what the sweetest fruit of the civil rights movement was? The ultimate prize? We all know what the prize was. PORKING WHITE BABES!" More recently, by the way, we find Stern having a jolly old time mocking immigrant shopkeepers' pronunciation of English. Can't risk letting them get a toehold either, can we?)

I'd bet a thousand bucks Rick Murphy is a big Stern fan and/or a big Imus fan.


In the apology, Murphy says that his paper's principal owner isn't responsible for the offensive pieces in the paper -- "He never sees our paper before it comes out." That principal owner is Jerry Della Femina, a legendary ad guy (the Mad Men era marks the start of his career; he literally wrote the book on advertising in the 1960s). Della Femina may not be the guilty party, but it's hard to believe that the column offended him -- here's a New York Observer article about him from 2005:

...His weekly column, "Jerry's Ink," published weekly in his own paper, the East Hampton Independent, contains diatribes on everything from piping plovers to gun control.

On July 27, Mr. Della Femina's column announced, with an uncertain degree of seriousness, that he would begin racial profiling at his Hamptons restaurant, Della Femina. "Should anything untoward happen on our restaurant premises," he wrote, "the Muslim perpetrator will be buried with one of my great Chef's Michael Rozzi's pork chops in his mouth."

...Have any Muslims come into your restaurant since the column came out? "No, we haven’t seen any. I think I've lost the Muslim group. Hahaha!"

What a charming guy.

Oh, and here's my favorite part:

... if you were named Mayor for a day, what would you do? "In that day, I would change the profiling at the subways. No. 1."

How exactly would you formulate that law? "Oh, I'd be a dictator for a day! Uh, basically, the law would include that those people who in the past have been the perpetrators of acts of terrorism would be those that would be first checked...."

Wow -- that's just unbelievably brilliant. Pick out all the people in the subways who've committed terrorist acts in the past -- and then stop and search them! (Smacks head.) Why didn't we think of that before?

(Via Jack and Jill Politics.)

In November, a study by CBS News found a high rate of suicides among veterans. In response, Michael Fumento of the New York Post promptly rose to shoot the messenger:


... we have absolutely no way of verifying the CBS data nor how the network claims it collected the info. CBS News admits to collecting the data itself, rather than relying on an independent outside party. It also concedes its rate is "much higher" than that in an uncompleted Department of Veterans Affairs study.

So somebody isn't telling the truth. And the evidence is overwhelming that it's CBS....

Fumento cited a lot of statistics that, he claimed, proved CBS's "nefariousness." But two months later, we now have some new statistics:

Suicides among active-duty soldiers in 2007 reached their highest level since the Army began keeping such records in 1980, according to a draft internal study obtained by The Washington Post. Last year, 121 soldiers took their own lives, nearly 20 percent more than in 2006.

At the same time, the number of attempted suicides or self-inflicted injuries in the Army has jumped sixfold since the Iraq war began. Last year, about 2,100 soldiers injured themselves or attempted suicide, compared with about 350 in 2002, according to the U.S. Army Medical Command Suicide Prevention Action Plan.

I wonder if Fumento and the Post are going to call these horrible numbers, from the Army itself, "bogus."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Edwards is dropping out? Well, once the race included both Obama and Clinton, Edwards never had a chance, any more than, say, Biden or Richardson did. For the press, Clinton/Obama is about celebrity, sizzle, heat; Edwards was once on a national ticket, so he wasn't quite put in the Boring Nobody category with Richardson and Biden, but he was treated like a guy whose category's award was given out at a separate ceremony earlier this afternoon. Obviously, the well-to-do elitists in the political press never wanted to take seriously a guy who has a left-wing critique of turbocapitalism, but keeping him off the front pages was made infinitely easier when they realized they could focus exclusively on Clinton vs. Obama as a red-carpet catfight and turn their coverage of the Democratic race into And now, with Talk-Show Couch McCain as the inevitable GOP nominee, it's going to be all People magazine from here on in (with McCain, however, portrayed as the ordinary guy who had celebrity thrust upon him by the Viet Cong)....

Andrea Bernstein of New York's NPR affiliate, WNYC (at about 4:27 into the audio):

You know, John McCain proved himself really tough in this campaign. He would not die. I mean, you saw in him the man who stood up to the Viet Cong.

Yup, five years of brutal physical torture = getting on a bus and joking with worshipful reporters while suffering temporary setbacks in the polls.

I said this last fall, but after last night's GOP results I think it's even more likely that Hillary Clinton's running mate if she wins the nomination will be the world's most boring general, Wesley Clark.

If I'm right, what an opportunity squandered....

Kevin Sheekey, the guy who's known at Bloomberg's City Hall as the "deputy mayor for running for president," has said "he will urge the mayor to run [translation: Bloomberg will run after pretending to be urged] if 70% of Americans are convinced the country is on the wrong track and 40% have an unfavorable view of the Democratic and Republican candidates." McCain, alas for Bloomberg (and alas for the rest of us) is at 27% unfavorable (Rasmussen) and 29% or 30% unfavorable (CNN/USA Today/Gallup, ABC/Washington Post, CNN/Opinion Research).

Bloomie and his little claque might decide to rewrite their own rules just because the mayor's ego won't be satisfied with anything less than a run, but I don't see it. They could say, for instance, that on Iraq McCain is polarizing -- which would be a public service. Of course, what he'd say is that McCain and Clinton/Obama are polarizing, which wouldn't be much help. But I think Bloomberg will declare victory (the Republicans have nominated a non-polarizing maverick!) and remain neutral, angling for a Cabinet position from whoever wins in November.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


If only he weren't incredibly unlikable, it could have been Mitt Romney coasting to victory tonight. But no....


Michael Graham at National Review Online speaks for the right-wing purists:

...So it is over. Finished. In November, we'll be sending out our most liberal, least trustworthy candidate vs. to take on Hillary Clinton -- perhaps not more liberal than Barack Obama, but certainly far less trustworthy....

Every day, he dreams of a world filled with happy Democrats and insulted Republicans. And he is, thanks to Florida, the presidential nominee of the Republican party.

And on that note, I'm off to climb into a bottle of Bushmill's. It's going to be a LONG nine months.

Why do I find myself unable to dismiss the notion that people like Graham (and Limbaugh and Malkin and Hannity) are just saying these things to fool us into thinking McCain isn't "really" a Republican, so more swing voters will vote for him in November and they'll keep their precious White House?


Real Clear Politics poll averages: McCain beats Clinton by 0.1% and trails Obama by 0.3%. (UPDATE: Numbers were accurate when I posted; they've changed since.) Er, whatever happened to that Democrat blowout that was supposed to happen in '08, as a result of the war and the economy and the unpopularity of Bush? And that's before the nine-month tongue bath McCain's about to get from the press. Oh, well -- maybe Chris Matthews and Maureen Dowd will get hit by a bus, and the Democrats will at least be able to stay competitive.


Oh, Lieberman, according to AP, is "unequivocally ruling out sharing the GOP ticket with McCain." But:

Lieberman did say that if McCain wins the nomination, he'd likely attend the Republican convention.

"I'd probably be more welcome there," he said.

What have I been saying for months? Not only do I think he'll give a speech, I think he'll give the speech introducing McCain. What amazing crossover appeal that Maverick will seem to have!


Ed Koch on Giuliani: "The beast is dead." Heh.

From NPR:

Army officials in upstate New York instructed representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs not to help disabled soldiers at Fort Drum Army base with their military disability paperwork last year. That paperwork can be crucial because it helps determine whether soldiers will get annual disability payments and health care after they're discharged.

