Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Vanity Fair's Todd Purdum just published his big Sarah Palin article -- and William Kristol thinks he has Purdum dead to rights:

Here's a highlight of Purdum's reporting: "More than once in my travels in Alaska, people brought up, without prompting, the question of Palin's extravagant self-regard. Several told me, independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of 'narcissistic personality disorder' in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders--'a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy'--and thought it fit her perfectly."

Is there any real chance that "several" Alaskans independently told Purdum that they had consulted the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders? I don't believe it for a moment. I've (for better or worse) moved in pretty well-educated circles in my life, and I've gone decades without "several" people telling me they had consulted the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Um, Bill? If you Google the word "narcissist," the second result you get is the Wikipedia page for "Narcissistic personality disorder."

Here's the first paragraph of that page:

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the diagnostic classification system used in the United States, as "a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy."

Not far below that are nine DSM-IV criteria for the disorder.

Bill, is it really so hard to imagine that several of Purdum's sources might have conducted such a search -- each one after, say, a particularly fraught meeting with Governor Palin?

I dunno, is it just me? Todd Purdum's new Vanity Fair article on Sarah Palin contains, I'm told, 9,823 words (Chris Cillizza, Washington Post) and has "nuggets galore" (The Hill), but I was unimpressed. Here's a "nugget" -- one of her advisers was Mark McKinnon. Mark McKinnon! Nobody knew that! Wowee zowee! Tell Drudge to put up an extra red siren!

Yeah, it's semi-interesting that Palin blew off prep for the Katie Couric interview because she was inordinately fixated on answering a questionnaire from The Frontiersman, an Alaska newspaper, but it's long been established that Palin doesn't like studying issues in depth (see this New Republic article from last fall), and we knew she refused to prepare for Couric (Carl Cameron of Fox News told us that in November), so who cares why? If it hadn't been that questionnaire, surely she would have blown off the prep for some other reason. That's Palin.

Even this anecdote, which The Hill calls an "eye-popper," doesn't impress me much:

When Trig was born, Palin wrote an e-mail letter to friends and relatives, describing the belated news of her pregnancy and detailing Trig's condition; she wrote the e-mail not in her own name but in God's, and signed it "Trig's Creator, Your Heavenly Father."

First of all, this isn't a scoop -- the Anchorage Daily News reported it just after Trig was born, in the spring of '08. And while I fully agree that Palin's a narcissist, I'm not sure this is as megalomaniacal as it seems. Here's more on the e-mail, from the ADN:

In a letter she e-mailed to relatives and close friends Friday after giving birth, Palin wrote, "Many people will express sympathy, but you don't want or need that, because Trig will be a joy. You will have to trust me on this." She wrote it in the voice of and signed it as "Trig's Creator, Your Heavenly Father."

"Children are the most precious and promising ingredient in this mixed-up world you live in down there on Earth. Trig is no different, except he has one extra chromosome," Palin wrote.

Maybe I've just lurked at too many right-wing Web sites, but this seems like garden-variety Christian-right inspirational schmaltz. Even the first-person aspect of it seems no weirder than, say, those God Speaks billboards.

I'm not saying it's a bad article, just that I'm not sure it reveals much we didn't already know.


I do think Purdum is right when he says this:

... no political principle or personal relationship is more sacred than her own ambition.... Palin has always been a party of one.

It makes me realize that Palin reminds me of Madonna. In much the same way that Palin has shot to the top without seeming to have a true political purpose -- a real set of well-developed ideas or issues or policy goals -- Madonna succeeded without seeming to have any great skill at what was apparently her job: singing. But both of them are extraordinarily good at making people pay attention to them (and making people keep paying attention to them). Both of them have an extraordinary sense of will. Both act as if they're physically stunning even though they're not really beautiful -- and as a result, people think they're beautiful. (Purdum certainly thinks Palin is beautiful -- he calls her "the sexiest brand in Republican politics" and "by far the best-looking woman ever to rise to such heights in national politics," adding, squirm-inducingly, that she is "the first indisputably fertile female to dare to dance with the big dogs.")

Purdum ends his article by speculating that Palin may not have much of a future in GOP politics -- she doesn't have the right advisers, country-club Republicans don't like her, and so on. In this, he sounds like every music fan from the mid-1980s on (myself included) who found Madonna resistible, and therefore assumed she just had to be reaching the end of her 15 minutes of fame -- and kept saying that for the 20 years she was one of the biggest stars in the world.


UPDATE: Oops -- I'm being thanked for this post by William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection, of all people. Thanks, Bill. Too bad I still think you're an ass. Oh, and I love what one of his commenters says, apparently (to judge from the commenter's profile and blog) in all earnestness:

Palin/Keyes. Libs are scared to death of them. Neither backs down, both are knowledgeable and versed in public speaking, and Keyes is a damned genius. I would love to see the Keyes treatment of Biden in a Veep faceoff.

Oh, me too. Me too. Only one other ticket could top that one.

Washington Times:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday said he is concerned about U.S. forces withdrawing from Iraqi cities within 24 hours.

Mr. Cheney told The Washington Times' "America's Morning News" radio show that he is a strong believer in Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, and that the general is doing what needs to be done.

"But what he says concerns me: That there is still a continuing problem. One might speculate that insurgents are waiting as soon as they get an opportunity to launch more attacks." ...

Andrew Sullivan makes the obvious point:

...he is gearing up to blame Obama if the withdrawal leads to bloodshed or chaos.

You know what? Fine. Let him. The American people -- including Republicans -- just don't care anymore:

A new national poll suggests that nearly three-quarters of all Americans support the plan to withdraw most U.S. combat troops from Iraqi cities and towns, even though most believe that the troop movements will lead to an increase in violence in that country.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll [was] released on Tuesday morning....

"This plan has widespread bipartisan support," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Seventy two percent of Democrats and 74 percent of Republicans favor this move."

The poll indicates that 52 percent think the level of violence in Iraqi cities will increase after U.S. troops withdraw, with 32 percent saying things will remain the same and 15 percent feeling that the level of violence will decrease. If violence does increase, the poll suggests Americans are quite clear about how to respond.

"Nearly two-thirds say that the U.S. should not send combat troops back into Iraqi population centers even if there is a significant increase in the number of violence attacks." Holland notes. "Americans seem to believe that once the Iraqis are in charge, it's up to them to solve any future problems."

I think, beyond a simple fight-your-own-battles message, Americans are overwhelmingly rejecting the core of the Bush-Cheney argument, which is that the Iraq War has prevented a second 9/11. Maybe Americans have finally figured out that Al Qaeda is still out there, in Waziristan rather than Iraq. Maybe they don't really see the difference between American kids dying in roadside bombing in Iraq and Americans dying in the towers. Maybe it's just that they see a lot of nasty stuff on the news -- terrorist attacks in Mumbai, brutal repression in Iran -- and they're thinking, in a general way, Wasn't the point of the Iraq War that it would get all these people to stop fighting and make nice? Whatever's going on, Cheney can lay all the groundwork he wants for attacks on Obama if Iraq worsens, but America just doesn't give a crap.

There isn't even a health care bill yet in D.C., but legislators in Arizona are already jumping in to try to ban what they think is coming. It's easy to mock this as paranoia, but warning of doom can have the effect of suggesting to the public that doom is precisely what's coming:

Voters in Arizona will decide next year whether residents will be subject to mandates in the pending health care reform that President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats are promoting.

... [The] initiative (HCR2014), ... if passed, would amend the state constitution to codify that no resident would be required to participate in any public health care option. Arizonans will vote on the initiative in November 2010.

"HCR2014 is proactive and will protect patients' fundamental rights," Arizona State Rep. Nancy Barto, a Republican, said in a statement. "We are a front-line battle state to stop the momentum of this powerful government takeover of your health care decisions. Health care by lobbyists thwarts your rights and can be stopped here." ...

Now, we all know there isn't going to be mandatory "socialized medicine," but the wingnuts, of course, think (or want the public to think) that merely having a public option will be an apocalyptic corporate plague that causes all private health insurers to go out of business -- and, of course, saying so loud enough and frequently enough makes at least some of the public believe that's true, and would be unspeakably awful. And note above that the dreaded "socialized medicine" is being criticized as "Health care by lobbyists." The evildoers are both commies and fat cats!

