Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Today's New York Times reports on John McCain's health insurance proposals; if you haven't read the article, I'm not spoiling much when I tell you that his plan clones much of Bush's health-care approach, which means it throws people on the mercy of the market, and what subsidies it provides are inadequate if the goal is ensuring that all Americans (or even more Americans) are covered.

If you haven't read it, you absolutely need to read this post from Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings, which totes up the plan's deficiencies. (On the question of what a private citizen in Elizabeth Edwards's condition would get out of this plan, she'd get, well, another year older and quite possibly about $100,000 in debt.) Really, read it.

What I can add is purely political. I note this in the Times article:

"I'll work tirelessly to address the problem," Mr. McCain said in a speech here at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute. "But I won't create another entitlement program that Washington will let get out of control. I won't do it...."

If I were a Democratic candidate, in addition to denouncing the McCain plan along the lines of what's in Hilzoy's post, I'd also react to the pronouncement above. Here's what I'd say:

When John McCain talks about entitlement programs that are out of control, you know what he's referring to, don't you? He's referring to Social Security. He's referring to Medicare. Programs like that.

Now I know some of you are collecting Social Security benefits, and some of you are on Medicare. I know some of you have parents and grandparents who are benefiting from Social Security and Medicare.

How many of you think you and your parents and your grandparents are what's wrong with this country? John McCain does. How many of you think you and your parents and your grandparents are the greedy ones whose benefits are out of control? John McCain thinks so.

John McCain doesn't think tax cuts to the rich are the problem. John McCain thinks your grandma and grandpa are the problem.

Do you think your grandma and grandpa are the problem? ...

Establishment wonks will, of course, argue that your grandma and grandpa are the problem, at which point Paul Krugman will tell them they're full of it.

This isn't a wonkish, nuanced riff. Nothing wrong with that. This is politics.

A new SurveyUSA poll has Barack Obama's lead down to 5% in North Carolina among likely voters.

Kos puts that in context here (Survey USA polls have consistently shown the race to be tighter than other polls, and that's still the case) -- but I have to confess there's a part of me that wishes Clinton would finish what she's started and take the nomination.

Yeah, really. It's for a number of reasons. Primarily it's because it's now clear that a Democrat probably won't win in November no matter who it is, but at least the recriminations following a Clinton defeat will focus on dynastic politics and the widespread negative feelings about Clinton and her husband, rather than on the notion that Obama was dangerously liberal/radical and dangerously nonwhite and dangerously elite/effete and we can't ever make that kind of mistake again, so we'd better go looking for the most Republican Lite, boilermaker-drinker-friendly/Bubba-friendly candidate we can find in 2012, someone who'll be anathema to all those progressives and bloggers and other assorted scum.

After an Obama loss we'll also hear, endlessly and erroneously, that Clinton was fully vetted and wouldn't have been subjected to the toxic-waste tsunami that Obama's facing, whereas a Clinton defeat will make clear even to obtuse purveyors of conventional wisdom that Republican run sewer campaigns no matter what and simply adjust the details depending on the target, details the press dutifully retransmits as a way of assuaging its guilt over being "liberal."

Of course, I'm second-guessing my support for Obama because it's seeming much less likely these days that he can find a way to defeat or do an end run around GOP character-assassination politics. He didn't seem ready for the Wright brouhaha or the flag/hand-over-heart nonsense or the Muslim rumors or the mutterings about William Ayers; he hasn't really neutralized any of those stories the old-fashioned way, and I'm not seeing signs that he engenders goodwill sufficient to rally 50.1% of the country against a political culture that obsesses over such distractions.

Sorry -- I'd like to see Obama get up off the mat. I'd like to see evidence that he's building a coalition big enough and loyal enough that they're going to reject what's happening to him now resoundingly at the ballot box in November. I'd like the story at that time to be that he took some body blows but he's so damn inspirational and his critique of our system is so persuasive that American politics turned the page. But right now it looks as if, as the saying goes, age and treachery are overcoming youth and skill. So what the hell, maybe we should just run age and treachery, and watch that combination lose to even greater age and much, much greater treachery.


(Poll and Kos links via Greg T., in comments to my previous post.)

It might surprise you to learn that Barack Obama has the support of Marty Peretz. To say the least, it's a mixed blessing. At his New Republic blog, Peretz has posted a response to Obama's remarks on Jeremiah Wright titled "Barack Obama: Putting Race Hustlers Out of Work."

...Wright is a side-show, a freak side-show that is propped up by other black hustlers -- Cornell West comes to mind, ok, a philosophical black hustler -- who are afraid that Obama has so deeply touched a nerve among white Americans that they will soon be out of work forever.

When I read something like this, I find myself thinking that the Obama experiment is doomed to failure, and might be with any African-American who hopes to stand for reconciliation.

People like Peretz don't want to sort through the arguments and pronouncements of black public figures, engaging some of them and critiquing others. They want any black person who makes them uncomfortable to just go away -- and they were counting on Obama to be the banisher. They feel Wright (and Sharpton and Jackson, the usual subjects of remarks like these) have nothing constructive to offer -- and yet, even as they refuse to engage them, they consider them an ever-present threat.

This isn't how they react to comparable white public figures. Jeremiah Wright suspects the U.S. government created the AIDS virus; John Hagee has crackpot notions about Catholics and about the biblical necessity of a war with Iran; and many culturally conservative white religious leaders, obviously, don't believe in evolution. Yet the Marty Peretzes of the world don't make driving the creationists and the Hagees from the public square a litmus test for conservative white politicians -- in fact, conservative white politicians embrace these divisive figures, and it's just expected, and most people just shrug.

Shelby Steele calls Obama a "bargainer" -- someone who "make[s] the subliminal promise to whites not to shame them with America's history of racism, on the condition that they will not hold the bargainer's race against him." But people like Peretz are expecting Obama to do something bigger than that -- they're expecting him to supplant every black person who emphasizes white racism. Obama is expected to make these people not exist anymore. And I'm afraid his failure to banish them into non-existence is always going to be held against him, which is why I fear he may never be able to put Wright behind him.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


It's scheduled to appear tomorrow, and I think it's going to be called "The Pansies of April." Starting with North Carolina governor Mike Easley's words of praise for Hillary Clinton -- that she "makes Rocky Balboa look like a pansy" -- Dowd's going to Google some information about growing the pansy and do an extended horticulture/masculinity riff suggesting that delicate flower Obama bloomed early (pansies bloom "until hot weather arrives") but then decided to "man up" (there's a 99% chance she'll use that phrase, even though it screws up her metaphor) and de-pansify himself by denouncing Jeremiah Wright (whom she's 68% certain to call "the skunk in the garden").

That's as far as I've gotten. Anyone else have any thoughts?


UPDATE: I recommend dnA's MoDo column in comments -- very nasty.


UPDATE: Well, dnA wins, and it's not even close. dnA channeling Dowd:

Delicate hands trembling, the only genuine rage Obama could muster is towards the suggestion that his earlier condemnation of Wright was a "political move," perhaps the only thing the singing crack pot said that was true.

The real Dowd:

But in the end, it was Wright showing "disrespect" by implying that Obama was a phony that sparked the candidate’s slow-burning temper. "What I think particularly angered me," he said, "was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks was somehow political posturing."


Of course, Obama standing on that stage in North Carolina, looked desperately in need of a pack of Kools and glass of merlot as he threw Reverend Wright under the bus with his grandmother.


Speaking to reporters in the heart of tobacco country in Winston-Salem, N.C., the poor guy looked as if he were dying for a smoke.

But dnA's is funnier on purpose than Dowd is inadvertently. (She's mostly in faux-somber mode -- I should have known she'd get faux-somber, as if she still has painful memories of watching a nun in her grade school whack a kid's hand with a steel ruler for saying "nigger" while issuing a stern lecture about how God sees all souls as equal, even those of Negroes -- or maybe it's just that Dowd didn't want to put the boot in full force while Obama's still standing and there's still a Hillary to be slain.) Oh, and there's no talk of pansies, so I wasn't even close. So a round of applause for dnA.

