Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 31, 2008
By: Hilzoy

Gustav

Hurricane Gustav is projected to make landfall tomorrow morning. Our thoughts are with the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

There's good information on the weather at Jeff Masters' blog and Weather Nerd; and on New Orleans at NOLA.com's Hurricane blog and Best of New Orleans. The latter reports that things are pretty bad on I-59. Otherwise, the evacuation seems to have gone well, and nearly two million people from New Orleans alone are out of harm's way.

Stay safe, and take care.

Hilzoy 11:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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By: Hilzoy

Borderline

This is amazing:

"On Saturday, a Democrat tasked with opposition research contacted the Huffington Post with this piece of information: as of this weekend, the McCain campaign had not gone through old newspaper articles from the Valley Frontiersman, Palin's hometown newspaper.

How does he know? The paper's (massive) archives are not online. And when he went to research past content, he was told he was the first to inquire.

"No one else had requested access before," said the source. "It's unbelievable. We were the only people to do that, which means the McCain camp didn't." (...)

It has been previously reported that the McCain campaign did not contact Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, who Palin pushed to have fired after he refused to remove her sister's former husband from the state's police force. That controversy, an investigation of which will be made public in late October, could cause major headaches for Palin in the days leading up to the election.

In addition, the former Republican House Speaker of Alaska, Gail Phillips, admitted to reporters that she was shocked by McCain's choice of Palin, as "his advance team didn't come to Alaska to check her out.""

The more I learn about this choice, the more it reminds me of Bush's choice of Harriet Miers. I don't think it's at all similar in its political ramifications -- Miers' nomination was seen as a betrayal by social conservatives, the very people who are thrilled by Sarah Palin. But it is similar in the manner in which each was chosen. In each case, the person who made the choice had wanted to pick someone else, someone he regarded as a close friend., In each case, he was told that he couldn't choose that person because it would be politically disastrous. In each case, the person who made the choice responded not by sitting down and thinking about who might fill the role s/he was to be nominated for with distinction, but by making a quick and ill-considered choice of a plainly unqualified person, a choice that seemed like an insult to the office that person was nominated to fill.

Moreover, in each case that choice reflected the fact that the person making it was chafing at the discipline required of him. As far as I can tell, Bush reacts very badly to the idea that his powers as President are limited in any way, or that he owes anything whatsoever to his party or his allies. McCain is similarly undisciplined: he has been willing to do what his party requires of him, up to and including sacrificing his honor and his principles, but he visibly bridles at it, and he seems to be thrilled at the chance to be a maverick again. If that requires picking a vice presidential nominee who is wholly unprepared to take over as President, without doing anything like the vetting a Presidential campaign would normally require, then so be it.

Discipline is not McCain's long suit, and he loves to gamble:

""Enjoying craps opens up a window on a central thread constant in John's life," says John Weaver, McCain's former chief strategist, who followed him to many a casino. "Taking a chance, playing against the odds." Aides say McCain tends to play for a few thousand dollars at a time and avoids taking markers, or loans, from the casinos, which he has helped regulate in Congress. (...)

"He clearly knows that this is on the borderline of what is acceptable for him to be doing," says a Republican who has watched McCain play. "And he just sort of revels in it.""

Picking Palin without doing a thorough background check first is of a piece with this: chafing at discipline, playing the odds, liking to bend the rules and get away with it, wanting to be a bad boy. These are not character traits I'd like to see in a President.

***

UPDATE: In comments, Zuzu's petals notes that the Frontiersman archives are online. (Thanks.) I checked by running this search, which is on "Sarah Palin", starting in 1980, ordered by date with the oldest articles first. It lists no articles before 1998, even though Sarah Palin was elected to the City Council in 1992, and became Mayor of Wasilla in 1996.

The archive page says that not "the archives are not a complete reference to all items published in our newspaper but only reflect those items that have been posted on our website." My search turned up one article from 1998, and three each from 1999 and 2000; the pace doesn't really pick up until Sept. 2001. Since Palin was Mayor throughout those years, I assume that there are articles from 1998-2001 that didn't make the archive.

In short: if I were vetting Palin, I would definitely want to see the physical archives, not just the online version.

Hilzoy 7:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (102)

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A SCALED-BACK CONVENTION.... With Hurricane Gustav's landfall expected tomorrow morning, mandatory evacuation orders are being heeded -- by one estimate, 95% of coastal residents have fled their homes -- and the National Guard is already in place in coastal areas. And what the Republican National Convention? It will begin tomorrow, at its regularly scheduled time, but only to take care of some official business, and will wrap up shortly thereafter.

