Monday, March 31, 2008


Really, all you need to know about whether you have to be a jock to be a good president is that George W. Bush is really, really good at throwing out ceremonial first pitches.

Yes, he's just terrific at that. Even as he was being booed at the Washington Nationals' opening-day game, Bush put some zip on the ball, and did so from the top of the mound, not the front like some other pols, as the announcers covering the game breathlessly noted ("There have been many presidents who have thrown out first pitches, but I don't know that anybody's done it any better than this particular president"). And the strike Bush threw from the mound at the 2001 World Series is legendary -- watch this mini-documentary* on the moment and learn just how seriously he took the assignment:

You know, I wanted to make sure that if I was going to throw out the ball, I was able to do so with a little zip. You know, I didn't want people to think that their president was incapable of finding the plate.

Now, I would have preferred a president who couldn't find the plate but could find bin Laden, but hey, that's just me.

The worst president of all time is probably the best first-pitch thrower of all time. So when Joe Scarborough and one of his guests say Barack Obama's a lousy bowler -- no, say he's a "dainty" bowler -- and say that "Americans want their president, if it's a man, to be a real man," I just have to ask when we start reaping all the foreign- and domestic-policy benefits of George W. Bush's manly throwing arm. Wake me, Joe, when Bush's arm finds bin Laden, or brings stability to Iraq, or rebuilds New Orleans, or gets us out of the subprime mess, or gets everyone affordable health care.

*UPDATE: That link no longer works -- try this one.

On NPR this morning, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was reporting from Sadr City in Baghdad, and, well, this doesn't sound promising (my transcript of the audio):

... just so you realize a little bit of the complications here in Sadr City: We were escorted in to the Sadr office by a police vehicle, and as we were commenting on the roadside bomb that exploded, I said to one of the policemen, "Well, I hope you know where they are," and they laughed jovially and said, "Yes, we know where they all are. So don't worry, nothing will be targeting us," which, again, I think, gives you an idea of how the police inside Sadr City have been operating for the past six days of fighting.

As Iraqis stand up....

If all you knew about Hillary Clinton's successful courting of ex-nemesis Richard Mellon Scaife was what you read in today's New York Times story, you'd surely conclude that this is a new development and an unexpected turnaround. It's neither -- and when Scaife himself said of Senator Clinton, in an article about their recent meeting, "Walking into our conference room, not knowing what to expect (or even, perhaps, expecting the worst), took courage and confidence," he was lying through his teeth.

This little dance has been going on for more a year.

New York Times, February 19, 2007:

... as Mrs. Clinton is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, Mr. Scaife's checkbook is staying in his pocket.

Christopher Ruddy, who once worked full-time for Mr. Scaife investigating the Clintons and now runs a conservative online publication he co-owns with Mr. Scaife, said, "Both of us have had a rethinking."

"Clinton wasn't such a bad president," Mr. Ruddy said. "In fact, he was a pretty good president in a lot of ways, and Dick feels that way today."

As for the conservative response to Mrs. Clinton's campaign, Mr. Ruddy said, "The level of intensity and anger toward Hillary is not getting to the level that it was toward Bill Clinton when he was president." He added, "She has moderated and developed a separate image." ...

Newsweek, November 19, 2007:

Bill Clinton is never at a loss for company. When he's not globe-trotting or charming audiences for as much as $400,000 a speech, he's often schmoozing visitors in his suite of offices in Harlem. Last July, the former president sat down with a billionaire impressed with the William J. Clinton Foundation's campaign against AIDS in Africa. The two men chatted amiably over lunch for more than two hours, and the visitor pledged to write Clinton's foundation a generous check. But there was something unusual, if not plain weird, about the meeting. NEWSWEEK has learned that the billionaire so eager to endear himself to the former president was Richard Mellon Scaife....

Bill Clinton now finds himself the unlikeliest of Scaife heroes. Last month Ruddy posted a softball interview with Clinton on the Newsmax site (sample question: "What is the best thing about being an ex-president?"). A worshipful cover story followed in the current edition of the magazine. Clinton, it gushed, is "a political and cultural powerhouse" who is "part Merlin and part Midas -- a politician with a magical touch."

What is going on here? Scaife declined to comment, but Ruddy tells NEWSWEEK he and Scaife believe Clinton's life since leaving office has been "very laudable," and that he is doing "very important work representing the country when the U.S. is widely resented in the world." ...

The magazine story isn't online, but the interview is -- it's here, and yes, it's full of softballs (e.g., "How has your own religious faith played a role in your global work today?").

Mother Jones blogger Clara Jeffery speculated last fall that Scaife, in the midst of an ugly divorce and paying a tremendous amount of alimony (about $24,000 a day) after being caught cheating on his wife in a sleazy motel (The Washington Post has the dirt here), now has a deeper understanding of Bill and his cheatin' ways. I'm not sure I have a better theory -- unless the tax benefits of Scaife's gifts to Clinton's foundation are significantly improving his cash flow.

On Friday, Matt Stoller argued that America's fondness for war-tested presidents is overstated:

...1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004 all saw the candidate without military service elected over the candidate who had served, in several cases heroically.

... while the conservative myth is dominant in the political press, there's no just no evidence voters want a hero for President.... Or at any rate, since 1992, voters keep voting against the hero. So don't be lulled by McCain's narrative into thinking it's a sign that he's a tough candidate. That's what John Kerry thought when he took on George Bush. Bush might be President, but Kerry was a hero in Vietnam, and surely the American people would trust a hero with national security....

The obvious answer with regard to Kerry is that he was a Democrat, and the GOP and the press can always find a way to discredit a Democratic presidential candidate, however brave and honorable his service.

But what about the other years Stoller mentions, especially 1992 and 1996? Well, all those elections took place between the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11. More important, I think, in all four of the years Stoller mentions, the veteran was the candidate the press didn't want to have a beer with. The beer factor trumps a lot, even Bob Dole's significant impairment as a result of war wounds.

McCain suffered far more in war than Gore (who never saw combat), Kerry, Poppy Bush, or even Dole. McCain is the only one of these candidates apart from Kerry to try to market himself as a wounded warrior in a time of conflict -- and Kerry was both a Democrat (i.e., a member of a discredited party) and a man better known as a war opponent than a war hero.

And, most important, the press thinks McCain is beer-worthy, whereas the press found Clinton (twice) and George W. Bush (twice) more beer-suitable than the veterans they ran against.

I don't know how this election will work out. We'll have a rare beer-worthy charismatic Democratic candidate in the Clinton/JFK mold (the National Beer Wholesalers Association has already determined that the public vastly prefers Obama to either McCain or Clinton as a suds companion). But it's wartime, and McCain may be the press's preferred drinking partner. And his war suffering was on another level altogether. So this election year may be different from the last four.


And in today's New York Times, William Kristol also ticks off the last four elections and notes that "Democracies don't always elect the man who has done the most for his country."

Nice to know, now that it doesn't matter, that Kristol actually honors the service of Kerry and Gore, in both war and peace. But to his main point -- that McCain needs more than just biography to get elected -- I'd say: Yes, that's true, but he doesn't necessarily need what Kristol thinks he needs. He may not need "a broad reform agenda, including "an up-to-date, capitalism-friendly and transparency-requiring approach to regulating the credit markets." He may just need to keep buttering up the press.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


With so many prominent Democrats proclaiming that the party is being hurt by the prolonged nomination fight, I can't help wondering: Would this be hurting the party less if there weren't so many prominent Democrats saying, for attribution, that it's hurting the party?

And since all these prominent Democrats seem to have the press's attention, either to prolong the intraparty battle or to wring their hands about how the prolonged intraparty battle deprives the party of the opportunity to send a nominee out to criticize John McCain, wouldn't it be a good idea for some of these Democrats to take advantage of the press attention they're getting by doing the criticizing of John McCain themselves?

Maybe, as a show of unity, the party could even send some of these prominent Democrats out in pairs -- one Obama person, one Clinton person -- to talk about the unacceptability of a McCain presidency. Imagine the pairings -- Bob Casey with John Murtha! Madeleine Albright with Bill Richardson! Howard Wolfson with David Axelrod! Hell, maybe even Geraldine Ferraro with Samantha Power! (Perhaps it's just because I was an Italian kid who grew up in an Irish city, Boston, but I could imagine those two actually bonding.)

