Wednesday, October 31, 2007


OK, sure: Hillary Clinton is beating Rudy Giuliani in most polls. But beating him in the South?

That's what happening according to a new Pew poll being reported by the Politico:

...She wins the South.

She polls evenly with voters who attend church at least once a week....

She loses rural voters and men -- but only by a narrow margin....

Did I mention that this poll says she wins the South by more than her overall margin of victory? I just can't get my mind around that. (The Pew numbers are: Hillary up by 11 in the South, up by 8 overall.)

The reason I can't get my mind around this is that I flat-out don't believe it. This and Pew's other results are just so far beyond what's showing up in other polls. (Pew has her up by 20 points among women, whereas the latest Quinnipiac poll has her up by 10. Pew says she's down by 3 among men; Quinnipiac has her down by 15. And Quinnipiac has her down by 9 in red states.)

If the Pew results really are accurate -- if women voters and the young are giving Hillary Clinton a lead even the South -- that should be a banner headline in every newspaper in America. But I find it really far-fetched.

Hillary Clinton is getting a lot of flak for an apparent flip-flop, or dodge, or whatever it was she was supposed to have done last night in reference to Governor Eliot Spitzer's (now revised) driver's license plan for undocumented immigrants. (See the clip here or read the exchange on pages 35 to 37 of the debate transcript.)

Allegedly she endorsed the plan in an interview earlier this month. But have you read the original remarks? They're here, at a New York Times blog (taken from The Nashua Telegraph), and the assessment in that blog post was "She does say the policy 'makes a lot of sense,' which is close to saying she supports it but not quite." And the New York Daily News, reporting the original comments, headlined its story "Hillary Cheers, but Doesn't Back Spitzer License Plan." So she stopped short of endorsing it then as well.

But, you say, the point is that she won't give a straight answer to the question. But her answer is this (I'm summarizing): I understand why Governor Spitzer did what he did, but the real solution is to deal with this at the federal level.

Now, in many elections, candidates take stands on issues they'll never deal with because they're actually dealt with at another level of government. Mayoral candidates take stands on whether abortion should be legal. Would-be governors and city councillors declare positions on the Iraq War.

Hillary's essentially doing the opposite. She's saying this is an issue that should be handled at her level of government -- the president, working with Congress. She's saying the buck should be passed to herself, as a senator now and as (she hopes) the next president. She's saying that, in a rational country, a governor shouldn't have to solve this problem at all -- but since we don't live in a rational country (Bush is president), Spitzer was taking a reasonable shot at a stopgap solution. The real solution, in her opinion, is (as she said in the earlier interview) to actually pass a comprehensive bill like the one that just failed.

Of course, this is one of the rare issues on which there probably wouldn't be any more cooperation if we had a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress than there has been in the Bush years, because it's one of the few issues on which Bush's position has considerable Democratic support. So Hillary can't argue that Bush is engaging, as usual, in partisan warfare -- all she can say is that (as the saying goes) he has "failed to lead" -- and that (in some unspecified way) she wouldn't "fail to lead."

But that's different from saying she's talking out of both sides of her mouth.

By the way, in the near future we're going to find it hard to believe that she was castigated for this. That's because in the near future we'll acknowledge what's perfectly obvious right now: that immigration is yet another third rail of American politics, and that it's next to impossible for an elected official to deal with it, or even take a forthright position on it, without getting badly burned.


UPDATE An article by Adam Nagourney at the Times Caucus blog now tells us, "A Day Later, Clinton Embraces Spitzer's License Effort." Guess what? She's still saying essentially the same thing she's been saying since the Nashua Telegraph interview!

"Senator Clinton supports governors like Governor Spitzer who believe they need such a measure to deal with the crisis caused by this administration's failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform,'" her campaign said.

Oh, that shifty Hillary Clinton with her slippery consistency!

In Salon, Gary Kamiya makes a case for the inevitable death of conservatism-as-we-know-it that's elegant, compelling, and entirely wrong:

...sooner or later, conservatives will have to change course or see their movement wither away.

The issues that have been winners for conservatives are fading. White resentment of federal civil rights laws is the ur-conservative issue, the engine that drove the right's rise.... More recently, right-wing strategists successfully mobilized resentment over "values" issues like the "three Gs" -- gays, God and guns. These issues still mobilize some conservative voters, but they aren't nearly as effective as they used to be. Studies show that the electorate, especially younger voters, are moving left on these issues.

Support among voters for conservatism's powerful no-more-taxes wing is dwindling as well. As Bush found out recently, Americans will do anything to save the nation's two largest entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare, including paying higher taxes.

The fall of communism was another heavy blow to the conservative movement.... Although Bush won reelection in 2004 by convincing enough frightened Americans that a nonexistent entity called "Islamofascism" was the second coming of the Evil Empire, that fear-mongering comparison will not work anymore. The Iraq debacle, and Bush's misguided "war on terror," have made it only too clear that moralistic militarism and disdain for diplomacy only makes the problem worse.

OK, let's work back.

If shouting "Islamofascism" simply won't work anymore, someone has to explain why, in recent polls, Rudy Giuliani is, on average, a mere two points behind Hillary Clinton.

And regarding Social Security and Medicare, yes, the public wanted to preserve the status quo, but who in the public endorsed a specific tax increase to do so?

But this gets us away from Kamiya's real error here, which is thinking that conservatism depends on whatever specific issues seem to be fueling it at any given time. It doesn't.

As I said a couple of days ago, conservatism changes and evolves; 1961's segregationist was 1991's Clarence Thomas supporter. How much did conservatism suffer when the end of the Cold War deprived it of a big enemy? Well, Bill Clinton got into the White House -- but two years later Republican rightists took over Congress, and four years after that they impeached the president. Between anti-communism and anti-Islamism they had anti-Clinton's penis-ism, and before that they were motivated by Whitewater, for heaven's sake.

What's important to American conservatism is less the issues of the day than the core message, which doesn't change much -- basically, that coastal elitists with unacceptable values threaten our simple, moral way of life. Issues come and go, but conservatism feeds on whatever fuel is available. Right now it's Islamic extremism (which coastal elitists are said to aid and abet). A decade or three from now, it'll be something else.


Now, here's where Kamiya really gets it wrong:

In the end, conservatism will have to decide if it wants to be a real party of governance, moving beyond empty labels to engage with real issues, or if it wants to remain a party of reaction, in permanent rebellion against modernity, proffering emotionally satisfying but incoherent policies. Conservatism ... is based on unmediated emotions, erupting from the individual ego -- Get big government off my back! Keep those civil rights laws out of my white backyard! Lower my taxes! This is ultimately an infantile or an adolescent politics, a failure to come to terms with a world that does not do exactly what the omnipotent self demands. Does conservatism want to grow up, or stay an angry teenager forever?

Er, here are the last three presidents we thought enough of to send back to D.C. for a second term:

Yeah, we're a country that really values political maturity, aren't we?

What Kamiya portrays as conservatism's weakness is actually its strength. It knows what it stands for. It makes a lot of noise. It knows exactly who's evil and needs to be neutralized. Americans love that. It's rock and roll.


(Barbara at the Mahablog thinks much more of Kamiya's essay than I do.)

All of the Republican candidates for president believe that the greatest threat America faces is a Hillary Clinton presidency -- and apparently all but one of the Democratic candidates for president agree.

Nice to see that, after all these years of partisan divisiveness, our politicians have come to an agreement on one thing.


I say this even though I didn't watch the debate. All I know is what I read in the papers this morning.

Last night, by contrast, I was reading debate liveblogging from a couple of sources, with local TV news on in the background, and I was under the mistaken impression that Joe Biden's Rudy Giuliani quip -- "There's only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun and a verb and 9/11" -- was the hit of the night. Apparently he did connect -- the local news did excerpt it (anything to do with Giuliani is seen as local interest, which isn't true about Hillary), but it's buried in the New York Times debate recap and not mentioned at all in the Washington Post recap.

It's too bad. It's a pretty good line, even if Biden garbled it somewhat. We can talk about "Rovian jujitsu," turning someone's strength into a weakness, but it's really just basic comedy, attacking a pompous man by going at the main thing he's pompous about. If Democrats were like Republicans, every Democrat who got within two feet of a microphone would be doing variations on this line for the next week and a half, displaying message discipline, until Giuliani was forced to answer the question: Do you talk about 9/11 too damn much? Do you throw it into everything you say, even when it's totally appropriate?