From Media Matters:

Wash. Post uncritically quoted NC voter's assertion that Obama "will refuse to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance" if elected president

...In an April 28 article on record-breaking Democratic voter registration figures,
The Washington Post uncritically quoted one voter's assertion that "[f]rom what I can tell, if he [Sen. Barack Obama] becomes president he will refuse to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance." The voter, North Carolina resident Al Landsberg -- who, according to the Post, receives "frequent political e-mails, most of them critical of Obama" -- was apparently referring to a chain email containing a photograph of Obama that appeared in Time magazine. In that photo, Obama was standing but did not have his hand placed over his heart. Moreover, a caption below the photograph indicated that it was taken during the national anthem -- not the Pledge of Allegiance....

Yes, I realize you know all about this and you don't need me to remind you that the right is never, ever going to stop trying to defeat Obama by fooling the rubes with it. (Not that I want to insult Mr. Landsburg by calling him a rube, but, as the Post article notes, he does pronounce the Illinois senator's surname "Embowa.")

I bring this up because I want to know what John McCain does when he hears the national anthem -- and I'm certain the media can answer that question:

... by all accounts, [Rudy] Giuliani and [John] McCain are legitimate pals, friends since 1998. When the New York Yankees lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series, the two even attended six of the seven games together.

Not only was this the World Series, but this one that involved a New York team playing just after 9/11. McCain sat next to Giuliani, who was one of the most famous people in the world at that moment.

Thus, there must have been still and video cameras on the two of them every minute of every one of those six games.

So since this hand-over-heart question has become one of the central issues in American political life -- bigger, apparently, than the war or economy (even though Obama has been photographed with hand on heart during the pledge at other times) -- shouldn't the media spend hours combing through photo morgues and video archives to determine whether John McCain put his hand over his heart at each of the six games of the '01 Series when the national anthem was played? Doesn't America need to know this?

...Whoops, I forgot. America doesn't need to know this about McCain. America only needs to know this about the Democratic front-runner, just as America doesn't need to know whether the people who talk about Barack Obama and the flag pin actually wear flag pins themselves.

Sorry. Never mind.

In a Salon forum titled "What Should Obama Do About Rev. Jeremiah Wright?," Robert George of the New York Post writes:

Wright's Jekyll and Hyde nature is inevitably damaging to Obama. At his best -- as he was in much of the NAACP speech and with some aspects of the National Press Club appearance -- Wright comes across as a man of some scholarly depth and sense of American history (the good and the bad). At his worst, however (as, arguably, he was during the press club Q-and-A), he comes across as angry, dismissive and flip (not in a good way).

The Obama many Americans have come to appreciate is similar to the "good Wright." What must unnerve many of those who have voted for Obama or are open to voting for him is the fear that there exists a "Mr. Hyde-Wright" lurking in Obama.

There's the irony: the Obama-bashers on the right and in the Clinton camp want you to think that Obama has a secret angry side that's a lot like Wright's, while some of us (me at least) wish a little of that aspect of Wright had rubbed off on Obama all these years.

I woke up yesterday, and we were in the thick of the media's Wrightapalooza, and Hillary Clinton was taunting Obama about debating from flatbed trucks, and the image of Obama was a guy who was just besieged and helpless. Righties and Clintoniacs think Wright's crazier ideas rubbed off on Obama? Not even his style did. Obama heard Wright for twenty years and didn't seem to pick up any of Wright's merry pugnaciousness. Yes, at this moment Wright's out of control, but a bit of that pugnaciousness -- directed at the distraction-crazed press, at John McCain and the Republicans, at Clinton -- would do Obama a world of good right now.

Right now, Obama needs to do things that write the headlines; instead, he's just the unfortunate subject of them. Clinton has been skillful lately at feeding the media beast what it wants, and the press is (Tuzla excepted) writing the stories the way she set out to have them written. Wright is making his own headlines as well. Obama needs to be a little more like Clinton and Wright.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Joe Klein, in response to Reverend Jeremiah Wright's appearance at the National Press Club (emphasis mine):

...worse, Wright's purpose now seems quite clear: to aggrandize himself--the guy is going to be a go-to mainstream media source for racial extremist spew, the next iteration of Al Sharpton--and destroy Barack Obama.

I love the way Klein says this, as if the media has absolutely no choice in this matter -- as if, even long after Barack Obama (in all likelihood) loses this election, the press will just have to put Wright's bloviations in print and on the air every few weeks or months.

The press doesn't need a go-to racial provocateur any more than it needs a go-to believer in the flat-earth theory; the only reason the press even wants one is that Two Minutes' Hates are exciting television (and/or are useful to right-wing moguls who use their media properties to advance their political agendas).

Maybe Klein would acknowledge all this if you pressed him on it, but he had a chance in this post to make the point that giving provocateurs the floor regardless of whether they contribute to the debate is bad for America, and he blew that chance.

In the current freak-show culture, it was probably naive of the city of New York to think that it could get away with establishing a school where students would learn the Arabic language but would otherwise be taught the standard public-school curriculum, especially when the school was named after a gentleman of the Middle Eastern persuasion (even if Kahlil Gibran was actually a Lebanese Christian) and the principal was a headscarf-wearing Muslim (even if she was well regarded outside the Arab-Muslim community), but (as reported in today's New York Times) that doesn't mean the people who ruined the principal's life and career aren't the worst people in the world:

...Then in April, she [Debbie Almontaser, the principal of the school] read an op-ed article by Mr. [Daniel] Pipes in The New York Sun.

Conceptually, such a school could be "marvelous," Mr. Pipes wrote, but in practice, it was certain to be problematic. "Arabic-language instruction is inevitably laden with Pan-Arabist and Islamist baggage," he wrote, referring to the school as a madrassa, which means school in Arabic but, in the West, carries the implication of Islamic teaching.

Given how little Mr. Pipes knew about the school at the time, the word was "a bit of a stretch," he said in a recent interview. He defended its use as a way to "get attention" for the cause. It got the attention of Ms. [Irene] Alter, 60, who contacted Mr. Pipes and, with his encouragement, helped form a grass-roots organization in response to the school project. Mr. Pipes joined the advisory board of the group, which called itself the Stop the Madrassa Coalition....

Gee, you know, I never should have gone to Daniel Pipes's neighborhood and distributed leaflets to all his neighbors that said, "Daniel Pipes likes little boys." But, hey, I didn't know at the time that he wasn't a pedophile. I'm sorry he was beaten to within an inch of his life by his neighbors and forced to leave town -- my bad!

More about the sleaziness of Pipes:

He cited an article in which she was quoted as saying about 9/11, "I don't recognize the people who committed the attacks as either Arabs or Muslims." (As The Jewish Week later reported, Mr. Pipes left out the second half of the quote: "Those people who did it have stolen my identity as an Arab and have stolen my religion.")


Of course, that was just the beginning of the right-wing jihad against the school. Read the article for the details, but here's the incident that forced Almontaser to resign. Notice that, as with, say, Barack Obama and William Ayers, tenuousness of connection doesn't reduce guilt when the trial is being conducted by a wingnut lynch mob (emphasis mine):

The Stop the Madrassa Coalition pressed its campaign. In July, one of its members, Pamela Hall, made a discovery that would elevate the controversy. At an Arab-American festival in Brooklyn, she spotted T-shirts on a table bearing the words "Intifada NYC." The organization distributing them, Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media, trains young women in community organizing and media production. The group sometimes uses the office of a Yemeni-American association in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Ms. Almontaser sits on the association’s board.

Ms. Hall took a photograph, and a few weeks later, the coalition announced on its blog that Ms. Almontaser was linked to the T-shirts.

On Aug. 3, Ms. Almontaser received a call from Melody Meyer, a spokeswoman for the Education Department. “What does ‘Intifada NYC’ mean?” Ms. Almontaser recalled Ms. Meyer asking.

Ms. Almontaser was stumped, she said. She knew of the group. But she had never heard about the T-shirts....

Most reporters lost interest in the T-shirts after Ms. Meyer explained that neither Ms. Almontaser nor the school was linked to them, but The [New York] Post persisted....

During the Post interview, ... the reporter, Chuck Bennett, ... asked her for the origins of the word intifada, she said.

"The educator in me responded," Ms. Almontaser said. She explained... that the root of the word means "shaking off." Ms. Almontaser then offered what she described as a lengthy explanation about the evolution of the word and the "negative connotation" it had developed because of the Arab-Israeli struggle.

