Thursday, September 30, 2010


The New York Post's Andrea Peyser is no liberal, and no shrinking violet. She once said an incident of reported sexual harassment in the New York Jets' locker room was the fault of the alleged victim, a female reporter. She wrote that Katie Couric on her first night hosting the CBS Evening News "looked like a little girl who had to go potty" and "cross[ed] her bare legs like some ridiculous tramp," while expressing regret that Couric didn't "fall flat on her face -- which would have provided a much-needed break in the tension." She helped start the "Ground Zero mosque" nonsense with columns last May that favorably quoted the monstrous and loathsome Pam Geller. She loves the tea party and thinks the movie The Kids Are All Right is a vicious assault on Western morality.

So you'd think she'd be Carl Paladino's kind of gal, right? Apparently not. Apparently he makes her feel a bit squeamish:

Why so angry?

Carl Paladino romped through the Columbus Day Parade in Howard Beach, Queens, like a hyperactive puppy, kissing women and men with equal abandon and handing out lollipops -- he calls them "suckers" -- from a trick-or-treat bag.

Suddenly and without warning, storm clouds overtook every inch of his being.

"F--k that!"

Stepping into a pizza parlor, friends, supporters and waiters watched, in fascination and horror, as Mr. Nice Guy turned on a dime into a sputtering, cursing, Incredible Hulk.

"F--k it!" railed Paladino, who came out of nowhere to become the Republican candidate for governor of New York. "I'm not going to put up with this s--t!"

This was part of a rage-gasm Paladino had in response to coverage of his affair and out-of-wedlock child. You might expect Peyser to find this beghavior appealingly feisty, but no:

Fifteen minutes after the outburst, [campaign manager Michael] Caputo returned. Slowly, Paladino's spirits lifted....

He looked at me. "You seem like a nice lady." It was the closest he came to an apology. he fit to lead?

...Paladino intends to ride a wave of anger all the way to the governor's mansion.

If he doesn't explode.

And all this is in addition to Paladino's caught-on-video dustup with Peyser's Post colleague Fred Dicker.

Now, it may be that Peyser and Dicker are just following the lead of their corporate masters -- Rupert Murdoch and the top people at the Post may feel that Andrew Cuomo will win, or at least is a very good bet, and they don't want to get on his bad side. Murdoch does like to get in good with non-right-wingers when they're going to seize power -- see, most famously, his close relationship with Tony Blair. Murdoch, of course, held a fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton and later praised Obama. (So why did Murdoch's media properties turn on Obama after the election? I think Murdoch made the assessment that thwarting Obama's agenda was best for his business, and that Obama wasn't tough enough to beat him in a fight. Cuomo, by contrast, is said to be "the dirtiest, nastiest political player out there" by Eliot Spitzer; if that's true, maybe there are advantages to being that way in a world where Rupert Murdoch still slithers around.)

Peyser's not really unloading on Paladino, so perhaps Murdoch is hedging his bets. But he's certainly not in Paladino's corner, which tells me the Dems have this one.


One more amusing Paladino moment: he's been accusing Andrew Cuomo of having had affairs during his marriage to Kerry Kennedy -- and apparently his thesis is that Cuomo had affairs and he, Carl Paladino, didn't. I can't embed the video, but check out what Paladino says at around 1:33 in this story:

"What affairs has he had? Obviously, I haven't had any."

If you think he means that he hasn't had any extramarital affairs recently, well, neither has Cuomo, because Cuomo's marriage broke up in 2003.

Paladino has a ten-year-old daughter by another woman. What is he saying happened -- the Immaculate Conception?

I'm waiting for the next phase in the James O'Keefe saga -- the phase in which right-wingers declare that, yes, O'Keefe is a bad guy, but his sleaziness, and the sleaziness of associates of his, doesn't reflect poorly on conservatives because the sleaze is all the fault of ... "the liberal culture."

The classic right-wing move here is to write an essay declaring that the quintessence of liberalism is rap music (or "gangsta rap," which most righties think is a catch-all term for all rap, except for right-wing rap). O'Keefe and his boys probably did watch a few too many boat-based hip-hop videos in their youth (I'm not thinking of Andy Samberg's parody song "I'm on a Boat" so much as songs and videos that inspired it, like Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'"). Why these idealizations of wealth and female objectification should be called liberal, I'm not sure, but that's the standard righty line.

The only reason the wingers might not blame O'Keefe on "liberal" hip-hop this way is that the righties may be dialing down the race-baiting a tad: after the president gave that interview to Rolling Stone in which he said there were Nas and Lil Wayne songs in among the Coltrane and Stones and opera, Fox Nation started a thread called "President of the United States Loves Gangsta Rap." However, it's been deleted, and now exists only in cached form. Somebody on the right must think it's not the best time to go this route, for reasons I can't fathom.

There's another angle here, which Aimai noted in the comments to an earlier post:

One thing that leaps out is that O'Keefe and his mentor probably have a lot of training in ... humiliation dating techniques.

... Google "Pick-Up Artist" and you will get a creepload of scary stuff all of which revolves around the idea that women are easily manipulated by stronger men....

Key texts on this subject include Mystery's book The Pickup Artist and Neil Strauss's book The Game (avialable bound in imitation leather!). I guess we should expect some winger bloviators, especially the more socially conservative ones, to blame this on liberalism, too, just because we liberals tend to believe premarital sex is not a horrible thing. But most of us kinda think this crap is pretty horrible.

Here's a story tailor-made for election season, in the New York Post:

$27 million to change NYC signs from all-caps

The Capital of the World is going lower-case.

Federal copy editors are demanding the city change its 250,900 street signs ... from the all-caps style used for more than a century to ones that capitalize only the first letters....

At $110 per sign, it will also cost the state $27.6 million, city officials said....

Outrageous! What will those bureaucratic Obama fascists demand that we pay for next? And in the midst of a recession, no less!

Oh, except, um, it wasn't their idea, and it doesn't need to be done in the depths of the economic downturn, though we don't learn that until the 11th paragraph of the story: 2003, the administration allowed for a 15-year phase-in period ending in 2018.

The damn Post can't even bring itself to print the key word here: if this was in 2003, "the administration" was the Bush administration. The regulation was based on a determination that signs printed this way are easier to read and thus safer for drivers. Maybe that's crazily bureaucratic, and maybe it's irrelevant to New York City (where there are few streets where you can drive much faster than 30 miles an hour most of the time), but if it was bureaucracy gone wild, it was Bush's bureaucracy that did so, or at least that signed off on the regulation.

And fifteen years were allowed for the transition -- which, as the Daily News explains, means that there really isn't any extra sign replacement being mandated:

The life of a typical sign is about a decade, so most of the city's signs would be replaced in the next few years anyway, [NYC Department of Transportation spokesman Seth] Solomonow said.

But it's still all going to be blamed on Obama, right?

This is yesterday's news, but I wanted to talk about it anyway: the "Taliban Dan" ad run by Alan Grayson in his Florida House race seemed exciting and inspirational, but it turned out to be wildly inaccurate -- and it's really, really not working:

In one of the most closely watched U.S. House races in the nation, Republican Daniel Webster now holds a 7-point lead over Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson in Central Florida's 8th Congressional District....

"Grayson has real problems here," said Jim Lee, president of Voter Survey Service, which conducted the poll for Sunshine State News....

How badly did this ad backfire? Well, it's all about Webster's undeniably far-right positions on women's issues, and yet:

Female voters are anything but ambivalent about Grayson -- "They really loathe him," Lee reported. With Grayson's 33/53 favorable/unfavorable rating among women, Webster's lead among females is much stronger (45/33 over Grayson) compared to a statistical tie (41/40 Webster) among males.