Look, it would have to be an improvement over the party's current offering, the Everybody Fan Out and Alternately Bash and Wring Your Hands Tour.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


There are a lot of good, skeptical letters in today's New York Times in response to recent op-eds about John McCain. There's also this from Bernard Goldberg, the right-wing operative best-known for the book Bias:

To the Editor:

To the extent that Neal Gabler is right when he states that John McCain is "a darling of the news media," it's not so much because he shares their sense of irony. It's because he's a Republican who is not reliably conservative.

So here's a prediction from someone who’s been a full-time working journalist since 1967: The love affair will end as soon as soon as the general election begins (if not sooner). That's when every gaffe by Mr. McCain will be portrayed by the media as "evidence" that he's old -- really, really old. That's when every grimace will be "proof" that he’s got a hair-trigger temper.

When the Democrats stop beating each other over the head, and one of them starts running in earnest against John McCain, the media will no longer find their "darling" nearly as "ironic" -- or nearly as lovable.

From a media point of view, it's one thing when Senator McCain sticks a finger in a fellow Republican's eye, quite another when he's taking aim at a liberal Democrat.

Hey, Bernie -- here's a thousand bucks I can't afford, which I'll give to the charity of your choice, if an impartial monitor of campaign coverage says after November that anything like this actually happened. It's just not going to happen, and you know it. You're full of it.

But I know that, whether McCain wins or loses, you're going to write a tendentious book after the campaign (like hell you've been "a full-time working journalist since 1967" -- all you've done for years is write tendentious books) in which you'll whine that he was the victim of liberal media bias, even if there are only a handful of examples of harsh treatment of McCain in the mainstream press, or in blogs you're going to pretend are part of the mainstream press, or in comments sections of those same blogs. You're going to be a sore loser or a sore winner, and the truth about the coverage -- which I'm sure will be all too respectful of McCain, with maybe a few exceptions -- won't mean a damn thing to you.

I'm sure you won't read this, but I'm serious -- a thousand bucks. Bet?

This idea, floated by Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, is absurd in many ways:

Some Democrats terrified that their bloody primary campaign will doom them in November are floating a consolation prize for Hillary Clinton: governor of New York.

The travails of New York Gov. David Paterson have opened up a new potential career path for Clinton, according to well-informed Democratic Party insiders who refused to allow their names to be used when discussing contingencies. They want her to consider the option if she concludes after the April 22 Pennsylvania primary that she cannot overtake Barack Obama for the party's presidential nomination....

In the event that Paterson had to resign, the New York State Constitution calls for a gubernatorial election this November. Clinton would be the favorite in that contest if she were interested. Were a politically wounded Paterson to serve out Spitzer's term, which ends in 2010, Clinton would no doubt be a strong potential candidate to succeed him.

Under the scenario sketched out by the insiders, serving two years as governor would give Clinton the executive experience to become the prohibitive favorite for the 2012 Democratic presidential nomination....

First of all, we know Clinton won't go for this -- she's not giving up. Second, as far as I know, speculation about a Patterson resignation is just that -- speculation. The public here isn't particularly turned off by what he's revealed. He may well get down to business and be a strong candidate in 2010.

But more important, this "consolation prize" may not be the Democratic Party's to give. As Alter notes, yesterday's New York Post mentioned the possibility of a run by Rudy Giuliani. Humiliated as he may be after his presidential race, he still has a lot of fans in this state. Another possible candidate, not mentioned by Alter, is Mike Bloomberg, who's been talked about as a possible gubernatorial candidate for a long time. (He's term-limited as mayor and his second term ends on the last day of 2009.) Bloomberg, unlike Giuliani, hasn't suffered a recent wave of negative publicity and hasn't incurred the enmity of non-white voters (who thus might prefer him to Hillary after this year's primary season, especially if she's also seen as shoving aside a black governor). Plus, he's stinking rich. He could even run on a third-party line and win. So the party can't just hand her the office -- it could be yet another tough fight, and surely she knows that.

So pay no attention to this. It's not gonna happen.

Friday, March 28, 2008


Hey, I'm just tickled pink that Mark McKinnon, John McCain's chief media strategist, said in an interview that he won't stay with the McCain campaign if Barack Obama is the nominee -- he likes Obama and says he doesn't want to run negative ads against him, though I'm not sure how to square that with the fact that McCain is running an ad right now describing McCain as "the American president Americans have been waiting for" (as opposed, presumably, to that Muslim furriner Hussein Osama).

But then I go to The New Republic and read Noam Scheiber's response to the interview, and I just want to slap some sense into Scheiber. He writes:

It occurred to me while reading this Linda Douglass interview with McCain strategist Mark McKinnon how much McCain's fortunes are tied to momentum. I know this metaphor's pretty cliched, but his campaign really is like riding a bicycle: It's fine as long as it keeps moving along, but the second it stalls out, the whole thing could topple.

My thinking is that conservatives are generally going to keep their mouths shut as long as McCain has a decent shot at winning, because they know the GOP has no business even being in the game. But the second it looks like his chances are dimming, I suspect all the conservative skeptics are going to pipe up and basically finish him off....


Scheiber's responding to a different part of the McKinnon interview -- a part in which McKinnon talks about McCain's concerns regarding global warming. Scheiber says: "a year ago it would have been very tough to imagine McCain as the nominee calling Bush out on global warming and not suffering serious conservative blowback as a result."

Why blowback? Does Scheiber think Republicans wouldn't circle the wagons and back their own nominee? Since when do Republicans do that kind of self-sabotage?

I have a big problem with Scheiber's notion that Republicans "know the GOP has no business even being in the game." I have an even bigger problem with his notion that Republicans think McCain's candidacy is a house of cards that's inevitably going to come crashing down.

First of all, despite the public's current disgust with the GOP, it was always clear that the GOP was going to run someone who could be sold to gullible swing voters as not really a Republican. Giuliani was a social moderate from the Northeast. Mitt Romney was an ex-social moderate from the Northeast. Fred Thompson was a Hollywood guy and a friend of, er, John McCain. Even the late-arriving top-tier candidate, Mike Huckabee, had a moderate streak. And the fifth A-lister was McCain. And why shouldn't they get away with this? They ran Bush as a centrist in 2000, for heaven's sake, and beat peace and prosperity (albeit on a technicality).

Second, the Republicans thought they were going to run against Hillary Clinton, or maybe John Edwards -- two candidates against whom they could turn to off-the-shelf character-assassination plans. Barack Obama's unexpected rise just made them work harder, but his name and race and pastor made their lives easier. They might not beat him, but they know they can rough him up, and they've known that all along. (They can pretty much rough anybody up.)

Third, they always knew they could describe any Democratic nominee as a tax-and-spend Brie-eating hippie America-hater. That always works. And the press always goes along.

Why does Scheiber think the Republicans are waiting for McCain's campaign to collapse? These guys don't quit. Even if Bush's approval rating were at zero, they'd find a way to make this competitive.

Right-wingers are thrilled to report that bleached-blond Dutch provocateur Geert Wilders's Muslim-bashing film "Fitna" is now online. I won't waste bandwidth by embedding it, but you can watch the English-language version here, at LiveLeak -- if you want to waste sixteen minutes of your life.

"Fitna" begins with the words "Warning: This film contains shocking images." The hell it does -- it contains exactly the images (9/11, beheadings, charred corpses) you would have expected a right-winger to cherry-pick in order to make the case that Islam is intrinsically evil, interspersed with exactly the Quran quotes and Islamicists' bloviations you'd have expected as an accompaniment. If you're shocked by "Fitna," it's because you've never gone online to watch a right-wing Muslim-bashing video before.

According to a timeline on the film's Web site (which isn't loading right now, but the cached version is here), Wilders revealed that he was going to make this movie last August. It's March now, and if you can figure out why this took seven months, please explain it to me. "Fitna" the kind of video that wingnuts have been banging out over long weekends on a regular basis since before YouTube was launched -- hell, I was watching crude Flash-animation versions of the first minutes of "Fitna" years ago, except they were scored to Enya or Darryl Worley rather than Tchaikovsky and Grieg (whom Wilders picked, I assume, because the cliche high-class "elegiac" warhorse usually used for such purposes, Barber's "Adagio for Strings," is probably still under copyright in the EU).

Take the above-linked 9/11 montage videos, add a few bellicose Quran quotes from this home-brewed video, toss in some angry-jihadist shots like the ones in this one, upgrade the production values somewhat, and, voila, you've got "Fitna." Or just strip the headbanger music from this one.