"The thought went across my mind to be extremely careful with my words -- not to offend the Jewish community and not to offend the Arab-American community," she said. "I was feeling pressure from all sides."

...The next day, The Post ran the article under the headline "City Principal Is 'Revolting' -- Tied to ‘Intifada NYC’ Shirts.” The article quoted Ms. Almontaser as saying that the girls in the organization were “shaking off oppression,” words that The Post, according to a ruling by federal appellate judges, attributed to Ms. Almontaser "incorrectly and misleadingly."

But it didn't matter that her words were distorted. Almontaser had to resign immediately.


"Here ruining people is considered sport"? That line, from the Vinbce Foster suicide note, referred to Washington. Now it refers to anywhere right-wingers feel they can score cheap political points, no matter who suffers.

Every time I mention Rush Limbaugh's Operation Chaos, I'm told that Limbaugh is either soaking the rubes or deluding both himself and the rubes into believing that they can sustain the agony on the Democratic side by helping to keep Hillary Clinton's campaign alive. And, yes, it's unlikely that the Limbaughnistas alone have much influence -- there probably aren't enough wingnut crossover voters to tip any Democratic primary.

But I continue to see evidence that the GOP is joining with Limbaugh in this effort. Last week the party prepared an ad, ostensibly aimed at Democratic gubernatorial candidates in North Carolina, that focused on Jeremiah Wright. That was clearly meant to increase the North Carolina turnout for Clinton.

And today we have GOP apparatchik William Kristol, in The New York Times, singing Hillary Clinton's praises, in words that could come from a Clinton campaign press release or a Clinton cultist's blog post:

Hillary Gets No Respect

...The fact is Hillary Clinton has turned out to be an impressive candidate. She has consistently defeated Barack Obama when her back was to the wall -- first in New Hampshire, then in several big primaries on Super Tuesday, on March 4 in Ohio and Texas, and then last week in Pennsylvania, where she was outspent by almost 3 to 1, yet won handily.

...Hillary may well be the better candidate. After all, for all the talk of Obama's extraordinary ability to draw voters to the polls, Clinton has defeated him in the big states, including California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Obama won his home state of Illinois, but she won Florida, where both were on the ballot but didn’t campaign.

Furthermore, if you add up the votes in all the primaries and caucuses -- excluding Michigan (where only Hillary was on the ballot), and imputing the likely actual totals in the four caucus states, where only percentages were reported -- Clinton now trails in overall votes by only about 300,000, or about 1 percent of the total. By the end of the nominating contest, she may well be ahead on this benchmark -- one not entirely to be scorned in a democracy....

Limbaugh is trying (or, as a ratings stunt, is pretending to try) to affect the vote in primaries. Here's Kristol with a subtler version of that strategy -- he's trying to flip superdelegates.

Oh, and the media, too -- he's playing on elite journalists' eagerness to believe anyone who accuses them of being biased liberals:

Hillary has achieved this despite much disparagement of her candidacy by liberal commentators, and in the face of the media's crush on Obama. Even those who started out being well disposed to Clinton have moved toward Obama, if only out of concern that the prolonged race is damaging Democratic prospects in the fall.

I particularly enjoy this tortured misreading of a somewhat garbled Obama sentence:

Obama understands his advantage with the media, as he perhaps inadvertently demonstrated over the weekend on "Fox News Sunday." In the course of dismissing much pundit commentary for typically overreacting to events, good or bad, Obama explained, "Well, look, after you lose, then everybody writes these anguished columns about, why did you lose?"

Obama chose a nice word: "anguished." You're only anguished by an Obama defeat if you’re rooting for an Obama victory. Obama was tacitly acknowledging that much of the liberal media has been hoping he'd win. Now, they're rooting for him to close the deal.

That's fine. If I were on the left I might be rooting for that too....

Instead, Kristol's on the right, rooting for more chaos. He doesn't admire Hillary. He doesn't believe a word he's typed here. This isn't a radio blowhard's stunt anymore -- it's party strategy.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


I almost missed Michelle Malkin's thoughtful, measured reaction to the aftermath of the Sean Bell verdict:

Disgusting demagogue Sharpton leads "Kill the Police" rally: When will media and politicos disavow this agent of hate?

It was not my understanding that Sharpton is actually planning a "'Kill the Police' rally," but Malkin sets me straight by quoting an AP story:

Hundreds of angry people marched through Harlem on Saturday after the Rev. Al Sharpton promised to "close this city down" to protest the acquittals of three police detectives in the 50-shot barrage that killed a groom on his wedding day and wounded two friends....

The rally at Sharpton's office was followed by a 20-block march down Malcolm X Boulevard and then across 125th Street, Harlem's main business thoroughfare, where some bystanders yelled out "Kill the police!" ...

Bystanders? Now, I know what you're thinking, but Malkin is too quick for you:

Watch how quickly Sharpton's apologists argue that he can't control what a few "bystanders" say.

She's right. After all, everyone knows Al Sharpton has superpowers that allow him to reverse time and make bystanders un-say inflammatory things they've said -- but, typically, he refused to use his powers to silence these bystanders!

Or -- wait, no, that's not it. Actually, what everyone knows is that Al Sharpton is the totalitarian dictator of all black people, and no African American ever dares to utter a word in public without submitting the remark for his pre-approval. Yeah, that's it. And he didn't reject this remark!

Either way, anything a passerby says is all Sharpton's fault. Or Barack Obama's. One or the other.

In today's column, Frank Rich makes a more persuasive case for optimism about the Democrats' chances than I would have expected -- no, Frank, I admit I didn't pay much attention to the 200,000+ Pennsylvania Republicans who still aren't with the program and therefore cast votes for Ron Paul or Mike Huckabee in the state's GOP primary (and who thus may not vote for McCain in the fall), and, yes, it's good to be reminded of what Ross Douthat of The Atlantic has noted, that McCain can't seem to get past 45% in polling of head-to-head matchups with named Democrats.

But this doesn't impress me:

Mr. McCain ... must show he can think and speak fluently about the domestic issues that are gripping the country. Picture him debating either Democrat about health care, the mortgage crisis, stagnant middle-class wages, rice rationing at Costco. It's not pretty.

Real issues? In a debate? You're joking, right, Frank?

You obvious didn't get the memo. Debates aren't about issues -- they're about whatever non-issue campaign spinners have succeeded in making the Distraction Du Jour concerning whichever candidate (I should probably say whichever Democratic candidate, because this doesn't seem to apply to Republicans) has been designated by the media this week to play the goat. Last fall the goat was Hillary Clinton and the issue was driver's licenses for undocumented aliens; now it's Obama and flag pins. By the fall it will be something else. It won't be the war or the economy.

A round of appluase to Elizabeth Edwards for noting the sorry state of the political press in a terrific op-ed, also in The New York Times.

... every analysis that is shortened, every corner that is cut, moves us further away from the truth until what is left is the Cliffs Notes of the news, or what I call strobe-light journalism, in which the outlines are accurate enough but we cannot really see the whole picture.

...Did you, for example, ever know a single fact about Joe Biden's health care plan? Anything at all? But let me guess, you know Barack Obama's bowling score. We are choosing a president, the next leader of the free world. We are not buying soap, and we are not choosing a court clerk with primarily administrative duties.

What's more, the news media cut candidates like Joe Biden out of the process even before they got started.

... Indeed, the Biden campaign was covered more for its missteps than anything else. Chris Dodd, also a serious candidate with a distinguished record, received much the same treatment. I suspect that there was more coverage of the burglary at his campaign office in Hartford than of any other single event during his run other than his entering and leaving the campaign....

In the print Times, this op-ed appears on the same page as Maureen Dowd's latest column -- and in a just world, the very presence of the Edwards column would make Dowd's column crawl off the page in shame. But that's not to be. Dowd is the proud embodiment of everything Elizabeth Edwards quite rightly despises:

...The Nixonian Hillary has a ravenous hunger that Obama lacks. Literally -- at a birthday party in Philly for her photographer, she was devouring the chips and dip with two hands -- and viscerally.

At Joe's Junction gas station in Indianapolis, Obama did his best to shoo away the pesky elitist label. Accused by an Indianapolis reporter of looking like a GQ cover, he said he has only four pairs of shoes and buys "five of the same suit and then I patch them up and wear them repeatedly." But his campaign refused to reveal the brand, presumably because it's not J. C. Penney....