In a year when Democrats across the country are doing far better among women than among men, Grayson's having precisely the opposite problem.

You probably know the story:

In an attack ad labeling his opponent " Taliban Dan" Webster, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson uses Webster's own words to prove the Republican thinks wives should be subservient to their husbands.

One problem: The Grayson campaign edited the original video, chopping it up and taking Webster's words out of context. Webster actually was advising husbands to bypass those particular Bible passages....

The TV spot includes short clips of Webster saying "...wives submit yourself to your own husband…" and "she should submit to me. That's in the Bible...." The words "submit to me" are repeated twice more.

In the full video, Webster is talking to husbands at a gathering of a religious organization about biblical passages to choose when praying for loved ones. He says:

"Find a verse. I have a verse for my wife; I have verses for my wife. Don't pick the ones that say, um, she should submit to me. That's in the Bible, but pick the ones that you're supposed to do. So instead, love your wife, even as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it, as opposed to wives submit yourself to your own husband. She can pray that if she wants to, but don't you pray it." ...

(Clips here.)

This is Breitbart-level deceptive editing -- without an ideological noise machine to back up the distorter and further disseminate the distorted message.

I understand Grayson's thinking, as I understand it whenever he throws a verbal bomb -- Republicans succeed with this crap all the time, so why can't we? -- but even Republicans don't fully succeed if there's pushback. (The Shirley Sherrod incident discredited Andrew Breitbart, and if a craven Democratic administration hadn't demanded her ouster, it could have been more of a humiliation for him -- and why should you ever image that a Republican attacked the way Breitbart attacked Sherrod won't stand firm and fight back?)

And the worst thing about this is that Grayson had plenty to work with if he wanted to air a hard-hitting but accurate ad:

Susannah Randolph, Grayson's campaign manager, defended the ad. She pointed to Webster's ties to the Institute in Basic Life Principles and its founder Bill Gothard, who has taught that women should be subservient to their husbands and not work outside the home. While in the state House in 1990, Webster spent $4,340 of taxpayer money to print and mail a district flier urging constituents to attend one of the group's seminars....

The campaign spot also criticized Webster because of his opposition to abortion, even in cases of rape or incest ... and his vote against a measure that would have prohibited insurance companies from treating domestic violence as a pre-existing condition.

That's not enough material to turn into an accurate ad?

Oh, and Bill Gothard? He's a piece of work. I'm not sure how much of this you could use in an ad, but a Gothard-led organization has been accused of abusing children sent for residential counseling:

...[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 also 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. (His Institute in Basic Life Principles sells a booklet titled "How to Conquer the Addiction of Rock Music" and has published an essay titled "Ten Scriptural Reasons Why the 'Rock Beat' Is Evil in Any Form.")

And this isn't a passing acquaintance:

[In 1996,] Daniel Webster journeyed to South Korea on a religious mission, meeting with the country's president and other political and spiritual leaders. He was joined by Bill Gothard, the head of a $30-million Christian evangelical group. Four months after the trip, Webster ascended to one of the most powerful positions in Florida: speaker of the state House of Representatives. He [brought] with him 14 years of experience with Gothard's Institute in Basic Life Principles, where Webster has not only attended seminars, but also taught classes and even made an instructional video that raised money for the institute.

But I'm getting away from the main point. Democrats don't fight the way Republicans do; Grayson knows this, so he tries to fight the way Republicans do -- and gets it wrong.

Republicans know what they can and can't get away with. If they're going to stretch the truth outrageously in a statement that's going to be seen far and wide, they usually make sure to flood the zone with multiple liars, so the lie becomes the truth by sheer repetition. (See, e.g., "Ground Zero mosque.")

And they don't always go for rhetorical overkill -- a Republican, wanting to attack the way Grayson did, would probably run a somber, ominous, seemingly understated, more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger ad leveling charges of extremism against an opponent. The charges would be explosive, but the tone would be (seemingly) responsible and mature. (See, e.g., the Jesse Helms "Hands" ad.)

Republicans are good at this. Democrats need to fight -- but they also to need to learn how. Grayson hasn't learned.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I guess the trouble I'm having in wrapping my mind around this James O'Keefe story is trying to figure out what the hell he thought he was going to accomplish for his side with this sociopathic scheme. Right-wingers may be sick, but their tactics frequently work, and that was certainly true of O'Keefe with regard to ACORN -- people believed what the heavily edited videos showed and ACORN was ruined. But why did he think he'd win a victory for his team by videotaping himself phonily "seducing" an older female reporter, who clearly would be repulsed by it, and would give him nothing to work with, except that she might literally be a captive on the boat, which takes this into the realm of criminal sexual behavior? What the hell audience did he think would watch this and derive a political point from watching him act like a sexual-predator-in-air-quotes, a harasser Joaquin Phoenix? Who, even among teabaggers, did he think would watch this and think it put him and conservatism in a good light, and CNN and the reporter in a bad light? How far removed from reality is this guy?

Here's some description of the plot from the reporter, Abbie Boudreau, who quotes freely from a document prepared by O'Keefe and his little gang entitled "CNN Caper":

Izzy [Santa, an O'Keefe colleague] told me [O'Keefe] had "strawberries and champagne" waiting for me on the boat, and that he planned to "hit on me" the entire time. She said it would all be captured on hidden cameras that had been set up on the boat and in the back yard. She said the sole purpose of the "punk" was to embarrass me, and to make CNN look bad....

James was supposed to tape the following script before the meeting on the boat.

"... I've decided to have a little fun. Instead of giving her a serious interview, I'm going to punk CNN. Abbie has been trying to seduce me to use me, in order to spin a lie about me. So, I'm going to seduce her, on camera, to use her for a video. This bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who comes on at five will get a taste of her own medicine, she'll get seduced on camera and you'll get to see the awkwardness and the aftermath."

... It goes on to explain how James should "adapt" to my mood on the boat.

"As the operation is going on, James will have to adapt and adjust to her mood and her reaction. If she is pulling away, withdraw and pull her back in. If she's unsure, comfort her and reassure her. Vacillate between somewhat serious interview and the come-hither persona as needed in order to confuse her judgment and also keep her on the boat."

CNN has posted the document that outlines the plot. On one level it's just infantile -- here's some imagined dialogue:

But elsewhere it's chilling:

And then there's this truly repulsive part of the planning document:

The guy has just lost it. I've watched angry, mean-spirited right-wingers -- Limbaugh, Murdoch, Rove -- pursue power for years on end without ever losing control like this. O'Keefe just seems different -- he's concluded that the treatment his side receives from the mainstream media is tantamount to being sexually assaulted, and he decided to semi-assault an MSM reporter right back.

(Or maybe he just resents the attractiveness of Boudreau and other reporters, and this is all arising from an acute sense of sexual inadequacy he's convinced himself is political; another squirm-inducing line from his memo is "Using hot blondes to seduce interviewees to get screwed on television, you are faux seducing her in order to screw her on television.")

This has the logic of a sex crime, obviously, but it doesn't have the logic of a rational person's act, even if your definition of "rational person" includes bomb-throwers like Limbaugh and Rove. It just wouldn't work, except as the gratification of O'Keefe's own sick revenge desires. I think it's only a matter of time before this guy does something brutally assaultive, or is prevented from doing so. He's a sick bastard.


UPDATE: The consensus, here and at Balloon Juice (thanks for the link, Doug), seems to be that there's no limit to what O'Keefe could do with any sort of footage that emerged from this plus a little creative editing. I see that, but ... are we to assume that Boudreau wouldn't obtain her own video? And that she and CNN wouldn't rebut this instantly, if not preemptively (i.e., possibly as soon as she got off the boat, concluding it was a bizarre story about a controversial guy that shouldn't wait to be told)? Isn't this a Shirley Sherrod situation in the making, except with no rebuttal delay?