But these are Democrats we're talking about, so, of course, nothing like that will happen. All we'll hear is how horrible Hillary is.


Giuliani's communications director sent out a press release after the debate. It said this about Joe Biden:

...The good Senator is quite correct that there are many differences between Rudy and him. For starters, Rudy rarely reads prepared speeches and when he does he isn't prone to ripping off the text from others. And, Senator Biden certainly falls in to the bucket of those on the stage tonight who have never had executive experience and have never run anything. Wait, I take that back, Senator Biden has never run anything but his mouth. Such a desperate attack from Senator Biden is to be expected considering I -- Katie Levinson -- have a better chance of becoming President than he does.

Is it me, or is this just a few degrees nastier than the usual rebuttal spin?

Is this what press briefings are going to be like when Giuliani is president -- some nasty Coulter wannabe lashing out at questioners the way the boss lashes out at ferret owners?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I guess that great feminist Laura Bush missed this on her Top This, Hillary! Middle East Tour:

IRAQ: Number of girls attending school dropping, say analysts

Education specialists in Iraq are worried about the low school attendance of girls as it could create a huge educational gap.

"The fear of losing their children through violence has led many families to keep their children at home but the number of girls kept at home is higher because in addition to the security problem, they are being forced by their families to assist in household chores," said Sinan Zuhair, a media officer for the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

"Many families have lost their fathers or mothers and girls are asked to stay at home to help to cook, wash and clean. They are the ones paying the price of the violence since they have to forget about their future to be able to help the lives of their brothers," Zuhair told IRIN....

"This year I was forced to take my two daughters out of school. The main reason is violence. I cannot have one of them killed or raped as has happened with many of their colleagues," said Um Nour Zeid, a mother of four and a resident of Baghdad.

"Since my husband died I need to work outside the home and someone should stay at home to take care of the youngest children and I have no one but them. It is sad to see my two girls losing their future like this but it is better than losing their lives," Um Nour said.

(Via DU.)

Right-wingers are reacting giddily to new information from pollster Scott Rasmussen:

A recent Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey featur[ed] a match-up between Hillary Clinton and Ron Paul...

Among all voters, Clinton attracts 48% support.
Among the voters who have never heard of Ron Paul or don't know enough to have an opinion, guess what. Clinton attracts the exact same total--48% of the vote. So whether or not people have heard of Ron Paul as the challenger, support for Clinton doesn't change....

Looking at other recent match-ups confirms the sense that what we're seeing is primarily a reflection of attitudes about the Democratic frontrunner. In the latest Rasmussen Reports polling, Clinton gets 47% against Fred Thompson, 48% against Mitt Romney, 48% against Mike Huckabee, 44% against Rudy Giuliani, and 44% against John McCain....

The point being, apparently, that Hillary's support can't possibly exceed 48%, even if she's running against the Charles Manson/Paris Hilton ticket.

This leads a blogger called the Influence Peddler to ask, "Is Hillary a sure loser?," and Jim Geraghty of National Review Online to write about Hillary's "cast-iron low ceiling."

Well, if there's a ceiling limiting how high Hillary Clinton's percentage of the vote can go, it's because Republicans and their fellow travelers and enablers in the media have spent fifteen years building the ceiling. Which makes me wonder: When the hell are Democrats going to start building ceilings above Republican candidates? When, for that matter, are they going to start building a ceiling above the Republican Party itself?

For decades, Republicans have lovingly constructed a grotesque, repulsive Democrat caricature that's succeeded in making many people -- not all of them self-styled conservatives -- feel that they couldn't possibly vote Democratic, ever. You know the drill: Godless hippie tax-and-spend socialist America-hating peaceniks. Bizarrely, Bill and Hillary Clinton are regarded as the absolute embodiment of this caricature.

And beyond the caricature, Republicans won't run against any Democratic opponent in a big race without an individualized, road-tested campaign of character assassination. Did you hear Osama -- I mean Obama -- is secretly a Muslim? How about those John Edwards haircuts? And how did John Kerry really get those Purple Hearts -- he shot himself, didn't he?

Right now, you'd think Democrats wouldn't have to resort to lies, half-truths, or innuendo to put a ceiling on Republicans' chances. You'd think all they've have to say about them is: They're Republicans. They're the people who brought you the Iraq War. They're the people who screwed up the Katrina cleanup. They're the people who like our health-care system the way it is. They're the people who want to force your relatives to vegetate in a hospital bed forever.

And you'd think by now the Democrats would have found at least one or two specific lines of attack concerning the GOP front-runners that have the potential to go viral outside lefty-political-maven circles.

But no. Democrats don't play that way. Democrats don't go on offense. Democrats get attacked and scramble to survive.

Usually they don't succeed.

There are exceptions (e.g., 2006), but so far this is a textbook election cycle, with Democrats under attack and Republicans not under attack.

So, yeah, Hillary Clinton has a ceiling. Obama and Edwards would have ceilings, too, if they were front-runners.

But for Romney and Giuliani, it looks as if the sky's the limit.

An Andrew Sullivan post from last night:

Out Of His Mind


"Hillary and Obama are kind of debating whether to invite [Osama bin Laden and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] to the inauguration or the inaugural ball."

This is literally insane. If he is
starting with this kind of unhinged claim, where will he end up?

Truthdig chides Giuliani for saying at the same campaign appearance that, without the Iraq War, Saddam would have nuclear weapons by now, and wonders whether Rudy was in full command of his faculties when he made the inauguration remark:

Historians may one day debate Rudy Giuliani's recent preposterous comments at a New Hampshire town hall meeting. "Did he mean it?" they might ask. "Or was he just dehydrated?" While addressing voters, the candidate said that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were debating whether to invite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Osama bin Laden to their inaugurations....

What I'm thinking is this: For eight years in the 1980s we watched Ronald Reagan get away with preposterous, fact-challenged right-wing pronouncements, the falsity and absurdity of which did nothing to undermine his popularity -- in fact, all that nonsense made him even more popular. And then George W. Bush wound up with two terms in the White House while also seeming unable to grasp basic facts and making absurd pronouncements at the top of his lungs.

So now, after Reagan and W., we've come to associate this kind of thing with a posture of grinning, aw-shucks folksiness and a wardrobe of Western wear. But what if, this time, it's going to come in the form of a tightly wound city boy in a suit who doesn't seem terrified by multi-syllable words?

What if, in other words, the Limbaughnista yahoos and other salt-of-the-earth types are going to rally around Giuliani as the guy we snooty sophisticates think is too dumb to be president? What if he's the guy they're going to accuse us of "misunderestimating"?

Look, I agree: These Giuliani assertions, like many of his other statements, are ridiculous, if not utterly crazy. But I say that reluctantly -- I don't want to say it too loudly or too often, because I don't want to help him get elected.


MORE: Ezra Klein says Giuliani "is out of his goddamn mind." Steve Benen uses the word "unhinged." The ever-popular "batshit insane" is undoubtedly being typed somewhere even as we speak.

Folks, this is just what Giuliani wants us to say. He couldn't have a better selling point going into the Republican primaries, a better way of neutralizing other candidates' advantages on litmus-test issues, than this: Of all the candidates, who makes the liberals howl the loudest? ME!

Sure, we're right -- he's ignorant and he has a screw loose. But we're playing into his hands.

The clout of the Bushies may seem somewhat diminished these days, but they still more or less remember how to do one thing, and they're still trying to do it:

President George W. Bush today announced recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Nation's highest civil award....

Oscar Elias Biscet is a champion in the fight against tyranny and oppression. Despite being persecuted and imprisoned for his beliefs, he continues to advocate for a free Cuba in which the rights of all people are respected....

How many ways does this tap into old-style Rovian wedge-issue politics as we approach a presidential election? Well, Biscet (one of eight recipients of the medal this year) is not just an imprisoned opponent of the Castro regime, he's an imprisoned anti-abortion doctor who's an opponent of the Castro regime.

He's been in prison since 1999. So why the award now?

Well, it comes shortly after the a speech in which Bush denounced the Castro regime -- just a couple of reminders to Cubans in the electoral-vote-rich state of Florida that, hey, Republicans are your friends. The gesture to the anti-abortion crowd is also presumably meant to inspire their votes and their contributions.