But, much as I admire Elizabeth Edwards for dreaming of the possibility that this idiotic trivia can be deemphasized, I don't expect that day ever to come.

But can we at least have a single standard? If you're going to ask about freaking flag pins, can we at least ascertain whether every candidate wears one, or whether the media louts who press the issue do? If Obama is unworthy of our vote because he doesn't buy his suits at Penney's, can we at least be told where the extraordinarily wealthy John McCain buys his?

We lefties have long talked about "the Clinton rules" -- the fact that one or both Clintons are regularly criticized for things they say and do that aren't considered objectionable from other politicians. Well, we're now getting "the Obama rules." And I'm not singling out Obama -- if John Edwards were the nominee (or, say, Joe Biden or Chris Dodd), I'm sure we'd now have the Edwards/Biden/Dodd rules. If we can't de-trivialize our press, can't we at least be equitably trivial?

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Last Christmas I got a copy of Destined for Destiny, a parody "unauthorized autobiography" of George W. Bush coauthored by Scott Dikkers of The Onion. The book's introduction is credited to Dick Cheney, and everything we've ever loathed about Cheney is in there -- this Cheney is the sinister, diseased Halliburton-check-cashing fearmonger who thinks totalitarianism and widespread surveillance were the Founders' most fervent wish for America, and he signs off with "Go fuck yourself."

Heavy-handed? Yeah, maybe.

But it reminds me that even our side's best efforts to tie John McCain to the current administration have been the opposite of heavy-handed. Look, I'm quite fond of this ad by David Brock's group showing McCain and Bush uttering nearly identical Pollyannaish platitudes about the economy -- but I wonder if we're making a mistake by limiting ourselves to assertions of solid connections between Bush and McCain.

If we wanted to do this on a visceral, reptile-brain level, we'd just find the most infuriating, appalling clips of Bush and Cheney ever -- regardless of whether we can literally link McCain to those moments -- and intercut the clips with images of McCain alongside Cheney and Bush. No need to prove a link between McCain and those specific Bush-Cheney moments. Just assert the link. And do so over and over.

Republicans don't care that Barack Obama was an eight-year-old playing kickball in Hawaii when the Weather Underground was planning bombings. Republicans don't care that Obama never heard the "God damn America" sermon. Republicans don't care that Obama doesn't endorse any idea remotely comparable to the most inflammatory notions of William Ayers and Jeremiah Wright (and don't care about the tenuousness of Obama's ties to Ayers). Republicans just take the most button-pushing moments from these men, hang them around Obama's neck, and go their merry way.

Why not do that to McCain? What words and images from Bush and Cheney do people absolutely despise? What makes people's blood boil? "Bring 'em on"? "Mission accomplished"? "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job"? What Cheney moments?

Link enough of these to images of McCain with Bush and/or Cheney and you can make a lot of ads. Don't be too nerdy about this -- don't worry about demonstrating a link of any specific moment to McCain. The Republicans wouldn't, if the shoe were on the other foot.

Friday, April 25, 2008


Did I mention the fact that I hate these people?

Countrywide's Mozilo reaped $132 million as mortgage lender got hammered

Angelo Mozilo, chief executive of Countrywide Financial Corp., earned $10.8 million and cashed out $121.5 million in stock gains as his company got hammered by losses on sub-prime loans last year....

The company reported that Mozilo enjoyed perks worth $176,513, including $44,454 in rides on the company's jet; $23,755 in automobile use; $8,581 in country club dues; and $31,238 in company-paid tax and investment advice....

Calabasas-based Countrywide lost $704 million in 2007, while laying off 11,000 employees...

And Mozilo did it the old-fashioned way -- he (allegedly) cooked the books.

The stock gains were earned when Mozilo exercised stock options and immediately sold them through so-called automatic trading plans, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing released Thursday.

As previously reported in The Times, these plans usually allow executives to sell shares in a regular pattern without worrying about insider trading allegations. However, in what experts called highly unusual moves, Mozilo executed two plans and amended one in the months before the sub-prime market's implosion.

The moves allowed him to vastly increase the number of shares he sold before Countrywide's stock tanked last fall. The SEC launched an investigation into stock trading at Countrywide late last year....

The Guardian adds:

Mozilo will leave if Bank of America's takeover [of Countrywide] is approved. BoA's chief executive, Ken Lewis, said he expected the mortgage mogul would want to "go have some fun".

Oh, yes, I'm sure.

Ah, but somewhere in a major metropolitan area right now, two white-collar liberals with a combined six-figure income are at Whole Foods buying arugula -- and wine! Not beer in a can! Without wearing flag pins!

Those people are the true enemies of the white working class!

That's my headline. Thomas Edsall's, at the Huffington Post, is a bit milder: "Media Jump Ship From Obama To Clinton." Either way, it's accurate.

In a blink of an eye, the media has jumped ship from the Obama campaign and become a crucial Clinton ally, pressing just the message -- that Obama is a likely loser in the general election -- that Hillary and her allies have been promoting for the past six weeks.

The new tenor of media coverage is visible almost everywhere, from Politico, Time and The New Republic to The Washington Post and The New York Times....

He's right; read his piece for the evidence and the pull quotes. The Clinton campaign's reading of poll numbers is now regarded as gospel truth, and her new champions -- the white working class -- are now regarded as The Only Voting Bloc That Matters.

And that helps explain why this is happening. We call George W. Bush "Bubble Boy," but most Beltway journalists are Bubble Boys and Girls -- they don't live among ordinary people, they don't socialize with ordinary people, and they mostly rely on polls and campaign spinners' e-mails sent to their BlackBerrys to help them figure out what ordinary people think, or even who ordinary people are.

So they thought Barack Obama was winning over everybody (because he was winning over people like themselves, or at least like their kids) -- and then Hillary Clinton won New Hampshire and they began showing a bit of interest in older women. That interest flagged during Obama's subsequent winning streak. But then Clinton started winning again, and her voting blocs now stood for every person in America reporters don't meet at parties in Georgetown.

Remember, years ago, when the press suddenly decided that everyone in flyover America must be a "values voter" -- based on one poll? Well, white working-class Democrats are the new values voters. Yes, attention must certainly be paid to them -- but they're not the entire electorate. (Nor do we know what they'll actually be thinking once this nomination fight is over, as Patrick Healy of The New York Times, breaking from the herd, pointed out yesterday.)

A little balance would have been helpful in the Obamania days, and a little balance would be helpful now.

Because two full columns on the subject in 2006 apparently weren't enough, Peggy Noonan has given us another half a column on the horrors of airport security and why, specifically, it should exempt women of a certain age, who are, apparently, America, as well as Civilization (or something like that):

America is in line at the airport. America has its shoes off, is carrying a rubberized bin, is going through a magnetometer. America is worried there is fungus on the floor after a million stockinged feet have walked on it. But America knows not to ask. America is guilty until proved innocent, and no one wants to draw undue attention....

It reduces the status of that ancestral arbiter and leader of society, the middle-aged woman. In the new fairness, she is treated like everyone, without respect, like the loud ruffian and the vulgar girl on the phone. The middle-aged woman is the one spread-eagled over there in the delicate shell beneath the removed jacket, praying nothing on her body goes beep and makes people look....

"Spread-eagled" -- yeah, it's Abu frickin' Ghraib for you, isn't it, Peggy? And it's particularly horrifying because you're a middle-aged woman; as you put it two years ago, "America has become creepy for women who think of themselves as ladies. It has in fact become assaultive." That was the column in which you promised to walk among us for forty days and, whenever you saw "someone who is hurting the culture, hurting human dignity, denying the stature of a human being," march up to that person and say, "You are embarrassing the angels." But you weren't referring to, say, torture -- you were talking about sexually frank daytime TV or having to take your shoes off at the airport. But that only applies to you; as far as you're concerned, they can take the teenager next to you in a back room and do a cavity search, because she's annoying you by talking on a cell phone.

Noonan tells us in the current column that her terminal has a TV tuned to CNN, but no one's watching:

America knows what Samuel Johnson knew. "How small of all that human hearts endure / That part which laws or kings can cause or cure."