UPDATE: Well, my reading comprehension obviously leaves something to be desired, given the fact that Boudreau met O'Keefe without a camera.

I'm not going to summarize the story -- here's CNN's take, and here's the take of everyone in the blogosphere. I just want to say two things: (1) I love the headline of the new update to O'Keefe's Wikipedia entry, and I hope it stays up forever and follows him to his grave:

(In fact, shouldn't "Dildo Boat" be used as a substitute for his name forever? Or, better yet, "Dildo Allegation"?  James "Dildo Allegation" O'Keefe?)

(2) Isn't this the Aaron Sorkin/David Fincher/Jesse Eisenberg movie we'd all really like to see, done as a comedy of ever-increasing humiliation? I mean, Facebook? Who the hell cares?

I like Matt Taibbi's tea party article a lot, but I don't agree with this, near the end:

Of course, the fact that we're even sitting here two years after Bush talking about a GOP comeback is a profound testament to two things: One, the American voter's unmatched ability to forget what happened to him 10 seconds ago, and two, the Republican Party's incredible recuperative skill and bureaucratic ingenuity. This is a party that in 2008 was not just beaten but obliterated, with nearly every one of its recognizable leaders reduced to historical-footnote status and pinned with blame for some ghastly political catastrophe. There were literally no healthy bodies left on the bench, but the Republicans managed to get back in the game anyway by plucking an assortment of nativist freaks, village idiots and Internet Hitlers out of thin air and training them into a giant ball of incoherent resentment just in time for the 2010 midterms.

The part about the freaks and Hitlers is correct, but the GOP was never obliterated. After the election, right-wingers still had a near-monopoly on the AM radio dial, and Fox News was still far and away the top-rated cable news channel.

Moreover, ten minutes after he conceded, John McCain instantly became the go-to guy for Sunday morning talk shows (again), along with Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and other old white Republican men.

I think it's safe to say that the GOP had more people deemed respectable and desirable by Sunday talk shows bookers immediately after Election Day 2008 than the Democrats did at the same moment -- a moment that was presumably the Democrats' pinnacle. (Democrats have never really tried to insist that their career politicians are elder statesmen, while even a sleazebag like Newt Gingrich can have that status accorded to him on the other side.)

In 2006 and 2008, Democrats and progressives set out to win elections. By contrast, Republicans and right-wingers have spent the last couple of decades building a standing army and a series of fortified bunkers. Even after the disastrous Bush years, the right-wing message had a loyal core of obedient followers, cultivated by advocacy radio and TV. And the mainstream was still cowed by the notion that, Democratic victories notwithstanding, "real" Americans are white, non-coastal and conservative.

So it was only a question of how the GOP would come back, and how soon.

I'm going to ignore the hippie punch in the following passage from Tom Friedman's latest column and take his point at face value. His conceit is that there are two tea parties in America -- the one we all know about and another one, which is unorganized and (in his opinion) far superior:

The important Tea Party movement, which stretches from centrist Republicans to independents right through to centrist Democrats, ... is looking for a leader with three characteristics. First, a patriot: a leader who is more interested in fighting for his country than his party. Second, a leader who persuades Americans that he or she actually has a plan not just to cut taxes or pump stimulus, but to do something much larger -- to make America successful, thriving and respected again. And third, someone with the ability to lead in the face of uncertainty and not simply whine about how tough things are -- a leader who believes his job is not to read the polls but to change the polls.

At Balloon Juice, Doug J describes the hippie punch (which is really a punch aimed at icky non-middle-of-the-roaders of all kinds):

So no one on the non-centrist right or non-centrist left gives a fuck about the country?

Valid point -- but the question that interests me is this: Is Friedman hallucinating the vast numbers of Americans hungry for Friedmanesque progress, or do they really exist?

He goes on to write:

Democratic Pollster Stan Greenberg told me that when he does focus groups today this is what he hears: "People think the country is in trouble and that countries like China have a strategy for success and we don't. They will follow someone who convinces them that they have a plan to make America great again. That is what they want to hear. It cuts across Republicans and Democrats."

And maybe Friedman and Greenberg are right. Have you seen the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll? The news-making statistic in the poll is that 71% of Republicans have now drunk the tea party Kool-Aid -- but if you pick your way through the complete poll data (PDF) you find out that large majorities of Americans -- 60% or more -- "strongly agree" or "somewhat agree" with each of the following propositions:

U.S. companies are outsourcing much of their production and manufacturing work to foreign countries where wages are lower.

Corporations are too focused on making the maximum amount of profit and so have held off hiring back workers or expanding hiring.

Health care costs are so high for American companies they cannot fairly compete.

The United States' educational system is producing fewer highly skilled and educated workers compared to other countries.

The United States has lost its technological edge in manufacturing.

Banks' requirements for loans make it too difficult for companies to get money and expand.

That's a fairly Friedmanesque list. It's also a fairly liberal list -- there's quite a bit of class warfare in there. But, yeah, Friedman's sense that Americans are generally upset about the decline of America, in a way that's not really teabaggy, is borne out. (Although I should point out that two GOP/teabag talking points on illegal immigrants and business taxes do get agreement in the mid-50s. See the chart at the end of the post, and click to enlarge.)

Now, it occurs to me that we actually had a real-world test of Friedman's proposition -- it was called the 2008 election. Didn't we actually elect a guy "who is more interested in fighting for his country than his party," who talked a lot about making America "successful, thriving and respected again," who seemed to be acutely aware that "countries like China have a strategy for success and we don't" and had Friedmanesque ideas on energy and industrial policy and the way those ideas could help America thrive economically?

Well, yeah. America voted for the guy and then, when he actually started rolling out that agenda, America decided he was a jerk, if not an Antichrist.

Doug J, grumbling about Friedman, adds:

Where the fuck is Matt Taibbi these days?

Update Speak of the devil.

Yes, Taibbi has a new article about the teabaggers. He notes that they, of course, are "sincerely against government spending -- with the exception of the money spent on them." He also notes that they rail against deficits now, but used to be easily distracted by trivia such as "John Kerry's medals and Barack Obama's Sixties associations."

And it occurs to me that the new Kerry medal scandal, the new Reverend Wright scandal, the new does-he-wear-a-flag-pin?, the new does-he-cover-his-heart-for-the-Pledge?, is the list of tea party grievances -- not just absurd issues like the birth certificate, but the deficit and the evils of the health care plan.

We elected a guy who said he wanted to go left-centrist (in a corporatist way) on taxes and energy and infrastructure, and even that Friedmanesque, corporatist/left-centrist approach was too much for the powers that be. But Fox and right-wing lobbyists, instead of limiting the agenda-thwarting sideshow distractions to silly stuff -- the modern equivalents to Kerry's Purple Hearts, such as ACORN -- also turned real issues into trivia. Health care became the Purple Heart-esque "death panels." Deficits became a betrayal of cartoonified Founding Fathers, portrayed by teabaggers themselves in tricorn hats at rallies.

And that, Tom, is why America's apparent wish for grown-up government is meaningless: the manipulators of right-wing lunatics will always find some way to derail any effort to slouch toward even semi-corporatist sanity.

And that way will always be to create propaganda cartoons.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I was going to do a post about this little detail from a story about Carl Paladino's campaign headquarters in Buffalo:

On the wall near [receptionist Laurie] Kostrzewski's desk were several cartoons, one of which depicted an old man. "At my age, I don't miss sex," the caption read. In crude language, the cartoon explained, the man gets that service provided by the state.

Well, charming. I suppose this is a step up for Paladino, given that there's no horse involved.