Actually, the law doesn't just seek to ban "socialized medicine" -- it also seeks to ban individual or corporate mandates:

[The] proposal ... would constitutionally override any law, rule or regulation that requires individuals or employers to participate in any particular health care system.

... the [Obama] plan, at least for the time being, is expected to include some sort of mandatory purchase. That could involve companies being forced to provide insurance for their workers as well as a requirement that every individual obtain coverage or face financial penalties.

But I think the key point here is OBAMA WANTS TO MAKE CAPITALISM ILLEGAL!!!!!1!1!!!!, and that problem is very directly addressed:

HCR2014 ... would prohibit any fine or penalty on anyone or any company for deciding to purchase health care directly.

... it would overrule anything that prohibits the sale of private health insurance in Arizona.

But this is just silly and quixotic, right? People want real health care reform, right? Well, in Arizona a similar proposal almost became law last year:

The measure is similar to an initiative pushed onto the ballot last year by Eric Novack, a Phoenix orthopedic surgeon....

But the initiative was narrowly defeated, at least in part amid concerns that the change would undermine the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid program.

Tenth Amendment fans are cheering this on as "nullification":

"The main point that nullification aims to address is that a government allowed to determine the scope of its own powers cannot remain limited for long. This is a lesson we should have learned by now. Moreover, since piecemeal solutions to reducing federal power have accomplished nothing, we can hardly afford to dismiss out of hand the idea of nullification, a remedy that is at once creative and intelligent, and recommended by some of the greatest political thinkers in American history."

As it has in the past, my mind goes back to a gruesome monologue in Apocalypse Now, in which Marlon Brando, as Colonel Kurtz, recalls helping to give some Vietnamese children polio vaccines and then learning that the VC have amputated all of the children's inoculated arms. That's what modern Republicans seem to want to be -- tough cadres whose willful resistance to the enemy extends even to medicine. If these folks actually have an alternate proposal for dealing with America's (or even just Arizona's) health care problems, I'm not aware of it.

Monday, June 29, 2009


I do think there's something showoffy about the 150-year sentence given to Bernie Madoff, and I think the length is a consequence of the social status of many of his victims, but unlike Taylor Marsh, I can't exactly say I find it outrageously long:

Talk about sentence overkill....

Madoff's lawyers referred to the verdict as "mob vengeance." ...

Good riddance to the schmuck, but the overkill sentence is nothing less than judicial smoke and mirrors....

Well, it's either one or the other -- overkill or smoke and mirrors. He'll spend the rest of his life in prison. He'd've spent the rest of his life in prison if he got 20 years without parole. So where's the overkill, except, well, rhetorically? The judge gets to say he threw the book at Madoff. That's all there is to this. There could be real vengeance in this sentence, but it would have to be a very, very different sentence, as I'll explain below.

Marsh has a point about the sentence, obviously, here:

It should come as cold comfort for people, because the system that allowed it to happen is still in place with no answers as to where the regulatory agencies were when Madoff ran amok.

As does Melissa McEwan:

It's just a little fucked up that the asshole who swindled rich people gets 150 years, but most of the assholes who swindled poor people haven't even lost their jobs. And that's to say nothing of the assholes staffed by the regulatory bodies whose enormous incompetence enabled Madoff's crimes, no less members of the administration under whose watch the economy collapsed.

And yet my thoughts keep going the other way.

I don't approve of the death penalty -- I don't think it's any kind of deterrent, as it's applied. But -- notwithstanding the fact that Madoff isn't the only person responsible for his Ponzi scheme -- if we're going to have a death penalty, why do we never impose it on white-collar felons? Aren't these precisely the kinds of people it actually might deter? We execute people for crimes of violence -- but the people walking around free who are committing the same kinds of crimes, or who will do so in the future, aren't deterred, because the choice to do that means they've already accepted violence as a part of life. Being killed at the end is not a huge shock to someone who's led a violent life.

But white-collar criminals are different. Executing a few of them would scare the bejesus out of the rest. They don't do that kind of harm, and they feel entitled not to have it done to them. What if they no longer had the luxury of that assumtion? It might concentrate the mind, no?

This is just a thought exercise, of course. A society that won't police the Madoffs of the world effectively, and that will barely punish swindlers of the non-posh at all, surely isn't going to treat white-collar crooks like "real" felons. And I guess I'd be squeamish about society doing so if it actually were happening.

I'm just saying I think it might be the only kind of death penalty that would actually work.

The Beltway Villagers simply can't bear the brave new world in which Republicans aren't obviously dominant, so they're desperately seeking someone -- anyone -- whose leadership can help restore the status quo ante. Here's The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza with the latest possible standard-bearer for a future restoration:

Dispirited Republicans looking for national leaders amid a wash of scandals that have dominated national news over the last fortnight got a bit of good news on Sunday with an inspired performance on "Meet the Press" by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R)....

Asked about Gov. Mark Sanford's extramarital affair, Graham, who is close to the governor, said that he was "disappointed" in his friend's behavior and praised Obama as "one of the better role models in the entire country for the idea of being a good parent, a good father."

Of the two major legislative victories for Democrats so far this Congress -- the economic stimulus bill and the climate change measure -- Graham offered a criticism that acknowledged the mistakes his own party had made while subtly hanging the politics as usual label on Obama and Democrats.

"The stimulus package was Karl Rove politics; pick a few Republicans off, call it bipartisan," said Graham. "The climate change bill was Tom DeLay banging heads and twisting arms to get one vote more than you needed. So there's really been no change in Washington." ...

Does one solid performance on a Sunday show mean that Graham is the new "it" guy for the GOP? No. But the notoriously private Graham seemed to signal on Sunday that he is ready to take more of a leadership role....

Politico's Jonathan Martin seconds this.

All of which would be swell news for the GOP, except for one small stumbling block: the unswerving resistance of actual Republicans. Here's some reaction to the same Meet the Press appearance from Free Republic:

You go Goober! Way to waste valuable face time praising Our Little President.!


Really. I wish this insipid little sh*t would just shut up and go away.


Graham is amazing -- he doesn't even demand a $30 economy box of Frito chips nor a gas card in return for his services.


Hitler loved his dog. WTF does it matter to the country what kind of father Obozo is to his kids?


What's that brown stuff on your nose, Lindsey?


pitiful white liberal guilt affects RINOs

And these folks have no doubt that rumors of Graham's homosexuality are true:

Why couldn't it had been Graham in Argentina? At least we could call him Lindsey and not leslie


What would that little homo weasel know about being a father?

And, incidentally, they have some rather baroque theories about the president:

Rumor has it that [Obama] is only biological father to one: second offspring is result of angry underbite's affair. Look at her: she does not resemble the One is any way, shape or manner.


Well, he’s pretty good at using his kids as photo-ops. What goes on behind the scenes, who knows?

He was pretty certainly molested as a child himself, one reason why he seems to have turned out gay, but that doesn't mean he grew up to be a child molester himself. Rather, he is a pathological narcissist, who I suspect pays little or no attention to his kids or his dog except when he is being watched or photographed, when he wants to show unlookers what a wonderful guy he is.


Well, Lindsay, you wanna warm his bed when m'obozo is taking a taxpayer-free shopping jaunt in Paris? Since obozo is bisexual, he wouldn’t mind having a little white boy like servicing him.

Oh yeah -- this is a group of voters that's really ready for a change from overheated, fire-breathing rhetoric, wouldn't you say?

It's because he's setting in motion a lot of things the public wants and needs right now, but he's done so with no plan to prevent outcomes like this:

Somewhere on earth, there must be a more difficult task than this: persuading American mortgage companies to lower payments for homeowners who can no longer afford their loans. But as Karina Montenegro struggles to accomplish this feat for a troubled borrower, she strains to imagine a more futile pursuit....

Among her clients is Vladimir Vishmid, who owes $490,000 on the mortgage for his three-bedroom home in the Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles....

Software on Ms. Montenegro's computer logs the details of the three applications her company has submitted for Mr. Vishmid. Chris, the WaMu representative, is telling her to send in No. 4.

"Personally, I'd submit a new file," Chris counsels. "I'm telling you honestly, anything over 30 days is a new submission for us." ...