Right-wingers love quoting this and attributing it to Samuel Johnson. (It was actually Oliver Goldsmith.) The point of the couplet is that the things governments do don't really have much effect on our happiness.

Er, Peggy, if that's true, why does airport security -- a government program -- drive you up the wall?

Noonan says:

We are a nation of Willie Lomans, dragging our rollies through acres of airport, going through life with a suitcase and a slack jaw, trying to get home after a long day of meetings, of moving product.

Hey, Peggy, some of us never fly at all, or fly a couple of times a year. Not everyone is, like you, paid large amounts of money to bop around the country on a media billionaire's dime to find inspiration for gaseous missives. Your frequent travel doesn't make you America -- because of the reasons you do it, it makes you an elitist.


Noonan moves on to Barack Obama -- and tells us (yes, she's on the distribution list for the talking points) that he's not patriotic enough:

... has he ever gotten misty-eyed over ... the Wright Brothers and what kind of country allowed them to go off on their own and change everything? How about D-Day, or George Washington, or Henry Ford, or the losers and brigands who flocked to Sutter's Mill, who pushed their way west because there was gold in them thar hills?

D-Day excepted, does anyone ever get "misty-eyed" about any of these things? Leaving the anti-Semitism out of the mix, it seems to me that getting "misty-eyed" about Henry Ford would be an American version of the Communist bloc as it was always portrayed during the Cold War, as a nightmare world where people were forced to sing hymns to collective factories and threshing combines.

(And, hey, where did I put my copy of Brave New World?)


Then we move on to Bush. Newsflash -- he's unpopular! Even among people who voted for him! Peggy just found this out. (She didn't know it, even though she is our ancestral arbiter and leader of our society.)

But don't worry, she understand why people, or at least right-wingers, don't like him:

I imagine some of this: a fine and bitter conservative sense that he has never had to stand in his stockinged feet at the airport holding the bin, being harassed. He has never had to live in the world he helped make, the one where grandma's hip replacement is setting off the beeper here and the child is crying there. And of course as a former president, with the entourage and the private jets, he never will.

Yes, your memory does not deceive you -- this is the same woman who told us this just after the 2004 election:

I think Mr. Bush, the better man in terms of character, was also the more normal man. And we like normal. He loves sports and business and politics, and speaks their language. Normal. His wife is important to him, and his kids seem a bit of a mystery to him, and perhaps even to some degree intimidating. Normal. He thinks if bad guys attack New York City and the Pentagon, we go after them and kill them--normal. He thinks marriage is between a man and a woman--normal. He thinks if Baptist preachers in a suburb of Louisville have an after-school plan that has an excellent record of turning kids from juvenile delinquency to thinking about college, those Baptist preachers should be helped and encouraged every way we can, and it has nothing to do with "church and state." Normal. He thinks if there's an old plaque bearing the Ten Commandments on the wall of the courthouse you should leave it alone--it can't hurt, and it might help. Normal.

But now his photograph has been removed from the Book of Normal Men; he is an unperson.

All right, class, let's all gather round and sing our hymn to Henry Ford and his beloved conveyor belts.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Although he doesn't say it in so many words, I see from Anthony Lane's review in The New Yorker that the new Tina Fey-Amy Poehler movie is about the Clinton-Obama campaign:

...what fuels "Baby Mama" is not the eternal quest for motherhood, or the topical conflict between parenting and careers, but an old-fashioned scuffle over class. Nothing places us on the social scale as accurately as our child-rearing, and one shot of kids being called across a sunlit playground -- "Time for your playdate with Wingspan and Banjo!" -- summons a world of liberal cuteness. Clean-living and high-earning, Kate [Tina Fey] markets gloopy green soup and other organic treasures to the discerning. Angie [Amy Poehler]: "That crap is for rich people who hate themselves." Oof.

... If you want to see scene-stealing turned into grand larceny, watch ... Steve Martin, as the presiding genius of [the organic food company Kate works for,] Round Earth. Hand the guy a thick hank of ponytail, relieve him of the burden of a central role, aim him squarely at the bull's-eye of eco-smugness ("I've toasted pine nuts on the edge of an active volcano"), and you find him happier onscreen than I have seen him in years. Who cares whose baby is inside which mother, when the laughs come from the grown man doing business with his inner child?

This is practically the only way we ever talk about class in America. We don't discuss economic haves versus have-nots in any serious way, and even our pop culture is rarely about the little guy battling entrenched power. We do, however, laugh at comedy that mocks upscale lifestyle quirks. Those quirks aren't what's bleeding the less well off dry, but nobody wants to talk about what is, so we channel that discussion into this kind of humor.

The odd thing is that the people who make this kind of comedy usually do some of the very things they're making fun of. They think they're poking gentle fun at their own kind. But then -- and this is a point I garbled when I first posted this -- the general sense that culturally sophisticated people (who are presumed to all be liberal) are laughable buffoons (while we seem to have nothing bad to say about plain old rich people, many of whom don't seem culturally frou-frou) helps get George Bush and his son elected president three times (because, even though they're rich, they reassure voters that they're not culturally sophisticated), and might help elect John McCain, too (ditto), while undermining any momentum for reversing right-wing policies -- after all, if those people who eat breakfast cereal made of organic spelt want national health care, say, how good an idea can it be? We should mock greed; instead, we mock spelt.

In an odd way, it almost works like gangsta rap -- people take the material of their own lives and the lives around them, exaggerate it (for comedy rather than, in gangsta's case, melodrama), and think they're just making popular art. Then a lot of people declare that the end products are documentaries, not art. What's meant as entertainment becomes self-indictment.

(Edited hours after I originally posted it, because the original post seemed to say something very different from what I meant.)

The New Republic's Jazon Zengerle looks at that North Carolina ad and nearly grasps what's going on:

Is That NC GOP Ad Really That Hard to Figure Out?

... the North Carolina GOP ad is intended to help Hillary in the May 6 primary. I mean, if the NC GOP really wanted the ad to help McCain, wouldn't they be running this ad in October or November? This is clearly an attempt to play the race and the Wright card against Obama in the hopes of hurting him in the Democratic Primary. Which suggests that there are at least some Republicans out there who still think Obama is the more formidable general election candidate....

I don't think the GOP is making any judgment about who is the more formidable candidate. I think the GOP just wants to keep this thing going as long as possible, by motivating crossover voters and the people Zengerle calls "Jessecrats" ("conservative[s] in the eastern part of the state ... who are still nominally Democrats") to come out for Hillary. The GOP, in other words, is letting Rush Limbaugh play party chairman; it's participating in his Operation Chaos.

(And I say "the GOP," not "the North Carolina GOP," because any idiot knows this is coming straight from the top, and it's high time the press called bullshit on the shocked, shocked reactions from McCain and the national party to this ad.)

Incidentally, Rush literally wants all this to lead to bloodshed:

...The dream end... I mean, if people say what's your exit strategery, the dream end of this is that this keeps up to the convention and that we have a replay of Chicago 1968, with burning cars, protests, fires, literal riots, and all of that. That's the objective here....

And note that he's not trying to guess which Democratic nominee will be easier to beat because he thinks he and the process can help decide that:

We need [Obama] to limp across the finish line with his meager little lead in delegates. We need this guy having not won a significant primary since February 22nd. I know what many of you are saying, "No. That's the guy we want to get the nomination, Rush." They're both bloodied. They're both weakened. Mrs. Clinton, as I said, is already hated by half the country. We're on the way here now with Obama....

The purpose of Operation Chaos is not to secure the nomination for either of these two candidates. That's not the point. The point of Operation Chaos is chaos....

That's the GOP's point, too.


UPDATE: Via Memeorandum, I see that Limbaugh's blood lust is making the news in Denver:

Talk show host Rush Limbaugh is sparking controversy again after he made comments calling for riots in Denver during the Democratic National Convention this summer....

"Riots in Denver, the Democrat Convention would see to it that we don't elect Democrats," Limbaugh said during Wednesday's radio broadcast. He then went on to say that's the best thing that could happen to the country....

Several callers called in to the radio show to denounce Limbaugh's comments, when he later stated, "I am not inspiring or inciting riots, I am dreaming of riots in Denver."...

Next time a right-winger dies and two random commenters at Democratic Underground or Daily Kos or the Huffington Post say something less than sympathetic, please remember this.