Then I read this story, which seemed to say a bit more about character in the Paladino camp:

As he mounts an outrage-filled campaign for governor of New York, Carl P. Paladino has vowed to forcibly rid Albany of the wayward officials and misbehaving bureaucrats who he says have demeaned state government, promising to "take out the trash."

But some of the people whom Mr. Paladino has recruited to run his campaign are plagued by brushes with the law and allegations of misconduct, an examination of public records shows.

His campaign manager failed to pay nearly $53,000 in federal taxes over the last few years, prompting the Internal Revenue Service to take action against him. An aide who frequently drives Mr. Paladino on the campaign trail served jail time in Arizona on charges of drunken driving.

Another adviser has been indicted on charges of stealing more than $1 million from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's re-election bid last year. And Mr. Paladino's campaign chairwoman left a local government position amid claims that she had steered $1 billion in public money to a politically connected investment manager.

Their backgrounds could raise questions about the kind of cabinet Mr. Paladino, a Republican, would assemble if elected in November and cast doubt on his ability to radically remake the dysfunctional culture of Albany, government watchdogs said....

I'm particularly fond of the driver, a tricorn-wearing teabagger named Rus Thompson:

When initially asked on Monday about his arrest for driving under the influence, Mr. Paladino's driver, Rus Thompson, erupted in an expletive-laced tirade and told a reporter, "I fight a lot dirtier than Carl does." Soon after that, he hung up, but later consented to a longer interview.

Um, Mr. Thompson? Didn't you try to run for state comptroller? Weren't you profiled recently in The Wall Street Journal as the guy who persuaded Paladino to run? Haven't you appeared on Glenn Beck's show? What -- do you think it's swell to be in the public eye, but you have some inalienable right to be exempt from bad publicity?

What I can't help thinking is that if Paladino somehow wins, he's going to lionized by some of the same people who needed the fainting couch when they learned that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama sometimes went jacketless in the Oval Office. They'll cheer the pornographic and racist e-mail forwarder with the sex cartoons in his campaign office and the sleazebags on his staff all the way to Albany.

Does President Obama think you either govern or please the people who voted for you -- that if you're doing one, you can't possibly do the other?

That's certainly the impression I get from one of his answers in his Rolling Stone interview:

...What is true, and this is part of what can frustrate folks, is that over the past 20 months, we made a series of decisions that were focused on governance, and sometimes there was a conflict between governance and politics. So there were some areas where we could have picked a fight with Republicans that might have gotten our base feeling good, but would have resulted in us not getting legislation done.

I could have had a knock-down, drag-out fight on the public option that might have energized you and
The Huffington Post, and we would not have health care legislation now. I could have taken certain positions on aspects of the financial regulatory bill, where we got 90 percent of what we set out to get, and I could have held out for that last 10 percent, and we wouldn't have a bill. You've got to make a set of decisions in terms of "What are we trying to do here? Are we trying to just keep everybody ginned up for the next election, or at some point do you try to win elections because you're actually trying to govern?" I made a decision early on in my presidency that if I had an opportunity to do things that would make a difference for years to come, I'm going to go ahead and take it.

I just made the announcement about Elizabeth Warren setting up our Consumer Finance Protection Bureau out in the Rose Garden, right before you came in. Here's an agency that has the potential to save consumers billions of dollars over the next 20 to 30 years — simple stuff like making sure that folks don't jack up your credit cards without you knowing about it, making sure that mortgage companies don't steer you to higher-rate mortgages because they're getting a kickback, making sure that payday loans aren't preying on poor people in ways that these folks don't understand. And you know what? That's what we say we stand for as progressives. If we can't take pleasure and satisfaction in concretely helping middle-class families and working-class families save money, get a college education, get health care -- if that's not what we're about, then we shouldn't be in the business of politics. Then we're no better than the other side, because all we're thinking about is whether or not we're in power.

I get the feeling that he thinks that if he ever "pick[s] a fight with Republicans that might [get his] base feeling good," then, by definition, he's failing to govern properly. I get the feeling that he thinks that if you're ever engaged in a "knock-down, drag-out fight" that energizes your base, then you have to be governing poorly. I get the feeling that he thinks that, if the base is ever pumped up and it's not campaign season, then he's a lousy captain of the ship of state, because if you ever care about that stuff out of season, you're no better than the Republicans, who only think about "whether or not [they're] in power."

It literally seems not to occur to him that inspiring the people who voted for you (and people who could conceivably vote for you in the future) is an essential part of how you get things done in any country that has elections. He seems to put outreach and governing in watertight compartments -- campaigning I do in these months and these years, and all the rest of the time I do governance. If you want inspiration in the non-campaign months, well, sorry, you'll have to wait -- or you'll have to try to get pumped up and inspired by all the awesome governance going on.

I'm not going to go all Maureen Dowd on you and toss out the name Spock -- I don't think Obama takes this approach out of lack of human feelings. And I'm not going to go wingnut on you and say he's being "elitist." I think he just associates campaigning with the partisan squabbling he detests -- it's tolerable if it's confined to campaign seasons, but it's toxic otherwise.

But you can rally the populace without being poisonously divisive to the nation. In fact, you may have to in order to consolidate the shift in attitudes that got you elected and turn it into a shift in favor of the policy positions you ran on. FDR didn't turn up his nose at building popular support for the New Deal -- and the belief in the rightness of his approach ultimately became nonpartisan. Reagan similarly rallied the nation in favor of tax cuts and skepticism about government. Why can't Obama see that that's how ideas on governance gain acceptance? Why can't he see that you can't separate appeals to the public from governing?

The apparently imminent departure of Rahm Emanuel is supposed to please all right-thinking lefties, but George Stephanopoulos, quoting Bob Woodward, gives us one reason to be careful what we wish for (or at least to tweak our theories about his vileness):

Woodward on Afghan War 'Skeptic' (Emanuel) Departing White House

The Afghan war "skeptic" is expected to leave the White House this week to make a run for the Chicago mayor's seat. But how will Rahm Emanuel’s departure affect the war strategy?

... Woodward's book -- an inside look at the wartime president and his closest advisors -- notes Emanuel's skepticism over the Afghan war. At one point Woodward quotes Obama as saying “Nothing would make Rahm happier than if I said no to the 30,000” when he was reaching a decision on the Afghan troop surge.

"[Emanuel's] the skeptic. He said Afghanistan is 'political flypaper' you get stuck to it you can't get off," Woodward told me today....

Hmmm -- Emanuel objected to a deeper involvement in Afghanistan and (according to Jonathan Alter) he wanted to pare down the health care bill to a few popular programs for women and children back in August '09, when it was just becoming clear that the reform effort was becoming widely unpopular?

I'm almost starting to like this guy.

I keep trying to make the point -- and I'm not sure I ever get it across clearly -- that the health care fight was a disaster for the Obama administration and Democrats not so much because of what was in the bill or the easily criticized way the sausage was made, but because Obama and his people lost "the consent of the governed" at just that time, the summer of '09, yet they never grasped the extent to which they lost the public and they never took concrete steps to reverse the public's sense that it was a bad bill. Maybe, even as early as August '09, with the teabaggers and town hallers and Fox on full rampage, it was too late to reverse public opinion on the bill. I think that's what Emanuel thought, and if so, that judgment was a hell of a lot more astute than Obama's. I think Obama should have gone small on health care, and after that he needed to do something that seemed to make a material difference in ordinary citizens' lives in a crappy economy (or at least he needed to be seen fighting tooth and nail to have such an effect). Instead, the health care fight dragged on, and that win drained Obama of so much political capital that he probably won't have another significant win of any kind, on any issue, between now and January '13. If that's how Emanuel saw events unfolding in summer '09, he was smart, and if he'd been heeded, he would have been doing the progressive cause a favor. At the very least, there'd be much less likelihood now of drastic teabaggy policy reversals in the next two (and six) years.