An additional subtext is that Cuba is a dictatorship, so pay no attention to the universal health care (and, if possible, associate universal health care with dictatorship) -- a message that comes when Democratic presidential candidates are calling for universal coverage (and Sicko is just about to come out on DVD).

Oh, and some people would call Biscet the antithesis of a certain guy who shows up on T-shirts worn by dirty hippies. Here's National Review back in '04:

...Che Guevara remains an icon throughout much of America, and, indeed, the world.... His image adorns college dormitories and bookstores; Che t-shirts are ubiquitous at every antiwar march and anti-globalization protest. New books about the life of the "revolutionary" are published every year....

In contrast, only a handful of Americans have ever heard of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet. Like Che, Biscet is a physician. He's at least as photogenic. And his life story is arguably more compelling and inarguably more honorable. But don't expect posters of Biscet to grace campus bookstores. There probably won't be any movies about him, and definitely none attended by the glitterati. No college symposia will be dedicated to Biscet's political philosophy....

Of course, all of these messages are rather low-impact. Hardly anyone in America even knows this award is being given.

But turning everything into electoral wedge-issue politics, even ineffectually, is simple what the Bushies do. It's practically all they know how to do.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Last week, I found myself scratching my head over a poll that seemed to suggest that Stephen Colbert would actually take more votes from Rudy Giuliani than from Hillary Clinton. But Tom Hilton cleared everything up: the answer is on Nick at Nite. Thanks, Tom (and everyone else, go read Tom's post if you want to know what the hell I'm talking about).

Remember the bill that was supposed to try to prevent the next Virginia Tech massacre, by making more mental health records part of the process of determining whether a person should be allowed to buy a gun?

Well, not only has it still not passed the Senate -- even though it's backed by the NRA -- but a group that's more hardcore than the NRA, the Gun Owners of America, now has a new name for it:

The Veterans Disarmament Act.

The GOA urges members to write letters to their members of Congress that say, in part,

The Veterans Disarmament Act -- let's call it what it really is -- will result in the disarmament of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of veterans who risked life and limb in defense of our nation.

Now, it's true: among the people who would find it more difficult to get a gun would be veterans who'd been judged to be a danger to themselves or others as a result of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. (Gently steering such people away from firearm ownership would sound like a good idea to most people -- but not to the GOA.)

But if the bill works, non-veterans will be kept from buying guns, too -- among them, we hope, the next would-be Seung-Hui Cho. But the GOA doesn't want you to think about someone like him. There's a war on, so, for the GOA, there's only one thing to do: take advantage of widespread support for the military and use it for political advantage. And do it misleadingly -- obviously not all veterans would be disarmed by this bill, just those who'd been judged to be potentially dangerous with a gun.

Remember that much-mocked internal Democratic Party memo from last week? Oh, you remember:

..."Our message sounds like an audit report on defense logistics," wrote Dave Helfert, a former Appropriations spokesman who now works for Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii). "Why are we defending [the State Children’s Health Insurance Program] instead of advocating a 'Healthy Kids' plan?"

...His memo ... suggests a neurological explanation for Republican message success: By using emotional appeals and warning of dire threats, Republicans can trigger neurons called "amygdalae" in the temporal lobe, which is the seat of the "fight or flight" response in the brain.

"Almost every Republican message contains a simple and direct moral imperative, a stark contrast between good and evil, right and wrong, common sense and fuzzy liberal thinking," Helfert wrote. "Meanwhile, we're trying to ignite passions with analyses of optimum pupil-teacher ratios."

Michelle Malkin may think that's silly. Her ideological soulmates at the GOA don't.

Steve Benen notes this at the Carpetbagger Report:

On CNN yesterday, Mike Huckabee stood by his previous comments, describing legalized abortion as the equivalent of a Holocaust. "I think it is," Huckabee said. "I don't know what else you can call it."

In using this term to describe abortion, Huckabee's just doing what many, many abortion opponents do -- but there does seem to be an odd tendency in the Huckabee household to invoke the Nazi era in ways that aren't commonplace.

Remember last August, when the candidate compared voting for him to saving Jews from the Nazis?

When Mike Huckabee neared the end of his speech to the thousands of Iowans about to vote in the straw poll for Republican presidential candidates Saturday, he drew on a personal experience at a faraway place for inspiration: a family visit to Yad Vashem.

"I wanted them to see what happens when good people just sit back and do nothing, when they don't act," the former Arkansas governor said, "because what happened to the millions of Jews who were killed during the reign of terror under Adolf Hitler in World War II [happened] because a lot of decent people, calling themselves Christians, simply looked the other way."

At the end of the tour of Yad Vashem, Huckabee watched his 11-year-old daughter Sarah, who had been silent throughout the visit, sign the guest book. "She wrote words I'll never forget as long as I live. These are the words she wrote: 'Why didn't somebody do something?'"

..."Ladies and gentlemen, right here in Ames, Iowa, you're the somebody. You can do something," Huckabee said. "You can help this entire country decide that it's not going to elect a president based on the raising of money, but based on the raising of the hopes and the ideas that can make us a better, freer and safer nation." ...

And a few years ago, his wife got into the act. Huckabee had been criticized for setting up a charitable organization in his name while he was lieutenant governor and not divulging the names of the donors. According to The American Spectator (quoting the Arkansas News Bureau), Janet Huckabee

defended secrecy about the donors to her husband's "charity" by saying that a donor's name "wouldn't be enough. [Then] you'd want to know who he was married to, and then his wife would be German descent, and you'd have Mike, you'd have him responsible for 600,000 killings of Jews."



By the way, you should read that AmSpec story if you want a one-stop-shopping version of all the mud (apart from the Wayne DuMond story) that's going to be flung at Huckabee if any rival candidate ever concludes he's worth attacking.

I think no one's attacking him yet because no one's figured out the angles -- Romney isn't bothering because he's still far ahead of Huckabee in Iowa and New Hampshire (the only two states he cares about right now), while Giuliani apparently thinks he's not competing with Huckabee for the same voters (if that's really what he thinks, I think he's wrong). Thompson and McCain, for their part, don't seem to be thinking about what angles to play at all -- instead of trying to pinpoint specific candidates who stand in their way, they both seem to have an electoral strategy that consists of saying, "Well, I'm here," and accepting whatever votes that gets them.

So I heard this story about the ascent of Mike Huckabee on NPR this morning, and now I'm looking at Iowa poll results that show him gaining a lot of ground (though he's still well behind Romney) in Iowa.

Now, let me see if I have the press's master narrative straight: The religious right no longer operates as a voting bloc, but Huckabee is surging because of strong support from ... the religious-right voting bloc.

Is that right? Can anyone help me out with this?

Well, thank God for Mike Allen's blog at the Politico. If Allen hadn't made it his #2 "Must Read" story (as I type), I might have completely missed this vitally important bit of information, which was posted at the Caucus blog of The New York Times last week:

The Thompson Sound Effects

MT. PLEASANT, S.C. — It's a bug.

At least that's what Fred D. Thompson said between harumphs about his very noticeable harumphing this morning in a campaign appearance here at a local restaurant.

But if it is some sort of bug, it is a mighty persistent one, as it is a tic that everyone from television producers fretting about their audio to members of the audience at his speeches have noticed since he declared his candidacy for the presidency back in early September....

Take his response to a question about the size of the military, which went something like this: "Military experts need to tell us (harumph) the exact numbers (harumph) that they think we need (harumph)."

That's when he paused to offer his explanation.

"When you got a four-year-old and a one-year-old at home, there's almost always something going around (harumph)," he said, drawing appreciative laughter from the audience. "It's on its way here right now, I think. Everybody in my house has got it (harumph)."

He offered the same explanation earlier in the week in Celebration, Fla., according to our correspondent, Marc Santora....

But in an interview in Iowa with The Times's national political correspondent, Adam Nagourney, a week before that, ... Mr. Thompson explained that he had drunk coffee with milk in the morning, which his doctors told him had caused throat congestion....


This is incredibly important!

Call it "Phlegm-gate"!!!!

There's an audio link in a sidebar (mp3) that purports to demonstrate the shocking sound effects. I expected some sort of epic, hyperbolic throat clearing that sounded like a Martin Short or Mike Myers geezer on a vintage Saturday Night Live episode. But in the clip Thompson sounds like, well, a normal guy who has to clear his throat more than once.