Now soldiers at Fort Drum say they feel betrayed by the institutions that are supposed to support them....

[A VA] official said the VA used to help soldiers with the paperwork, but Army officials saw soldiers from Fort Drum getting higher disability ratings with the VA's help than soldiers from other bases. The Army told the VA to stop helping Fort Drum soldiers describe their army injuries, and the VA did as it was told.

... private attorney Mara Hurwitt points out that the Army has a financial incentive to keep soldiers' disability ratings low.

"The more soldiers you have who get disability retirements, the more retirement pay is coming out of your budget," Hurwitt says....

I'm no expert on this, but it seems clear to me that the real problem is that the military's system for assessing disability is rotten to the core. Last year, The Nation and ABC reported on the case of Army Specialist Jonathan Town, whose hearing loss from a rocket attack was ascribed to a preexisting personality disorder (yes, I'm serious) by the Army, a determination that led to a non-medical discharge and the denial of disability benefits. The Army Times last year found that anyone who tried to pursue a full evaluation faced "long waits, lost paperwork and months or even years away from home" -- and determined that the number of soldiers approved for permanent disability retirement actually dropped from 2001 (for most of which we weren't at war) to 2005 (in the thick of two wars that had gone on for several years).

So the real problem isn't that some soldiers are getting VA help and others aren't -- it's that without help, apparently you're likely to get screwed. That's a disgrace.

At the Carpetbagger Report, Steve Benen reads the New York Times story "Question of Timing on Bush’s Push on Earmarks" and says he's puzzled:

In the midst of a likely recession, and instability in the global markets, the president devoted 149 words of his State of the Union address to the economic downturn and what he wants to do about it. Conversely, he gave almost exactly the same amount of attention to decrying congressional budget earmarks....

These comments, delivered early on in the speech, were music to the ears of conservatives, and congressional Republicans were delighted by the remarks. (At a recent retreat for GOP lawmakers, Republicans decided reforming the earmark process would be the key to reclaiming the congressional majority.)

I'm afraid I just can't fathom why this has reached the top of the Republican list of domestic priorities.... pork-barrel spending exploded once the GOP controlled both Congress and the White House.... Now, after six years of spending like drunken sailors, Republicans believe one of their worst habits is going to be the key to their political salvation?

Hey, Steve, I get it. You're focusing on what they think is their problem. You need to look at what they don't think is their problem.

Republicans have told themselves a fairytale: that they lost control of Congress in '06 not because voters were sick of the war or feeling economic anxiety, or because of the GOP's handling of Katrina and the Terri Schiavo case, but because Republicans weren't Republican enough -- they didn't stay true to their principles and hold the line on wasteful spending.

This, of course, is a fairytale within a fairytale -- as Steve says, Republicans have never held the line on spending in living memory. But Republicans think they're not the tax-and-spend party because Saint Reagan said Democrats were the tax-and-spend party and Republicans weren't -- even as America's debt skyrocketed on his watch.

The earmarks-defeated-us thesis was advanced immediately after the '06 elections by people such as Michael Reagan:

We are hearing all sorts of reasons why the GOP got, in George Bush’s word, "thumped." We're told it was Iraq, or that it was the incompetence and corruption of some of its members. Some cited the unpopularity of the president, implying that it rubbed off on the House members who went down to defeat last Tuesday.

While there is some validity to all these complaints, they miss the mark by ignoring the real cause of the Nov. 7 electoral disaster -- the fact that Republicans had stopped acting the way Republicans are meant to act, and began acting as clones of big-government, big-spending Democrats....

The GOP leadership allowed some of their number to corrupt their own party. In the notorious, pork-laden "bridge-to-nowhere" transportation bill last year they promised certain earmark goodies to certain members of Congress if they would support the bill....

And we heard it again last week in the GOP debate, from John McCain, in pretty much the same words:

We Republicans lost an election. We lost an election because of the Bridge to Nowhere and the fact that we presided over the biggest increase in the size of government that -- a sense of [G]reat [S]ociety, we let it get out of control.

The alternate explanation -- that GOP governing principles have actually been wrong, on earmarks and the war and a host of other issues -- is simply impossible for Republicans to accept. Either that or they do accept it, but they think they'll look weak if they say so out loud.

From The Hill, the D.C. political paper:

Clinton, Obama steal Bush's final show

All eyes were on Democratic presidential frontrunners Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) Monday night as spectators and pundits followed their every move during President Bush's final State of the Union address.

Clinton set observers atwitter when she waded through the crowd before the speech to shake hands with Democratic dean and senior Sen. Edward Kennedy (Mass.), who made headlines Monday by endorsing Obama in the primary.

For the second year in a row, Obama sat next to Kennedy for the president's annual address. Yet despite this, Clinton managed to miss Obama's attention as she chatted with Kennedy while reporters looked on hungrily from the overhanging balcony....

Oh, great -- I want political news and instead I'm reading a freaking gossip column. It's as if last night was Golden Globes night and Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan showed up wearing the same dress.

The Hill is aimed at Washington insiders, but this is the standard approach to the coverage of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the mainstream media. These two candidates are being depicted as glitzy and gossip-worthy and fabulous, while the Republican candidates are being depicted as plain, serious men. It's going to be very damaging to the Democrats' chances, because, come November, one of those Republicans will seem like someone the average American might pass on the street -- while his Democratic opponent will seem like a preening celebrity diva.

You can blame Bill Clinton for the fact that Democrats are covered this way, but I blame the Vanity Fair-ization of the political press -- that is, the spreading of the notion that there simply isn't a line that separates glitz and substance -- and I remind you that VF has been fairly besotted with the Reagans since the 1980s. But Clinton went Hollywood, and he was popular, and Republicans, especially Bush, were openly contemptuous of Hollywood and glitz (and, in Bush's case, even entertaining or staying up late), and Bush and the Republicans began to screw up everything they touched, and so political journalists who craved fabulousness began to associate it exclusively with the Democrats.

By November the Republicans will get to seem like the party of Main Street (even if the nominee is Mitt Romney, who seems as if he owns Main Street). As it is, right now they even get to hang out with celebrities (Huckabee with Chuck Norris, Rudy, lately, with Jon Voight) without seeming like people who hang out with celebrities. By now, the Democrats don't even have to hang out with stars -- the Clintons and Obama, at least, are the stars.

That's going to be an undercurrent in all the coverage this year -- even if Romney or McCain picks Fred Thompson as a running mate. And it's going to hurt.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Last week, we all had a chuckle at the Onion piece "Bill Clinton: 'Screw It, I'm Running for President.'" It was accompanied by a picture of Clinton eagerly shaking hands in a crowd; the caption "quotes" Clinton as saying, "Damn, this feels good."

Tonight I watched Clinton's successor -- the president in my lifetime who has aged the least while in office, even though he's served nearly two full terms and dealt with terrorism, war, recession, and utter rejection by the American public. I don't think it's just the mountain biking -- tonight as I watched his speech and watched him transition from domestic matters, which clearly bore him, to the parts about Iraq and Iran, which seem to send a jolt of bitter, angry energy right across his neck and shoulders, it became obvious to me (if it wasn't already) that these have been great years for George W. Bush, because he feels he's doing vitally important things, he feels all kinds of people hate the way he's doing those things -- and he just loves both those feelings.

Clinton often radiates utter glee on the campaign trail; Bush's bliss doesn't manifest itself in glee but, rather, in smugness and defiance -- in looking down at his enemies and thinking, "I won. You lost." His victory, of course, is permanent war -- he's a Really Important Person now and nobody can take that away from him.