MORE: Crooks and Liars has audio of the call for riots, and much more on this.

In today's New York Times, Patrick Healy does a fairly good job of debunking the notion that primary losses equal fall electoral losses.

But I want to add to that a bit of recent electoral history. The last time a candidate actually won a presidential election after a protracted nomination contest was 1976. The map of Democratic primary results is here, and the map of general election results is here. Here's the list of states Carter lost in the primaries and won in the general election:

New York -- 41 electoral votes
Massachusetts -- 14 electoral votes
Maryland -- 10 electoral votes
Minnesota -- 10 electoral votes
Alabama -- 9 electoral votes
South Carolina -- 8 electoral votes
Mississippi -- 7 electoral votes
West Virginia -- 6 electoral votes
Hawaii -- 4 electoral votes

Those states gave Carter 109 electoral votes. He won by 57.

In The New York Observer a while back, Steve Kornacki discussed this. Some of what happened to Carter sounds rather similar to what's happening to Obama now:

...[Carter's] worst moments of the '76 primary campaign came not at the beginning, when he was largely unknown, but toward the end, when the likelihood of his nomination became apparent. In the spring, two new candidates -- Idaho's Frank Church and California's [Jerry] Brown -- suddenly jumped in the race. And they started winning. Church took Nebraska in early May, then Montana, Idaho and Oregon. Brown grabbed Maryland, then Nevada, California, New Jersey and Rhode Island ("uncommitted" slates aligned with Brown actually won the latter two). When the primary process concluded in early June, it was obvious that there were widespread concerns with Carter among Democrats.

And yet Carter won in the fall, too. His race with Gerald Ford turned into a squeaker, but that had more to do with Carter's general-election miscues than with lingering bitterness from the primary season. After the Democratic convention in New York, Carter opened a 33-point lead over Ford. There weren't many people talking about Frank Church and Jerry Brown then.

So there's no hard-and-fast link between primary results and results in November.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


It gets tiresome having to make the same argument over and over, but let me try again, in response to Clinton flack Lanny Davis's Top Ten List of Undisputed Facts Showing Barack Obama's Weakness in the General Election Against John McCain":

Effectively, no one is running against John McCain right now. Furthermore, no one in the Republican Party is running against Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama's anti-Clinton talking points aren't the ones the GOP would use against her. By contrast, the Clinton and GOP talking points about Obama are virtually identical.

So Obama is getting a double dose of a fall-style campaign. Clinton is taking flak, but none of it is coming from the low-blow masters in the GOP. McCain is getting no flak at all.

There's the grain of salt you should take Davis's numbers with.


ADDING: Yeah, Hillary still gets a lot of grief online and from the press. But the press coverage she's getting is better and better, and that's especially true since Tuesday night -- the press right now is mostly just seconding her indictment of Obama and her recasting of herself as a proletarian champion. She's getting much better press right now than Obama.


Oh, and it's a minor point, but Davis is wrong about this:

The last time a Democrat did not win Massachusetts by a substantial margin was 1980, when Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter.

No. The last time a Democrat did not win Massachusetts by a substantial margin was 1984, when Ronald Reagan defeated Walter Mondale.

It's really not hard to get that kind of thing right, Lanny.

Well, I should have known this was coming. From a blog that's on our side:

Obama took seven, count 'em, seven of Pennsylvania's 50-odd counties. If I'm the Clinton campaign, I'm asking superdelegates as well as convention rules committees to take a closer look at even states Obama has won hands down for the county breakdown. My sense is, if you broke the entire nation down, county-by-county, Hillary wins the lion's share of the counties across the nation.

Oh yes, let's do that. Let's reexamine the race by counties -- regardless of population.

And after we've done that, we can all get down on our knees before the Republicans and beg their forgiveness, given the fact that, in order to be consistent in following this new standard, we're obliged to acknowledge that Bush won the 2000 race in a landslide, as Republicans greatly enjoyed arguing at the time.

Yes, let's concede that point. In fact, let's propose replacing a state-by-state Electoral College with a county-by-county one. That ought to work out beautifully for the Democratic Party going forward.

At least, as far as I know, the people who are actually connected to the Clinton campaign haven't said anything like this -- yet.

If they do, please shoot me.

While we're wringing our hands about the resistance of white working-class voters and older voters to Barack Obama, and aboutdefections to McCain if he's the nominee, let's not forget this statistic (from page 5 of the CNN exit poll for Pennsylvania):

One out of every voters in this primary registered as a Democrat within the past three months. And 62% of those newbies voted for Obama. And that's after Reverend Wright and "bitter" and a bad debate.

Even in a loss, he still brings people into the fold and gets them to the polls. Does that offset defections by traditional Democrats? I don't know, but the narrative right now is all about those defections and nothing else -- and that's not the whole story.

Melissa at Shakesville writes:

Dear Editors of the New York Times,

In this morning's editorial, "The Low Road to Victory," you assert that "voters are getting tired" of what you deem a
mean, vacuous, desperate, and pandering primary contest.

My question to you is: Which voters, exactly, are getting tired?

They wouldn't, by any chance, be voters who have
already voted, would they?

You see, some of us, out here in flyover country, haven't had our chance to vote yet....

What we
are tired of, however, is a bunch of fucking uppity wankstains trying to force an end to this primary before we get our chance to vote....

Let the primary run its course. Let us vote. And shut the fuck up about it.

Yeah, let everybody vote. After all, we've never, ever had a Democratic nomination battle in which every last vote didn't count -- even in '96, when the "inevitable" nominee was a sitting president, didn't we force him into a bruising primary battle, full of negative scare ads, just to ensure that not a single voter would feel left out? Everyone remember that?

In fact, Republicans are jealous of us because they wish they could have an exhausting fifteen-round donnybrook that results in one combatant emerging victorious -- battered, bruised, and possibly fatally weakened, but victorious. Because they know that would be so much better for the Republican Party.

So, yeah, let's drag this out as long as possible. Hell, if one of these candidates drops dead, let's bring back Edwards, or Kucinich, or get Jerry Brown to jump in as a late entry, or raise Paul Tsongas from the dead -- anything to make sure the contest doesn't end too soon.

And let's make sure we do this every four years. The voters deserve no less.

The argument of the Clinton campaign is that she'd be the tougher opponent against John McCain. That's meant demographically (she'd run better than Obama with traditional Democratic voters), but also stylistically (Obama's a wuss, while, bruiser that she is, Clinton would maul McCain).

I think the first argument is a wash (Obama loses traditional Dems but gains crossovers and new voters). But as the for the second?

I'm thinking: Show me.

I'd like Hillary Clinton to really show how tough she is -- by turning that toughness on McCain, right now.

We know that, even with a money deficit, Clinton can bruise Obama with attack ads and harsh, provocative talking points. So I want to see her do it to Saint John.

In other words, Hillary (and Bill): Use your talents for good. You really know how to hit below the belt, so hit John McCain below the belt, immediately. Make him the subject of your next does-this-go-too-far? attack ad. Frame him in a way that significantly tarnishes his image.

That is the promise, right? That in a fight you know is going to be down and dirty, you're the ones who can not only take the low blows but dish them out?

Well dish some out now. And maybe then I'll start thinking you really would be the better party standard-bearer.

I see that Obama plans to shift his emphasis to McCain. I know he and I want to pull oars in the same direction. Please show me that you do, too.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Before Pennsylvania was called for Hillary Clinton, John Riley of Newsday critiqued her spin, and Jake Tapper's seconding of it:

Everyone expects Obama to lose in Pennsylvania. The conventional wisdom seems to be congealing that "how much" is the important question -- less than double-digits is good for him, more than 10 is good for Hillary.

Hillary, however, is rebelling at the idea that Obama shouldn't be expected to outright win: "Why can't he close the deal?...With his extraordinary financial advantage, why can't he win a state like this one if that's the way it turns out?"

And some in the media are buying. ABC's Jake Tapper: "What's so crazy about the idea that the Democratic frontrunner -- flush with cash and outspending Clinton 3-to-1, running against a candidate with such high unfavorable ratings -- should be able to win a blue state primary?...Why can't the frontrunner win working class voters?"