Aren't you glad mainstream political journalists are taking full advantage of the Internet's infinite bandwidth to give us deeper, richer coverage of American politics?

Coming up next: Barack Obama has a small piece of spinach in his teeth! Does that mean he can't deal effectively with Ahmadinejad?

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Hmmm ... what was I just saying in my last post about America's Southern-derived permanent anti-"elitist" opposition movement, which fought for the Confederacy, defended Jim Crow, denounced evolution along the way, and morphed a couple of decades ago into the religious right?

I think a champion of the mutated movement could easily be Giuliani, with his advisers who chant "Islamofascism!" and his clear contempt for the very urbanity of the city he once ran.

When I wrote that, I hadn't read David Kirkpatrick's New York Times Magazine cover story on the changing religious right, and, well, what do you know -- here's what he says:

Among the evangelicals of suburban Wichita, I found that Giuliani was easily the most popular of the Republican candidates, even among churchgoers who knew his views on abortion and same-sex marriage. Some trusted him to fight Islamic radicalism; others praised his cleanup of New York.

This stuff isn't rocket science, folks. These people just want someone to tell them that they're good, that some other groups of people are purely evil, and that their need to feel utter contempt for other groups of people is virtuous because those other groups are unfit to live. These people have gotten that message from right-wing preachers, but they'll happily get it from Giuliani instead.

And if you want to know whether these people will be able to bring themselves to vote for a pro-choice, pro-gay rights divorced guy who wears dresses, Kirkpatrick quotes a man who attends a Wichita evangelical church on why he has good feelings about Rudy:

"There are a few issues we are on different sides of -- a lot of it is around abortion -- and he is not the most spiritual guy," said Kent Brummer, a retired Boeing engineer leaving services at Central Christian. "But to me that doesn't mean that he would not make a good president, if he represents both sides.

"What I liked about George Bush is all of his moral side and all that," Brummer added. "But somehow he didn't have the strength to govern the way we hoped he would and that he should have."

And there's the formula that could win Giuliani a big evangelical vote: George W. Bush talked about God the way we do, but as president he didn't do what we hoped he'd do. So maybe this time we have to look at people who don't talk about God the way we do, but talk about other issues the way we do.

And since they're still right-wing, and thus still looking for someone who sees the world as made up of good people and utterly evil people, that means a Republican. It doesn't matter how many times Hillary or John Edwards or Barack Obama invokes God -- that's not what these people care about. They care about whether you see everyone in the world as either saved or damned, and truly despise the damned. That might be Fred, might be Mitt, but definitely would be Rudy.

Frank Rich in today's New York Times:

... some ... big names on the right, typified by Sean Hannity of Fox News, are capitulating to the Giuliani candidacy by pretending that he, like the incessantly flip-flopping Mitt Romney, is reversing his previously liberal record on social issues. The straw they cling to is Rudy's promise to appoint "strict constructionist" judges to the Supreme Court.

Even leaving aside the Giuliani record in New York (where his judicial appointees were mostly Democrats), the more Democratic Senate likely to emerge after 2008 is a poor bet to confirm a Scalia or Alito even should a Republican president nominate one.


The Democrats? You think the Democrats will stand tough against a far-right judicial nominee? Oh, Frank, you crack me up.

(Please recall that the Senate vote to confirm Scalia in 1986 was 98-0. No Democrat voted no.)


I also want to address Rich's main point, which is that Rudy Giuliani's continued front-runner status in the GOP -- "the great surprise of the 2008 presidential campaign to date" (er, not to me, Frank) -- is a sign that the religious right is a paper tiger:

...the most obvious explanation is the one that Washington resists because it contradicts the city's long-running story line. Namely, that the political clout ritualistically ascribed to Mr. Perkins, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Gary Bauer of American Values and their ilk is a sham.

These self-promoting values hacks don't speak for the American mainstream. They don't speak for the Republican Party. They no longer speak for many evangelical ministers and their flocks. The emperors of morality have in fact had no clothes for some time. Should Rudy Giuliani end up doing a victory dance at the Republican convention, it will be on their graves.

Well, yes and no. I'm going to stick with my theory: that there's been a long-running battle in this country that goes back at least to the Civil War and Reconstruction, and it's been fought by people who think they're God's People, against Northeastern and (later) West Coast elites, as well as anyone else of a similar mindset. The beliefs of God's People change -- the movement mutates to survive. These people fought the Civil War, resisted Reconstruction, denounced (and still denounce) evolution, fought to preserve segregation, and railed against the later movements for black and Hispanic civil rights, women's rights, and gay rights, as well as the opposition to the Vietnam War.

But you knew this movement could mutate to survive when you saw Strom Thurmond, the old segregationist, supporting the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas, who was not only a black man but a black man with a white wife. To preserve an ideology, these people were willing to support the living embodiment of precisely what they'd railed against just a quarter-century earlier. (Except in certain pockets, the movement has dropped the most blatant forms of racism, just as it dropped anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism along the way, although they all survive in somewhat altered form.)

This movement has been, in the last three decades, in large part a religious-right movement, railing against abortion and gay marriage and stem-cell research and the decision to let Terri Schiavo die. Maybe it's not going to be that anymore. But I don't think that means the movement's dead -- I think that means it's changing. I think a champion of the mutated movement could easily be Giuliani, with his advisers who chant "Islamofascism!" and his clear contempt for the very urbanity of the city he once ran.

So, sure, I can believe the religious right will never again be what it used to be. But it's not dead. It's just evolving.


One more point about the Rich column. He writes:

Since the dawn of the new century, it has been the rarely questioned conventional wisdom, handed down by Karl Rove, that no Republican can rise to the top of the party or win the presidency without pandering as slavishly as George W. Bush has to the most bullying and gay-baiting power brokers of the religious right.

But this goes back further than that. Recall (you can look this up in Bob Woodward's book The Choice) that Colin Powell considered running for president in 1996. One big reason he decided against it was that there were threats to out a member of his family as gay if he chose to run. That was surely because Powell was pro-choice. And even before that, George H.W. Bush in 1988 had to talk about accepting Jesus as his personal savior. That fundies were stern taskmasters in the GOP wasn't just something Karl Rove made up.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


So I'm reading The Nation's much-discussed cover story about the spread of scurrilous, fact-challenged, frequently libelous right-wing e-mails, and early on I encounter this quote:

"It's a Pandora's box," says Jim Kennedy, who served as [Hillary] Clinton's communications director during her first Senate term. "Once [the charges] are out in the ether, they are very hard to combat. It's very unlike a traditional media, newspaper or TV show, or even a blog, which at least has a fixed point of reference. You know they're traveling far and wide, but there's no way to rebut them with all the people that have seen them."

Well, maybe not -- but what prevents the mainstream press, particularly widely read media alpha dogs such as The New York Times, from at least trying to rebut them?

I say this because I was also just reading this story in The New York Observer, which talks about bloggers-turned-journalists such as Brian Stelter (founder of TV Newser and now a Times media blogger) and Danyelle Freeman (whose Restaurant Girl blog got her a gig at the New York Daily News). If major newspapers can give big-media clout to these folks, why couldn't the Times hire, say, the people who run and publish or post their examinations of widely disseminated but under-the-radar political rumors circulating on e-mail -- just as they're beginning to spread, if possible?

Sure, Snopes is doing a fine job on its own -- but even the political blogosphere pays more attention to what's being disseminated by traditional media outlets such as the Times on any given day than to whatever just went up on Snopes. Big-media debunkings of utter claptrap might not kill that claptrap altogether, but they might serve as a fairly significant counterweight.

But, of course, mainstream media types would sooner hire Restaurant Girl because, well, elite journalists like to eat in nice restaurants, and they'd sooner hire the TV Newser guy because he writes about their business, the media business, and they're narcissistic. In addition, both hires might help the papers win upscale eyeballs; hiring the Snopes people to rebut political libel would just be a service to, y'know, democracy. I assume that's not a good enough reason.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Did you get the impression that WellCare Health Plans, the Florida offices of which were just raided by the FBI, was wholly owned and operated by George Soros? If so, then you must have been reading right-wing blogs -- perhaps this post by Michelle Malkin, in which Soros's name appears ten times. (Last sentence: "Welcome to George Soros’s America.")