In the same office, Ms. Montenegro's colleague, Sean Milotta, has run into a problem on a loan billed by American Home Mortgage Servicing. Though the borrower appears eligible for the Obama administration plan, the company refuses to take an application because the loan is owned by an investor who is unwilling to absorb a loss.

In another office down the hall, Ramin Lavi, 27, has picked up the file of Alice Descovich, who is seeking to shave down the $708,000 she owes on a mortgage serviced by WaMu for her home in Alameda, Calif....

A note in the system shows that the bank confirmed receiving documents on April 29 -- pay stubs, tax returns, a letter disclosing her hardship, bank statements. Since then, the company has been waiting for WaMu to review the file.

But when Mr. Lavi calls, a representative coolly discloses that the application has been rejected because one document, a proof-of-insurance form, is missing. He must start over....

This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where the notion of activist government proves itself -- or doesn't. Get this kind of thing wrong and GOP rhetoric begins sounding persuasive to voters again -- specifically, rhetoric about how government is never the solution, always the problem, and about how the scariest words in English are "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

If you can't get better results than this -- because your legislation is too watered down, because your oversight is underfunded, because you're unable or unwilling to knock heads together, especially the heads of powerful special interests, to get the results you need -- then at least you have to use the bully pulpit to identify the enemies of progress. You have to do some sort of follow-through, just to keep faith with the public.

Health care can't be like this -- it just can't. If what results from legislation is byzantine, compromised, and corrupted, the failures can't be allowed to stand.

What worries me is that Obama doesn't seem to be very good at dealing with the stubborn and intransigent -- people who don't want him to succeed. His game plan always seems to anticipate that he can talk people out of resistance, and he seems surprised when he can't. (The latest example: the resistance he's getting on closing Guantanamo.) Even if he gets a good health care bill, the powerful are going to find ways to weasel out of doing the right thing. He needs to assume that from Day One, and be ready for it.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


World Net Daily has posted three stories in the past 48 hours on the subject of an eBay seller who claims to have (and we all should have seen this coming) a Barack Obama's Kenyan birth certificate. Story #1:

With dozens of lawsuits filed over access to Barack Obama's certified long-form birth certificate, many more lawyers working on his behalf to keep it secret and the validity of the U.S. Constitution hanging in the balance, guess where a "certified copy" of the original Mombasa "document" has been found?

On eBay.

Item No. 160344928067, at least as of today, is described as "a certified copy of President Barack Obama's Kenyan Birth Certificate." ...

The seller, identified by the user name " colmado_naranja," states, "President Barack Hussein Obama II was born in The Coast Provincial Hospital at Mombasa in Kenya at 7:24 PM on August 4th, 1961."

So, what does it look like? Ah, there's the rub:

... "I am not posting any photos of the birth certificate here on eBay. I have not seen this birth certificate anywhere on the Internet, to post it here on eBay would lead to a flood of facsimiles on the Internet. This would inadvertently decrease the value of the certificate as well," the seller said.

A later story reported that the listing had been "twice scrubbed by eBay -- But seller of 'Obama's birth certificate' dodges administrators to post 3rd time." And in a third story we learn that the document can't possibly be real according to ... um, that incredibly reliable truth-teller Jerome Corsi:

WND's senior staff writer, Jerome Corsi, traveled to Kenya in 2008 to look into Obama's past and remaining ties to the nation....

Corsi told WND that despite contacts in government offices, the help of others and even the offer of financial reward, the Coast Provincial Hospital in Mombasa would not confirm Obama's birth there nor provide access to records.

"When I was there, I tried to get records from that hospital, but I couldn't do it," Corsi said. "The hospital either had no records or wouldn't release them.

"That's what makes me skeptical," Corsi continued. "How did [colmado_naranja] get the birth certificate, if it's real?"

Hey -- if anyone should have gotten this phony-baloney document, it's me!

Oh, and colmado_naranja has now tried to post the item four times, and those pesky eBay people keep scrubbing the listing -- even though, starting with listing #3, colmado said he wasn't actually selling the birth-certificate-you-can't-see anymore:

Under its now third eBay number, 160345002984, the item up for sale is listed as a "story" and specifically states the document is a gift to the winner, not the object of bidding itself:

"I'm now auctioning my story (true story) of how I obtained U.S. President Barack Obama's Kenyan birth certificate," the listing states. "The winner of this auction will not bear copyrights to my story. However, along with my story the winning bidder will also take home U.S. President Barack Hussein Obama's Kenyan (African) birth certificate. Certified birth certificate. I am giving the birth certificate to the bidder that wins this auction, which is for my story."

Just to be certain, the listing restates, "You are not bidding on Barack Obama's Kenyan birth certificate in this eBay auction."

Glad to have that cleared up. Oh, and we're reminded that WND's founder, Joseph Farah, is posting this billboard on American highway (or at least, so far, on Pennsylvania's Highway 78):

(Donations to post more of these damn things happily accepted here.)


And meanwhile, self-appointed linguistic sleuth Jack Cashill, whom I told you about last fall, is persisting in his campaign to prove that Bill Ayers wrote Barack Obama's first book; he now claims a pseudonymous "Mr. West" has provided him "759 matches" between Ayers's books and Obama's Dreams from My Father (no, I'm not exactly sure what constitutes a "match"), all of them "C-level or above" (no, I'm not sure what that means either). The "matches" includes the likes of this:

Ayers is fixated with faces, especially eyes. He writes of "sparkling" eyes, "shining" eyes, "laughing" eyes, "twinkling" eyes, eyes "like ice," and people who are "wide-eyed" and "dark-eyed."

As it happens, Obama is also fixated with faces, especially eyes. He also writes of "sparkling" eyes, "shining" eyes, "laughing" eyes, "twinkling" eyes, and uses the phrases "wide-eyed" and "dark-eyed." Obama adds "smoldering eyes," "smoldering" being a word that he and Ayers inject repeatedly.

(For the record, a search of Dreams from My Father at Amazon finds that the word "smoldering" shows up exactly twice in the 480-page book, only once in reference to eyes. It shows up five times in Ayers's Fugitive Days -- but never in reference to eyes.)

Can't you people come up with better nutball conspiracy theories than these?

Sorry -- another Sunday off the grid. See you tonight....

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Yup, that's the message from the insufferable Mark Steyn, along with (as I suggested a few days ago) the talking point that governors should be able to go AWOL for days and days, and the only reason we don't think so is that we're zombified addicts of Big Government:

...At the news conference, the governor rationalized his unfaithfulness to Mrs. Sanford by saying that he needed to get out of "the bubble." ...

Although staffers kept up his ghostwritten tweet of the day on Twitter, by Monday state senators were revealing that they hadn't heard from the Governor since Thursday.

And we can't have that, can we? ...

In a republic of limited government, the governor, two-thirds of the state legislature and the heads of every regulatory agency should be able to go "hiking the Appalachian Trail" for a lot longer than five days, and nobody would notice....

... The real bubble is a consequence of big government. The more the citizenry expect from the state, the more our political class will depend on ever more swollen Gulf Emir-size retinues of staffers hovering at the elbow to steer you from one corner of the fishbowl to another 24/7.

Yup, that's right -- it's not a problem that he was gone and incommunicado -- it's a problem that we think that's a problem.

And now here's how big government actually made Sanford cheat:

"Why are politicians so weird?" a reader asked me after the Sanford news conference. But the majority of people willing to live like this will be, almost by definition, deeply weird. So big government more or less guarantees rule by creeps and misfits....

Small government, narrow responsibilities, part-time legislators and executives, a minimal number of aides, lots of days off: Let's burst the bubble.

Uh-huh -- if in recent years we'd shrunk the government of the dominant country on the planet to the size of the Bugtussle Town Board, Mark Sanford would have remained faithful to his wife.

It was yesterday afternoon, when I was listening to NPR and David Brooks and E.J. Dionne were asked to talk about Michael Jackson. (Audio link.)

It wasn't appalling. They eventually moved on to subjects about which they actually know something. But really, was this necessary?