As Riley notes:

...Tapper apparently didn't notice that Obama is having no problem at all with black working class voters. The problem is with white working class voters -- especially women -- who have suddenly, inexplicably become attached to Hillary Rodham Clinton of Park Ridge, the White House and Chappaqua just at the very moment she runs against a black guy. What an incredible coincidence!!!!

Does it occur to him that part of the problem -- not the whole problem, just part -- is race? And that Pennsylvania is a state that has a lot of white working class voters for whom race may be an issue?

I think Riley's right and wrong.

I think the white working class has been sold a line of BS in virtually every presidential election since 1968: I'm just like you. Maybe they believe it every four years, or maybe they're just flattered that rich, privileged guys would pretend to want to be just like them. But they generally buy one rich, privileged guy's act, even if that guy is, say, a successful Hollywood actor or an old-money Connecticut preppie.

This year, one guy just can't pretend to be just like them. He looks in the mirror and he knows that, so he rarely tries. And a lot of them react to that. Maybe it's not that they don't like the color of his skin; maybe it's just that he can't possibly convincingly sell them the BS they want to have sold to them. (The rich, privileged woman, on the other hand, can.)

So, yes, there's a barrier there, and it's racial. But maybe it's not truly racist. These people don't get much out of the political system -- the most they get is completely phony imitation. But they want it. It's a form of flattery.

I know all we're supposed to care about right now is Pennsylvania, but I'm a bit creeped out by what Rupert Murdoch is up to around these parts. As Newsweek discusses his plan to use his big money to wage war on The New York Times, he's now showing who's boss at The Wall Street Journal by micromanaging an overhaul of the paper and firing its managing editor, who's been on the job less than a year -- and he's putting the finishing touches on a deal to buy Long Island's Newsday, which he plans to run as a joint venture with his New York Post.

If you worry about media concentration in general, then it's worrisome to have one guy owning three papers in and around the media capital of the United States. To have that guy be Rupert Murdoch is especially worrisome. Whatever you think of the Times or the mainstream media in general, Murdoch, phony flirtations with Democrats notwithstanding, is the vast right-wing conspiracy these days. He's always used his papers to push his political agenda in the past, and now he has three potential propaganda organs here in the Big Apple.

Murdoch, Newsweek reminds us, is 77. So he can't hang on much longer, right? I don't know about that -- Sumner Redstone of Viacom and CBS will turn 85 next month and is still going strong. Being fabulously wealthy and the master of your universe keeps you young, I hear.

So Murdoch could be a menace for years to come -- and his little anti-Times pincers movement has the potential to make him even more influential in the next few years. Politics may be entering a post-Bush era, but the Murdoch era isn't going to end for a long time.


MORE: Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine also sees this as a "pincer movement" around the Times:

Add the New York Post, of course, and Fox News -- not to mention the Times of London -- and you have the New York Times cornered. Murdoch can attack from above -- national and international -- and below -- local -- and the the right flank -- ideological -- and the future -- TV and digital.

Ah yes, digital. I forgot to mention that he's not ruling out a joint bid (with Microsoft) for Yahoo.

Yes, again -- this time in New Orleans. I haven't seen it on YouTube yet, so I think you'll have to go to ABC to watch the clip. Here's a screen shot:

This is in addition to his dances in Liberia in February, in Riyadh in January, on the White House lawn last April, and in Sao Paolo a month before that, not to mention his soft shoe last month before his endorsement of John McCain.

One Drop at Too Sense says the right thing:

...It's not wrong because Bush does the Stiff White Man Dance. Almost all tourists do that dance when they come to New Orleans. It's wrong because it's a slap in the face to New Orleans. Here we have a President who utterly failed in his duties when responding to the aftermath of Katrina (with most of the disaster having been caused not by nature but by the incompetence of the Federal Government); a President who has repeatedly made promises about rebuilding the city, but hasn't done anything; a President whose administration spent more time trying to blame Kathleen Blanco for the lack of military troops in the disaster area than it did actually helping people affected by the crisis.

Bush has failed New Orleans in every way that a leader can fail, and he has the nerve to come here...and dance? Get his White Guy Groove on, as if everything is good? As if nothing happened? HOW...DARE...HE?!?...

I agree, and yet I also find myself disgusted by the dances in the abstract -- or not the dances so much as the emotionally desperate way he steps front and center every time, seemingly begging the camera to follow him as he shakes his groove thing. He's demanding that the world say, "Yes, you're a very engaging and fun-loving man!" As One Drop says, he doesn't care enough to do what needs to be done. Beyond that, he sometimes seems to want to treat the last two years of his presidency as one long Senior Skip Day. But it's more than that: he wants people to love him for it.

(And when he's not dancing, he's cracking jokes at inappropriate occasions.)

And you know what? He'll be like this for the rest of his life. We'll get him out of office at long last, but he's not going to go away. He's going to spend the rest of his life chasing the approval he craves.

Click to enlarge

There's not much I can add to what Jill at Feministe and Jeff at Shakesville have said, among others -- this cover plays into hysterical-woman stereotypes ("The Voices in Her Head") and doesn't represent how I feel about Hillary Clinton, however exasperating I find her these days.

When your criticism of Clinton veers into braying sexism, you're putting an albatross around the Obama campaign's neck, much the same way Ward Churchill put an albatross around the anti-war movement's neck by asserting that the victims of 9/11 "formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire" and thus weren't "innocent." The rest of us have to defend our anti-war or pro-Obama position against charges that it's inextricably linked to someone else's ignorant idiocy. It's hateful and counterproductive, and I'm sick of it.

Hillary Clinton decided to use her Election Day Good Morning America interview to say that if Iran nuked Israel "we will attack Iran" and "we would be able to totally obliterate them."

As Eric Kleefeld of Talking Points Memo notes, the promise to protect Israel is a standard one for U.S. administrations. The language, however, has a bellicose self-satisfaction about it.

And there's the problem. I know this is calculated for the moment: Clinton is trying to portray herself as the tough broad running against an effete girly-man. I know that she would presumably run a different kind of campaign against McCain if she managed to win the nomination. But if Obama of late hasn't seemed very good at protecting his right flank, the Clintons have been known to be too good at that.

At the very least, if Clinton does get the nomination, the video clip of this quote will never die. And I think she'd be more likely to try to overcorrect for the Democratic stereotype of being "Kumbaya" singers by overdoing the bellicosity all through the fall.

And that's where she'd start losing members of the base -- hardcore Democrats for whom the desperate need for a new foreign-policy approach is the #1 issue -- as well as many of the voters who've newly registered during this campaign, a lot of whom feel the same way.

I don't expect Ralph Nader to do much as a third-party candidate this year -- his vote totals declined a lot between 2000 and 2004 -- but I don't think it's inevitable that his vote will decline even more this time, not with the Iraq War dragging on. He'll certainly run harder, and win at least a few more converts, against a Hillary Clinton who saber-rattles like this than against a Barack Obama who doesn't.

But the bigger risk is that some war-weary voters will just stay home. Right now the conventional wisdom is that Obama will lose the white working-class boilermaker drinkers but Clinton might not lose anybody in the party's coalition. This is one reason I don't buy that.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Yes, thank you, Rupert Murdoch, for realizing what cable business news needed more of -- ex-pro wrestler business analysts who now moonlight as snake-oil salesmen:

By day, John C. Layfield is an investment banker and professional pontificator for Fox Business Network. By night, he peddles a love potion.

Mamajuana Energy, a berry-flavored liquid that Mr. Layfield developed, sells for $4.99 or less. He bills the two-ounce shots as an all-natural "sexual endurance drink" for men. A minister's son, Mr. Layfield says he first sampled the concoction in a dive bar in the Dominican Republic while on vacation and was hooked.

"It's more of a sex potion," said Mr. Layfield, who enjoyed a successful run as a professional wrestler before reinventing himself as a financial whiz and beverage impresario. "Think of it as liquid Viagra." ...

"Marketing hocus pocus" is how Dr. Andrew McCullough, director of sexual health and male infertility at New York University, describes the product. Dr. McCullough, who also served as a clinical investigator for Viagra, said herbal remedies were unlikely to have a significant impact on the libido and they certainly would have no impact on erectile dysfunction. "It's a bogus promise," he said....

But maybe the guy really does belong on the air -- after all, he knows enough about marketing to get his potion into the Vitamin Shoppe chain:

..."A lot of products come across my desk, but I saw a huge opportunity here," said Michael Carrubba, the category manager of Vitamin Shoppe....