There's just one small problem with this theory: The company's CEO and finance director were Bush Pioneers in 2004, and the firm and its affiliates have given 34 times as much money to the Florida GOP this year as to the Florida Democratic Party. Oh, and Soros has been out of the picture for a year. Skimble has the details (here and here).

These right-wing Antichrists are slippery little devils, aren't they?

At Pat Robertson's Web site, CBN anchor Lee Webb explains that Mike Huckabee isn't the religious right's dream candidate because he isn't the religious right's dream theologian:

... John Fund, writing in the Opinion Journal of quotes former Texas judge, Paul Pressler ... "I know of no conservative (Huckabee) appointed while he headed the Arkansas Baptist Convention."

That reminded me of a story I reported more than ten years ago on The 700 Club. It involved Huckabee's refusal to sign a bill that described natural disasters like tornadoes and floods as "acts of God." The New York Times quoted Governor Huckabee as saying that signing the legislation "would be violating my own conscience" inasmuch as it described "a destructive and deadly force as being 'an act of God.' "

In an attempt to explain his actions, Huckabee said, "I feel that I have indeed witnessed many 'acts of God,' but I see His actions in the miraculous sparing of life, the sacrifice and selfless spirit in which so many responded to the pain of others." That sounds to me like the kind of sweet, shallow, feel-good theology that drove me away from the liberal denomination in which I was raised....

Hullabaloo's tristero and the Daily Howler's Bob Somerby have raised important points about serious omissions in the Gail Collins column that appeared in yesterday's New York Times, which argued that Huckabee's support for education and children's health programs is costing him religious-right votes -- but whatever the flaws of that column, Collins isn't crazy to think that some religious conservatives may be steering clear of Huckabee at least in part because they think he's a squish. That certainly seems to be the message of this piece by one of Pat Robertson's mouthpieces.

Phil Nugent on George W. Bush:

Bush's presidential career demonstrates that some are born despotic, some achieve despotism, and some have despotism thrust upon him. I think that Bush had it thrust upon him; I really do think that he ran for president partly just to appease his Oedipal issues and partly because he needed to do something with his life and he didn't think he could pass the written test to become a pirate.

From there, Phil says some very astute things about the difference between Bush and bad cop Giuliani, and you should go read the whole thing.

Many people believe the conventional wisdom that you can't possibly win the Republican presidential nomination if you have liberal or moderate position on social issues. You know that I believe differently -- that I think Giuliani has developed a line of kill-the-brutes rhetoric and built up a myth about himself that give him a real chance to win despite the objections of (some) fundamentalists.

The flip side of this argument concerns Mike Huckabee: There's a belief that because he does pass all the fundie litmus tests with flying colors, and is a minister from the South, he could become a first-tier candidate, or a good VP choice for, say, Mitt or Rudy.

I don't believe that -- I think if there's one group you really can't cross in the GOP, it's the pro-business bloc. Oh, sure, you can give the A-listers a scare, a la Pat Buchanan in '92, but that's it. And no one's going to put you on a ticket.

So I've been waiting for the moment when the Republican fragging of Huckabee will begin in earnest -- after all, this is a guy who says,

The first thing we've gotta do as a Republican party is quit being a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wall Street....

A few months ago the Club for Growth was attacking Huckabee in the press and in a TV ad. But today the anti-Huckabee campaign escalates significantly, with a full-on assault by onetime Limbaugh ghostwriter John Fund in The Wall Street Journal. Fund pulls no punches:

...Betsy Hagan, Arkansas director of the conservative Eagle Forum and a key backer of his early runs for office, was once "his No. 1 fan." She was bitterly disappointed with his record. "He was pro-life and pro-gun, but otherwise a liberal," she says. "Just like Bill Clinton he will charm you, but don't be surprised if he takes a completely different turn in office."

Ouch -- he's a liberal! And he's like Bill Clinton! That's gotta hurt.

There's much more.

Phyllis Schlafly, president of the national Eagle Forum, is even more blunt. "He destroyed the conservative movement in Arkansas, and left the Republican Party a shambles," she says. "Yet some of the same evangelicals who sold us on George W. Bush as a 'compassionate conservative' are now trying to sell us on Mike Huckabee."

... "He has zero intellectual underpinnings in the conservative movement," says Blant Hurt, a former part owner of, and columnist for, Arkansas Business magazine. "He's hostile to free trade, hiked sales and grocery taxes, backed sales taxes on Internet purchases, and presided over state spending going up more than twice the inflation rate."

... The Club for Growth notes that only a handful of the 33 current GOP state legislators back their former governor....

And here's the coup de grace:

Rick Scarborough, a pastor who heads Vision America, attended seminary with Mr. Huckabee and is a strong backer. But, he acknowledges, "Mike has always sought the validation of elites."

"The validation of elites." A hit, a palpable hit!

Fund wants to be sure you read that because, to hardcore Republicans, it's one of the worst possible insults. But just in case that didn't finish Huckabee off, Fund gives him one more, for good measure:

Only he and John McCain have endorsed the discredited cap-and-trade system to limit global-warming emissions that has proved a fiasco in Europe.

"It goes to the moral issue," he told an admiring group of environmentalists this month.

"An admiring group of environmentalists"! That's almost as bad as "validation of elites"!

Call 911 -- this guy is suffering massive blood loss. And I predict there's going to be a lot more where that came from if the sense that Huckabee is a threat to the front-runners persists.
(...ha-ha, just kidding)

John McCain is in a fierce uphill battle with Rudy Giuliani for the Republican presidential nomination and he was brutally tortured as a POW during the Vietnam War. So, is he loudly and passionately denouncing Giuliani's glib dismissals of torture this week?

Er, no, as Liz Mair of The American Spectator notes:

... his most recent poke at the ex-Mayor, during a conference call yesterday with bloggers, over whether waterboarding equates to torture, looked more friendly than feisty, with McCain saying, "My friend Rudy should know what waterboarding is, and should know whether it is torture or not."

Well, of course, McCain sold out to the current president on torture, so inevitably he'll be willing to sell out to the next one as well.

Beyond that, the key words there seem to be "My friend Rudy": McCain and Giuliani are huge pals.

Mair wonders what's going on:

... McCain's willingness to play nice with Giuliani looks even more odd considering his frequent, harsh swats at Romney. The McCain-Giuliani chumminess, especially when combined with Giuliani's indications that he'd be backing McCain were he not running, and McCain's praising of Giuliani in debates, therefore raises another possibility. Could McCain be hitting out at Romney in an attempt (however unconscious) to bolster Giuliani's campaign and smash Romney's to smithereens?

I'm not ruling out a VP slot -- the two of them may decide their combined down-the-middle appeal would more than offset the loss of disaffected wingnuts in a general election. Or they might just decide to do it because they like hanging out together a lot.


UPDATE: The New York Times is referring to a separate McCain comment (in a phone interview) as "a sharp rebuke," but here's what he said:

"All I can say is that it was used in the Spanish Inquisition, it was used in Pol Pot's genocide in Cambodia, and there are reports that it is being used against Buddhist monks today," Mr. McCain, who spent more than five years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, said in a telephone interview.

Of presidential candidates like Mr. Giuliani, who say that they are unsure whether waterboarding is torture, Mr. McCain said: "They should know what it is. It is not a complicated procedure. It is torture."

And here's what he said at a campaign stop:

"Anyone who knows what waterboarding is could not be unsure. It is a horrible torture technique used by Pol Pot and being used on Buddhist monks as we speak," said McCain after a campaign stop at Dordt College here. "People who have worn the uniform and had the experience know that this is a terrible and odious practice and should never be condoned in the U.S. We are a better nation than that."

"They." "Anyone." Not "he" or "Mayor Giuliani." It's as if he feels obligated to state his position, but he's terrified at the prospect that his criticism will stick to his pal Rudy.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


From a review of For Love of Politics, a new book about the Clintons by Sally Bedell Smith of Vanity Fair:

...THE BOOK'S EDGE comes primarily from Ms. Smith's brutal dissection of Hillary Clinton's physical appearance. Each time Hillary is summoned forth is a fresh opportunity to the author to describe an attribute she finds repulsive. "Hillary had a large head," Ms. Smith writes early on. She continues, ticking through Ms. Clinton’s figure ("matronly"), her legs ("thick"), her hair ("wild and frizzy"), her glasses ("exceptionally thick"), her overbite, her glasses again ("no-line bifocals") and the "prominent buccal pouches" that pass for cheeks. Hillary's fashion sense and even her interior decorating come in for strafing, too. The tenor of the book is such that when Ms. Smith quotes another journalist as having written that Hillary looks "like a little pig, but cute," it's one of the nicer characterizations of the first lady....