Even Oceania's Two Minutes' Hates in 1984 were more imaginative:

...The voice of Goldstein had become an actual sheep's bleat, and for an instant the face changed into that of a sheep. Then the sheep-face melted into the figure of a Eurasian soldier who seemed to be advancing, huge and terrible, his sub-machine gun roaring, and seeming to spring out of the surface of the screen. But in the same moment, drawing a deep sigh of relief from everybody, the hostile figure melted into the face of Big Brother....

I would have appreciated something trippy like that, but "Fitna" is just: Quran quote, carnage, carnage, Islamicist's bombast, carnage, carnage, Islamicist's bombast, Quran quote, carnage. Repeat ad nauseam.

Yes, I'm sure you could do a film like this out of the Bible -- I'd start here (especially here) or here for some juicy quotes. In fact, one atheist actually did a Bible video last year that's a bit like "Fitna" -- and he even scored it to Tchaikovsky (albeit a different piece). But I would very much like to see a dead-on Bible-based parody.

Oh, and I'm amused to learn that in all those months Wilder couldn't even manage to get all his propaganda points straight -- the guy who shows up as Theo van Gogh's murderer is actually someone else entirely -- a Dutch-Moroccan rapper. Oops.


*UPDATE: Well, LiveLeak has pulled the video (a statement from LiveLeak has replaced the clip at the link). I lived through the era of Madonna's cross-burning Pepsi ad and "Erotica" and "Justify My Love" videos, and I'm sure Wilders, like Madonna back then, is quite pleased to be banned.


UPDATE: Kids? Just Google it. It's there if you really need to see it.


UPDATE: It's back at the original link. Go -- bore yourself silly.

A.O. Scott, reviewing the Iraq War movie Stop-Loss in today's New York Times:

...We have just marked the fifth anniversary of the United States-led invasion of Iraq and the 4,000th American military death since the war began. The level of violence appears to be creeping up again, and troop levels are likely to stay where they are, at least until the next president’s inauguration.

So in some ways, there is a grim, accidental timeliness in the release of "Stop-Loss," which focuses on the ordeal of American soldiers in and out of combat....

"Accidental timeliness"?

OK, it wasn't foreseeable that this movie would come out just as we reached the 4,000 milestone, or during a particularly noteworthy uptick in the violence -- but Scott's implication seems to be that this movie wouldn't have been particularly timely under less headline-grabbing circumstances, i.e., a non-round death toll accompanied by the mere one-a-day rate of fatalities we had (more or less) in recent months before the violence increased. Tell that to the kids (young people are the movie's presumed target market -- it's distributed by MTV Films) who are still getting shipped over there.

Iraq may have faded from the headlines for a while, but the fighting and dying never stopped, and it's been clear to anyone who's been paying attention that it isn't going to stop as long as George W. Bush sits in the Oval Office. So surely it was obvious that releasing this movie around the fifth anniversary of the invasion (hardly an "accident") also meant releasing it while the bloodshed continued. That's timely.

The job is filled, but, hey, if there's an opening, the New York Post informs us that Rudy is ready:

In the latest twist in New York politics, Rudy Giuliani is eyeing a run for governor in a special election this fall should Gov. Paterson be forced to resign, sources say....

It would happen in a year in which presidential nominee John McCain would be at the top of the GOP ticket....

New York's new governor has spent his brief time in office dropping one bombshell announcement after another. He admitted that both he and his wife had affairs during a rough patch in their marriage and that he abused drugs decades ago.

It appears, however, that those disclosures have raised little outrage....

What would his campaign slogan be? "Rudy: When I Commit Adultery, I'll Tell You Right Away"?

Thursday, March 27, 2008


At The New York Observer, Steve Kornacki reminds us that even Democrats have been known to win presidential elections after tough nomination fights. Remember 1992?

... That year, Bill Clinton limped to the primary finish line with influential members of his party openly questioning the wisdom of nominating him.

... Instead of rallying around Clinton, large numbers of Democrats, many of them [Paul] Tsongas and [Jerry] Brown supporters, defected to Ross Perot, the billionaire Texan who was ramping up for a full-fledged independent campaign. In general-election match-ups, Clinton fell hopelessly behind both Perot and Bush -- a mid-May poll found him registering just 25 percent, to Bush's and Perot's 35 percent. And in the late Democratic primaries, Perot racked up write-in votes by the tens of thousands, finishing with around 15 percent in the late-May Oregon and Washington primaries (both estimated figures, since write-in votes weren't officially recorded). Nationally, Clinton's favorable/unfavorable rating stood at a poisonous 42/48 percent.

... As Clinton prepared to cross the magical delegate threshold in the final contests of June 2,
The New York Times framed his as a Pyrrhic victory: "The man about to win the Democratic nomination, Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, is struggling to repair the damage he sustained in the getting of it." ...

Things weren't much better as Carter tried to wrap up the nomination in 1976:

... In the spring, two new candidates -- Idaho's Frank Church and California's Brown -- suddenly jumped in the race. And they started winning. Church took Nebraska in early May, then Montana, Idaho and Oregon. Brown grabbed Maryland, then Nevada, California, New Jersey and Rhode Island ("uncommitted" slates aligned with Brown actually won the latter two). When the primary process concluded in early June, it was obvious that there were widespread concerns with Carter among Democrats.

You recall how those elections turned out.

Yes, but what about the Democrats' primary-season slugfests in 1980 and 1984? Kornacki's answer: When "the fundamental ingredients for a Democratic victory are in place," an ugly nomination fight doesn't deal a mortal blow. When Democrats are in trouble anyway (as in those years), a loss can follow an intraparty slugfest, but the slugfest wasn't the cause.

The question, though, is: Which kind of year is this?

Kornacki assumes it's another '76 or '92. In each of those years we had "a feeble economy, a politically clumsy incumbent, and widespread fatigue with the Republican label"; for the Democrats, this year is like both '92 and '76 because "the likely Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, possesses the natural skills to capitalize on" GOP weakness.

I hope Kornacki's analysis is right -- but one way this year differs from '92 is that the Republican everyone blames for the current mess isn't the Republican on the ballot. McCain is more like Gerald Ford in that way -- he's not George W. Bush just as Ford wasn't Richard Nixon, and Ford almost won.

And I continue to worry, as I have all along, that with the demonization of the Democrats as dirty hippie gay abortionist tree-hugging multiculti tax-and-spend America-haters now in its third (fourth?) decade, the acceptability bar for a Democratic nominee is higher than it was for Clinton or Carter.

But I just don't know. And I think Kornacki's main point is right -- a big nomination fight is not going to be what sabotages Democrats this year, if anything does.

I don't have much to add to what everyone else is already telling you about the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, which shows that Obama isn't slipping much (even post-Wright, 60 percent of all voters think he could unite the country, which puts him 12 points ahead of McCain and 14 points ahead of Clinton, and he's 2 points ahead of McCain in a head-to-head matchup, while Clinton is 2 behind) -- but I am struck by the slippage in Clinton's favorable rating. It's down to 37%.

A little perspective: According to the PDF of the poll's results, George W. Bush's approval rating is only 4 points lower -- 33%.

I guess, by 21st-century standards, that makes her more "presidential."


By the way, Jeralyn Merritt, discussing the poll's results on the nomination matchup, has this wrong:

The new NBC/WSJ poll (pdf) out today has Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama tied at 45%. The margin of error is 3.7%. The poll was of all registered voters, not just Democrats.

Well, yes, Jeralyn, the overall poll was of all voters, but the nomination-fight matchup question is clearly labeled:


So these numbers are legit.

So it's March and Democratic voters are responding to a bruising nomination fight by threatening to defect to the other party. We're doomed, right?

Well, no. As Mark Blumenthal of notes, a March 2000 Pew poll showed similar results -- about George W. Bush and his bruising battle with John McCain. From the Pew survey write-up:

The presidential primary season may prove to be a decisive factor in Campaign 2000, not only for who won, but for the way the winners emerged from the process in the eyes of the voters. Al Gore was clearly helped, and George W. Bush was just as clearly hurt. The vice president has improved his personal image, while making gains among two key groups whose support had eluded him last year, independents and men. In contrast, many people have come to dislike Bush personally, especially former supporters of John McCain. As a consequence, the Texas governor now trails Gore for the first time in a nationwide Pew Research Center survey, by 49%-43%....

We know how that turned out. And as Brian Schaffner of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies notes, the threatened defection rate was worse for Bush than it is for the Democrats now:

What is notable is not that Gallup finds [now] that some Clinton and Obama supporters currently say that they may vote for McCain if their candidate loses, but that the number is so low compared to what it was for McCain ... supporters in 2000. Only 28% of Clinton supporters (and 19% of Obama supporters) say they'd defect if their candidate lost, whereas half of McCain supporters were saying the same thing after he lost his bid for the 2000 Republican nomination.