And the war -- I didn't know he was a skeptic. Even if he's just being a political pragmatist, good for him on that.

Two stories that a lot of people see as linked: "Rahm Emanuel Likely to Leave White House This Week" and "Vice President Biden to Democratic Base: 'Stop Whining.'" My take? I know a lot of people on the left regard Emanuel as History's Greatest Monster, but if we're getting this from the White House at a time when Emanuel has nine toes out the door...

At a fundraiser in Manchester, NH, today, Vice President Biden urged Democrats to "remind our base constituency to stop whining and get out there and look at the alternatives. This President has done an incredible job. He's kept his promises."

The remarks, made to roughly 200 top Democratic activists and donors, recall comments President Obama made last week to "griping and groaning Democrats…Folks: wake up. This is not some academic exercise. As Joe Biden put it, Don't compare us to the Almighty, compare us to the alternative." ...

... then, um, maybe Emanuel hasn't been the guy responsible for this sort of positioning by the White House all along.

At this point I don't care. I'm very disappointed in the Obama administration; I'm certain that what disappoints me emanates straight from the top and won't change no matter who gets Rahm's job. But the mind-boggling extremism of the Republicans is still the biggest menace we face politically. (I'm sorry, but no matter how far Democrats tack to the right, they never manage to even make up the distance between themselves and the GOP -- the GOP starts further right and then tacks right even faster.)

So, yes, I resent what seems to be the "hippie-punching" of the White House and Blue Dogs in Congress -- and then I turn to the left blogosphere and I see we're fighting among ourselves over whether a lefty blogger should have uttered the phrase "hippie-punching" to a White House official. Susie Madrak is snapping at the White House, the White House is snapping back, and we're snapping at one another over the snapping.

That's exactly where the right and the Republican Party want us, isn't it?

But that's what happens when a sense of helplessness kicks in. Lock two rats in a cage, give them random electric shocks they can't escape, and they'll wind up fighting each other. Infighting is a sure sign that you don't think you can fight your real enemy.

I blame the White House and the party for not understanding the fight earlier (even if you tack to the center or center-right, they're still going to come at you and attack you as a commie). The Democrats shouldn't have been helpless. But I talk about Democratic incompetence all the time, and I don't want to devote all my energy to fighting people on my own side. The real enemy is elsewhere.


YES, I KNOW: I'm saying that the infighting on our side is a sign that we feel defeated, but if so, what about the infighting on the other side? Well, to me that looks less like rats in a cage being shocked into a sense of helplessness and more like a herd in a game preserve in which the young have grown crazy-aggressive and have taken on the elders, soundly defeating most of them and asserting their alpha status; except for a few holdouts, they've either vanquished or coopted their elders, and now they're about to bust out of the preserve and kill and eat the naturalists.

Where is there still serious fighting? Not in Nevada or Kentucky. Not, as of yesterday, in New York, where Rick Lazio gave up a minor-party ballot line to clear the right-wing field for the racist head case Carl Paladino. Not in Delaware anymore, really. Lisa Murkowski is still fighting in Alaska, and Charlie Crist is still on the ballot in Florida, but they're both likely to lose, and neither is likely to prevent a Republican victory. It's all very different.

Monday, September 27, 2010


I know, I know -- it's Rasmussen. Still, bloody hell:

That new Rasmussen poll ... shows South Carolinians approving of the job Mark Sanford is doing by a substantial margin, 55%/43%.

In an interview with the WSJ last week, Sanford refused to rule out a return to elective politics. It's hard to imagine him having any shot at a '12 nomination now, but here's a thought: a run against Lindsey Graham in the 2014 GOP primary.

After all, a July poll showed only 32% of Republicans in SC would support Graham in a 2014 primary, while 57% would support a more conservative, unnamed candidate.

Might Sanford start thinking about himself as the unnamed, more conservative candidate?

Senator Appalachian Trail? Really?

Oh, hell, why not? Sneaking around is clearly not a career-killer for David Vitter or Carl Paladino -- why not Sanford as well?

I start to think that, "traditional values" notwithstanding, adultery more or more is going to be a subconscious selling point for Republicans. Hell, they're already the "Daddy Party" -- it's a short step from that to being the "Who's Your Daddy Party." It's really two sides of the same Real Man coin, no?

Here's an image that appears on the Carl Paladino campaign Web site:

It probably won't surprise you if I tell you that Paladino is lying about the fact that that Andrew Cuomo owns a Chihuahua. As the September 17 New York Times reported, Cuomo has been seen in the presence of a small Chihuahua-like dog, but the dog belongs to his kids, who don't live with him:

... while Mr. Cuomo does not own a dog himself, his three daughters -- twins Mariah and Cara, 15, and Michaela, 12 -- do have a dog named Angus. It resides, however, in the home of their mother, Kerry Kennedy, Mr. Cuomo's former wife.

"The dog belongs to Kerry Kennedy and their daughters," Josh Vlasto, a campaign spokesman, said in a statement. "It is a small brown dog that was adopted from a pound where it was saved from imminent demise. It is of unknown age and unknown origin."...

For the moment, I'm ignoring the obvious question of what the hell this has to do with who would be a better governor for the state of New York. Clearly, Carl Paladino regards this race as a dick-swinging contest -- so, in opposition to Cuomo's daughters' dog, he uses his own pit bull as a campaign prop. Real mature guy.

But this is where it gets weird. Paladino's dog had a previous owner -- and not just any owner:

Technically a British Staffordshire bull terrier, Duke, 5, belonged to Mr. Paladino's son, who died in a car accident last year. The dog is now a regular on the campaign trail, where his breed (if not his behavior) has made him a mascot for Mr. Paladino's gruff antagonism to the Albany powers-that-be.

That's right: the pit bull belonged to his son Patrick -- the one who died in a car accident last year. The one whose death prompted Paladino to tell his wife about the daughter he once fathered with another woman in an adulterous affair.

You'd think owning a dead child's dog would be bittersweet for Paladino. But no -- he clearly loves using the dog as a prop. One of his favorite jokes is to refer to the pit bull as his "chief of staff."

Let's review. The guy's son dies suddenly. He adopts the kid's dangerous-seeming dog -- and then uses his dead son's dog as his surrogate penis, as a means of trying to challenge the manhood of other men.

I don't know what the hell Freud would have made of this guy.


(Regarding the debate: as I explained last week, Cuomo and Paladino are having trouble agreeing on which minor-party candidates will participate if they debate. One candidate Cuomo, a party-mate of Eliot Spitzer, would prefer not to debate is a former madam whose candidacy is a Roger Stone prank -- as, to a large extent, is Paladino's candidacy.)

Nobody in Left Blogistan takes Ross Douthat seriously, but I want to address a point in his latest column because he has some credibility in other precincts. In response to the GOP's Pledge to America, he writes today:

Their eccentric elements notwithstanding, the Tea Parties have something vital to offer the country: a vocal, activist constituency for spending cuts at a time when politicians desperately need to have their spines stiffened on the issue.

I'm sorry -- what evidence is there of that? The fact that they talk in broad generalities about reducing the size of government or having a government that does only what's expressly mentioned in the Constitution? Sure, now, when it's completely theoretical, they talk like this -- but why should we believe any of them would actually give up or drastically reduce government programs they like?

We knew a year ago that the anti-government fervor of these people extended only to the point at which they thought their own ox was being gored: recall that a year ago they were going to town halls and saying, "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!" They were telling pollsters the same thing.

So Douthat has it exactly backward when he writes this:

... the only way to really bring the budget into balance is to reform (i.e., cut) Medicare and Social Security, a topic that nobody in Congress -- save the indefatigable Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan -- is particularly eager to touch.