It wasn't all angry bliss in the foreign-policy part of the speech. Tonight I couldn't help sensing a bit of disappointment, a barely detectable slump of the shoulders, as he said this:

In the past seven years, we've also seen images that have sobered us. We've watched throngs of mourners in Lebanon and Pakistan carrying the caskets of beloved leaders taken by the assassin's hand. We've seen wedding guests in blood-soaked finery staggering from a hotel in Jordan, Afghans and Iraqis blown up in mosques and markets, and trains in London and Madrid ripped apart by bombs. On a clear September day, we saw thousands of our fellow citizens taken from us in an instant. These horrific images serve as a grim reminder: The advance of liberty is opposed by terrorists and extremists -- evil men who despise freedom, despise America, and aim to subject millions to their violent rule.

What he seemed to be thinking was: More! I want more! For years, all the really bad things have happened overseas! Some of it should happen here, so I can be even more important than I am!

But all was well after that, because he moved on to talking about his wars, secure in the knowledge that he'll have them for all 357 remaining days of his presidency. The swagger shot back into his shoulders.

As he talked about the start of the surge a year ago -- "So we reviewed our strategy and changed course" -- I began to think that of course he didn't try to change course before then, because he couldn't bear to run the risk of losing the one thing that had ever made him feel like a significant person; he had to let the war drift along for four years because he couldn't risk the possibility of completing the mission. That would have turned him back into Dumb Old George, long before his term was over; now, fortunately for him, there's no chance of that.

Sorry, troops, that's what you've fought and bled and died for.


AND: Jacob Weisberg ended his op-ed in Monday's New York Times by talking about one aspect of Bush's persona and making a prediction for the State of the Union address:

The Compassionate Conservative will surely pay us a final visit tonight. He remains an appealing character, but a largely fictional one. I wonder how the last seven years might have turned out if he had actually existed. In the final year of a failed presidency, I bet Mr. Bush does too.

Really? I don't. Weisberg has just published a book that puts Bush on the couch, but if Weisberg thinks Bush has any doubts or regrets about anything he's done in the past seven years, he's not a very good shrink.

Gallup says McCain leads Giuliani by 18 points in New York.

It's like watching Spinal Tap, only without the top-ten-hit-in-Japan happy ending.

The numbers, by the way are McCain 42%, Giuliani 24%, Romney 14% -- all the more reason I really, really want Romney to win Florida. If McCain wins Florida, he's going to follow up with easy victories in the big coastal states (especially after, inevitably, Rudy drops out), and we don't want him coasting to victory, now do we?

From a review of a novel set in Manhattan in this week's New York Times Book Review:

There are eight million stories in the naked city, but, in the realm of fiction, they all tend in one of two directions. There are Gotham novels -- billowing and romantic, built to chronicle luminous dreams and the deferment thereof. Then there are what we might call crosswalk novels. Slathered with local color -- shaped by it, for that matter -- these books nurse obsessions with the daily business of taxis and delis and how much to tip the coat-check girl. "The House of Mirth" is vintage Gotham. "Bright Lights, Big City" is narcotic Gotham. The epitome of crosswalk must be Calvin Trillin’s "Tepper Isn't Going Out," a novel about alternate-side parking.

Really? Those are the only two kinds of novels about the city of New York?

Er, what about Invisible Man? Or Call It Sleep?

Whoops -- sorry. Those and similar novels are about a New York that includes poor and ethnically marginalized people. That New York clearly doesn't exist for this reviewer, or at least novels about that New York don't exist for him.


But yeah, some of the ladies still love Rudy in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Men, too -- male and female, some people have always found the Rudy mix intoxicating: swagger that can veer into sociopathic rage, but with those faint undernotes of wonkishness and lisping pseudo-empathy. If politics is Hollywood for ugly people, Rudy, at least at his peak, was Sinatra, a boorish jerk who persuaded a lot of people that he was the ultimate man's man, and quite a few people that he was thoughtful and wounded and cuddly. Sinatra, or maybe Fatal Attraction/Falling Down-era Michael Douglas, the self-pitying, put-upon white guy who, if he kills you, fully expects it to be ruled justifiable homicide because, really, how could he be a menace to society when he's so soft-spoken, and when his victim deserved it?

That's what was working for Rudy, and that's what he seems to have lost. I love the way James Wolcott puts it here:

Rudy's gift for demagoguery, which he filed to a serpent's tooth as mayor of New York, seems to have abandoned him once he became a money-hooverer for Giuliani Partners. A vacancy has taken hold in the executive suite of his brain. I saw him yesterday on CNN trying to shift his message to the economy and it was a pale imitation of the pitbull New Yorkers fondly knew and unloved. His economic recovery plan consisted of pandering to Larry Kudlow's pinstripes, saying he'd cut this top rate from 35% to 25%, this rate from 15% to 10%, and abolish the "death tax," which drew applause from the appreciative, well-to-do cadavers-to-be in the audience. Then came the moment to unveil his simplified tax plan, which would allow most Americans to file their returns on a single sheet of paper. He reached into his left jacket pocket and pulled out a folded paper, but it wasn't the right one. May have been a Chinese menu or something. Then he pulled out another. No, that wasn't it either. Maybe it was a scented personal note from wife Judith, reminding him to smile more, no matter how much it hurts his facial muscles. Then, in his right jacket pocket, he found what he was looking for and unfolded it for the audience's behalf. See, here's the thing. As simple stagecraft, you don't tout a Bold New Initiative and then pull out a sheet of paper that's been folded and unfolded and folded again so many times that it looks like a flyer taken from a laundromat bulletin board, complete with lint. It kind of undercuts the magic of the moment, lacks a certain showmanship. Well, he won't be airing out his pockets much longer.

Yes (as Wolcott notes elsewhere) he also needed to talk more about the recession, and sooner -- but he needed to be Rudy and say he was going to kick the recession's ass. And say it quietly but menacingly, in that way some New Yorkers and New York expats still love so much.

The guy who's become what Rudy used to be is Mitt Romney. I've always thought he was a soft-spoken coiled spring, but it's showing more and more, as in his comments at the last debate about Bill Clinton being in the White House with nothing to do. Romney will never be Sinatra, but he's seeming an awful lot like Michael Douglas -- like a guy who'd kill you and then insist he's too upright a citizen to be in any way responsible for the fact that things got out of hand.

(Thanks, Greg T., for reminding me what I'm missing when I don't read Wolcott.)

Sunday, January 27, 2008


What kind of Bizarro World country could elect a lifelong screwup like George W. Bush president? A country in which the Masters of the Universe consider rewarding screwups perfectly reasonable:

UNDER the stewardship of Dow Kim and Thomas G. Maheras, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup built positions in subprime-related securities that led to $34 billion in write-downs last year. The debacle cost chief executives their jobs and brought two of the world's premier financial institutions to their knees.

In any other industry, Mr. Kim and Mr. Maheras would be pariahs. But in the looking-glass world of Wall Street, they -- and others like them -- are hot properties....

Mr. Maheras, who left his job as co-president of Citigroup's investment bank this fall after being demoted, has had serious discussions with several investment banks, including Bear Stearns, about taking on a top management position, people who have been briefed on the situation said. And he has also been approached by investment firms willing to back him to the tune of $1 billion or more if he decides to start his own hedge fund, these people said.

Mr. Kim, who until this spring was a co-president at Merrill Lynch with oversight of the firm's trading and market operations, has been crisscrossing the globe in recent months raising money for his new hedge fund, Diamond Lake Capital....

Poor Tom Maheras -- he'd like to wear sackcloth and ashes, but, darn it, they just won't let him!