That mass defection threat didn't pan out. It's far from inevitable that this one will, either.


By the way, please note what Pew survey respondents were saying in March 2000: They didn't like Bush's personality. More evidence that his kinda-sorta win in November wasn't because the public wanted to have a beer with him, but, rather, because the press did, and persuaded a good chunk of the public of his beer-worthiness.

Also note this, from Pew:

...while the public has more confidence in the vice president on most issues, it thinks Bush could do a better job of controlling the price of gasoline....



(Via Memeorandum and Andrew Sullivan.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


I have my problems with Hillary Clinton, but you've got to be some kind of sick individual to be amused by this:

(Click to enlarge. Probably not suitable for work. Apologies if it's upsetting.)

I'm not too fond of this one or this one, either.

Anti-Obama merch, so far, mostly seems to be along predictable lines, though I challenge anyone to explain what the hell this is all about.

Well, of course Gallup's pollsters are finding that many Democrats would choose McCain over whichever Democrat they don't like -- most Democrats (most Americans) have never heard or read a single negative word about McCain, and most Americans are certain that he's not really a Republican or a conservative. Every day we hear about the flaws of Clinton and Obama; McCain, according to every mainstream press story I read and all the channels on my cable system, doesn't have any flaws, except that Rush and his pals don't think he's crazily right-wing enough. What not-especially-well-informed swing-voting Democrat wouldn't be tempted to believe that sounds like a good deal? If I thought it resembled reality in any way, hell, I might feel the same way, too.

We're seven months from Election Day, so I think there's still plenty of time to reverse this -- which doesn't mean I think it will be reversed; the Democrats aren't very good at tarnishing haloes and the press doesn't want McCain's tarnished. Nevertheless, it can still happen, even after a prolonged nomination fight -- though maybe it's time for the Democratic Party to stop whining about not having a nominee yet and just begin a serious campaign against McCain right now, one that the nominee will simply have to join in progress.

Jacques Steinberg has a page-one story in today's New York Times in which he writes about the decline in the number of print publications assigning reporters to ride campaign buses and planes. Steinberg struggles to list the reasons why this is a bad thing. Among them:

In the past, one advantage for those reporters who committed to spend as many as two years on the campaign trail was that they were often vaulted into the White House press room; many of those assigned to cover the next president will not have had the benefit of such seasoning, or exposure to the new president's advisers.

Yes -- now they might have to report campaign news without this excellent extended opportunity to cozy up to political insiders, and that's a bad thing, you see, because when one of the candidates eventually becomes president and is making terrible decisions about, say, war or the economy, we want to get our news from reporters who are really, really chummy with the people urging the president to make those bad decisions. Right. Got it.


"What you have lost," [Mark Z. Barabak of the Los Angeles Times] said, panning the other seats and seeing few faces from previous campaigns, "is the benefit of getting 6, 12, 15 different perspectives."

"Now you may get three or four," he said....

Never mind the fact that the 6, 12, 15 all reflected the same groupthink -- it was really much better, because they used different words to express it!

But today's Times has a neat auto-rebut function: On the op-ed page, Neal Gabler describes what we actually get from the boys on the bus in the case of John McCain. First, the 2000 version:

... Over the years, reporter after reporter has remarked upon his seemingly unguarded frankness. In 1999, William Greider wrote in Rolling Stone that, "While McCain continues examining his flaws, the reporters on the bus are getting a bit edgy. Will somebody tell this guy to shut up before he self-destructs?"

Imagine, reporters protecting a candidate from himself! But, then again, since the reporters on the bus liked Mr. McCain too much to report on his gaffes, he really didn't need protection. His candor was without consequence. It was another blandishment to the press....

And now the 2008 variant:

...Seeming to view himself and the whole political process with a mix of amusement and bemusement, Mr. McCain is an ironist wooing a group of individuals who regard ironic detachment more highly than sincerity or seriousness. He may be the first real postmodernist candidate for the presidency -- the first to turn his press relations into the basis of his candidacy.

... On the bus, Mr. McCain openly talks about his press gambits. According to [Ryan] Lizza [of
The New Yorker], Mr. McCain proudly brandished an index card with a "gotcha" quote from Mitt Romney that the senator had given Tim Russert of "Meet the Press," a journalist few would expect to need help in finding candidates' gaffes. In exposing his two-way relationship with the press this way, he reveals the absurdity of the political process as a big game. He also reveals his own gleeful cynicism about it.

... If in the past he flattered the press by posing as its friend, he is now flattering it by posing as its conspirator, a secret sharer of its cynicism. He is the guy who "gets it." He sees what the press sees. Michael Scherer, a blogger for Time, called him the "coolest kid in school."

... the reporters, so quick in general to jump on hypocrisy, seem to find his insincerity a virtue....

In other words, this time around McCain is running the bus charm offensive like a new-style marketing campaign aimed at hipster youths who think they're above being manipulated by marketing campaigns. As is often the case with hip marketing, the telegraphing of the manipulation makes the manipulation more effective.

But the overall problem, eight years ago and today, is that the press cares too damn much about its own relationship with the candidates. We know what happened in 2000 when McCain dropped out: George W. Bush ran an even more successful charm offensive with the press, Al Gore didn't, and we got the worst presidency ever. That's why we're better off when more reporters report from off the bus.

I'm sure John McCain was saving this up, looking for the perfect moment to deploy it. I'm guessing he actually thought it was a good idea to choose the moment of the 4,000th U.S. fatality in Iraq to demand that Hillary Clinton apologize for criticizing General Petraeus and the surge last fall. (Video at the link, from Blogs for John McCain.)

But, of course, he's doing this just at the moment when there's Basra's burning, fighting has spread to Baghdad, the Green Zone is under attack, and the Sadrists' cease-fire may be ending. Oops!

Then again, I'm sure it'll be a matter of minutes before we're told by the press that the renewed fighting in Iraq is very, very good politically for McCain.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


John Lott, the ethically challenged right-wing academic best known for that mantra-turned-monograph More Guns, Less Crime (gee, John, how's that working out these days?), has posted an opinion piece on the Fox News Web site that accuses Barack Obama of being one of those scary angry radical Negroes -- all because Lott and Obama didn't have nice chat-ups when they were colleagues at the University of Chicago.

Lott knows all about scary angry black people because (he tells us) he just read about them in a book -- Stupid Black Men by the African-American right-wing pundit Larry Elder. Now Lott is an instant expert. He tells us (in a "critique" of the book that reads rather like a press release) that Elder

rips into the festering sore of what passes as discussions these days about race. Elder confronts the "I-am-a-victim" attitude that corrupts people's sense of self-confidence and causes them to interpret the everyday difficulties people face in life through a prism of racial animosity....

People get so wrapped up in past traumas of what they are owed that they can't focus on the opportunities available....

These days everything from the higher default rates of blacks on mortgages to the supposedly high rate that blacks receive the death penalty are attributed to discrimination. But, Elder seems to be right that "racism provides a convenient way of avoiding serious examination of issues."

The sad thing that Elder discusses is how locked into this cycle of victimhood blacks are....

This is all, of course, a vast Democratic Party conspiracy:

...Elder says that Democrats need black people to be angry and constantly feel aggrieved to keep 90 percent of them voting for Democrats.

Republicans are actually more in-sync with black views on issues from vouchers for schooling, crime, abortion, illegal immigration, but many blacks would never vote for Republicans because of their perception of rampant racism by Republicans.

Which brings us to Angry Barack Obama:

... As someone who knew Obama for a little while -- we were both at the University of Chicago -- it has been hard to recognize the person that I knew from the one portrayed in the campaign. The person that I knew was not one who sought to build bridges with those he disagreed.

Academia is overwhelmingly filled with liberals and many even to the left of that, but most liberal academics enjoy arguing with those whom they disagree with. Debate and discussion over lunch and in the halls is what makes academia a fun place to be.

But Obama was not like that.

Possibly it was his anger over our differences over the gun issue or a broader anger with those with whom he disagreed, but attempts to engage in discussions ended with a stern looks and a turned back. That was true whether I met him at school or someplace else. There was anger there.

Like Larry Elder’s family, many blacks can point to experiences that they could let consume them with anger, real or imagined, but that obsession only harms themselves and those blacks who are trying to make their lives better. Hopefully, Elder’s book can get across the message that the vast majority of people really want them to succeed.