This is our elite political discourse.

I weep for my country.

According to Quinnipiac, Giuliani beats Clinton, Obama, and Edwards in the Sunshine State.

However, all three beat Romney and Thompson. Hillary's biggest lead is 8 points, over Romney.

Do we actually need to start sending money to Mitt's campaign?

At the Carpetbagger Report, Steve Benen discusses Rudy Giuliani's declaration that he can't say with certainty whether waterboarding is torture because he can't trust descriptions of the procedure -- "particularly in the liberal media." (See the transcript of Giuliani's remarks here, and also see this article.)

Steve is appalled at that, as I am -- but I want to point out another part of what Giuliani said about torture that Steve didn't mention:

"And I see, when the Democrats are talking about torture, they're not just talking about even this definition of waterboarding, which again, if you look at the liberal media and you look at the way they describe it, you could say it was torture and you shouldn't do it. But they talk about sleep deprivation. I mean, on that theory, I'm getting tortured running for president of the United States. That’s plain silly. That’s silly."

Sleep deprivation isn't torture? Tell it to Menachem Begin:

Menachem Begin, the Israeli prime minister from 1977-83, was tortured by the KGB as a young man. In his book, White Nights: The Story of a Prisoner in Russia, he wrote of losing the will to resist when deprived of sleep.

"In the head of the interrogated prisoner, a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep... Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it.

"I came across prisoners who signed what they were ordered to sign, only to get what the interrogator promised them.

"He did not promise them their liberty; he did not promise them food to sate themselves. He promised them - if they signed - uninterrupted sleep! And, having signed, there was nothing in the world that could move them to risk again such nights and such days."

Or John Schlapobersky:

John Schlapobersky, consultant psychotherapist to the Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture, was himself tortured through sleep deprivation, in his case in apartheid South Africa in the 1960s.

"Making a programme in which people are deprived of sleep is like treating them with medication that will make them psychotic. It also demeans the experiences of those who have involuntarily gone through this form of torture. It is the equivalent of bear-baiting, and we banned that centuries ago.

"I was kept without sleep for a week in all. I can remember the details of the experience, although it took place 35 years ago. After two nights without sleep, the hallucinations start, and after three nights, people are having dreams while fairly awake, which is a form of psychosis.

"By the week's end, people lose their orientation in place and time - the people you're speaking to become people from your past; a window might become a view of the sea seen in your younger days. To deprive someone of sleep is to tamper with their equilibrium and their sanity."

Or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

In The Gulag Archipelago, ... Solzhenitsen also describes sleep deprivation being used on a prisoner named Anna Skripnikova in 1952: "[The] Chief of the Investigative Department of the Ordzhonikidze State Security Administration, said to her: 'The prison doctor reports you have a blood pressure of 240/120. That’s too low, you bitch! We’re going to drive it up to 340 so you'll kick the bucket, you viper, and with no black and blue marks; no beatings; no broken bones. We'll just not let you sleep.' And if, back in her cell, after a night spent in interrogation, she closed her eyes during the day, the jailer broke in and shouted: 'Open your eyes or I'll haul you off that cot by the legs and tie you to the wall standing up.'" Elsewhere, Solzhenitsen writes: "Sleeplessness . . . befogs the reason, undermines the will, and the human being ceases to be himself, to be his own 'I.'"

Or 86-year-old Cyril Gilbert, who was asked to comment when Philip Ruddock, Australia's attorney general, said sleep deprivation isn't torture:

DURING World War II, Australian Diggers were subject to sleep deprivation when captured by the Japanese.

The victim is kept awake for days on end by being either shaken awake or forced awake by noise or light.

The 86-year-old former PoW Cyril Gilbert said he was tortured by the Japanese on the Thai-Burma border using sleep deprivation.

"You don't know whether you are coming or going. You don't know whether you are going forwards or backwards", Mr Gilbert said.

"I was lucky that I was only kept awake for a couple of days at a time. Others were kept awake a lot longer than that."

And what did he make of Ruddock's support of the technique? "He's never experienced anything, has he?" Mr Gilbert asked rhetorically.

That last remark fits chickenhawk Giuliani, doesn't it? Apart from not getting a full eight hours every night on the campaign trail, he's never experienced anything, has he?


(9/11? Giuliani witnessed it, but he suffered no physical pain as a result. Even his cancer treatment caused, in his words, "remarkably little pain.")

The extreme views of Rudy Giuliani and his foreign policy team are getting bad press, so an article in today's New York Times raises the issue ... only to assert in its lead paragraphs that Rudy isn't, y'know, nuts, and if he is up to a point, well, hey, is that really so terrible?

First, the raising of the issue:

Rudolph W. Giuliani's approach to foreign policy shares with other Republican presidential candidates an aggressive posture toward terrorism, a commitment to strengthening the military and disdain for the United Nations.

But in developing his views, Mr. Giuliani is consulting with, among others, a particularly hawkish group of advisers and neoconservative thinkers.

Their positions have been criticized by Democrats as irresponsible ...

And now the downplaying of it (emphasis mine):

...and applauded by some conservatives as appropriately tough, while raising questions about how closely aligned Mr. Giuliani's thinking is with theirs.

Mr. Giuliani’s team includes Norman Podhoretz, a prominent neoconservative who advocates bombing Iran "as soon as it is logistically possible"; Daniel Pipes, the director of the Middle East Forum, who has called for profiling Muslims at airports and scrutinizing American Muslims in law enforcement, the military and the diplomatic corps; and Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who has written in favor of revoking the United States’ ban on assassination.

The campaign says that the foreign policy team, which also includes scholars and experts with different policy approaches, is meant to give Mr. Giuliani a variety of perspectives.

Based on his public statements, Mr. Giuliani does not share all of their views and parts company with traditional neoconservative thinking in some respects. But their presence has reassured some conservatives who have expressed doubts about Mr. Giuliani's positions on issues like abortion and gun control, and underscored his efforts to cast himself as a tough-minded potential commander in chief....

So relax! He's just that lovable guy in a dress! He's not scary at all! Or he is scary, but in a tough way!

The Times says Giuliani "parts company with traditional neoconservative thinking" -- in what ways exactly? Well, here's what we're told:

... Mr. Giuliani has distanced himself somewhat from what was once a central neoconservative tenet, the belief that the United States could spread democracy through the Middle East.

But here's Daniel Pipes on Middle East democracy:

When the president first announced the goal of increasing political participation in the Middle East, I applauded, even as I warned against the overly-abrupt replacement of tyranny with democracy, urging that the process be done slowly and cautiously. Noting that the actual implementation empowered Islamists, I assigned it a failing grade.

And in Iraq, Pipes reminds us that he

urged that elections be delayed and that authority be turned over to a democratically-minded Iraqi strongman.

So where's the disagreement?

And here's the huge gap between Giuliani and Norman Podhoretz on Iran, according to the Times:

Asked in a recent interview if he agreed with Mr. Podhoretz that the time to bomb Iran has already come, Mr. Giuliani said: "From the information I do have available, which is all public source material, I would say that that is not correct, we are not at that stage at this point. Can we get to that stage? Yes. And is that stage closer than some of the Democrats believe? I believe it is."

One thinks we should bomb immediately ... and the other thinks we might need to bomb very, very soon! Wow, what a pitched battle! It's a wonder that Giuliani and the Pod are even on speaking terms!

You can get the information you need from the Times story, but the attempt at "balance" serves the Giuliani campaign more than it does the truth.


Speaking of Podhoretz, you have to get to the last two paragraphs of the Podhoretz profile in this week's New York Observer for the real eyebrow-raisser: Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Podhoretz thinks that the creation of an independent Palestinian state would now only create another terrorist state.