Mr. Carrubba ... described Mamajuana Energy as "a great grab-and-go item." ...

I'm not going to touch that line with a ten-foot ... oh, never mind.

I've watched the new Hillary Clinton ad, and what strikes me is not what it says about Clinton or Obama now, but what it suggests about Obama's chances in the fall.

Here's the ad:

I watch this, with its suggestion that Hillary is the Democrat who won't wilt under pressure, the boilermaker-drinking tough dame, and I think: Was it really only three months ago that she was very publicly tearing up? People had different reactions to that moment, but they fell into three categories: (1) She's really under a lot of pressure, so I don't blame her for getting emotional; (2) when the pressure hits, she can't handle it and gets emotional; (3) when the pressure hits, she fakes emotion. I don't recall anyone saying, as the Philadelphia voter I quoted Saturday said, that "that woman's got balls."

But it's a whopping three months later; now Hillary Clinton can put out an ad like this and it taps perfectly into her new image, as the tough one in the race. The watery-eyed moment is completely forgotten, apparently.

Which tells me that a lot of Obama moments that now seem indelible -- the bowling, the "bitter" remarks -- really might not be. The Republicans are hell-bent on keeping this race focused on anything but the issues -- they can't possibly win otherwise -- but some bad moments for Obama don't have to be bad for him forever. There's a lot more of this race to go, and the script is going to keep changing. Notice how much it's changed for Hillary Clinton.

In today's New York Times, Republican apparatchik William Kristol wrings an entire column out of the pro forma commemorations of Passover on the Web sites of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain.

After sneering at the Clinton statement ("The trouble is that, as so often in her campaign, her greater experience hasn't given her anything interesting or distinctive to say"), Kristol moves on to Obama's statement. Naturally, he sneers again: It's "talkier than Clinton's." And, yes, the numbers bear that out: Clinton's statement is 139 words; Obama's is 215 words.

Know how many words McCain's is?


Kristol, naturally, does not call McCain's statement "talky."


He then turns to a different commemoration in his last paragraph:

I might add that both Democratic campaigns missed an opportunity last week. They seem not to have noticed that the date of the first Seder, April 19, was also the 233rd anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord. So, a few days before Pennsylvanians vote, the candidates could have commemorated not just the Exodus from Egypt but also "the shot heard round the world," thus identifying themselves all at once with political liberation, religious freedom and -- yes! -- the right to bear arms.

Anyone hear McCain utter a word about this? Me either. But it's only bad if Democrats don't.

Yeah, nothing but verbal straightitude here:

McCain Admits Hagee Endorsement Was A Mistake

ABC News' Mary Bruce Reports: Presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., admitted this morning that it was a mistake to accept the endorsement of Evangelical pastor Rev. John Hagee. When asked in an exclusive "This Week" interview with George Stephanopoulos if it was "a mistake to solicit and accept his endorsement", McCain replied "oh, probably, sure." Despite admitting his error, McCain made clear he's still "glad to have his endorsement." ...

Follow that? It was a mistake to solicit it, it was a mistake to accept it, but he's glad to have it. Yeah, that makes sense.

I'm reminded of the time a McCain spokesman said that McCain would have signed a state law banning all abortions, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother -- but he would also "take the appropriate steps" to see that those exceptions were in place. (Even though, in the bill, they clearly weren't in place.)

Basically, on controversial subjects, either over time or in a single sentence, McCain just keeps talking until he says whatever it is every particular group of people wants him to say. Then everyone walks away and thinks he said only what they wanted to hear. Coming from other people, this is called "double talk." From McCain it's called -- well, you know.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


I recognized a name that was mentioned in passing in today's big New York Times article about the Pentagon's program to turn retired military officers into on-air propagandists for the Iraq War:

... an internal Pentagon strategy memorandum ... led to a proposal to take analysts on a tour of Iraq in September 2003, timed to help overcome the sticker shock from Mr. Bush's request for $87 billion in emergency war financing.

... if the trip pounded the message of progress, it also represented a business opportunity: direct access to the most senior civilian and military leaders in Iraq and Kuwait, including many with a say in how the president's $87 billion would be spent....

Information and access of this nature had undeniable value for trip participants like William V. Cowan and Carlton A. Sherwood.

Mr. Cowan, a Fox analyst and retired Marine colonel, was the chief executive of a new military firm, the wvc3 Group. Mr. Sherwood was its executive vice president....

Carlton Sherwood -- anybody else recognize that name?

He was a sometime journalist, sometime propagandist, and sometime GOP bureaucrat who, the year after this trip took place, would release Stolen Honor, the anti-Kerry film he produced, which claimed that the words of Kerry and other anti-war veterans harmed U.S. POWs in Vietnam. This was the documentary that was scheduled to be broadcast nationwide on Sinclair stations just before the 2004 election (a program that largely focused on charges made in the film was aired instead). In September 2004, his group merged with Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to release the film.

Sherwood, worked for The Washington Times in the 1980s and would go on to write a book called Inquisition: The Persecution and Prosecution of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon; he has lied about the fact that the Unification Church exercised editorial control over the book. Later he did media work for Tom Ridge when Ridge was governor of Pennsylvania. Ridge, as Homeland Security secretary, would reward Sherwood by putting him in charge of developing the Web site

It was noted in 2005 that Sherwood's boss at wvc3, CEO William Cowan, in addition to being a Fox News analyst, was an adviser to the Lincoln Group, which paid to plant stories in the Iraqi media that had been written by U.S. military personnel.

Wheels within wheels....

In his latest column, Frank Rich insists that, yes, it's a new day:

...Not the least of the reasons that the Beltway has gotten so much wrong this year is that it believes that 2008 is still 1988. It sees the country in its own image -- static -- instead of as a dynamic society whose culture and demographics are changing by the day.

In this one-size-fits-all analysis, Mr. Obama must be the new Dukakis, sure to be rejected by white guys easily manipulated by Lee Atwater-style campaigns exploiting race and class. But some voters who lived through 1988 have changed, and quite a few others are dead. In 2008, they are supplanted in part by an energized African-American electorate and the young voters of all economic strata who fueled the Obama movement that many pundits didn't take seriously before Iowa. And that some still don't....

This is what I can't figure out -- is Rich right? I see Obama remaining competitive in the polls, despite multiple setbacks and the persistent framing of him as an "elitist," and I think, well, maybe Rich has a point -- maybe there simply aren't as many old-school Reagan Democrat blue-collar voters anymore, maybe "ordinary Americans" look more like the the employees on The Office than the guys on The Honeymooners, and the current media obsession with boliermaker-drinkers is just the press deciding that a once-overlooked voting bloc is suddenly The Only Voting Bloc That Matters (remember the obsession with "values voters" just after the '04 exit polls came in?).

I'd like to believe Rich when he says this:

The video of Mrs. Clinton knocking back drinks in an Indiana bar drowned out the scratchy audio of Mr. Obama's wispy words in San Francisco. Her campaign didn't seem to recognize that among the many consequences of the Bush backlash is a revulsion against such play acting.

ButI'm not sure I can when I read something like this Nation article, about expected Clinton strongholds in Pennsylvania, where I read this:

At a cafe [in South Philadelphia], a regular asked about Obama replied: "Who is he? Where did he come from? What was he? In South Carolina, picking cotton?" A construction contractor who gave the name Mike Giordano said he did not watch Obama's speech on race after the Wright controversy broke because "I don't listen to those people. They don't make sense when they talk." And he summed up the presidential contest this way: "They put a senior citizen for President, a woman and a black man. What do you got? Nothing. But that woman's got balls."

Obviously some people are buying the notion of Clinton as working-class hero -- and obviously there are still some people to whom this matters.

I get the feeling that Obama could win, but more or less exactly the way Bill Clinton did in '92. Remember, Clinton tapped into an energized wave of young first-time voters (MTV was the Pied Piper than, not YouTube) and won over some skeptics, but he really alienated some other voters because he was painted (along with his women's-libber lawyer wife) as a guy with weird, alien values. I'm worried that even an Obama win might be just a rerun of that movie, with a Democrat on the defensive for his entire term. I'll take it -- better that than a loss -- but it would be nice to have more.