Mr. Maheras has told friends that he feels horrible about the recent events....

"I wish I could turn back the clock," he has told peers. "But it happened on my watch."

He has said that he expects to take 6 to 12 months to weigh his next move. However, he has been courted by Wall Street firms, which may push him to take a new post sooner than he might have thought. Since leaving Citigroup, he has had conversations with chief executives at most of the large banks, people who have been briefed on his plans say. At Bear Stearns, the talks have centered on his heading the firm's trading operations, a job formerly held by the co-president, Warren Spector, who was pushed out last summer....

And what about the folks a bit lower on the ladder?

The quick comebacks of these executives stand in stark contrast to the plight of the hundreds of investment bankers who have received pink slips in the last two weeks. They also illuminate a peculiar aspect of Wall Street's own version of a class divide. Senior movers and shakers often land on their feet, no matter how egregious the losses tied to them. The industry rank and file, however, from mergers-and-acquisitions bankers at Bank of America to sales executives in Citigroup's hedge-fund servicing business, see their jobs eliminated despite being far removed from the subprime crisis.

(Of laid-off workers a bit lower down on the ladder, alas, we hear nothing.)

So why do the big kahunas keep getting rehired?

To some extent, it is personal: Mr. Kim and Mr. Maheras have a web of relationships with Wall Street's top executives. And many seasoned investors think that surviving such a crucible gives a person a degree of savoir faire and understanding of risk.

You know what really gives you an "understanding of risk"? ACTUALLY SUFFERING NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES WHEN YOU SCREW UP.

It's appalling. Ordinary people should be out in the street with pitchforks.

Phew -- Giuliani is toast, so I can finally make fun of him without the slightest risk of helping Obambi or Hitlery!

Seriously, when was the last time Maureen Dowd wrote anything truly nasty about a Republican with a real chance of being the presidential nominee? Wait, I'll answer that: It was seven weeks ago. And the previous one was eleven weeks before that. (The love tap aimed at Rudy on October 17 doesn't count.) In that time, she's published sixteen attacks on Democrats (Hillary, mostly, but watch that change if the Obama campaign now regains momentum). If she's not slamming the Democrats, she's either mocking Bush and Cheney or ignoring American politics altogether.

She probably won't want to give the game away by writing a truly nice column about Romney or McCain or whoever emerges from the Republican scrum, so in all likelihood she'll just maintain this pattern all through '08. By November, my guess is that she'll have written more negative sentences about Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni during the year than about the GOP nominee.

After the blowout, after the horrible press coverage, you'd think the Clinton campaign might pull back -- you'd think there might be a sense that this is hurting Hillary's chances and hurting the Democrats' chances in November.

But to me it's starting to look like road rage, or like the pattern I've read about in writings on domestic abuse -- namely, that what makes abusive relationship anger different from ordinary relationship anger is the inability of the abuser to recognize a point when it's gone too far and look for a way to stop the argument. That's the road rage pattern, too, isn't it? Getting angry at some driver on the highway and that pursuing that driver even though it's much wiser to just shake it off and keep driving?

That's how this all looks to me. It just doesn't make sense otherwise. It doesn't seem logical, even in a cold-blooded, amoral way. Why not just drop it? Why subject yourself to coverage like this?

Just off the AP wire ...

Clinton campaign strategists denied any intentional effort to stir the racial debate. But they said they believe the fallout has had the effect of branding Obama as "the black candidate," a tag that could hurt him outside the South.

I guess they're really broken up about it.

Or this?

Said Bill Clinton today in Columbia, SC: "Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in '84 and '88. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here."

This was in response to a question from ABC News' David Wright about it taking "two Clintons to beat" Obama. Jackson had not been mentioned.

Boy, I can't understand why anyone would think the Clintons are running a race-baiting campaign to paint Obama as "the black candidate."

What keeps going through my head is a line from an early Elvis Costello song: "If I'm gonna go down, you're gonna come with me." It's as if Bill and Hillary see a possible defeat for her and they're thinking, "If she can't win, no Democrat will win!" Or merely that they see her as a possible loser to Obama and they (subconsciously?) want to bring about their own defeat -- as if it's a control issue.

Either way, it seems to go way beyond questions of hardball politics.

For years I've hated the fact that the Clintons (and most Democrats) get put on the couch far more than Republicans, but this really does seem to be a question for shrinks rather than pundits. It just seems that these two products of abusive households are living what they learned as kids. And I'm afraid we have to stop them at the ballot box if they can't stop themselves.

Just listened to the 8:40 headlines on NPR. Here were the stories mentioned: Suharto's death; Gaza; heavy rains in Southern California. That's it. What the hell? Nothing about the huge Obama win? What's the thinking there -- "Black guy wins black primary, big freakin' deal"?

(Yeah, I know -- I haven't really said anything myself, and I mentioned the results only briefly in my last post. But I'm not a 24-hour newsgathering operation -- I was busy last night and I'm only now starting to absorb what's going on right now. I'll have a lot more to say soon. Draw your own conclusions about what's up at NPR.)

Saturday, January 26, 2008


Yeah, I should be posting something about Barack Obama's apparent blowout victory in South Carolina, but I got distracted by this:

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in Missouri shows Mike Huckabee and John McCain essentially tied for the lead among the Show-Me State's Likely Republican Primary Voters. Huckabee attracts 27% of the vote while McCain earns 26%.

Mitt Romney is in third place with 18% of the vote....

Go, Huck, go!

What do we want? Hopelessly fractured GOP! When do we want it? Now!


The Federal Communications Commission has proposed a $1.4 million fine against 52 ABC Television Network stations over a 2003 broadcast of cop drama NYPD Blue.

The fine is for a scene where a boy surprises a woman as she prepares to take a shower. The scene depicted "multiple, close-up views" of the woman's "nude buttocks" according to an agency order issued late Friday....

The agency said the show was indecent because "it depicts sexual organs and excretory organs -- specifically an adult woman's buttocks."

The agency rejected the network's argument that "the buttocks are not a sexual organ."

Dangerous chemicals:

Dallas gas plant fined $6,300 in July blast that injured 2

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined Southwest Industrial Gases $6,300 after an acetylene gas explosion at its facility near downtown Dallas spawned spectacular fireballs and sent metal canisters flying over freeways in July.

OSHA said Southwest Industrial exposed employees to serious hazards that were likely to cause death or serious physical harm, according to citations issued Thursday and released Friday.

The agency said the plant could have reduced the fire risk by installing a sprinkler system in the loading dock....

OSHA also cited the company for two other violations: failing to properly mark trucks that carried pallets of acetylene cylinders and having a hazard analysis that was conducted only by the general manager, instead of by a team of employees....

Okay, okay -- the second story does say that Bush's OSHA was unable to reach the conclusion "that any of these violations caused the July 25 blast, which severely burned two workers."* But, er, was anyone actually able to reach the conclusion that the earth-shattering site of (gasp!) a woman's ass on TV warped anyone's mind forever?

*Funny how so many cases of this kind end the same way -- "Gee, your company's practices could have led to something exactly like what happened, but somehow we can't find the link, just as your team of expensive lawyers argued."

Friday, January 25, 2008


Apparently I'm very late to this, but I've just discovered that there's a belief out there that George Soros is the source of Ron Paul's money.

When I watch the support that Ron Paul has had, I keep coming back to the same thing. "This does not pass the 'smell' test'." ...

So I want to propose an idea that I think deserves some attention.