But that means that the pledge is ultimately less about the triumph of the Tea Partiers, and more about their potential co-option by Republican politics as usual.

... it's all too easy to imagine the movement (which, after all, includes a lot of Social Security and Medicare recipients!) being seduced with rhetorical nods to the Constitution, and general promises of spending discipline that never get specific.

The Republicans didn't carve out spending-freeze exceptions in their Pledge for popular programs because they're trying to coopt teabaggers who are sincere budget-cutters -- they did it because they know that, except perhaps for a pure purist leaders, teabaggers aren't sincere, at least about cutting Social Security and Medicare and veterans' programs and defense. Knowing what the rank-and-file really believes, the GOP has made a politically astute decision: to give them just the pabulum they want.

Teabaggers favor "slashing government" only because they sincerely believe you can balance the budget without touching anything that affects them. They think it's just a matter of eliminating an ACORN subsidy here and a Planned Parenthood subsidy there, and voila! Balanced budget. Republicans certainly aren't going to disabuse them of this fairy-tale notion now.

I see that yesterday John Boehner was on Fox News Sunday dodging the question of what exactly the Republicans would do to cut the spending they say they so revile. In fact, he said it was inappropriate to address this question now -- and as I read his reply, I thought to myself, "Where have I heard this before?"

Boehner, to Chris Wallace:

BOEHNER: Chris, we make it clear in there that we're going to lay out a plan to work toward a balanced budget and deal with the entitlement crisis. Chris, it's time for us as americans to have an adult conversation with each other about the serious challenges our country faces. And we can't have that serious conversation until we lay out the size of the problem. Once Americans understand how big the problem is, then we can begin to talk about potential solutions. [...]

WALLACE: Forgive me, sir, isn't the right time to have the adult conversation now before the election when you have this document [the Pledge to America]? Why not make a single proposal to cut social security, medicare and medicaid?

BOEHNER: Chris, this is what happens here in washington. When you start down that path, you just invite all kind of problems. I know. I've been there. I think we need to do this in a more systemic way and have this conversation first. Let's not get to the potential solutions. Let's make sure americans understand how big the problem is. Then we can talk about possible solutions and then work ourselves into those solutions that are doable.

Why does that sound familiar to me? Oh yeah -- because, when she was interviewed by Matt Bai of The New York Times Magazine for an article that appeared yesterday, GOP Senate candidate and wrestling doyenne Linda McMahon gave pretty much the same answer -- that it's inappropriate to tell voters what you'd like to do about the budget until after they've elected you: would seem to be incumbent on a candidate like McMahon, who also rails against the debt and who advocates a balanced budget in Washington, to articulate some specific idea of where the budget can be scaled back.

I asked her, for instance, whether she was in favor of reforming entitlement programs that, along with military outlays, represent the principal forces driving spending levels ever higher. "We're going to have to look at them," she said, "but I can tell you that that has got to be done in the legislative arena, with open debate, with people on both sides really tackling this and talking about it. We've got to strengthen our entitlement programs. We've got to make sure that our contract with seniors is maintained and upheld." But, she added: "I've made a specific point of saying I'm not going to go into that on the campaign trail, because I don't think that's appropriate. I think the appropriate arena is the legislative arena."

In other words, this business of governance was too serious to be discussed in any detail during a campaign, which McMahon seemed to regard more as an exercise in theater, like "Saturday Night's Main Event."

Ora, as Zandar says about Boehner:

Orange Julius's idea of an "adult conversation" is "Vote for us because shut up, that's why."

In any case, Boehner clearly wasn't fumbling the question. Boehner wasn't just giving an evasive, slippery answer to the question, he was giving an evasive, slippery answer to the question that's carefully focus-group tested. I'm sure it'll work, too.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


You may already know that Carl Paladino's wife told a New York Post reporter the story of how her husband told her he'd fathered a child by another woman -- as well as the chilling story of how she came to go public. Joe Coscarelli of The Village Voice sums it up better than I could:

Cathy Paladino is Drinking the Carl Kool-Aid

​The cover of Sunday's
New York Post puts it right out there when it comes to Carl Paladino's marriage: "It was just about a year ago, hours after the death of her son in a car crash, that Cathy Paladino's husband told her he was the father of a 10-year-old girl with another woman -- and that all their children and most of their friends already knew." And that's just the first sentence.

... It's clear that Carl's campaign all but forced her to agree to a sit-down with the tabloid. "They had three words for me: 'Get over it,'" she says of resisting a public presence. This is glaringly tragic stuff....

But she didn't just talk to the Post about this, clearly under duress. She also did her duty abasing herself before The New York Times, which had the decency to run the story in the Saturday paper and on the inside pages, rather than as a Sunday lead story. It's the same appalling tale:

Cathy Paladino stroked the arm of the couch she was sitting on in her husband's campaign headquarters, first in small circles, then larger ones, as if to assure the couch that both she and it would get through this just fine.

She was talking about her husband's affair, a subject she was ready, if not eager, to address. Since her husband, Carl, won the Republican nomination for governor of New York last week, the only story in the race as compelling as his upset victory has been their personal back story: that her husband not only had an affair, not only fathered a child with that other woman, but also told his wife of 40 years about it all the same week that their 29-year-old son, Patrick, was killed in a car accident. He pulled her aside, Ms. Paladino said, as she was looking for family photographs to bring to the wake.

"He said he was very sorry to cause me pain, the relationship with the mother was over ... and there was a child," she said.

At the word "child," Ms. Paladino, 63, leaned back slightly, absorbing, once again, this news....

And there's the same sense that she was forced to do this:

Once she had told her husband she supported his decision to run, some members of his campaign staff told her that if she had any reservations about talking about her personal life, she had to get over them. And so she did.

The Post story makes it sound like a really creepy marriage:

Still, she defers to him on most issues.

"My circle is much closer to home with my family and things like that," she said. "And he's out there, talking to people. He's out there.

"People bring him a lot of information."

She paused. "Sometimes, I don't know if that's always a good thing. When you just know too much."

She deferred to his decision to run. She deferred to his decision that she be forced to come clean to two big-city papers. She deferred when he went on a vacation to Italy accompanied not just by his love child, but by her mother.

And then there's this line about Carl Paladino from the Post story:

She said he is no longer the same man she met over 40 years ago, that now he is "tougher, very particular about everything."

Yeah, I bet. And I bet that's putting it mildly.

All this makes me squirm. I suspected Carl Paladino was a bad human being. Now I'm sure of it.

In a New York Times Week in Review article about President Obama's struggles in getting his message across, John Harwood argues that a new media environment makes it harder for Obama to continue railing against George W. Bush than it was for Ronald Reagan to rail against Jimmy Carter at a similar point in his presidency:

Mr. Obama aims to use President George W. Bush's record in the same way Mr. Reagan used Mr. Carter's. It was Mr. Bush and his Republican allies in Congress, he tells campaign audiences, who drove the economy "into a ditch."

The velocity of contemporary media, not to mention its ferocity, may render that argument more difficult to make. In the ever-advancing news cycle, on cable television and the Internet, news tends to get old faster.

Thus, [White House communications director Daniel] Pfeiffer asserted, in 1982 "Carter's presidency seemed more recent than Bush's presidency" does to voters this year.

Really? Is that the difference? I don't think so. Apart from the obvious point that the GOP noise machine has relentlessly attacked Obama for attacking Bush (I don't recall Democrats attacking Reagan very much for attacking Carter -- being Democrats, they internalized the attacks rather than lashing out at them), I'd say there's a simple reason that Obama can't get traction with criticism of Bush, even as poll after poll shows that voters blame Bush for the economic meltdown: the Republicans began rebranding themselves almost immediately after Obama's inauguration. It was the kind of rebranding that didn't so much replace the old brand as build a seemingly new brand -- think of the tea party as "GOP Extreme!" -- that's barely different from the old brand, and has essentially the corporate parentage, but nevertheless seems angry and countercultural and bad-ass.