So there you go. After having known Obama "for a little while," Lott thoroughly understands his psyche, and Obama, he concludes definitively, is angry -- the sole bit of evidence being the fact that Obama didn't choose to shoot the breeze with Lott, a monomaniacal right-wing partisan.

And, to judge from the last paragraph, apparently the whole stereotype applies -- Obama is full of rage and blames the world for his problems, which is just the kind of thing that keeps black people down. If that's true, I'm not sure how Obama got through Columbia, Harvard Law, several career changes, the writing of two best-selling books, and a presidential nominating contest in which he's on the verge of an upset victory over one of the toughest competitors in the business. Maybe Lott will explain it all in his next Fox op-ed.

Mark Halperin is flagging a Philadelphia Inquirer story about the large number of Pennsylvanians registering as Democrats to beat last night's deadline.

Over at Free Republic, there's no doubt about what's going on:

Operation Chaos in full force.


Go Rush. Operation Chaos Continues.


...Rush's "street members of Operation Chaos" are out in full force, I'm glad to see. :)...

Limbaugh isn't just pushing "Operation Chaos" as a crusade -- hell, he's selling bumper stickers, hats, and T-shirts:

(By the way, please commit the last line of the shirt to memory, because I'm sure you'll be told, based on remarks Limbaugh made weeks ago, that he doesn't want McCain to win. Yes, he does.)

I'm not saying that all of this is Limbaugh's doing. But I'm struck by the fact that, according to the Inquirer, twice as many people switched to the Democrats between March 10 and 17 than registered Democrat for the first time. I'm also struck by the fact that the age group with the most activity is aged 45-54. I suppose that could be Hillary's crowd -- but I fear it's Rush's.

In today's New York Times, Robin Toner projects the mainstream press's GOP-induced liberal self-hate onto Barack Obama:

Obama's Test: Can a Liberal Be a Unifier?

WASHINGTON — At the core of Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign is a promise that he can transcend the starkly red-and-blue politics of the last 15 years, end the partisan and ideological wars and build a new governing majority.

To achieve the change the country wants, he says, "we need a leader who can finally move beyond the divisive politics of Washington and bring Democrats, independents and Republicans together to get things done."

But this promise leads, inevitably, to a question: Can such a majority be built and led by Mr. Obama, whose voting record was, by one ranking, the most liberal in the Senate last year? ...

Read the article. Toner isn't really asking whether Obama is up to the task (which is a legitimate question) -- she's clearly asking whether it's even theoretically possible for the country to rally around a liberal, any liberal.

One name goes completely unmentioned in Toner's piece: Franklin D. Roosevelt. Presumably, FDR's success in uniting the country is considered irrelevant because it's ancient history -- or perhaps because Toner doesn't regard him as a liberal. Nor does Toner acknowledge that Ronald Reagan was an unabashed ideologue who was widely conceded to have united the country -- he was a right-winger, so I guess we're supposed to think that's not so surprising. (Or perhaps he's also considered ancient history; I remember the ideological battles of the 1980s and I really don't understand Toner's assertion that our politics became highly partisan only 15 years ago.)

Toner does presehnt the Obama campaign's argument -- that the public has an underreported leaning to the left on a lot of issues, and that a president who make a real effort at outreach can succeed. But she keeps coming back to the question of liberalism (the much-disputed National Journal ranking of Obama is mentioned three times). Obama is contrasted with Hillary Clinton, whose voting record, we're told, is very similar to his, but who doesn't promise a new kind of politics -- the implication being that she wisely recognizes that she's a lefty and therefore knows she couldn't possibly unite the country without curbing her horribly divisive liberalism.

I can't help reading this as a variant on the story the press's view of itself over the past couple of decades: The Republicans are right -- we're biased liberals incapable of objectivity. No wonder we're losing readers. No matter how hard we try, we're doomed to fail.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Er, maybe because of ignorant crap like this, which could be coming to an e-mail in-box near you?

As Snopes notes, some of the people in this photo are, in fact, members of Barack Obama's extended family on his father's side. The caption, needless to say, is a product of the imagination of -- I'm making an educated guess here -- a member of my extremely civil and decidedly non-angry race, and is a fine example of our profoundly non-angry civility.

(Via Too Sense by way of Racialicious and Rachel's Tavern.)

I know Republicans are feeling their oats right now as they watch Democrats battle, but I wasn't quite expecting torture enabler John Yoo, now a Berkeley law professor and American Enterprise Institute "visiting scholar," to try to put the boot in. It's not that I don't think of him as a shameless partisan apparatchik -- I just thought that penning Democrat-baiting op-eds was a subspecies of partisan hackery that didn't play to his strengths.

But here he is, on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, with just such an op-ed. And as it turns out, I was right -- he's not very good at this. Try to follow the tortured logic as he attempts to convert the Democrats' intraparty battle into a full-blown constitutional crisis:

... there are a total of 795 superdelegates, none of whom are required to honor the will of the voters of their state at the party's convention.

Sound undemocratic? It is....

Unelected delegates ... have more than twice the votes of the richest state prize, California.

So much for unfiltered democracy. In truth, the Democratic Party runs by rules that are the epitome of the smoke-filled room and ensure, in essence, that congressional incumbents exercise a veto power over the nomination.

This delegate dissonance wasn't anything the Framers of the U.S. Constitution dreamed up. They believed that letting Congress choose the president was a dreadful idea. Without direct election by the people, the Framers said that the executive would lose its independence and vigor and become a mere servant of the legislature....

Press reports indicate that the Framers were right to worry. The Clinton and Obama campaigns are now competing hard to win superdelegates. Members of Congress no doubt will cut deals for themselves and their constituents. A water project here, some pet legislation there -- surely such details are worth the nomination.... As we close in on the Democratic convention, the demand for superdelegates will escalate, with the choice of the nominee becoming increasingly the work of political intrigue, inside deals, and power struggles among special interest groups -- just as the Framers feared....

Is your head spinning yet?

Let's review how far we've deviated from reality:

* Not all superdelegates are members of Congress, or even current officeholders of any kind.

* It's far from certain that superdelegates' choices will be made in smoke-filled rooms -- the nominating process is probably much too public, and a good thing, too. There's a very good chance that superdelegates will recognize the damage they'd do to the party if they neutralize the outcomes of primaries and caucuses.

* Even if you accept the notion that the superdelegate process will be sleazy, corrupt, and undemocratic, the Constitution says nothing about how parties pick candidates. We're still going to have a democratic general election, no? So how would the choice of one party nominee by superdelegates, some of whom are members of Congress, be equivalent to "letting Congress choose the president"?

* And, er, who says "direct election by the people" was the Framers' vision of how we should choose a president? If the Framers had wanted direct election, they wouldn't have put the Electoral College process in the Constitution -- a process that doesn't even require electors to vote the way citizens of their states vote.

Hackery. Absolute hackery. Try again, John.

Elisabeth Bumiller's article about John McCain's moments of rebellion against the GOP reminds us just how much these moments had to do with anger, far more than ideology. In particular, McCain's flirtation with the idea of switching parties in 2001 and his then-opposition to the Bush tax cuts were, it seems, nearly all pique.

So swing voters who think a McCain presidency would be an eclectic mix of conservatism and moderation need to take note: The moderation came when he was ticked off at Bush and other Republicans. Right now, by contrast, there's no powerful right-wing force in the party thwarting him. He's the GOP Alpha Dog. So what reason is there to believe he's going to deviate from his usual right-wing orthodoxy in the future?

From the article:

... In the spring of 2001, Mr. McCain was by most accounts still angry about the smear campaign that had been run against him when he was campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination in the South Carolina primary the previous year. He had long blamed the Bush campaign for spreading rumors in the state that he had fathered a black child out of wedlock, which Bush aides denied. Mr. McCain was also upset that the new White House had shut the door on hiring so many of his aides.

"Very few, if any, of John's people made it into the administration," Mr. Daschle later wrote in his book "Like No Other Time." "John didn't think that was right, that his staff should be penalized like that."

Mr. McCain had begun to ally himself with the Democrats on a number of issues, and had told Mr. Daschle that he planned to vote against the Bush tax cuts, a centerpiece of the new president's domestic agenda. Mr. McCain often made "disparaging comments" about Mr. Bush on the floor of the Senate, Mr. Daschle recalled.

...[There were] weeks of conversations that April between Mr. McCain and the leading Democrats ... about the possibility of Mr. McCain's leaving his party. One factor driving Mr. McCain, [Democratic congressman Thomas] Downey said, was his bad relations with the Republican caucus.