Friday, June 26, 2009


Interesting report a couple of days ago from U.S. News -- though it just scratches the surface, as I'll explain below (and yes, Hitler is involved):

Sanford Cites Secretive Christian Group's Role in Helping Confront Affair

Mark Sanford's news conference today was unusual for lot of reasons, but here's a less obvious one: The South Carolina governor referred to "C Street," a Washington dormitory for lawmakers funded by a highly secretive Christian organization called the Fellowship. (The Fellowship is the group behind the National Prayer Breakfast, where President Obama rolled out his Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships earlier this year.)

It's rare for elected officials to publicly allude to C Street or to anything affiliated with the Fellowship. But here's the exchange between Sanford and a reporter:

QUESTION: Did your wife and your family know about the affair before the trip to Argentina?

SANFORD: Yes. We've been working through this thing for about the last five months. I've been to a lot of different -- as part of what we called "C Street" when I was in Washington. It was, believe it or not, a Christian Bible study -- some folks that asked members of Congress hard questions that I think were very, very important.....

There's more about the group in this 2003 AP story -- which listed John Ensign as one of the six congressmen living in the Fellowship dorm -- and in this new story from The Washington Post. But I also want to point you to Lindsay Beyerstein's interview with Jeff Sharlet, author of a book on the group called The Family. (The Family is an alternate name for the Fellowship.)

...Sharlet spent nearly a month living at Ivanwald, a dormitory in Virginia where sons of the Family are sent to immerse themselves in Jesus and clean the toilets of congressmen and senators....

Lindsay Beyerstein What is the Family?

Jeff Sharlet: It's an international network of evangelical activists in government, military and business. The Family is dedicated to this idea that Christianity has gotten it all wrong for two thousand years by focusing on the poor, the suffering and the weak.

The Family says that instead, what Christians should do is minister to the up-and-out -- as opposed to the down-and-out -- to those that are already powerful. Because if they can win those people for Christ, they win the whole deal. That's what this network is dedicated to. It includes nonprofit organizations, it includes think tanks, it includes various ministries....

Lindsay Beyerstein: In "The Family," a lot of subjects explicitly state their admiration for Hitler and other authoritarian political figures. How much of that is admiring their style, and how much is admiring their substance?

Jeff Sharlet: I'd argue that there isn't a hell of a lot of difference. I spent a lot of time living with these guys, and I remember at one point asking them, "What's the deal with all this Hitler talk?" And they'd say, "Oh, it's not the ends, it's the means." But to most of us, the means seem pretty bad, too. The means are authoritarianism.

It's pretty close to the substance because it grows out of this very broad movement in the 1930s of elites concluding that democracy has run its course, that democracy was a temporary phase in world history. And so, these people were experimenting with all sorts of different alternatives. And remember, before World War II it was considered a perfectly legitimate and acceptable position to endorse fascism.

(Sharlet explains in the book that Hitler is admired not for his ideology but for his approach to organization and social influence. Admiration is also expressed for Lenin, bin Laden, and the Mafia. If you're registered at Amazon, search for some these terms in the book -- it's fascinating.)

The interview also talks about Hillary Clinton's ties to the group (sigh); about the group's belief in "small group sex confessions"; and about Family/Fellowship involvement in, of all things, the making of the cheeseball sci-fi film The Blob. Go read it.

(WaPo link via Balloon Juice.)

Peggy Noonan has been fairly reasonable lately -- criticizing her party for some of the right reasons, giving President Obama's approach to ther Iranian situation some backup -- but this week she back to being a patronizing right-wing troll:

Something seems off with our young president. He appears jarred. Difficult history has come over the transom. He seemed defensive and peevish with the press in his Tuesday news conference, and later with Charlie Gibson on health care, when he got nailed by a neurologist who suggested the elites who support a national program seem not to mind rationing for other people but very much mind if for themselves. All this followed the president's first bad numbers. From Politico, on Tuesday: "Eroding confidence in President Barack Obama's handling of the economy and ability to control spending have caused his approval ratings to wilt to their lowest level since taking office, according to a spate of recent polls." Independents and some Republicans who once viewed him sympathetically are "becoming skeptical."

As I've explained, Obama's "bad numbers" aren't bad at all, and are much better than the numbers racked up at a similar point in his term by George W. Bush, even though he'd been the bearer of a hell of a lot less bad news and even though he'd just given the American public a big fat tax cut. Bush, of course, would go on to be the Shakespeare of peevishness.

You can say this is due to a lot of things, and it probably is, most especially the economy, which all the polls mentioned. But I think at bottom his problems come down to this: The Sentence. And the rough sense people have that he's not seeing to it.

The Sentence comes from a story Clare Boothe Luce told about a conversation she had in 1962 in the White House with her old friend John F. Kennedy. She told him, she said, that "a great man is one sentence." His leadership can be so well summed up in a single sentence that you don't have to hear his name to know who's being talked about. "He preserved the union and freed the slaves," or, "He lifted us out of a great depression and helped to win a World War." You didn't have to be told "Lincoln" or "FDR."

That's a pearl of wisdom? That's a guide to right conduct for a president? No -- that's a guide to getting a Hollywood film grrenlighted: you're supposed to have a premise so simple you can write it on a napkin

...New White Houses are always ardent for change, for breakthroughs. They want the sentence even when they don't know the sentence exists, even when they think it's a paragraph. The Obama people want, "He was the president who gave all Americans health care," and, "He lessened income inequality," and, "He took over a failed company," and other things.

That last one? The hell they want that. Stop listening to Limbaugh, Peggy. Occasionally you show signs of being smarter than that. I guarantee that nobody in this administration ever wanted to take over big companies any more than states want to take custody of abused children.

They wants a jumble of sentences and do a jumble of things. But an administration about everything is an administration about nothing.

Mr. Obama is not seeing his sentence. He's missing it. This is the sentence history has given him: "He brought America back from economic collapse and kept us strong and secure in the age of terror." That's all anybody wants. It's all that's needed.

Oh. Thank you. I'm sure the president is chastened now -- sorry that he tried to step out of the box that you, Peggy Noonan, speaking for all three hundred million Amrican citizens, have assigned to him.

Hey, Peggy -- we were in economic dire straits when Ronald Reagan was elected, and he presided over a brutal recession. What was his sentence then? Did it have anything to with running up massive debt in an attempt to destroy the Soviet Union? How would you have felt back then if you were in your West Wing office and someone had written that Reagan should limit himself to a task preassigned by history?

... we have a series of presidential actions that seem less like proposals than non sequiturs. A new health-care program that Congress itself says will cost a trillion dollars over 10 years? A new energy program that will cost however many hundreds of billions in however many years? Running General Motors, and discussing where its plants should be, and what the interiors of the cars should look like, and shouldn't the little cup holder be bigger to account for Starbucks-sized coffee? Wait, what if it's a venti latte? One imagines the conversation in the car czar's office: "You know, I've always wanted to see a mauve car because mauve is my favorite color, I mean to the extent it's a color."

Right. Trying to drag GM kicking and screaming into a greener, less oil-dependent future is exactly like micromanaging cup-holder size.

There is a persistent sense of extraneous effort, of ambitions too big and yet too small, too off point, too base-pleading, too ideological, too unaware of the imperatives.

Right. Dealing with our preposterous health care system is "extraneous." Preventing further climate change is "extraneous." Trying to actually be the greatest country in the world, rather than just boasting that we are, by leading on energy and climate innovations, which might actually be the foundation for an economy built on making stuff rather than creating financial bubbles -- that's "extraneous."

... In terms of our security, we face challenges all over the world, from state and nonstate actors. Today a headline popped up on my screen: North Korea has threatened to attack us. A mordant response: Get in line, buddy. The administration, which has been appropriately modest in its face toward the world, should be more modest internally, and seek a new and serious bipartisan consensus on our defense system, our security, our civil defense, our safety. This of course is an impossible dream, but it was impossible back in the fractious '50s to reach a workable consensus on a strategy toward the Soviets. And yet we did it. Do we have anything like a bipartisan strategy for our age? Not nearly. We're split in two, in three.

Too much foreign policy fractiousness strikes you as a problem, Peggy? Maybe you should talk to your boss about it, and all the rabble-rousers his media empire enables.

Our economy and our security are intertwined. They are at the heart of everything, even to our ultimate continuance as a nation. Mr. Obama cannot replace his sentence with 10 paragraphs, and he can't escape it, either. Because history dictated it. History wrote it. "He brought America back from economic collapse and kept us strong and secure in the age of terror." Sentences don't really get better than that. He should stop looking for a better one. There isn't a better one.