... Considering the frame of mind of the far left (anything to win, including buying or cheating for the Presidency) is it not possible that the kind of minds that think like Soros, and have the money to throw at an election, would support a Republican yet Independent candidate that would could peel off a few million Republican votes, nationally, from the Republican front runner?

Can you say "Manufacture me a Ross Perot"? ...

This shows up in Net flotsam and jetsam all over the place. Craigslist:

Track a contribution down and see what happens. Ron Paul is a "Soros" plant. Follow the money.

Yahoo Answers:

Is any George Soros or money funding Ron Paul?

I have heard some people say this. Is it true, or not? thanks

And there's even a goof on the idea here (although it's such an insidery goof it's not particularly funny to those of us who live in the world of normal people).

Soros has co-hosted an Obama fund-raiser, and he's said nice things about Hillary Clinton, too. Who knows, maybe he's secretly fond of Ron Paul as well, though it's hard to imagine him being shy about saying so. But the point of this rumor seems to be that all of Paul's money, or most of it, is (presumably illegally) coming from Soros -- that Paul (who's been running for office or decades, and who ran an even more futile campaign for president twenty years ago) wouldn't be doing this if Soros weren't putting him up to it.

Me, I've seen Ron Paul signs all over, including the hippie havens of Taos, New Mexico, and Woodstock, New York, and I think the support is real. (A Mother Jones article recently asserted that a large percentage of his support comes from young, presumably well-paid Silicon Valley techies.)

But it's kind of perfect that there's a paranoid, probably racist conspiracy theory about a racist candidate who, along with his supporters, is full of conspiracy theories.


UPDATE: Tom Hilton ponders the question: Which James Bond villain do wingnuts think Soros is?

Lieberman? Lieberman??

Oh, what the hell do I know -- just because he's a pro-choice, pro-gay rights, Jewish, Northeastern registered Democrat, can I say for sure the party wouldn't embrace him? Despite his stands, he'd probably do whatever the party wanted him to do as president -- not just on the war but on judges and a host of other issues -- just to piss off the Democrats.

(As for whether he'd do something like this, I believe his repeated statements -- he just said it again to Newsweek -- that he won't sever his remaining ties to the Democratic Party. Think about it: If you were an adolescent child of divorced parents in a joint-custody situation and you were able to play each of your parents off against the other every time you wanted something, and every time you wanted attention, would you voluntarily give all that up to go live with one parent and obey that parent's rules? That's Lieberman's situation now -- especially the "adolescent" part.)

Brokered GOP convention, baby! Maybe it's really possible -- according to Rasmussen, Huck's not dead:

...The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in Georgia finds Huckabee with 34% of the vote followed by McCain at 19%, Romney with 16%, Ron Paul with 12% and Rudy Giuliani in fifth with 11%....

And in Alabama:

John McCain and Mike Huckabee are tied for the lead in Alabama's Republican Presidential Primary. McCain and Huckabee each attract 27% support while Mitt Romney is a distant third at 15%....

Romney might be picking up a big chunk of the Fred Thompson vote outside the Bible Belt, but perhaps his satanic evil scary Mormonism is preventing him from getting a similar boost in God's Country. And maybe God is telling Bible Belt GOPers to listen to Rush regarding John McCain, but not Saint Huck.

I sure hope so.

If there were a God, surely He/She/It wouldn't like me enough to give me an early Christmas present like this:

Newt: A GOP Dark Horse?

... conservatives could be faced with backing either McCain, or Romney, or Huckabee or even Rudy.

Or they could end up backing none of them.

Who, then, could conservatives end up backing? ...

Newt Gingrich, that's who....

Why Newt? Ask yourself why Ronald Reagan won. He won because he was able to excite a group of people in America that the liberal wing of the Republican party has never excited -- the grass roots.

Newt Gingrich is the last Republican to have done that -- to reach out to the grass roots, to all those conservative Republicans and Reagan Democrats. Remember, it was Newt who engineered the miraculous Republican take-over of Congress in 1994 -- something that was deemed impossible two years after Bill Clinton won the White House.

I wouldn't be surprised if he was out there quietly working the phones and hoping for a wide-open convention where the delegates -- not the primaries that selected many of them -- decide for themselves who they want to carry the GOP banner in the presidential election in November.

If Newt throws his hat in the ring he knows that in the blink of an eye he will have the grass roots behind him....

That's from Michael Reagan, writing in Human Events. I think Ronnie's son is nuts to think this could happen -- but the fact that he would put forth a nutball idea like this with no fear of being laughed out of the room reaffirms my sense that the best result possible for Democrats would be a brokered Republican convention. I really believe that the various more-purist-than-thou wings of Wingnuttia might scuttle any attempt to unify behind a remotely electable nominee. I'm not entirely sure they wouldn't emerge with a Limbaugh-Coulter ticket. (Or, given the official line these days that Coulter is de trop, maybe it would have to be Limbaugh-Malkin.)

But ... Gingrich. Wow. Just wow. And imagine if this happened along with a Hillary Clinton victory -- we had Barack Obama entering the race after expressing exasperation at having watched the Clinton/Gingrich wars in the 1990s, and this would be that war all over again. Talk about age and treachery overcoming youth and skill.

(Though I probably shouldn't discount Newt's chances -- after all, in the mainstream media, Gingrich fans David Broder and Joe Klein would just plotz.)

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Well, maybe effectively unopposed, if Steven Stark of The Boston Phoenix is really on to something:

...the Republicans may well be headed to a deadlocked race and convention. And history teaches us that the likeliest candidate to emerge in that scenario is someone like Warren G. Harding: the prototypical, less-than-stellar candidate to which conventions turn when the going gets rough.

This year's Harding? Believe it or not (are you sitting down?), despite the fact that he's withdrawn from the race, is Fred Thompson.

... , Harding's showings [in the 1920 campaign] were so atrocious that he had to be continually convinced not to drop out of the race by his advisors. Sound familiar?

...[Thompson] has always been the establishment's choice. The flip side of his failure to articulate much of a platform is that he hasn't really alienated anybody. He certainly looks like a president...

Oh, don't even get my hopes up this way.

Stark, I gather, leans left, but at least one righty blogger seems to be taking this seriously.

Me, I'm not sure who would emerge from a brokered convention. It occurs to me that "brokered" might be a real misnomer this year -- who's going to broker it? Can anybody, given how much some segments of the party seem to hate each candidate? The GOP will probably be a ruthless machine once it has a candidate in place, but I'm not sure it will be able to settle on a candidate.

Any idiot would know that the Republicans should just go with McCain -- but the Limbaughs and Coulters and Hewitts would howl, and they'll probably lead a Harriet Miers/Dubai Ports-style campaign to get the base to threaten revolt. Romney might seem a risky choice to evangelicals. Giuliani would make those evangelicals walk out. Huckabee is surely seen as a wacko fundie by the golf-and-scotch wing of the party and is definitely seen as a liberal by the right-wing talkers. And party pragmatists would recognize that Condi Rice and Jeb Bush and Tommy Franks all bear the stench of the current president and the current war, so they'd all probably be rejected.

As for Thompson, I assume a prerequisite for the candidate will be that he actually shows up regularly and campaigns -- you know, every day. That would seem to eliminate Fred from consideration.

I half-think the Republicans will adjourn without a nominee, let Hillary or Barack duke it out with Bloomberg, and then do to the presidency of whoever wins what they did to Bill Clinton's.

Or maybe they'll just cut to the chase and run Rush.

Wow -- a whole article on friction among the GOP presidential candidates, and it takes up a whopping two columns on page A20 of today's New York Times.

...Within the small circle of contenders, Mr. Romney has become the most disliked....