"They had booed him once when he came in," Mr. Downey said. "It was bad stuff in the caucus. He didn't see his future with these guys." ...

It all seems to be rebellion for the sake of rebellion, rather than a core ideological eclecticism.

McCain's willingness to entertain the possibility of being John Kerry's running mate in '04 is a bit more mysterious, though it's clear it wasn't rooted in deep-seated ideological conviction -- after all, it was mere months after entertaining the Kerry offer that McCain wrapped Bush in a bear hug at the Republican convention. My theory: a love-hate relationship with Bush. But the object of these strong emotions is leaving the scene.

Within his party, McCain spent a brief period as a gadfly. But ever since that hug, he's been a suckup -- sucking up to Bush, sucking up to the religious right. Even his most significant deviation from correct right-wing thinking in recent years, his support for immigration reform, was very much in sync with Bush and Rove's notions that immigration reform was good for business and likely to draw Hispanic voters away from the Democrats.

So where's the deviation from orthodoxy going to come from in the future?

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Two stories today strongly suggest that John McCain plans to worry less about shoring up right-wing support and concentrate more on selling himself as only kinda-sorta Republican and really really really not like George W. Bush at all.

First, there's this front-page New York Times story, which starts out with what seem to be McCain talking points, then turns a bit skeptical. Thus, earlier on, we're told that this month's overseas trip

offered him the chance to test his hope that he could repair America's tattered reputation by shifting course on some of the policies that have alienated its allies, in areas like global warming and torture....

At several stops along the trip, Mr. McCain struck a markedly different tone from that of President Bush....

Mr. McCain spoke in Britain and France about the need to take action to reduce global warming....

He also denounced torture and repeated his call to close the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba....

But much of the rest of the article discusses the difficulty McCain faces in making the case that he's not like Bush while he's an unstinting supporter of Bush's war. McCain's insistence that Iran is aiding Al Qaeda in Iraq is also played prominently.

So this story is only a partially successful spin effort for the McCain campaign. A Politico story today about McCain's relationship with Joe Lieberman is far more of a win for the campaign -- it's almost 100% spin, disguised as journalism:

...As McCain hopes to wage a campaign that appeals to an independent-minded electorate exasperated by the Bush administration and the political status quo, Lieberman, a former Democratic vice presidential nominee, has become something of a symbolic character witness meant to testify to the Arizonan's bipartisan approach.

(See what I mean?)

...Though he had initially wanted to stay out of the 2008 presidential fray, Lieberman was swayed by a personal appeal from McCain, an aide to the Connecticut senator said....

(I don't believe for a second that Lieberman intended to stay out of this race. He might not have become the constant companion of the other candidates, but I'm certain he would have endorsed whichever of the Republican candidates won the nomination, Ron Paul excepted.)

...McCain strategists see great value in the dissident Democrat and promise that Lieberman will play a key role in the general election.

"He contradicts the DNC caricature [of McCain]," says Mark Salter, McCain’s closest aide and former chief of staff.

As Democrats seek to portray the Arizona senator as representing a third Bush term, argues Salter, Lieberman's willingness to back a Republican "exposes that for the emptiness that it is."

"It's a great story about character and courage," adds Charlie Black, another top McCain adviser, alluding to Lieberman's unlikely path from would-be Democratic vice-president to senior surrogate for the GOP standard-bearer.

"And it reinforces McCain's character and courage," he adds, hinting at the Republican's own willingness to buck his own party for principle. "[The endorsement] would not have happened for any other Republican."...

No? It wouldn't have happened for, say, Giuliani, whose line about terrorists' "war against us" Lieberman once borrowed for a Wall Street Journal op-ed? AndI'm really sick and tired of the way "courage" has been defined down by people like Black, to the point that absolutely no risk, physical or otherwise, is required for some acts to be regarded as acts of courage (usually expressions of opposition to Democrats and/or liberals).

But I'm getting away from the main point, which is that McCain clearly thinks GOP voters will be with him no mattter what, and his best strategy is to persuade centrists that he's not really a Republican. I wish I thought it wouldn't work.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


Wingnut-lite columnist John Leo at the Huffington Post:

Barack Obama isn't the only presidential contender with a prominent bigot among his supporters. John McCain accepted the endorsement of Pastor John Hagee, who regularly attacks the Catholic Church as "the great whore of Revelation," a "false cult system," and "the anti-Christ."

... the mainstream media has barely reacted. The likely reason: reporters, editors and intellectuals aren't much interested in attacks on Catholics. Minorities, women and gays are eligible for sensitive concern. Catholics aren't....

Er, John? The press would have been all over words deemed offensive to Catholics if the person uttering those words were backing a Democrat. Just ask Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan.

Leo fills out his column with a series of examples of speech he deems offensive to Catholics, none of which is from a declared supporter of any presidential and some of which has nothing whatsoever to do with Catholicism (or did Mike Huckabee convert when I wasn't looking?). Most of it exists entirely outside the sphere of electoral politics, and is the same kind of stuff Leo and other graybeard right-wing pundits who are desperate for fresh material have been grumbling about for a generation:

In Jerry Springer: the Opera, which played for two nights at Carnegie Hall in January, Jesus is an effeminate gay-like character who walks around in a diaper and is hailed as a "hypocrite son of the fascist tyrant on high." The Virgin Mary is introduced as a woman "raped by an angel," and Eve fondles Jesus' genitals.

...Jesus on the cross can be wrought in chocolate ("My Sweet Lord"), as a homosexual sex scene, or on the cover of the
New Yorker as the Easter Bunny. Advertisers and movie-makers feel free to mock Catholics too. An ad for Equinox fitness clubs featured young women dressed as nuns sketching a naked man while staring at his crotch. Elizabeth: the Golden Age took many swipes at Catholicism....

(Anti-Catholicism in a movie about Elizabeth I! I'm shocked!)

What's odd is that whenever someone bashes Islam in a cartoon or film (e.g., the forthcoming movie by Dutch provocateur Geert Wilders), the right points out that if something similar were produced about Christianity, there'd be no violent outrage. But the right apparently also believes that there should be violent outrage -- or state suppression, or something. So which is it?

Friday, March 21, 2008


Yes, class warfare -- nice to see the editorial page of The New York Times engaging in some:

The ongoing bailout of the financial system by the Federal Reserve underscores the extent to which financial barons socialize the costs of private bets gone bad. Not a week goes by that the Fed doesn't inaugurate a new way to provide liquidity -- meaning money -- to the financial system. Bear Stearns isn't enormous. It doesn't take deposits from the public. Yet the Fed believed that letting it implode could unleash a domino effect among other banks, and the Fed provided a $30 billion guarantee for JPMorgan to snap it up.

Compared to the cold shoulder given to struggling homeowners, the cash and attention lavished by the government on the nation's financial titans provides telling insight into the priorities of the Bush administration.... if the objective is to encourage prudent banking and keep Wall Street's wizards from periodically driving financial markets over the cliff, it is imperative to devise a remuneration system for bankers that puts more of their skin in the game.

You know those angry white working-class folks we've been talking about so much this week? I just want to point out that if their forebears -- and I mean that literally in many cases, their grandparents and great-grandparents -- were around today, this is one of the main things they'd be angry about.

More from the editorial:

Financiers, of course, dispute that they are being insufficiently penalized. "I received no bonus for 2007, no severance pay, no golden parachute,” E. Stanley O'Neal, the former chief executive of Merrill Lynch, told a House committee recently. That doesn't seem like much of a blow to Mr. O'Neal, who was removed earlier this year following gargantuan subprime-related losses.

True, though, alas, we're not told that while O'Neal technically didn't receive a bonus, severance, or golden parachute, he was allowed to "retire" rather than resign, which meant he could leave Merrill with $161.5 million in securities and retirement funds that he might otherwise have had to give up.

I'm just throwing this out there because so many people are (understandably) in despair at news like this:

In the new Franklin & Marshall College Poll ... some troubling news for Democrats.

...In a sign of just how divisive and ugly the Democratic fight has gotten, only 53% of Clinton voters say they'll vote for Obama should he become the nominee. Nineteen percent say they'll go for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and 13% say they won't vote.

Sixty percent of Obama voters say they'll go for Clinton should she win the nomination, with 20% opting for McCain, and three percent saying they won't vote....

We don't know that this will hold -- we have seven and a half months to go before Election Day. But if it's still true by the end of the primary season and neither candidate is a guaranteed first-ballot winner, is it time to bail -- and draft Gore? Or Edwards?