No, Peggy, history didn't write it -- you wrote it, because Obama just might succeed in taking history in certain directions that scare you.


And Ahab says:

But what about the Shrub? Hasn't Peggy a line for Mission Accomplished, the Decider, With Us or Against Us? Seems like it could write itself. How about:

He fucked up the world yet got re-elected.

I was going to say "He destroyed everything he touched." And I'm sure there are many other possibilities.

There was a point when "Billie Jean" was #1 on the charts for week after week -- and yet MTV didn't want anything to do with it. It was immensely popular but it was, y'know, black. No, sorry -- it was "black music." It wasn't in a racial category, it was in a market segment. And that, MTV insisted, was the point. Cable TV was part of the brave-new-world "new media" of the early 1980s (especially this channel that played strange things called music videos), and cable was all about market segmentation. That was all there was to MTV's shunning of "Billie Jean." Really. The song just wasn't what its target demographic would want to hear.

It's hard to remember now, but this felt political at the time. Ronald Reagan seemed to be mythologizing an America full of sandy-haired Norman Rockwell families and greed-is-good zillionaires; MTV was giving us Duran Duran on a yacht. Melanin was missing from both of these pictures.

I don't want to lay MTV's original thinking entirely at the feet of the right. Even though MTV was mostly a pop-music channel, it was following the lead of those artifacts of the rock counterculture, album-rock radio and the punk/post-punk/New Wave movements, which thought of themselves as politically left-leaning but were virtually all-white clubs. White people -- white males in particular -- were assumed not to want to have anything to do with black music or music that was in any way danceable, especially after disco hit.

It was rumored that CBS Records threatened to pull all its videos from MTV if MTV refused to play Michael Jackson's next video. The next video was "Beat It." It had guitar solos played by a famous white guy. It got played. And now, if you didn't live through that, if you only remember what came after, you think that MTV was always the best friend ever to Michael Jackson -- and to the R&B and hip-hop artists it would go on to champion, the ones it had stupidly thought its audience wasn't interested in.

The floodgates were opening quickly, on MTV and elsewhere. Prince; Wynton Marsalis; The Cosby Show; Eddie Murphy's movie career; the presidential campaigns of Jesse Jackson; rap; and on and on. A lot of these people were reaching out to us whites -- Jesse Jackson taking his campaign to white farmers and union workers, Run-D.M.C. recording with the guys from Aerosmith (from the beginning, hip-hop DJs had always sampled a fair number of white artists). Blacks knew we were in their world; it took a while for us to stop ignoring them. But the change did happen, and Michael Jackson was a big part of it. And he's gone now.


UPDATE: Phil Nugent has a very different take on the politics of Michael Jackson, and it popurs a bit of cold water on what I just wrote:

...the scale of his success made people want to see him as more than a mere entertainer, as being symbolic of something. For a lot of people, including liberal rock critics looking for a sign of hope in the Reagan era, that something was the news that a black man was the most popular star in the world. But others--including the Reagans themselves, who welcomed him to the White House--must have taken stock of his old-school show business chops and all-embracing niceness and found him very reassuring.

Jackson was never under any obligation to make political statements or pick sides, but at some point, his stardom became so much a reflection of what was ugliest about the '80s that it was sort of distasteful. He was the greatest of all time and the biggest star in the world because he moved the most units. At the same time, he was, like Reagan, celebrated because of the supposedly magical quality of his seeming...not quite there.

True. Phil has a lot more to say, about Jackson's talent and the possible reasons for his decline, and about the celebration and rejection of Jackson's "Boo Radleyisms." His post is well worth a read.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


At least they are according to Carl Cannon of AOL's Politics Daily, who goes Dana Milbank one better:

In Iran, the freedoms that have been stamped out by unelected, violence-prone clerics run the whole gamut: No freedom of worship, no freedom of speech, no freedom of assembly, no right to a fair trial, no freedom to field candidates of your choice, no right to have your votes actually counted, and, of course, no freedom of the press.Although we journalists are taught to believe this last right may be the most important, the truth is that they are all important. It's also true that dictators often display a special fear of open communication, and in cracking down on the protests that greeted their latest fraudulent election, Iran's mullahs have tried mightily to jam the e-mailing- and Internet-based communications that has kept ordinary Iranians in touch with each other, and with the horrifying events taking place in their nation.

The tyrants met their match with Twitter, however, at least for awhile -- earning the New Media a place in the history of democracy. Unfortunately for both the Iranian people and New Media practitioners, however, a well-intentioned but clumsy little stunt pulled by President Obama and his communications team this week served as a reminder that the urge to manipulate the news runs deep, even among small 'd" democrats -- and large 'D' Democrats (and Republicans), too....

Here was Obama, in a press conference in which he finally found his voice on Iran, using the kind of ham-handed methods at media manipulation that leaders use in nations
without a free press....

Congratulations. Carl -- you've written a column premised on pure Hoekstraism. I had to sit through a question from a reporter the president planned in advance to call on -- it was almost like having all communications critical of the government brutally suppressed under the threat of extreme violence!

Well, now I get it: according to Rush Limbaugh, Mark Sanford was "going Galt" -- horizontally.

[Sanford] had just tried to fight the stimulus money coming to South Carolina. He didn't want any part of it. He lost the battle. He said, 'What the hell. I mean, I'm -- the federal government's taking over -- what the hell, I want to enjoy life.'...

I'm not [kidding]. My first thought was he said, 'To hell with this. The Democrats are destroying the country. We can't do anything to stop it. I gave everything I had to stop it here in South Carolina.' ... Folks, there are a lot of people looking at life and saying, 'screw it.' They're saying, 'screw it.' Before Obama takes away their money, before Obama takes away their house, or the economy takes away their house, there are people who are saying, "To hell with all this.... I'm just going to try to enjoy it as much as I can.'

(Audio here.)

Also, I see from Limbaugh's site that he was in Hawaii recently, and his listeners are having a very calm, rational reaction to the Obama presidency:

This is an attitude that is -- hell, I encountered it out in Hawaii over the weekend. You wouldn't believe some of the stuff I heard. I'll just tell you one thing. One guy is saying he's looking for property all over the world to move to.

I said, "You gotta be kidding me." He said, "No." I said, "How in the hell what happens on the mainland going to affect you here?" He's retired. He said, "Rush, we in Hawaii, we have a seven-day supply of anything. Virtually everything we have has to be shipped in here one way or another. We can't feed ourselves on these islands. We don't have any oil on these islands. We don't have any refineries. Everything's got to be delivered here. We have a seven-day supply. This guy starts monkeying around with all the systems in the economy to keep people prosperous, to hell with it. Hanging around here is a death sentence." That's the way he's looking at it. A couple other people were not that far gone, but they were talking about, "Yeah, you know, I just indulge myself as often as I can now. I try to enjoy myself as much as I can before all hell breaks loose." They're not even thinking about what they can do to stop it.

I'd love to know the names of these guys, because if someone goes Von Brunn in Hawaii in a few months, it would be nice to know if there's a match.


Meanwhile, a look at one of yesterday's transcripts suggests that Limbaugh's principal sexual thrill these days is reciting one particular phrase as often as possible:

By the way, another sign to put on your TV if you're going to watch the Obama infomercial tonight on ABC: "Free Breast Implants?" with a question mark. Either put "These People are Going to Die of Anal Poisoning," or "Free Breast Implants?"

Now that so many observers have pointed out his anal obsession, plus the fact that "anal poisoning" is apparently his coinage, I guess he just says this every chance he gets now, like a child screaming the one phrase he's been told not to say.

Apparently it's morally wrong and we need to go stand in the corner, according to John Dickerson of Slate:

The disturbing glee at Mark Sanford's downfall.

... The minute [Mark] Sanford started speaking, the reviews poured in via e-mail and Twitter. He was rambling, confused. He didn't tear up enough when talking about his wife. He favored his mistress. He answered the questions too thoroughly. All these judgments seemed absurd. A man standing in front of a bank of cameras in the middle of a complete collapse is going to say a lot of things poorly.