"Never get into a wrestling match with a pig," Senator John McCain said in New Hampshire this month after reporters asked him about Mr. Romney. "You both get dirty, and the pig likes it."

Mike Huckabee's pugilistic campaign chairman, Ed Rollins, appeared to stop just short of threatening Mr. Romney with physical violence at one point.

"What I have to do is make sure that my anger with a guy like Romney, whose teeth I want to knock out, doesn't get in the way of my thought process," Mr. Rollins said.

Savor it. Wallow in it. Because this will probably be the first and last time the mainstream press deigns to notice that people other than Democrats say nasty things to one another.

With so much attention recently on the sniping between Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama on the Democratic side, the almost visceral scorn directed at Mr. Romney by his rivals has been overshadowed.

Uh, maybe if you actually told us about it before now, it might not be overshadowed in quite the same way.

Oh, and by the way, the Times's explanation for the animosity seems to be that all the other candidates are just jealous -- does that sound like your mom, or what?

Mr. Romney's campaign contends that the hostility is driven by the fact that he has aggressively sought to win the early primaries, setting himself up as the chief antagonist, first, to Mr. Huckabee in Iowa and then to Mr. McCain in New Hampshire.

Mr. Romney continues to be a mountain in the paths of both men, as well as Rudolph W. Giuliani, to the nomination.

A spokesman for the Romney campaign, Kevin Madden, said, "I think it's largely driven by the fact that everybody's taught to tackle the guy on the field with the ball." ...

A senior adviser to Mr. Romney, Ronald C. Kaufman, pointed to his vast personal fortune and upstart status in the political world as breeding resentment.

"They think he didn't pay his dues," said Mr. Kaufman, who argued that Mr. Romney had done so by working tirelessly in his campaign.

Remember this, too, because if Romney wins the nomination, especially if his opponent is Hillary Clinton, the press is going to try to turn him into a hero -- specifically, the aggressive, cocky, restless, buccaneer, I-don't-care-whose-feathers-get-ruffled takeover-artist hero of a thousand CEO-porn articles that have appeared in the business press since the 1980s. It won't be quite as satisfying as the war-hero narrative they'd like to write for McCain, or the dust-covered-avenging-angel-of-9/11 narrative that would have been in the works for Giuliani, or the reluctant-slow-talkin'-quiet-man narrative that would have been cooked up for Thompson, but it'll get a lot of journalists' testosterone flowing nonetheless. (I can already picture the cover of Time or Newsweek -- or both -- just after Romney clinches: a smiling, jut-jawed victor in white shirt and tie, reaching out to give a firm, manly handshake to a supporter, over the words CLOSING THE DEAL.)

So I'm reading the 89,000th article about the Clinton-Obama feud, this one at the Politico, on the specific subject of the Obama campaign's decision to talk about "the Clintons" rather than "Hillary Clinton," and I read this:

In fact, Obama and Clinton are both in uncharted waters, particularly when it comes to how the dynamic will affect the female voters on whom Clinton depends. Will they be jarred away from Hillary by Bill's emergence as an equal partner?

Or will they be offended by Obama's statement of that fact?

May I offer a third choice? Neither? How about neither?

Bill may be more visible now, and he may be upsetting quite a few people these day who were disposed to like him, but for the love of God, insider reporters, please get this through your heads: Ordinary Americans knew he was married to Hillary -- a long time ago! Ordinary Americans fully expected that he would be deeply involved in her campaign, and, if it happened, her presidency -- and anyone who's expressed support for her has done so knowing full well that this would be the case. And that includes feminists -- no one supported Hillary Clinton and then suddenly thought, "Hey, I wanted a woman to be president and now I see she's married to this guy who's really involved in everything she does politically! What's up with that? Why didn't somebody tell me about him?"

Mainstream media types, stop saying stupid things like this.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Barack Obama said things about Ronald Reagan that I wish he hadn't. No, he didn't overtly praise Reagan's policies and yes, he's taken great pains to criticize those policies since his initial statement -- but it's still the case that he went overboard in trying to reach across the aisle to express admiration.

But he's being slammed for this by Hillary Clinton's campaign -- and that's hypocritical because, as Niall Stanage of The New York Observer reminds us, she's also said nice things about a reactionary from a previous generation:

...On the day before the New Hampshire primary, she referenced Margaret Thatcher, initially praising the former British prime minister simply for having "stepped up to the plate" on global warming. But Mrs. Clinton went on to imply a similarity between Mrs. Thatcher and herself: in essence, that both were effective even at the cost of personal likability.

"We had one leader -- I don't know how likable she was -- we had one leader who made it a priority and got the job done," she said.

And her chief campaign honcho has said similar things:

...Mark Penn, perhaps Mrs. Clinton's closest adviser, last fall presented a more elaborate version of the argument that Mrs. Clinton would deliver in the snows of New Hampshire.

Referring to the importance or otherwise of likability, Mr. Penn told
The Daily Telegraph of London:

"I think 'buddy potential' is way overrated. It's not who you want to have a beer with, it's who you want to have as president or prime minister. The Margaret Thatcher experience showed pretty clearly how the Conservative Party did so much better with strength and leadership....."

Pot, meet kettle? Why do I find myself with the urge to send a check to John Edwards? Or Dennis Kucinich?

On the New York Times bestseller list that was just sent out via e-mail, Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism moves up from #10 to #3. Good grief.

Right-wing books in general are doing better right now than left-wing books -- Paul Krugman's last book missed the list, as did Glenn Greenwald's, but Glenn Beck and Laura Ingraham and now this lunkhead are going gangbusters. As someone who grew up in Boston during the 86-year Red Sox championship drought and who moved to New York at the dawn of the Steinbrenner era, these folks remind me of (pre-Red Sox Nation) Yankee fans -- "Hey, we haven't won a World Series in two years!" Republicans haven't even lost the White House yet (and may not), they still control the Supreme Court, they effectively still control Congress -- and yet they feel they've been down too damn long and it's high time they regained the rightful place at the top that they haven't even lost yet. And so they're buying books trying to get fired up for the inevitable restoration and the long-awaited end of the wilderness years that still haven't arrived.

Or at least that's my theory.

(The new list will be posted at the Times site this weekend.)

Was Fred Thompson's presidential campaign just a ruse to get the VP slot? That's what Fox News campaign reporter Carl Cameron says:

Now it can be told- The Thompson story

Back in March of 07 at the CPAC convention in DC several former Fred Thompson Congressional staffers told me Fred Thompson was thinking about a run. Some of his Tennessee cronies had been talking him up too.

I reported first that he was eyeing a White House bid. At the time several insiders told me OFF THE RECORD that it was largely a trial ballon to guage his popularity and float his name as a possible vice presidential nominee. I was sworn to silence.

Those insiders have now lifted the conditions on our conversations. From March to August of 07 through postponed announcement days, staff changes, firings, resignations and general disarray the Thompson camp was stunned by the incredibly positive response and didn’t really know how to manage it. The trial balloon soared mighty high and he found himself being dragged into a race that he was not even sure how to run....

And that, presumably, is why he ran the worst presidential campaign ever run by someone who wasn't a cross-dressing ex-mayor of New York.

Do I believe this? It strikes me as plausible -- though it also seems as if floating this now might be an attempt on Thompson's part to save face. Or maybe it's true and it's being floated now for face-saving reasons.

I should note that at the righty blog Hot Air there's this speculation about Cameron's motives:

A reader e-mails to remind us (snidely) that Cameron's been hammering Fred ever since his pal Jim Mills was hired away from FNC [Fox News Channel] by the campaign and then summarily fired a few weeks later, leaving him high and dry.... I don't know anything about Cameron to make me think he’d be so vindictive as to invent details to smear a disfavored subject, but there's your grain of salt.