And so even though we know from a story elsewhere in today's Times that Karl Rove is effectively running the GOP's reelection efforts, it's "GOP Extreme!" the voters want to support.

Meanwhile, over in the Times Magazine, Matt Bai, a Connecticut native, writes about the Senate race between Democrat Richard Blumenthal and the GOP candidate, wrestling doyenne Linda McMahon. Bai thinks McMahon can win (so do I), and I don't disagree with his reasons as much as I do with the voters' thinking, if in fact they do elect McMahon:

Connecticut in my parents' day was the kind of state in which institutions really mattered -- religious congregations and city newspapers and insurance companies, garden clubs and the Knights of Columbus, with their towering headquarters in New Haven. Connecticut voters, like voters in a lot of the country, trusted in an established order that seemed to be working pretty well for them, but then people saw their cities and their industries collapse, and even the Catholic Church was tainted by scandal, and elected officials started selling their services for home improvements.

And this is what makes a Linda McMahon possible here and in other parts of America -- not just her millions of dollars or the crippled economy, but the sense that the establishment has lost its credibility. It is something McMahon, having built a megaentertainment business without the imprimatur of cultural arbiters, intuitively understood about politics.

(Emphasis added.)

I guess that "without the imprimatur of cultural arbiters" bit refers to, say, the Arts & Leisure section of the Times, or similar tweedy outposts. And, yes, it's true that pro wrestling doesn't get much love in those precincts.

But here's how iconoclastic and bad-ass World Wrestling Entertainment is on a corporate level, according to Wikipedia:

World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE) (NYSE: WWE) is a publicly-traded, privately-controlled integrated media (focusing in television, Internet, and live events) and sports entertainment company dealing primarily in professional wrestling, with major revenue sources also coming from film, music, product licensing, and direct product sales....

The company's global headquarters are located in Stamford, Connecticut with offices in Los Angeles, New York City, London, Tokyo, Toronto, and Sydney....

NBC Universal, Viacom, and other major media companies have broadcast the TV shows. Mattel, Acclaim, and other big companies have made the toys and video games. The music CDs, back when people bought CDs, were released on major labels. And so on. This is just big-money capitalism centered in entertainment, one of the few industries America still dominates. Apart from the content, what's bad-ass about that?

But it seems bad-ass, and that's all that matters in GOP rebranding.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


I'm confused by the headline for Jonathan Martin's Politico story about Stephen Colbert's appearance at a congressional hearing on immigration:

Colbert Knocks Dems Off Message

You mean prior to this Democrats were on message? First I've heard about it.

The right is trying to make hay of this:

Republicans were more harsh.

"I thought top libs were out of touch elitists. Colbert's visit to Congress proved me right," Dan Gainor, vice president of business and culture for the conservative Media Research Center, told the world from his Twitter account.

Over at Think Progress, I see the headline "Fox Apoplectic Over Colbert Testimony: Megyn Kelly Demands Apology, Rep. Steve King Calls Him A Liar." But my impression of the mainstream press coverage of this is that only agenda-driven ideologues and political junkies are arguing about whether this was a gaffe or a disgrace -- elsewhere, it's being covered, as far as I can tell, as a "light" political story. It's not harming the Democrats (or undocumented immigrants), but it's not helping them, either. It's just seen as odd and somewhat amusing.

So it's not much of an error. Still, I'm not sure why Democrats thought inviting Colbert to testify was a good idea. I know the point is that he once took up a challenge to do the kind of grueling farm labor illegal immigrants do. But has anyone involved in the decision to invite him ever actually watched him? Did they understand that his comedy is off-kilter and only sometimes in sync with the Democrats' message?

Yesterday, writing on a different subject (the Democrats' new logo, which looks like what the copyright logo would look like if the word were were "dopyright"), Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland, quoted an old MyDD post by Matt Stoller, who's written for Hollywood:

We are expert message machines offering our (generally overpriced) services for free, and the Democratic Party does not use us. We create villains and good guys, we write America's jokes, we create the narrative of America, the lines that are repeated by boys and girls, men and women, over lunch and the water cooler, and we have been left completely unconsulted.

Stoller, writing in 2004, went on to say:

Why didn't Michael Bay direct an awesome action adventure ad where John Kerry singlehandedly blows up the terrorist insurgency with a solemn nod of his granite-chiseled chin? Why weren't the writers of SNL and the Daily Show brought in to create hilarious, ruthless anti-Bush spots that would have been forwarded all around the internet? Why wasn't James Brooks hired to create a touching, pull-the-heartstrings Kerry-Edwards-cares-about-the-voter commercial?

Maybe the answer is: entertainers wouldn't know what works politically, and Democrats would be utterly clueless about the difference between entertaining and effective. But why is that?

And meanwhile, today's New York Times has an article about Michael Caputo, the obnoxious Roger Stone protege who's crafting Carl Paladino's you-wanna-piece-of-me? message in the New York governor's race:

From Mr. Caputo's pen have come some memorable gibes at Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Paladino's Democratic rival, whom they have dubbed Prince Andrew, Status Cuomo and Br'er Andrew.

From Mr. Caputo's mind have come blistering attack advertisements, including one that featured a fake photo of Mr. Cuomo, the state's attorney general, shirtless in the shower and covered in mud, as part of an effort to portray him as a slimy politician....

Mr. Caputo is unapologetic. He wasted no time in cooking up another madcap advertisement on Wednesday when Mr. Bloomberg, New York's billionaire mayor, came out in support of Mr. Cuomo.

In an e-mail to reporters, Mr. Caputo dismissed the two men as political elites who traveled in the "same royal coach."

"One upside to this," Mr. Caputo wrote. "The two can stop passing Grey Poupon back and forth from their limousines. It's holding up traffic on Park Avenue."

This material isn't all that good, and, on balance, the polls show Cuomo comfortably ahead. But why is this stuff connecting at all? How many pro-Democrat, anti-GOP jibes have ever gotten good press coverage in the thick of a political race? If our side dominates the entertainment industry, why aren't we better at this?

Friday, September 24, 2010


An awful lot of people on the left think Sarah Palin's use of the president's middle name in a recent appearance on Greta Van Susteren's Fox News program was a birther dog whistle:

"Funny, Greta, we are learning more about Christine O'Donnell and her college years and her teenage years and her financial dealings than anybody ever even bothered to ask about Barack Hussein Obama as a candidate and now as our president," Palin said.

Is it birtherism? Well, yes and no. To me it seems more insidious -- it's a dog whistle to birthers and a different kind of dog whistle to wingnut Obama-haters who disdain birtherism. It's a two-note dog whistle.

To the latter group, it's another right-wing talking point -- the notion that we somehow "don't know" Barack Obama (despite the reams of biographical material available about him, from other writers and himself).  This leads, of course, to the presumption that we "don't know" him because he's really different from us, based on biographical details that aren't in dispute, which leads to sinister slanders like Mitt Romney's assertion that Obama

has not understood the nature of America, in some respects, that the values I've described of love of liberty, of freedom, of opportunity, of small government -- that those values he doesn't share.

But it leads there without reference to Obama's birth, a subject that even some righties regard as toxic.

This works in a way that's similar to Glenn Beck's Cleon Skousen-influenced talk about evil big-city hypercapitalists who are secretly advancing the cause of socialism. When he goes there, Beck is giving his viewers a depiction of the old "international Jew" without the "Jew" part -- which means that it gets across even to people (and there are plenty on the right) who reject anti-Semitism (while it's surely received as anti-Semitism by anti-Semites, as is so much right-wing muttering about George Soros). That's a double-note dog whistle -- and so is what Palin said.