Just asking.

In a well-intentioned article titled "Another Angry Black Preacher," E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post wonders what the reaction would have been in a YouTube age to the denunciation of the Vietnam War by Dr. Martin Luther King:

Listen to what King said about the Vietnam War at his own Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Feb. 4, 1968: "God didn't call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war.... And we are criminals in that war. We've committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I'm going to continue to say it. And we won't stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation. But God has a way of even putting nations in their place." King then predicted this response from the Almighty: "And if you don't stop your reckless course, I'll rise up and break the backbone of your power."

If today's technology had existed then, I would imagine the media playing quotations of that sort over and over. Right-wing commentators would use the material to argue that King was anti-American....

I would ... ask my conservative friends who praise King so lavishly to search their consciences and wonder if they would have stood up for him in 1968.

Actually, King was widely castigated when he expressed opposition to the war in 1967 -- particularly by those in the center:

...national media heard [King's "Beyond Vietnam" speech] loud and clear back in 1967 -- and loudly denounced it. Time magazine called it "demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi." The Washington Post patronized that "King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people."

In fact, it was Time's sister magazine Life that used the "Radio Hanoi" line, adding:

... he goes beyond his personal right to dissent when he connects progress in civil rights here with a proposal that amounts to abject surrender in Vietnam....

Taylor Branch reminds us that the Johnson White House pressed blacks to criticize King:

White House aide Clifford Alexander ... and others mobilized civil rights leaders to isolate King's threat to their White House alliance. Former ambassador Carl Rowan angrily told King that millions of their fellow black people would suffer for his insults against the greatest civil rights President in American history. He ascribed sinister motives to King in a syndicated column later expanded for Reader's Digest, and King's folly became a front-page theme within a week.... "N.A.A.C.P. Decries Stand of Dr. King on Vietnam / Calls It a 'Serious Tactical Mistake' to Merge Rights and Peace Drives," announced the April 11 New York Times, which followed two days later with a headline about United Nations undersecretary Ralph Bunche, the only other black American Nobel Peace laureate: "Bunche Disputes Dr. King on Peace."

Michael Friedland adds:

Many were particularly incensed at the comparisons King had made between the military tactics used by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Nazis. Malcolm Tarlov of the Jewish War Veterans said it was "utterly incredible that Dr. King's denunciation of our Government should manifest itself in such an ugly parallel," and said his organization considered King's "extremist tirade to reveal an ignorance of the facts, pandering to Ho Chi Minh, and an insult to the intelligence of all Americans.... His speech could have been written in North Vietnam."

Dionne implies that a lack of YouTube prevented King from facing the degree of critixcism Wright and Obama are experiencing today. But King did face that degree of criticism. We just don't remember it now.

If I utterly despised America and thought white people were irredeemably racist, I'd make a principled decision to reject a white president's invitation to the White House. (And don't tell me that no one refuses to go to the White House when invited -- remember the poets who refused Laura Bush's invitation to a White House poetry symposium, not out of hatred of America but out of a patriotic outrage at the rush toward war in Iraq.)

Or I'd show up and make a statement, like Eartha Kitt in the Vietnam years:

Eartha Kitt, the singer, stunned other guests at a White House luncheon today when she angrily told Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson that American youth was rebelling because of the Vietnam war....

"You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed," she said. "They rebel in the street. They will take pot and they will get high. They don't want to go to school because they're going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam."

A pale Mrs. Johnson later rose and looked directly at Miss Kitt, who leaned against a podium in the yellow walled Family Dining Room....

But it appears that the Big Scary Black Guy America Hater Reverend Jeremiah Wright did neither of these things when he was invited to the White House. In fact, he seems delighted to be there:

During one of the most difficult periods in the presidency of Bill Clinton, he addressed a group of clerics at an annual prayer breakfast in September 1998 just as the Starr report outlining his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky was about to be published.

Among those in attendance, was the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., who is seen shaking hands with Mr. Clinton....

So I guess the Big Scary Black Guy America Hater Reverend Jeremiah Wright doesn't really have an unquenchable hatred for America or white people after all. Maybe white America really doesn't really have to lock its doors when he's around.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


He's hardly the messenger I would have chosen, but Malik Shabazz of the New Black Panther Party, brought onto the Hannity and Colmes show last night to serve as a proxy for Barack Obama in one of Hannity's Two Minutes' Hates, apparently changed the subject in a way Sean didn't like:

... Last night, Shabazz was there because his organization had endorsed Barack Obama. It was an endorsement that Obama specifically rejected but FOX News deliberately trumped up the endorsement by inviting Shabazz on the program (See, look what kind of extremists Obama associates with), playing a clip from one of Shabazz' more incendiary confrontations with Hannity (Jews knew about 9/11 and got out of the way), and repeatedly running the "news" on the crawl that the Obama campaign had rejected the endorsement because the New Black Panther Party is considered to be an organization that advocates violence.

But last night, Shabazz wisely toned down his rhetoric....

Shabazz [said], "Let me ask you this. Are you to be judged by your promotion and association with Hal Turner?"

Hannity waved his arm around. "I don't know anybody named – this is nonsense. I don't…" Then Hannity changed his tune. "Sir, sir… That was a man that was banned from my radio show ten years ago, that ran a Senate campaign in New Jersey."

Then, as Shabazz refused to stop talking or back down, Hannity, in a tacit admission, said, "I'm not running for president."

"A neo Nazi, you backed his career," Shabazz said....

I can't help wondering if Shabazz is conflating the two racist radio hosts Hannity has been associated with. Turner is a minor leaguer -- his primary outlet is Webcasting these days, and, yes, Hannity has now disassociated himself from the guy. But as I noted back in '06 -- when Turner was talking about assassinations of members of Congress ("Members of The United States House of Representatives or United States Senate who try to grant any form of Amnesty to millions of illegal aliens are hereby notified they may as well paint a bulls-eye target on themselves"), Turner used to be a regular Hannity radio guest and a friend:

Turner was once a prominent activist in New Jersey's Republican Party. To area conservatives, he was best known by his moniker for call-ins to the Sean Hannity Show, "Hal from North Bergen." For years, Hannity offered his top-rated radio show as a regular forum for Turner's occasionally racist, always over-the-top rants. Hannity also chatted with him off-air, allegedly offering encouragement to Turner as he struggled to overcome a cocaine habit and homosexual leanings. Turner has boasted that Hannity once invited Turner and his son on to the set of Fox News's Hannity and Colmes.

... During an August 1998 episode of the show, Turner reminded Hannity that were it not for the graciousness of the white man, "black people would still be swinging on trees in Africa," according to Daryle Jenkins, co-founder of the New Jersey-based antiracism group One People's Project. Instead of rebuking Turner or cutting him off, Hannity continued to welcome his calls....

That's one of Hannity's racist radio pals, who now seems to be an ex-pal. But Hannity's still willing to lend a helping hand to another radio racist, the much more high-profile Bob Grant, a longtime star of the New York airwaves.

Go here to see Hannity at one of his "Freedom Concerts," on September 11, 2007, inviting Grant to the stage and giving him what seems to be a manly neck kiss. This was a few weeks after Grant returned to New York radio following an absence that resulted from remarks Grant made on the air after Ron Brown's plane crash ("I have a hunch [Brown might be] the lone survivor. But then I'm a pessimist at heart"). Hannity had pressed for the return of Grant to the airwaves (Hannity inherited Grant's radio slot when Grant was fired):

IF Sean Hannity has his way, talk-radio titan Bob Grant will return from his WABC "exile" soon.

Grant, 76, was abruptly fired 10 years ago - right after Disney bought ABC - for making a wisecrack about the death of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown in a plane crash.

Now, WABC is awaiting the closing of a Disney deal to sell ABC's radio division to Citadel Broadcasting - which could open the door for Grant's return....

The Fox News Channel star pledged to have Grant "fill in on this program one day, [but] right now there's a bondage issue, if you know what I mean."...

How racist is Grant? This racist:

...When black college students gathered at a New Jersey beach, Grant talked of "the savage mind, the primitive, primordial mentality.... As far as that stretch of beach there at Belmar, it's being written off by, shall we say, civilized people."

Referring to thousands of blacks who attended a celebrity basketball game involving rap stars, he spoke of "subhumanoids, savages, who would feel more at home careening along the sands of the Kalahari...people who, for whatever reason, have not become civilized."

The few blacks who call the show can expect to be insulted -- and perhaps derided as "shoeshine boys." In hanging up on a black caller, Grant said: "Get off my phone, you creep, we don't need the toilets cleaned right now." When he hangs up on black women, he yells: "I don't need the windows washed today."