However, also from the right, there's this at Ace of Spades HQ:

JackM. works in DC and heard the same thing. He wrote me earlier:

Absolutely true.

I heard about this as well, and was also sworn to secrecy....

I think you can take Cameron's story to the bank. It seems to jibe with what I heard, although I didnt hear it at CPAC. I heard it [sometime before Thompson officially declared]....

Which is then qualified somewhat:

He softens that "absolutely true" a bit--

I wrote that it was "Absolutely true"...obviously I cant know that as I'm not in Fred''s head.

It is true that the story was circulating in DC. That's what I meant to imply. So that I believe it is absolutely true that Cameron was told this, as I was told the same thing at a later date.

Just because a rumor is widespread doesn't make it true and all that. Still, JackM. heard this from people other than Jim Mills. I can't say who, but let's say the notion that Fred wasn't quite in it to win it was not limited to embittered ex-staffers.

Believable? I have no idea.

In any case, whatever his intentions may have been, I really think it's quite possible that Thompson will get the VP slot -- it's still the conventional wisdom that he's "presidential" in his bearing, though he certainly wouldn't show up the guy at the top of the ticket; he has some credibility with the litmus-test right (more so than his pal John McCain, and possibly more than Mitt Romney); and he's liked by at least some members of the Beltway establishment (let me remind you once again of the bizarre Washington Post column from last June in which Sally Quinn imagined John Warner telling Dick Cheney that, in order to save the GOP, he had to resign and be replaced by Fred Thompson -- "Everybody loves Fred," Quinn told us).

Would it be smart for McCain to run with another aging cancer survivor? Well, The Bucket List did hit #1 on the box-office charts last weekend, for whatever that's worth. Would it a be a smart move for Romney? Well, he seems to have enough health and vigor for both of them, and he needs to run with a Southern Protestant to mollify evangelicals in his party. Thompson's not much of a churchgoer, by his own admission, but he might be close enough.

Cameron says of Thompson:

He has not said who he will endorse. He is friends with John McCain. But if he doesn’t throw his support behind anyone …it makes it easier to be picked by everyone.

We'll see.

I was just looking at Marty Peretz's New Republic blog (yeah, I know, never a good idea). Um, what exactly does he mean by this?

There is a calculus to the Clintons trying to make Obama run as the black candidate. It is to stir up fear in one part of Hillary's constituency, white women and particularly older white women.

Oh, sure, the Clintons might be trying to stir up resentment of Obama on the part of white women, many of whom feel it's finally women's turn at the pinnacle of American power. But fear? Fear of what? Is Peretz saying what I think he's saying?

Well, that's paragraph #3 of Peretz's post. Here's how paragraph #1 begins:

Bill Clinton dozed off at the Convent Avenue Baptist Church in Harlem just as his wife was receiving the endorsement (or, more properly, the blessing) of Calvin Butts at Abyssinian Baptist Church, eight or so blocks away. This church had been the pulpit of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. -- "Mr. Jesus" to his congregation, member of Congress and husband to the politically fearless lefty (just one instance: as a witness before the House Un-American Activities Committees) and staggeringly sexual songstress of my youth, Hazel Scott, like Lena Horne. A randy fellow.

Ah, the wanderings of Marty's mind -- from Bill Clinton snoozing to Hazel Scott's sexual desirability and Adam Clayton Powell's randiness, in a mere two sentences. Peretz goes on to say he finds Obama "gracious," but it's clear to me that other thoughts cross his mind when he thinks about Obama, particularly in connection with white women.

The mind of Marty Peretz is a sick and twisted place.

The Dittoheads have received their marching orders, and perhaps they're doing what they've been told to do:

The Boston Phoenix obtained a new EMC Research poll in California that shows Sen. John McCain's support among likely Republican voters has dropped six points in the last week to 24% while Mitt Romney surged to 20%, making the race a statistical tie. The leaders are trailed by Fred Thompson at 12%, Mike Huckabee at 11% and Rudy Giuliani at 7%....

Add that to the Rasmussen poll released Monday, which showed Romney picking up seven points and the lead in Florida, and this starts to seem as if it might be a talk-radio-driven trend.

Could the Dittoheads really bring down the highly electable McCain? I don't know, but I say: Go, Rush, go!


Part of what's making me glum these days is the master media narrative in the campaign right now: The Democratic race, we're being told, is a juicy, nasty claw-your-eyes-out spat, while the Republican race is merely ... interesting and complex. The Reagan coalition may be fracturing, but it's fracturing in a civilized way.

I know it's unreasonable to expect the press not to fixate on the fighting between two potentially history-making, charismatic nominees, especially when an ex-president is in the scrum -- but, apart from David Brooks, there is no sense in the mainstream media that the GOP race is the least bit unpleasant. Michael Medved, a right-wing talker himself, ticks off the names of right-wing talkers who've attacked the winners of three of the first five GOP state contests: "If you've tuned in at all to Rush, Sean, Savage, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, Hugh Hewitt, Dennis Prager, and two dozen others you've heard a consistent drum beat of hostility toward Mac and Huck."

Sure, these talk-show hosts aren't Bill or Hill or Barack -- but Rush is a media superstar, and he could be described as a Grand Old Man of the party. A revolt of radio talkers against a potential Republican nominee in 2008 should be as newsworthy as, say, a revolt of African-American leaders or union leaders against a Democratic nominee -- why isn't it?

I think it's because the press likes the story of Democrats bickering bitchily, and likes the story of Republicans scrapping like men. Also, for twenty years the press has never been willing to pay attention to right-wing talk radio, because that would require an acknowledgment of the vileness of much of its content, which would, in turn, mean acknowledging the vileeness of mainstream Republicanism.

So it's getting ugly on both sides. But you're being told it's getting ugly only on one.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


And out of 141 comments so far in this Free Republic thread, a mere 2 suggest that doing gay love scenes in Brokeback Mountain might have done so much damage to his psyche that suicide was inevitable. ("I often wondered how warped the Brokeback Mountain fling would effect his mind"; "But you can’t help but conclude that his Brokeback Mountain experience escalated his despair!") Only 2! I guess that's a sign of progress.

"His legacy is also one of having been the only candidate seeking the Republican nomination who was willing to talk real substance...."

--Republican consultant Mark Corallo discussing Fred Thompson, as quoted in Chris Cillizza's Washington Post blog

I caught Thompson on Thursday at a restaurant in a strip shopping mall in West Columbia, where he did a live radio show with about 150 people watching.

His aides handed out "Fredzels," which, as near as I could determine, are pretzels. Thompson maintained his folksy style.

"It's good to be back in home territory where they know how to cook green beans!" he said.

Everybody cheered.

"And they are not crunchy!" he continued.

Everybody cheered again.

A television with the sound turned off was mounted on a wall and the radio interviewer pointed out that Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, was testifying on Capitol Hill.

"You would probably say that the economy, perhaps, is the most important issue facing us?" the interviewer asked Thompson.

"Yeah, that's right," Thompson said, "but you know, you could probably get a 'Law & Order' rerun on TNT there if you wanted to switch that around a little bit."

The audience applauded and cheered.

"Looks a little boring to me," Thompson joked.

--Roger Simon at the Politico, just before the South Carolina GOP vote

Yeah, that's what we'll miss about Fred -- the substance.

"If John [Edwards] is right and Senator McCain is the Republican nominee, we know that once again we will have a general election about national security. That is what will happen."