Based on what a lot of people seem to be saying in Betty Cracker's Rumproast thread, I was silly to respond positively to Susie Madrak's use of the term "hippie-punching" in that conversation with David Axelrod, and I sure as hell was supposed to be appalled when she said, "We're the girl you'll take under the bleachers but you won't be seen with in the light of day."

Betty said in comments to my earlier post on this subject,

... has Mandrak done anything for the past 2 years besides complain about what a piece of shit Obama is? She's entitled to her opinion, of course, but it just seems a bit rich that she's not only assuming the "punched-hippie" avatar but claiming that if weren't for all the abuse, she'd be an effective advocate for the administration.

She should have said, "If Obama adopted the Kucinich platform
in toto, it would be much easier to motivate my vast readership." And that's all well and good as far as it goes. But on the other hand, if my granny had wheels, she'd be a go-cart...

Well, OK -- I confess I haven't read Susie much in recent years. That's an excellent reason to argue that Susie was the wrong messenger. But that doesn't mean it was the wrong message.

A principal argument in the Rumproast thread is that Susie was making this all about her feelings. That's not how I interpret the term "hippie-punching." Sometimes hippie-punching consists of insulting words, but often it's deeds -- it's choosing to reject a course of action because it's being proposed by the left, whether by annoying bloggers or by Simon Johnson and Paul Krugman. It's trying to position yourself as not one of them. It has real-life policy consequences.

Yes, it's a somewhat abstruse term -- an in-group reference bloggers understand. Maybe that means Susie shouldn't have used it. But haven't a lot of Republicans made it their business to master teabagger lingo, just because they know it's useful not to alienate the hardcore base?

And I don't blame Susie for saying, "We're the girl you'll take under the bleachers but you won't be seen with in the light of day." I've got no patience for responses like this, from Betty's thread:

Could somebody please reassure Susie that there are no circumstances under which anyone would want to take her under the football stands?

That's sexist -- and it's not the point. You want a time-honored, G-rated version of this? OK, I'll try: Democrats don't dance with the ones whut brung 'em. Progressive activists worked hard to elect Obama and a lot of congressional Dems, and many of those winning candidates blow the activists off. That's all Susie meant. (That's not about her feelings, either.)

Zandar, in a post about this, said:

Republicans fear their base. Democrats despise theirs.

Here's my take:

Republicans treat the ideologically pure righties in their base like a dog at a picnic -- they often tie it up while they talk with fellow humans, but they don't deny it food and water, and once in a while they get up and throw it a Frisbee.

Democrats treat the ideologically pure lefties in the party's base like ants a picnic -- they either ignore them or pay attention to them just long enough to brush them off.


And what sucks is that I hate this infighting. I'm sour on Obama these days, but I'm not hardcore about it -- it would take very little to turn me around (really, just an occasional win for progressivism, and a little more effort to rebut the right's 24/7 trashing of even long-established progressive ideas, like Social Security and New Deal Keynesianism). I cheer on certain acts by lefty purists, but overall my sympathies aren't with those purists. Lately I feel stuck in the middle -- I feel more realistic than the Firebaggers, but I feel angrier than the Rumproasters. I don't know who's in my vicinity -- Jon Stewart? The "exhausted" woman at the Obama town hall?

David Brooks today:

On the one hand, voters are completely disgusted with Washington. On the other hand, they have not changed their fundamental views on the issues. There has been some shift to the right over the past two years, but the policy landscape looks mostly the way it did over the last few decades.

David Brooks on June 22, describing recent events in the past tense:

...the country wasn't swinging to the left; it was swinging to the right!

Surveys showed public opinion drifting rightward on issue after issue: gun control, abortion, global warming and the role of government. Far from leading Americans, Democrats were repelling them. Between 2008 and 2010 the share of voters who considered the Democrats too liberal surged from 39 percent to 49 percent, according to Gallup surveys.

So, um, which is it? And if Brooks was wrong on June 22, and that Gallup poll was unrepresentative of public opinion, shouldn't he own up and admit it? Shouldn't the Times issue a correction?

Of course, those poll numbers were invoked in the June 22 column -- which imagined a liberal Dr. Faustus -- so that Brooks could make a larger point about (wait for it) ...his favorite subject, values:

Bitterly and too late, Dr. Faustus saw that liberals can't have their way and still win elections in places like North Carolina, Ohio and Missouri. Bitterly and too late, Dr. Faustus recognized that economic policies are about values. If your policies undermine personal responsibility by separating the link between effort and reward, voters will punish you for it.

And the completely contradictory reading of the public-opinion tea leaves in today's column is provided so that Brooks can make a larger point about -- yup -- values:

...when you listen carefully, you notice the public anger doesn't quite match the political class anger. The political class is angry about ideological things: bloated government or the predatory rich. The public seems to be angry about values.

This isn't writing. It's ticcing.

It seems to me that "bloated government," real or imaginary, is prescisely what teabaggers are angry about. Over on the left, yes, we're angry about the predatory rich (and the predatory GOP).

But in the middle, the only values most people are upset about are the values of things they'll never be able to afford, or can't afford to keep (like their houses), because they don't think they'll be able to hold on to their jobs, or because they've already lost them and don't think they'll ever work again.

But writing a column about that wouldn't allow David Brooks to sound like a seventeenth-century New England school primer, would it?

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey has made himself a hero in wingnut circles by being loutish and mouthy -- basically Carl Paladino with more e-mail self-restraint. I've said in the past that wingers who want him to run for president are naive -- when choosing politicians, America may like the occasional lout at the lower levels, but we always want our presidential candidates to convey optimism and hope (even Nixon faked that in '68). We want our presidential candidates to proclaim the glories of America's values and principles. Christie hasn't done that.

Well, until now. Here's Christie in California campaigning with Meg Whitman:

... California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman ... was finishing her remarks when a man sitting in the front row stood up and began shouting.

"What are you hiding?" he yelled. "You're looking like Arnold [Schwarzenegger] in a dress."

Christie rose from his seat behind Whitman and confronted the man....

CHRISTIE: Hey -- hey, listen -- hey listen -- hey, listen, you know what? You wanna yell, yell at me. But don't give her a hard time. We're here -- we're here talking about the future of the state of California and the future of our country, and you know what? And you know what? And you what? Let me me tell you -- let me tell you this. You know what? It's people who raise their voices and yell and scream like you that are dividing this country. We're here to bring this country together, not to divide it!

The unmitigated gall of this.

First, why should the guy yell at Christie and not Whitman? Because Christie has a penis? She's running for governor, for crissake -- if she wins, is Chivalrous Chris going to fly out to Cali every time someone says something mean to her? She wants the gig and she's not tough enough to handle that herself?

And Christie has the nerve to say that people shouldn't show up at public appearances by politicians and heckle? A Republican who was elected in 2009 -- the year of the right-wing town hall goon squads?

(Oh yeah, I always forget -- it's OK if you're a Republican.)

And sure, the heckler is raising his voice and Christie isn't. The heckler doesn't have a freaking microphone, and Christie does. Bit of an imbalance there.

But what this shows me is that, like Sinatra attacking Sinead, or Trump pontificating about Park51, Christie has mastered a sort of New York Metro Area tough-guy pious patriotic sanctimony.

This could really work in a national election. Christie's only problem is that he seems sincere about not wanting to run in 2012, and since a Republican will almost certainly win then, he's going to have to wait a while, and his moment will probably pass. Then again, the GOP nominee, who'll almost certainly have zero foreign-policy experience, may decide there's no need to balance the ticket along those lines -- hey, Palin lives near Russia! -- so he could be the #2. And he certainly would be the perfect Agnew, even for an Agnew-esque ticket-topper.