The snap judgments failed to acknowledge a grain of the fundamental human carnage we were witnessing. You can laugh at Sanford, as you can laugh at a video of a wrecked Amy Winehouse falling all over her house. But at some point, even though they did it to themselves, you have to feel sorry for them as human beings. You can do that, I think, and not be a fan of adultery or drug use.

I'm not offering Sanford's humanity as an excuse. I'm just marveling at how few people stopped for a moment to even nod to it. My thoughtful colleague William Saletan and Andrew Sullivan were exceptions. Maybe there are others. Maybe people expressed these views in private conversations. But in the e-mails and Twitter entries and blog posts I read in the aftermath, Sanford's human ruin was greeted with what felt like antiseptic glee. The pain he's caused, the hypocrisies he's engaged in, seemed like license to deny him any humanity at all.

Boo freaking hoo. OK, granted: I didn't watch the whole news conference, and in the bits I saw he did seem like a confused guy wrestling with what he'd done.

But you know what? He's a prominent, powerful public figure. He set out to become a prominent, powerful public figure -- specifically seeking positions in which he knew any indiscretion of this kind would be subject to precisely this kind of scrutiny. It seems a tiny price to pay for the privilege of wielding enormous amounts of power over a couple million people, with the potential (at least until this incident) of wielding it over hundreds of millions. I'm supposed to feel sorry for the guy because he's now in a fishbowl when he chose to be in a fishbowl? There's a simple alternative: get a real job. Be like the rest of us schmucks, whose work doesn't take us on frequent junkets to global capitals where we can impress exotic strangers with our romantic Marlboro Man Americanness.

And John -- Amy Winehouse? It's morally wrong to laugh at this woman? Yes, I know she's a victim of her biochemistry. In the higher-level, rational parts of my brain, I realize that a tendency toward addiction is quite possibly killing her, and that's a grim story. But hey, I'm a nobody, while she's become a fabulously successful superstar borrowing the musical style of another race and era; she courted the limelight -- but I guess now, after we paid her all that money, we're not supposed to pay any attention to what she does in the limelight we made possible for her. We're supposed to weep for her when her best-known freaking song is a middle finger waved at the very notion of getting clean -- and when there are millions of other addicts out there who don't have a millionth of the resources and opportunities she has to straighten up.

And getting back to Sanford, no, I'm not being a party-hack hypocrite. I wanted Bill Clinton to stay in office once it was clear he wouldn't resign, but I could never blame anyone who thought his sexual behavior was funny, or pathetic, or hurtful. I wrote a dumb post about John Edwards, but, yeah, his affair and the cover-up are absurd, and he's a cad. Spitzer, McGreevey, etc., etc.? Pretty pathetic, and quite understandably mocked. (McGreevey's struggle with his sexuality isn't pathetic at all, but, yeah, the narrative of his cheating was tawdry.)

Whether these people should be driven from public life is a separate story; for that, our rational brains should take over. But these are questions involving status and power -- it's a normal human response to be at least somewhat amused when the powerful cut themselves down to size.

The insurance industry says it really cares about us. It says it has our best interests at heart. And sometimes it really does treat us well. Much of the time we think things are OK between us. But sometimes the insurance industry scares us:

As Washington considers overhauling the nation's health care system, a new poll finds considerable concern about health costs, with nearly half of all Americans worried about paying for future care.

Nearly one in four people expressed fear of losing coverage in the next year. About the same number reported that they or a family member delayed seeing a doctor in the past year because of what it might cost.

The survey, released Wednesday, was conducted by the University of Michigan to measure consumer confidence in the health care system. The study was financed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation....

And we have reason to be afraid:

Families USA, a group that advocates for health care reform, found that costs are rising at a rate five times faster than wages in America in a report issued in October 2008.

And the Kaiser Family Foundation found that family health care costs increased by 78 percent between 2001 and 2008.

And when we ask the insurance industry for help, sometimes it lashes out at us:

Frustrated Americans have long complained that their insurance companies valued the all-mighty buck over their health care. Today, a retired insurance executive confirmed their suspicions, arguing that the industry that once employed him regularly rips off its policyholders.

"[T]hey confuse their customers and dump the sick, all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors," former Cigna senior executive Wendell Potter said during a hearing on health insurance today before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

... "They look carefully to see if a sick policyholder may have omitted a minor illness, a pre-existing condition, when applying for coverage, and then they use that as justification to cancel the policy, even if the enrollee has never missed a premium payment," Potter said. "…(D)umping a small number of enrollees can have a big effect on the bottom line."...

And if we complain about the abuse, the industry insults us and says we asked for it:

Executives of three of the nation's largest health insurers told federal lawmakers in Washington on Tuesday that they would continue canceling medical coverage for some sick policyholders, despite withering criticism from Republican and Democratic members of Congress who decried the practice as unfair and abusive....

An investigation by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations ... found that policyholders with breast cancer, lymphoma and more than 1,000 other conditions were targeted for rescission and that employees were praised in performance reviews for terminating the policies of customers with expensive illnesses....

Brian Sassi, president of consumer business for WellPoint Inc., parent of Blue Cross of California ... said rescissions are necessary to prevent people who lie about preexisting conditions from obtaining coverage and driving up costs for others....

But if we so much as hint that we might walk out -- if we mention turning to someone else, like the government -- the insurance industry won't hear of it. And it'll make sure that our supposed friends take its side:

Senators Worry That Health Overhaul Could Erode Employer Insurance Plans

Senators struggled Wednesday with the possibility that in offering subsidized health insurance to millions of individuals and families, they could inadvertently speed the erosion of employer-provided coverage, which they want to preserve.

Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, who is leading efforts to write health legislation, said "much of the discussion" focused on this issue at meetings of senators on Wednesday....

After a while, we learn to settle for the status quo, and even we start caring more about the industry's well-being than our own:

In the new Post-ABC poll, 62 percent support the general concept [of a public option], but when respondents were told that meant some insurers would go out of business, support dropped sharply, to 37 percent.

So to all appearances we seem content. But maybe it's just that we fear what happens if we leave the relationship.

I mock -- but Lucianne.com, which has a collective girl-crush on Palin, thinks she looks just great:

To Palin's credit, she apparently decided to forgo the codpiece.

This photo was taken during Palin's visit to the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska on Monday. She was presumably looking to pad out her forthcoming memoir, and to garner stills for her 2012 presidential ads on the federal taxpayer's dime.

After that?

Gov. Sarah Palin is on her way to an undisclosed "overseas" location to visit deployed Alaska National Guard troops.

From Palin's Twitter feed:

"Travel now to bring appreciation from their Alaska family & Natl Guard leadership to heroes in US European Command's area of responsibility."

The European command's area of responsibility includes Europe, Russia, the Caucusus and Greenland. I'm not sure where all the state's National Guard troops are deployed in that area, but we know from news coverage some are in Kosovo....

The Anchorage Daily News has more photos, in most of which she doesn't look nearly as dorky, presumably because she's not in those goggles, which a savvy politician wouldn't wear within a mile of a camera.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Exchange on ABC News tonight regarding Mark Sanford (video link):

CHARLIE GIBSON: ... We've had a lot of governors and senators with these kinds of problems, personal indiscretions. Governors: Spitzer, McGreevey, Blagojevich of Illinois, and now Sanford. Senators: Craig, Vitter, and Ensign. There's a lot of 'em.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Boy, there sure are, but one remarkable fact, Charlie: you look at that breakdown, on the Democratic side, Spitzer, McGreevey, you add the Detroit mayor, Kilpatrick -- all of the politicians were forced out of office. Every one of the Republicans you just mentioned held on.

True. Funny how that's worked out post-Clinton.

Mark Sanford has now acknowledged an affair with a woman from Argentina, begun about a year ago -- which is approximately when he said this in an interview with Ray Nothsine of the Acton Institute:

I think the Bible says, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father that's in heaven." Hopefully, by the way in which you act.... And so I would say it's a mistake to confine one's belief to only matters of government. If you have a religious view, it's incumbent upon you and it's real to have that. The Bible talks about the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. There ought to be certain things that are clearly observable by your actions.

It's also around the time he said this:

While I do, in fact, "believe," it is my personal view that the largest proclamation of one's faith ought to be in how one lives one's life.