When an African-American caller pointed out that the KKK was more violent than the Nation of Islam, Grant hung up on the "swine": "On the evolutionary scale, you're about 25 generations behind me." ...


...He has ... expressed hope that Haitian immigrants would drown on their way to America, called blacks "screaming savages" and described former New York City Mayor David Dinkins as "a washroom attendant." He bemoaned the fact that the AIDS virus might take "a long time" to claim Magic Johnson's life....

This is Hannity's pal -- not years ago, but right now.

How dare Sean Hannity damn anyone else for the opinions of that person's associates?

A letter to The Boston Globe, in response to a Jeff Jacoby column critical of Barack Obama's race speech:

Double standard

JACOBY NAILED the race issue in his column. A double standard does exist, but not as Obama sees it.

As Jacoby suggests, it's OK for African-Americans to criticize this country, presumably because of all the suffering they endured. But it's not OK for them to be criticized for doing so.


You know what, Mr. Grossman? It's OK for you to criticize this country, too. It's your damn country, and if you don't like the way its leaders and plutocrats are running it, you can say so, too.

Every poll I read says the vast majority of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction. Every poll I read says the vast majority of Americans think the economy is a disaster and the war was a mistake. But complain? That would be terrible, wouldn't it? What do I think, this is supposed to be a government of the people?

Well, fine, Mr. Grossman. Just sit there and take it. And guess what? If you think there are problems in this country but you act as if you don't have the right to complain, everything will stay exactly the way it is. You're the sucker -- you and everyone else who thinks we have a moral obligation just to shut up and take it all the time.

(Via Aimai at If I Ran the Zoo, who also quotes a vile John Derbyshire mini-essay suggesting that white resentment of blacks is justified by poor treatment by the counter staff at the Department of Motor Vehicles, as if bureaucratic rudeness doesn't exist across a wide spectrum of races, colors, and creeds.)

The press reaction to Barack Obama's race speech is starting to seem like the a window into the thinking of the media on just about every subject: Yes, journalists and pundits are from an educated, somewhat elite, more or less socially liberal substratum of our society, and at first they responded to the thoughtful, intelligent, sophisticated, grown-up speech with praise. But now they're saying to themselves, "Eeeuuw -- I'm from an educated, somewhat elite, more or less socially liberal substratum of our society. I suck! The people whose take on the speech really matters are blue-collar guys sitting around in a bar in the Rust Belt on a Tuesday. And curiously, their opinions sound remarkably similar to RNC press releases and Rush Limbaugh transcripts! Woe is me, I'm such an out-of-touch elitist! These blue-collar folks really know what's important!"

The reporters are out of touch, but not in the way they think -- they don't understand that the words they hear when they make their anthropological field trips to the blue-collar bar almost certainly bear the influence of right-wing talk radio and faux-Joe Lunchpail print pundits. They're not necessarily the earthy, visceral, spontaneous reactions of The Common Man.

But now we're seeing the beginnings of a feedback loop: right-wing bloviators cherry-picking the parts of the speech that feed white anger and downplaying the rest (including Obama's criticisms of his own community), blue-collar whites firming up their rejection of Obama, and the press going to more and more blue-collar bars.

Which is why I think Hillary Clinton really has a much better shot at the nomination than Adam Nagourney of The New York Times does:

...Without new votes in Florida and Michigan, it will be that much more difficult for Mrs. Clinton to achieve a majority in the total popular vote in the primary season, narrow Mr. Obama's lead among pledged delegates or build a new wave of momentum.

Mrs. Clinton's advisers had hoped that the uproar over inflammatory remarks made by Mr. Obama's longtime pastor that has rocked his campaign for a week might lead voters and superdelegates to question whether they really know enough about Mr. Obama to back him. Although it is still early to judge his success, the speech Mr. Obama delivered on race in Philadelphia to address the controversy was well received and praised even by some Clinton supporters....

I think you're going to stop hearing that the speech "was well received" soon, after a few more reporters head down O'Malley's to see what the common folk think.


Polling evidence is starting to show problems for Obama:

A new set of polls by SurveyUSA shows that Barack Obama's electability has taken a serious drubbing as a result of his recent setbacks, and he now does much poorer than Hillary Clinton does against John McCain in the three tested states:

Clinton (D) 50%, McCain (R) 44%
McCain (R) 50%, Obama (D) 43%

McCain (R) 48%, Clinton (D) 46%
McCain (R) 53%, Obama (D) 39%

McCain (R) 53%, Clinton (D) 43%
McCain (R) 64%, Obama (D) 28%

But does any of this really speak to the question of Clinton's electability? Right now she's looking better because she's kicking a fellow Democrat, who happens to be black and a perceived hero of yuppies and a perceived favorite of yuppie-scum reporters -- but if she gets the nomination, she'll lose Obama as a foil and the only person she'll have to attack is a white male war-hero Republican saint. So won't she simply become the unpleasant bitch again? Won't these head-to-head numbers change very quickly?

May I just make a trivial, pointless observation in response to this trivial, pointless story by ABC's "Investigative Unit" ("Heh-heh -- you said 'unit'!"), a story that has understandably aroused widespread outrage?

Hillary At White House on 'Stained Blue Dress' Day

Schedules Reviewed by ABC Show Hillary May Have Been in the White House When the Fateful Act Was Committed

Hillary Clinton spent the night in the White House on the day her husband had oral sex with Monica Lewinsky, and may have actually been in the White House when it happened, according to records of her schedule released today by the National Archives....

Er, I've been to the White House. It's a big house. Nearly all of us grew up in houses or apartments that are much, much smaller. Ever have sex or make out with someone or masturbate or smoke pot or smoke a cigarette in your room while your family went about their business elsewhere in the house? Happens all the time. So what could the possible ostensible reason for this prurient story be? That there's something wrong with Hillary because she didn't know? Then there's probably something wrong with your mom and dad, too, if you ever did anything right under their noses and they didn't notice.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


I'm a little late informing you of this, but he's back.

Well, it doesn't surprise me that VP wannabe Mike Huckabee said this about the Wright controversy:

"[Y]ou can't hold the candidate responsible for everything that people around him may say or do," Huckabee says. "It's interesting to me that there are some people on the left who are having to be very uncomfortable with what ... Wright said, when they all were all over a Jerry Falwell, or anyone on the right who said things that they found very awkward and uncomfortable, years ago...."

Huckabee, after all, has to worry that he might someday be asked to explain his significant ties to a right-wing preacher named Bill Gothard, whose organization, among other things, has been accused of abusing children sent for residential counseling:

Hundreds of young people from around the country come to the ITC – some sent by their parents, others by juvenile court – for a special brand of bible-based learning and counseling.

It's run by Chicago-area minister Bill Gothard, who oversees a $63 million evangelistic empire....

But Eyewitness News has learned of disturbing allegations about the center, including routine corporal punishment - sometimes without parental consent - and solitary confinement that can last for months.

...[One] girl allegedly was confined in a so-called "quiet room" for five days at a time; restrained by teenage "leaders" who would sit on her; and hit with a wooden paddle 14 times. At least once, the family contends, she was prevented from going to the bathroom and then forced to sit in her own urine....

Gothard has nutty ideas. He's warned of the evils of Cabbage Patch dolls, claimed that schizophrenia is the result of avoidance of personal responsibility (citing an unnamed "Jewish psychiatrist"), and believes that rock music is evil in all forms, blaming rock music for last December's shooting rampage in Colorado Springs (the gunman had angrily denounced Gothard after going through a Gothard homeschooling program).

Huckabee's ties to Gothard are not trivial:

...From Gothard's website:

Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas stated, “As a person who has actually been through the Basic Seminar, I am confident that these are some of the best programs available for instilling character into the lives of people.”

From the March 10, 1997 Ocala (FL) Star-Banner:

...Little Rock, Ark., had already been established as friendly terrain for Gothard. Two of his long-time admirers - Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee and Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey, a Democrat - are loyal advocates of Gothard’s agenda and have encouraged him to expand juvenile rehabilitation programs there.

According to Gothard's website, Huckabee helped bring IBLP's program into the Arkansas prison system, in partnership with the Corrections Corporation of America....

Huckabee also helps market [Gothard's] "Character Cities" program....

But maybe we shouldn't tip McCain off on this potential liability if he decides to run with Huck. Or, of course, it might not matter, because they're Republicans, and pretty much everything's OK if you're a Republican.