Instead, America should be working to overthrow governments in Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt and "every one of the despotic regimes in that region, by force if necessary and by nonmilitary means if possible," he said. "They are fronts of the war. You can't do everything at once. And to have toppled two of those regimes in five years or six years is I think a major achievement. And maybe George Bush won’t be able to carry it further, but I think he will. It may have just been given to him to start act one of the five-act play."

So does Rudy agree with this or doesn't he? (Elsewhere in the profile, the Pod says he doesn't see much daylight at all between Rudy's views and his own.)

Don't let 'em get on you:

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Sixteen state lawmakers have joined Rep. Rex Duncan, R-Sand Springs, in refusing a gift copy of the Quran.

The holy book of the Muslim religion was offered as a centennial gift by the Governor's Ethnic American Advisory Council, made up of American Muslims from Middle East countries....

Whoops -- now the number of refusers is up to 24:

Two dozen Oklahoma lawmakers plan to return copies of the Quran to a state panel on diversity after a lawmaker claimed the Muslim holy book condones the killing of innocent people....

"Most Oklahomans do not endorse the idea of killing innocent women and children in the name of ideology," Rep. Rex Duncan said.

He said he has researched the Quran on the Internet and believes it supports such killing.

"That's exactly what it says," Duncan said. "I think it's pretty straightforward. By their own admission those are the exact words...."

Good heavens! What kind of religion would advocate the killing of innocent women and children?

Oh yeah -- the one that gave us Deuteronomy 20:16-17.

However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them -- the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites -- as the LORD your God has commanded you.

Or Deuteronomy 7:1-2.

When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations -- the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you -- and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.

(There are a few more fun Bible quotes here.)

One legislator made what seems to me to be the only legitimate objection to this Quran distribution -- that a government-sponsored organization shouldn't be handing out any religious materials, Muslim, Christian, or otherwise.

...ha-ha, I made a joke: No one, as far as I can determine, has said anything like that. All the objections stem from the fear of getting Islam germs.

Gosh, why do they hate us? I simply can't imagine.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Rasmussen Reports just did a poll testing the appeal of Stephen Colbert as a real third-party presidential candidate. Results of Colbert vs. the two front-runners:

Hillary Clinton (D) 45%
Rudy Giuliani (R) 35%
Stephen Colbert (I) 13%

Now here are results released October 12 from a Rasmussen poll pitting the two front-runners head to head:

Hillary Clinton (D) 48%
Rudy Giuliani (R) 41%

Hunh? With Colbert in the race, Giuliani's percentage goes down more than Clinton's? His goes down 6% while hers goes down only 3%?

Bizarre. The only explanation I have for this is in the post title. Any other ideas?

Also on the subject of Giuliani (and Hillary Clinton), there's this Politico story by David Paul Kuhn, which seems awfully premature:

On its current trajectory, the race for president in 2008 may turn voters into children of divorce -- forced to choose between Mom and Dad.

... Many strategists expected that Hillary Rodham Clinton ... would decide to play down policies, rhetoric and campaign imagery that would remind voters -- especially skeptical male voters -- of traditionally feminine roles or issue priorities.

Rudy Giuliani, meanwhile, was supposed to have the opposite gender challenge. His image as the crime-busting mayor who rallied his stricken city after Sept. 11 gave him plenty of credibility on strength. What he needed, the thinking went, was to show voters -- especially wary female voters -- a softer and more empathetic side.

As it happens, the expectation that Clinton and Giuliani would spend much of their time playing against type when it comes to gender politics has turned out to be mostly wrong....

But this is silly. Right now, both candidates are trying to win nominations. In the general election they're both going to sound different -- and anyone who assumes Giuliani can't tone down the bluster to win the votes of soccer moms (or at least security moms) is being naive.

Here's what Kuhn says about Giuliani:

...He will be running in the dusk of the Bush era, a time when the traditional masculine political archetype that benefited Republicans for decades may have lost credibility with some voters because of the current administration’s failures on Iraq and Hurricane Katrina.

Giuliani, Faludi posited, may find that, "Maybe it was a mistake to bet on 10-gallon-hat politics."

But he won't be betting exclusively on 10-gallon hat politics. If you think that's all he's capable of, go here and listen to some clips of Giuliani talking to Oprah not long after 9/11. If you're pressed for time, go straight to the clip titled "It helps me to be needed by other people." (Or just consider the fact that he actually said, "It helps me to be needed by other people." To Oprah.)

Giuliani is nasty and snappish -- sometimes. People who know he has a temper are (unfortunately) disarmed when it doesn't manifest itself. In softball interviews, it won't manifest itself -- and voters who aren't looking for a blusterer will (unfortunately) respond. Democrats will really be making a huge mistake if they think he can't convincingly act like a sensitive guy.

Ann Althouse frequently deserves the mockery she gets from the left blogosphere, but I'm grateful to her for looking at the new L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll and spotting some results that are utterly illogical -- but, alas, not surprising -- in the PDF of the poll's data.

First, there's this:

About one-third of GOP voters said they would consider supporting a third-party candidate in the general election if the party nominee supported abortion and gay rights.

Which has to be extremely bad news for Rudy Giuliani, right? Er, no, not really, because there's also this:

[A]mong the 34% of Republican primary voters who would consider a third party candidate if the candidate chosen is not conservative enough, Giuliani received more support than the other candidates.

Can you follow that? Can you fathom that? Respondents are asked what they'll do if their nominee isn't conservative enough -- clearly a reference to Giuliani, though no names are named -- and when some say they'd vote third party, the top third-party choice is Giuliani himself!

Wait, there's more:

Although Giuliani is pro-choice and favors civil unions, among those who want abortion to be illegal 35% would still vote for the former mayor; among voters who want same-sex couples to neither marry nor join in civil unions, 24% are also supporting him. He gets the most votes in both of these groups.

Yes, the most votes.

Althouse falls back on the usual explanation: These Republican voters just don't know the truth about Giuliani yet. A lot of you probably agree with that.

And regular readers know my theory: These Republican voters don't want to know the truth about Giuliani. They're hearing it, but they're refusing to process it. They're so desperate for the hero (and winner) they think Rudy is that they don't want to let a few silly core moral principles get in the way. But they don't think they're rejecting their core moral principles. They're just doing a sort of psychic doubling, telling themselves that some principles are inviolable, then violating them with their presidential choice, because he's so manly.

Here's a rule to follow: When you read poll results referring to an unnamed candidate who fits Rudy's description, do not assume that those results apply to Rudy himself.

Yesterday Mitt Romney "inadvertently" used Barack Obama's name while describing an Osama bin Laden videotape -- and Eric Schulzke of the AOL blog Political Machine thinks he spoke the truth: the error that substantively wrong? so much humor, intentional or un, it is funny partly because it rests on a grain of truth. Who is mad as hell that we are in Iraq? Obama and Osama. Who would have us pull out without waiting to stabilize the country? Obama and Osama....

Look, I give props to Obama for having opposed going in. I think he was right, in retrospect. But once we are there, the real question is when and how we get out. He appears to have no answer to this question. At least no answer with which Osama would not agree.

This is acceptable political discourse -- but don't you dare compare Bush to Hitler!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Wanna have some fun? Find some right-wingers and tell them about this story, which is currently a big deal on the local news around here:

Store Clerk Fights Off Would-Be Robber With Ax

Suffolk County police say a feisty Long Island store clerk refused a gunman's demands for money and instead chased him out with an ax.

The suspect entered the Southhaven Convenience store shortly after 8 p.m. Saturday, wearing a mask and demanding money.

The clerk ... retrieved the ax from under the counter and began swinging it, chasing the man out of the store empty-handed.

...As she put it: "I said to myself, 'I'm not giving him money.'" ...

After the right-wingers have finished telling you what a great woman this store clerk is and what a pathetic liberal candy-ass you are if you don't agree, tell them a little bit more about her:

Her name is Hafize Sahim.

And as you can see on the surveillance-camera video, she wears a veil.

Now watch the right-wingers' heads explode.

I see that Brian Ross and Avni Patel at ABC News are writing about Alan Placa, the accused molester priest who's a friend of Rudy Giuliani. I've mentioned his name several times on this blog, but the one article to read on the Placa case if you're going to read just one is this 2002 Newsday story, archived at, or go there and search "Placa." If the accusations are correct, Placa is not only a molester but an enabler of molesters, as legal counsel for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, Long Island. Giuliani has never turned his back on Placa; we'll see if renewed scrutiny of Placa changes that.