But, to be fair, I should point out that the latter quote came as he was refusing to sign a bill permitting South Carolina to issue "I BELIEVE" license plates featuring a stained-glass window and a cross. (He did, however, let the bill become law without his signature.)

Oh, and this is from a 1998 Time story about the Clinton impeachment:

"You've got your clear attack dogs. They love it, they don't mind living in glass houses and throwing rocks," said Mark Sanford, a South Carolina Republican. "But most of us feel uncomfortable in the role of judge. It isn't exactly why we came to Congress. We're off center and edgy."

(He did, however, vote yes on three of the four Clinton impeachment articles.)

So he's a bit less of a traditional-values phony than he could be.

Well, now I think we have a fairly definitive answer to the Rush Limbaugh question Mark Halperin quoted approvingly last month, during Dick Cheney's Self-Justification and McCarthyism Tour:

What motivates Dick Cheney?

... What motivation does Dick Cheney have to go out and say these things? Is it possible that Dick Cheney is motivated by national interest? Is it possible that Dick Cheney is motivated by love of and for his country? Is it possible that Dick Cheney is speaking from his heart and is not speaking politically?

In a word, no.

We knew Cheney had mentioned writing a book, and then, less than two weeks after that Limbaugh broadcast, The New York Times reported that Cheney was actively shopping for a book deal. And then, at a certain point, you'll notice Cheney stopped showing up on your TV every two hours. Clearly he felt he'd hyped himself enough, and it was time to do some dealmaking. Now that process is over -- but I'm not sure he got what he wanted:

As widely expected, Vice President Dick Cheney has signed a deal with an imprint of Simon & Schuster to write a memoir about his life in politics and his service in four presidential administrations

A spokesman for Simon & Schuster said Mr. Cheney would write a book for Threshold Editions, where Mary Matalin, his close friend and adviser, is editor in chief.

Mr. Cheney ... had been looking for a publisher for about two months....

A person familiar with the negotiations said Mr. Cheney would receive around $2 million for his book. The spokesman for Simon & Schuster declined to comment.

Hmmm ... he signed with his ex-adviser's imprint, "[a]s widely expected," but he "had been looking for a publisher for about two months"? Sounds as if Matalin's imprint (also the publisher of books by Cheney's wife and daughter) was always the fallback, but he was hoping for a bidding war, and possibly a lot more money. (He's being paid a princely sum, if the Times report is correct, but note that he got only twice as much as his little-known daughter Mary received a few years ago for her book, which turned out to be a huge flop.)

Oh well -- at least this is settled, and now that he doesn't have to be a walking book proposal, maybe he'll shut up for a while.

The Mark Sanford story gets more bizarre -- now it turns out he was cruising along the coast of Buenos Aires ("I wanted to do something exotic"), not writing or hiking the Appalachian Trail. MSNBC's Mark Murray says, "Who goes to one of the world's most romantic cities in the world alone?" -- but Sanford says he was unaccompanied. (It occurs to me that profoundly bipolar people take major trips like this on impulse, sometimes alone -- but I can't find any evidence of manic behavior in news reports about Sanford.)

Not checking in with his family is peculiar -- but I'm not sure it's so odd that he didn't check in with staff. Remember, he's one of the top slingers of Limbaugh/Fox/Norquist-style talking points these days. If you say government is inherently evil, isn't it possible that eventually you'll start to believe your own bullshit? And if government is evil, isn't it a good thing when nobody knows where the governor is, even if you're the governor?*


Sanford has been accused of liking to travel on other people's dime, though I can't tell whether his degree of travel is unusual. When Sanford, then a congressman, ran against incumbent governor Jim Hodges in 2002, Hodges complained about Sanford's "taxpayer-funded junkets to 18 countries and four continents," including "Argentina (twice)" and a number of other Latin American countries. (Also see this complaint, where we learn details of a Sanford trip to Cuba, of all places, via the Bahamas.) Later, as governor, he was ranked as one of the top 50 travel spenders among state employees, "based on the total amount that he spent on trips paid by his office and those paid by the state Commerce Department. Sanford has traveled to China, Argentina and Brazil through the Commerce Department, which has travel reports showing taxpayers covering $21,488 for those trips. Sanford also spent $1,976 in travel through his office." Sanford has also, as governor, met with Argentine ambassador and his wife in South Carolina. Make of all that what you will....


*UPDATE: Via Phil Nugent, I see that Erick Erickson of RedState is pushing just the anti-government message I was talking about:

Now, here is all you need to know about this whole entire story -- the reaction from the erstwhile Republicans angry at Sanford for not being a fiscal squish and from the media all go back to their core belief that without Sanford manning the barricades of government at all times, the government will collapse and people will starve, die, and forget how to read and write.

That’s it.

But that did not happen. Life in South Carolina went on. The world did not end. Government did not go off the rails. That the media and politicians would react as they did says more about their world view than anything else.

It is refreshing that Mark Sanford is secure enough in himself and the people of South Carolina that he does not view himself as an indispensable man.

All government officials should do this -- in fact, they should do it permanently! They should all go Galt!!!!!1!!!

On Fox News this afternoon:

Jesus wept.

What, Pat Boone and Carrie Prejean weren't available to lend their expertise on this subject? Chuck Norris and Ted Nugent didn't return Fox's calls?


UPDATE: Oh, I'm sorry -- I didn't realize it was Reintroduce Giuliani Day in the media. He also has a New York Times op-ed today about New York State, in which, among other things, he calls for an amendment to the state constitution requiring a legislative supermajority to pass any tax increase. Yeah, that's really working out just great for California, isn't it?

I assume Rudy's courting the spotlight again in anticipation of a run for governor or senator, or possibly he's just decided he wants to be the next self-selected leader of the GOP who gets taken extremely seriously by the media....

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Matthew Cooper blogging for The Atlantic, has a theory about the decline in Barack Obama's approval ratings that's intriguing, counterintuitive -- and utterly wrong:

I have a slightly different spin on this, which is that it's the spending and the modest success it seems to have brought in stopping the total collapse of the banking and financial system. If the economy felt like it was in the same free fall that it was a few months ago, he'd be doing better because there'd be less questioning of government spending and more calls to pour everything on the fire. But with the respite in the fall comes the freedom to question spending. Or, to put it another way: The firemen saved your house but now you're pissed off about all the water damage in the den.

Matt, can I tell you something? To the average American, the economy is still in the same free fall it was in a few months ago. Economically speaking, Americans have one concern above all: hanging on to their damn jobs. Unemployment was 7.6% in January -- and 9.4% in May. The average American sees that -- lives through it -- and doesn't think, "Oh well, there are green shoots elsewhere, and besides, we all know employment is a lagging indicator." To the average American, that is the story. (Well, that and fat cats getting bailed out.)

Americans know this will take a while to work out. They blame Bush. But for heaven's sake, they're not somewhat dissatisfied with Obama because they think things are getting better.


Cooper has had a couple of dumb posts today. Here's another one, about the president's remarks on smoking at his news conference today:

Obama's Weird "AA" Crack

... The weirdest moment came when he got asked about his own smoking and the new law giving the FDA authority to regulate tobacco. First, he referred to it as his law, which seemed a little grandiose since the likes of Henry Waxman have been pushing it since he was just a Chicago law professor. But more odd was his rather lengthy, odd defense of his current smoking. He likened it to being in "AA," which is an unsettling image ("Everyone, this is Barack." "Hi, Barack.") and he pronounced himself 95 percent cured, which sounds odd. And his lawyerly answer about not smoking in front of family raised more questions than answers. You wished he'd just said that he struggled with it and not gotten into specifics or alchoholism metaphors.

Has Cooper ever known anyone who's almost over the smoking habit? I certainly have -- and Obama's description of his own near-success and his self-imposed rules (" I don't do it in front of my kids. I don't do it in front of my family") sound very familiar to me. The near-successful quitter I know best had a long list of rules for curbing smoking: only while drinking (back when you could smoke in New York bars), never during work hours (even outside the building), never in a house or apartment. This is someone who, though fully smoke-free now, was "95 percent cured" for a long time, which is just what Obama says he is these days. Sounds like a perfectly apt description to me.

And referencing AA? Hey, don't a lot of us think we're biochemically addicted to porn/shopping/blogging/gambling/bad relationships/whatever? At least nicotine is literally an addictive chemical.