--Hillary Clinton in last night's debate

But that's ridiculous. If McCain is the nominee, the general election won't be about national security.

If McCain is the nominee and his opponent is Hillary Clinton, the general election will be, first and foremost, about affability -- specifically, the notion that "everybody" likes McCain and "everybody" thinks Hillary Clinton's personality is like fingernails on a blackboard.

If McCain is the nominee and his opponent is John Edwards, the general election will, obviously, be about hair. It goes without saying that everyone in the press wishes John Edwards would either just go away and stop bringing up the utterly taboo issue of class in America or, if he's going to stick around, spend his days getting as many expensive haircuts as possible, so the press can endlessly repeat its one joke about him. Reducing him to a well-groomed preener, even though everyone A-list figure in Washington has established a distinct visual brand, is just irresistible for everyone in the media; here's Lisa Schiffren at the Corner at National Review Online: is simply impossible to listen to John Edwards. Everything he says is entirely predictable, his face is annoyingly wrinkle-free and hairless in some odd way, and the slight hint of tremulousness as he finds an opportunity to insert some sad story makes me want to barf.

"[H]is face is annoyingly wrinkle-free and hairless in some odd way"? This from a woman who used to write speeches for Dan Quayle?

And if McCain is the nominee and his opponent is Barack Obama, the general election will be, ironically, about the 1960s. Obama will be portrayed as a product of the '60s -- a "seeker" who strayed far from his parents and their belief systems, who did drugs, and who finally chose his own identity and belief system, all in peacetime, while McCain (a real man!) just put his head down, did his duty, and suffered for it, in order (among other things) to make "seeking" possible for ungrateful whippersnappers like Obama. (This will be a meesage largely spread by boomer and post-boomer journalists trying to cope with their own guilty sense of privilege.) William Kristol in yesterday's New York Times:

...John McCain is a not-so-modern type. One might call him a neo-Victorian -- rigid, self-righteous and moralizing, but (or rather and) manly, courageous and principled.

Maybe a dose of this type of neo-Victorianism is what the 21st century needs....

Kristol goes on to say, "McCain has been the only Republican candidate who hasn't tried to out-think the process." He's talking about the GOP presidential race, but he could be roughing out a talking point for a general election campaign against Obama: McCain didn't try to figure out who he was and what he should do, he just took action. It doesn't matter if this is a fair portrait -- if this is what the GOP decides to spoon-fed the press, the press will inevitably print the legend.


And no matter who the Democratic nominee is, a race against McCain will be about one more thing: gender roles. All the Democratic candidates consult with their spouses; none of them seem to do much male bonding. McCain does a lot of male bonding -- and i'm guessing he'll pick a running mate (Fred Thompson? Joe Lieberman?) he can pal around with, with no sign of his wife anywhere. The press, while tut-tutting about this or that Democratic "soap opera," will just eat that up. (And who watches soap operas anyway? I'll tell you who: dames!)

Back in June I wrote, "I guarantee the next president will be a Republican."

So was I right? Does anyone want to explain to me how John McCain loses this election?

So, Rudy, how's that big-state strategy working out?

... Even in his home state of New York, Giuliani now trails John McCain....

New polls released Monday from the Marist Institute and Siena find Giuliani running second.

Marist shows McCain leading in New York with 34 percent of the Republican vote with Giuliani and Romney tied at 19 percent each....

Siena shows McCain ahead with 36 percent to 24 percent for Giuliani, 10 percent for Romney, and Huckabee and Thompson in mid single digits.

A Friday Rasmussen poll of California voters finds Giuliani has dropped to fifth place there.

It has McCain ahead with 24 percent, Romney second with 17 percent, Huckabee and Thompson at 13 percent and Giuliani behind with just 11 percent of GOP voters favoring him there.

A Hartford Courant poll in Connecticut also shows McCain leading in the northeastern state. It has the Arizona senator at 39 percent while 16 percent of GOP voters there support Giuliani, 11 percent support Romney, 8 percent favor Huckabee and six percent like Thompson.

Giuliani is third in Massachusetts as a Thursday Survey USA poll has Romney winning there, as expected, with the backing of 48 percent of Republicans, McCain supported by 34 percent and Giuliani third with 8 percent.

A Rasmussen poll released Thursday from New Jersey also shows Giuliani fading as McCain leads there with 29 percent to 27 percent for the former mayor. Romney and Huckabee are tied at 10 percent in the survey.

And in Pennsylvania, a Keystone Poll from Thursday has McCain leading with 30 percent to 14 percent for Giuliani, 12 percent for Huckabee and the rest of the GOP field in single digits.

I got this roundup from the anti-abortion site LifeNews. The anti-Rudy schadenfreude is subtle -- but what's interesting to me is the lack of disappointment at McCain's rise. Much has been made of GOP wariness of McCain, but if LifeNews is not trying to oversell the chances of Huckabee or Thompson or Romney, you can add that to the cheerleading of David Brooks and Bill Kristol, and the decidedly not horrified acknowledgment of reality by the likes of Robert Novak and Dick Morris, and the conclusion is obvious: The GOP is coming to terms with McCain's near-inevitability, and is starting to like it.

McCain's only real impediment right now is Mitt Romney -- Rasmussen's Florida poll shows Romney rising to a lead there as Huckabee sinks. Clearly, that's no coincidence -- a number of social conservatives must have decided that Huck can't win, have heard their marching orders from Rush, and are switching to the Mittster.

As a Democrat, I fervently hope for this trend to continue. But I don't see how it can matter -- not with so many urbanized states voting on Super Tuesday, states where the Republicans are a tad less wingnutty than the national average -- the slice of the GOP that seems to like McCain the most.

Monday, January 21, 2008


First of all, thanks again, guest bloggers.

And now, yes, I'm bummed at the ongoing Clinton-Obama war, I'm bummed at Digby's very accurate post about how eager Democrats are to fight with Democrats (though not with Republicans)....

But I'm not bummed to learn that Rudy Giuliani's campaign is plummeting to earth so fast that he now trails John McCain by double-digit margins in his own state in not one but two polls -- Siena (McCain 36, Giuliani 24) and WNBC/Marist (McCain 33, Romney 19, Giuliani and Huckabee 18).

And in addition to that, there's a great teaser headline at the ABC News politics page:

Giuliani Pouts, Pleads to Ride at Daytona

Pouts? Yeah, that's what we need -- another pouty president. Here's the story:

Republican presidential candidates have wooed so-called "NASCAR voters" for years, but GOP candidate Rudy Giuliani took it to the next level Monday at the Daytona International Speedway, pleading with officials to let him ride in a pace car.

It all started with an impromptu campaign stop at the famous track. The former Mayor sat in the front passenger seat as his campaign bus took a lap around the empty track at high speed. Music from the movie "Rudy" blared from speakers.

But when it was all over, Giuliani, who is staking his campaign on Florida, was riding high and wanted more.

"Can I drive a pace car?" Giuliani asked a race track official.

"Sorry sir," he said, "we gotta get you to the Town Hall, we got people waiting."

"I wanna ride the pace car!" Giuliani said, looking disappointed, his voice rising angrily.

"Next time, next time," the official said.

Giuliani didn't give up.

"All right, well let's come back one more time," Giuliani said. "During the campaign, I wanna ride a pace car! Will you let me ride a pace car? Do I need a license for that?"

... "One time, boys. One time," he pleaded, his voice whining. Walking away, Giuliani smiled and said, "We're all little boys, don't you know that?"

Giuliani: Bush on a bagel.

Video here.