Oopsie -- Mitt Romney made an oh-so-convenient verbal boo-boo:

... In the midst of criticizing [Senator Barack] Obama and other Democrats on foreign and economic policy Tuesday, the GOP presidential hopeful said:

"Actually, just look at what Osam -- Barack Obama -- said just yesterday. Barack Obama, calling on radicals, jihadists of all different types, to come together in Iraq. That is the battlefield. ... It's almost as if the Democratic contenders for president are living in fantasyland. Their idea for jihad is to retreat, and their idea for the economy is to also retreat. And in my view, both efforts are wrongheaded."

Romney apparently was referring to an audiotape aired Monday in which a speaker believed to be terrorist Osama bin Laden called for insurgents in Iraq to unite and avoid divisions....

Over at the Carpetbagger Report, Steve Benen says,

this sounds intentional.

Nahhhh! You think?

Actually, I think what happened is that Mitt Romney used to know the difference between the senator from Illinois and the world's most wanted terrorist ... but he concluded that Republican voters would prefer him not to know the difference -- so he changed his position.

Right-wingers keep telling us that Iran is days, at most, from establishing complete control of the known world and requiring mandatory burqa-wearing, foot-washing, and suicide terrorism (I may be exaggerating slightly), but apparently that same world-historically mighty superpower can't beat a few scruffs in the mountains:

...Salih Shevger, an Iranian Kurdish guerrilla, was interviewed recently as he lay flat on a slab of rock atop a 10,000-foot mountain on the Iran-Iraq border, with binoculars pressed to his face as he kept watch on Iranian military outposts perched on peaks about four miles away.

He and his comrades recounted how they ambushed an Iranian patrol between the bases a few days before, killing three soldiers and capturing another....

The guerrillas from the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan, or P.J.A.K., have been waging a deadly insurgency in Iran and they are an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known as the P.K.K., the Kurdish guerrillas who fight Turkey.

... interviews with guerrillas suggest that they have inflicted considerable damage on Iran. While it is impossible to verify the claims, the leader of the P.K.K., Murat Karayilan, said the P.J.A.K. fighters had killed at least 150 Iranian soldiers and officials in Iran since August. And Biryar Gabar says 108 Iranians were killed in August alone....

I'm oversimplifying somewhat, because these aren't just a few scruffs in the mountains -- they appear to be a few scruffs in the mountains with U.S. backing:

... while the Americans call the P.K.K. terrorists, guerrilla commanders say P.J.A.K. has had "direct or indirect discussions" with American officials. They would not divulge any details of the discussions or the level of the officials involved, but they noted that the group's leader, Rahman Haj-Ahmadi, visited Washington last summer.

Biryar Gabar, one of 11 members of the group's leadership, said there had been "normal dialogue" with American officials, declining specifics. One of his bodyguards said officials of the group met with Americans in Kirkuk last year.

Iranian officials have accused the United States of supplying the fighters and using them in a proxy war, though those assertions were denied by the American military.

The U.S. denial is unconvincing and weirdly worded:

"The consensus is that U.S. forces are not working with or advising the P.J.A.K.," said an American military spokesman in Baghdad, Cmdr. Scott Rye of the Navy.

Now, here's where I get confused. We don't like the PKK (because it's attacking our ally Turkey), but we do seem to like the PJAK (which is attacking Iran), even though it's a PKK offshoot and you can go to the head of the PKK to get the PJAK's body counts.

What's more, the two groups seem to have very similar PR campaigns going on. Today's article (from The New York Times) is accompanied by this carefully staged photo, which puts female PJAK fighters in the foreground.

(Caption in the print Times, where this photo appears above the fold on page one: Kurdish guerrillas, some of whom are women, have been waging an insurgency in the mountains straddling the Iran-Iraq border.)

This came just after the appearance of a story about the PKK in Rupert Murdoch's Times of London: "The Women Rebels Who Are Ready to Fight and Die for the Kurdish Cause."

Same script, two ostensibly different groups?

I only know what I read in the papers, but I find myself wondering if it's even possible to work with the PJAK without getting tangled up with the PKK -- which makes me wonder whether the U.S. government even cares about the consequences (i.e., infuriating a NATO ally whose help is critical in keeping our precious Iraq war going), as long as aid is provided to an enemy of Iran.

I've always felt that it was inaccurate and pointless to refer to any American outside the neo-Nazi fringes as "fascist" -- but Christopher Hitchens, in his new Slate column, is making me think I may have been overly fastidious.

In the column Hitchens defends the use of the term "Islamofascist," making it clear that he thinks it's OK to call a non-fascist group "fascist" if its ideology is only only more or less like fascism. Close apparently counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and the enjoyably contemptuous use of the term "fascist."

And, well, Hitchens persuades me that some pockets of America -- particularly the bloc of Americans who over the years have fought the Civil War, anti-evolution battles, the battle to retain Jim Crow, and, more recently, the religious and anti-liberal culture wars -- are kinda-sorta fascist, and therefore close enough to deserve the label.

Here's Hitchens, referring to real fascists and "Islamofascists":

The most obvious points of comparison would be these: Both movements are based on a cult of murderous violence that exalts death and destruction and despises the life of the mind. ("Death to the intellect! Long live death!" as Gen. Francisco Franco's sidekick Gonzalo Queipo de Llano so pithily phrased it.)

Well, the Americans I'm talking about don't have a cult of murderous violence, but many of them do obsess over that damn Civil War. And many of them aren't very fond of the life of the mind. So we're close.

Both are hostile to modernity (except when it comes to the pursuit of weapons), and both are bitterly nostalgic for past empires and lost glories.


Both are obsessed with real and imagined "humiliations" and thirsty for revenge.

Bingo again.

Both are chronically infected with the toxin of anti-Jewish paranoia (interestingly, also, with its milder cousin, anti-Freemason paranoia).

There's less of that than you'd think among the Americans I'm thinking of, but it's there in some pockets.

Both are inclined to leader worship and to the exclusive stress on the power of one great book.

Ayup and ayup.

Both have a strong commitment to sexual repression -- especially to the repression of any sexual "deviance" -- and to its counterparts the subordination of the female and contempt for the feminine. Both despise art and literature as symptoms of degeneracy and decadence; both burn books and destroy museums and treasures.

Well, only a few Americans want to stone gays or adulterers to death. We have no burqas. We don't destroy museums or burn more than the occasional book. But there's antsiness (and often much more than that) about all of these matters here in America, so it's a difference of degree.

Fascism (and Nazism) also attempted to counterfeit the then-success of the socialist movement by issuing pseudo-socialist and populist appeals....


There isn't a perfect congruence. Historically, fascism laid great emphasis on glorifying the nation-state and the corporate structure. There isn't much of a corporate structure in the Muslim world, where the conditions often approximate more nearly to feudalism than capitalism, but Bin Laden's own business conglomerate is, among other things, a rogue multinational corporation with some links to finance-capital....

And here's where Hitchens says close is good enough if you're going to say "fascist." He's pointing to an area where Islamic extremists aren't particularly fascist at all -- but it's OK because, he says, bin Laden is sort of like a top-tier CEO. Your thoughts, Dick Cheney?

Look, folks, I'm being facetious. I don't believe in calling the jihadists "fascists" and I don't believe in calling the Bushies or American right-wingers "fascists." I object for the same reason I object to the use of the word "evil" -- both "evil" and "fascist" are words deployed by rabble-rousers to turn off reason in your brain and make you crave pleasing fantasies of vengeance. And, as D. Sidhe notes in the comments to my post on the word "evil," the use of that term helps us persuade ourselves that whatever we do is acceptable:

"Evil" also becomes a way to differentiate--and ultimately excuse--the things our nation is doing (torture, rape of prisoners, indefinite detention without due process, bombing civilians, stealing the wealth of a nation while depriving it of even basics like clean water and power)from the things that Saddam or bin Laden or Ahmadinejad have done.

They're evil, that's why they do these things. We're just doing what we have to do to stay safe, so we're not evil, even when the cited actions are quite similar. That's why they deserve to be annihilated for their cruelty, and we deserve to be praised for our courage.

Ticking off rationalizations for the use of these words is not good enough. These words are aimed straight at the emotions.