Maybe it wasn't the OxyContin that caused Rush Limbaugh's hearing loss; maybe it was the right-wing rage. And maybe Michelle Malkin is having similar problems. Here's a bit of bile from a post she wrote about President Obama's news conference:

Meanwhile, Obama snapped at a McClatchy reporter who had the audacity to ask him about his cigarette addiction in light of the recently passed FDA tobacco regs.

Obama sarcastically chastised the reporter for asking a "cute" question, then argued that the new regulations don't apply to him, but to "future generations."

In other words: Do as he says, not as he smokes.

Did he really say this was a "cute" question, in a chastising way? Let's go to the transcript:

MR. OBAMA: ... Margaret from McClatchy? Where's Margaret? There you go.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

As a former smoker, I understand the frustration and the fear that comes with quitting. But with the new law that you signed yesterday regulating the tobacco industry, I'd like to ask you a few questions. How many cigarettes a day...

MR. OBAMA: A few questions?



He didn't say "cute question." He jokingly (yes, perhaps mockingly) echoed her words and asked, "A few questions?" -- for the obvious reason that "a few questions" is more than most reporters get to ask at presidential press conferences.

Raise the volume and double-check your assertions before you hit "post" next time, Michelle.


Did he get a bit testy after that? Well, maybe -- but in what way can it be said that he "argued that the new regulations don't apply to him, but to 'future generations'"? If he still smokes (he says he does once in a while), he's going to smoke the same cigarettes everyone else does, isn't he, subject to the same regulations?

It's the attempt to dissuade smokers from starting that affects "future generations":

QUESTION: ... how many cigarettes a day do you now smoke? Do you smoke alone or in the presence of other people? And do you believe the new law should help you to quit? If so, why?

MR. OBAMA: Well, the -- first of all, the new law that was put in place is not about me. It's about the next generation of kids coming up. So I think it's fair, Margaret, to just say that you just think it's neat to ask me about my smoking as opposed to it being relevant to my new law.

But that's fine. I understand. It's an interesting human -- it's an interesting human interest story.

Look, I've said before that as a former smoker I constantly struggle with it. Have I fallen off the wagon sometimes? Yes. The -- am I a daily smoker, a constant smoker? No. I don't do it in front of my kids. I don't do it in front of my family. And, you know, I would say that I am 95 percent cured. But there are times where...


There are times where I mess up. And I mean, I've said this before. I get this question about once every month or so. And, you know, I don't know what to tell you, other than the fact that, you know, like folks who go to A.A., you know, once you've gone down this path, then, you know, it's something you continually struggle with, which is precisely why the legislation we signed was so important, because what we don't want is kids going down that path in the first place.


Yeah, right, Michelle -- nothing but narcissism and demands for special privileges there.

In a post titled "Klein 1, McCain 0," Steve Benen quotes remarks by Joe Klein of Time in response to John McCain's recent haranguing of Barack Obama over Iraq -- including a blog post in which Klein says of McCain,

His behavior has nothing to do with love of country; it has everything to do with love of self.

A lot of people agree that what McCain is guilty of is self-love. DougJ of Balloon Juice:

McCain's self-aggrandizement isn't cynical, it's based on the belief that what's good for John McCain is good for the United States.


...John McCain is a severe narcissist. He certainly doesn't think he's putting himself ahead of country, he's just not really able to distinguish between the two.

All of which makes sense, except for one thing: the score isn't "McCain 0" at all. What McCain has been doing has had at least some of the effect he wanted it to have.

From Politico's story on Obama's news conference today:

President Barack Obama came closer Tuesday to declaring common cause with Iranians who have mounted wide-scale protests against the Iranian regime in recent days....

Obama ... rejected suggestions that he was stepping up his support for the protesters in response to criticism from Republican senators such as Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.)....

Here are the questions, from Fox's Major Garrett and NBC's Chip Reid:

MR. OBAMA ...Major Garrett? Where's Major?

QUESTION: Right here, sir.

In your opening remarks, sir, you said about Iran that you were appalled and outraged. What took you so long?


MR. OBAMA: Chip?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

Following up on Major's question, some Republicans on Capitol Hill, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, for example, have said that up to this point your response on Iran has been timid and weak.

Today it sounded a lot stronger. It sounded like the kind of speech John McCain has been urging you to give, saying that those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history, referring to an iron fist in Iran, deplore, appalled, outraged.

Were you influenced at all by John McCain and Lindsey Graham accusing you of being timid and weak?

That's from the transcript; you can read it and decide for yourself whether Obama effectively rebutted the criticism. I think he did a pretty good job -- but the mere fact that there was a question about McCain's criticism is a victory for McCain and the GOP.

McCain isn't preening right now. He's in GOP-loyalist mode -- and, in that mode, it isn't "what's good for John McCain is good for the United States," it's "what's bad for Democrats is good for the United States."

It's not so much that McCain believes the McCain myth. It's that he knows people in the Beltway are often very happy to believe that myth, to see him as a guy who surely must be right about anything remotely to do with "toughness" and "courage," no matter what the circumstances, just because he was in a war and was tortured (and bizarrely, to believe the same about Graham and Lieberman, just because they hang out with McCain).

So if it becomes the conventional wisdom that McCain stiffened Obama's spine, then McCain was "narcissistic" like a fox.

I should let this go, but I see that Geoffrey Dickens of NewsBusters is upset at Chris Matthews for saying this about a recent tweet from Florida Senate candidate and wingnut favorite Marco Rubio:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: ... Take a look at what Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio of Florida posted on his Twitter page after watching those scenes that we've been watching. Quote: "I have a feeling the situation in Iran would be a little different if they had a 2nd Amendment like ours." Wow! Things would be different if the protestors had the Constitutional right to bear arms?! To fight back against the Iranian Guard? I hadn't thought of that. Then again it wouldn't really be a non-violent protest, would it Mr. Rubio, if the non-violent protestors were walking around with guns!

What Rubio wrote was preposterous, but was it preposterous because nonviolence is the key to the Iran uprising? Nonviolence may be tactically appropriate for the protestors up to a point, but I don't think a lot of us have a huge problem with the fact that they violently attacked Basiji goons who had intended to intimidate them through violence.

No, I'll say it again -- what Rubio wrote is ridiculous because it's ridiculous to talk about a country like Iran and then toss in an utterly incompatible counterfactual: What if the rulers of this repressive regime let people freely own guns? If the rulers of this repressive regime let people freely own guns, it would be because they're not repressive in a hundred other ways. And if they weren't repressive in those ways, the uprising almost certainly wouldn't be necessary. It's absurd to imagine a regime that's repressive apart from one massive weapons-based exception.

I'm having trouble letting go of this because Rubio's idiotic logic (which is certainly not his alone) is the foundation of virtually all pro-gun thinking in this country -- and that thinking helps determine so many of our gun laws.

The basic idea is this: free societies don't remain free because core documents and laws enshrine institutions and practices that sustain freedom, or because an insistence on sustaining freedom is culturally transmitted. Not really. Freedom is sustained by one thing: private ownership of firearms. A Second Amendment would make Iran free. Repeal of the Second Amendment would, inexorably, make America vulnerable to tyranny. The gun is the panacea, the magic ingredient, the disinfectant that instantly cleanses a society of all repression.

This is the gunners' way of satisfying themselves that there's a philosophical justification for their Walter Mitty fantasies (that they buy guns not because they like them but because they need them to fight off evildoers and tyrants). It utterly ignores the fact that many free nations don't have liberal gun laws, just as it ignores the fact that it wouldn't be all that hard for a determined government to repress even armed citizens, using superior levels of armaments (not to mention a hundred other manifestations of tyranny, possibly including confiscation of the very weapons it had previously allowed citizens to own).

NewsBusters' Dickens harrumphs that Matthews is "completely missing the point that our Founding Fathers understood that it is much harder to repress a free people that is armed." What the hell does that have to do with Iran? Iran's populace isn't "a free people." Iran is not a free society in its totality. America is a free society in its totality -- and so are Canada, Japan, and the nations of Western Europe, which have restrictive gun laws. Guns aren't the linchpin of freedom. But don't you dare tell a gun absolutist that.