[McCain] Campaign manager Rick Davis said Republicans would meet in an abbreviated fashion, conducting only what was necessary to constitute a convention, such as calling the convention to order, receiving a report from the credentials committee and adopting the party platform.

"Tomorrow's program will be business only and will refrain from any political rhetoric that would be traditional in an opening session of a convention," he said.

The convention will begin at its regularly scheduled time, 3 p.m. central time, and adjourn around 5:00 or 5:30, he said.

The GOP's four-day program was originally scheduled to begin Monday in St. Paul, Minnesota. Davis said the rest of the week's schedule would be determined on a day-by-day basis.

One assumes convention planners will have to consider just how serious the effects of the storm are before planning the rest of the convention, and officials may not have a real sense of the damage until Tuesday.

There were reports earlier that McCain might deliver his acceptance speech "from the devastation zone," and Rick Davis suggested at a press briefing today that this remains an unresolved issue.

Steve Benen 7:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (85)

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BRIDGE TO SOMEWHERE.... The good news is, the McCain campaign is now starting to tell the public about Sarah Palin's accomplishments in Alaska. The bad news is, the principal example of Palin's strength as a leader is a blatant falsehood.

On a couple of the Sunday morning shows, John McCain and his chief surrogates touted Palin's opposition to the now-infamous "bridge to nowhere," a $398 million bridge to connect the town of Ketchikan to an island with 50 residents. To McCain and his supporters, Palin's firm stand against the congressional earmark is compelling evidence of her courage and conviction.


But what McCain and his cohorts are claiming is simply untrue. Palin supported the funding for the project, and kept the federal funds after the bridge deal fell through. Indeed, she ran for governor on a "build-the-bridge platform," and ended up directing federal funds to other wasteful pork projects, for fear of having to return unused tax dollars funds to the federal government.

This isn't an example the McCain campaign should be bragging about; it's an example the campaign should find embarrassing.

It does, however, lead to another question. McCain and other Republicans are boasting that Palin opposed the bridge. They're wrong. So, is the McCain campaign a) completely ignorant about Palin's actual record on this key issue; or b) simply trying to con the public?

Under the circumstances, it may be either. Making matters worse, I suppose it could be both.

If the single best example of Palin's leadership in office is bogus, what, pray tell, is the McCain campaign's Plan B?

Steve Benen 5:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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'THE NITTY-GRITTY UNGLAMOROUS WORK OF GOVERNMENT'.... It's obviously difficult to scrutinize Sarah Palin's gubernatorial record, given its brevity. Arguably the most noteworthy development of her brief tenure is the investigation into whether Palin abused the powers of her office and lied about it.

But if substance is out as an option, how about style? We talked yesterday about The Anchorage Daily News' Gregg Erickson, who's noticed that the Alaskan Republican takes a decidedly Bush-like attitude towards matters of government: "[Palin] tends to oversimplify complex issues.... It is clear that she has not paid much attention to the nitty-gritty unglamorous work of government, of gaining consensus, and making difficult compromises. She seems to be of the view that politics should be all rather simple. That often appeals to the wider public, but frustrates those who see themselves as laboring in the less glamorous parts of the vineyard."

Kevin noted today that this is not an uncommon assessment from policy makers -- from both parties -- in Alaska. Republican Mike Hawker said, "[Palin's] administration had the appearance of paying absolutely no attention to any of the rest of the unglamorous side of government, whether it be dealing with human services, public services, highways, all the routine aspects."

Kevin added: "So in addition to not having much curiosity or interest in political affairs outside of Alaska, she apparently doesn't have much curiosity or interest in political affairs inside Alaska either. Sounds like the perfect successor to W."

This, of course, leads to a fairly obvious question: who vetted Sarah Palin? Even Alaskan Republicans aren't sure.

Former House Speaker Gail Phillips, a Republican political leader who has clashed with Palin in the past, was shocked when she heard the news Friday morning with her husband, Walt. "I said to Walt, 'This can't be happening, because his advance team didn't come to Alaska to check her out," Phillips said.

Phillips has been active in the Ted Stevens re-election steering committee and remains in close touch with Sen. Lisa Murkowski and other party leaders, and she said nobody had heard anything about McCain's people doing research on his prospective running mate.

"We're not a very big state. People I talk to would have heard something."

The Tom Eagleton parallels seem to be getting stronger.

Steve Benen 3:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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GUSTAV FORCES CHANGE OF PLANS.... Not surprisingly, with Hurricane Gustav barreling down on the Gulf Coast, both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have cancelled their scheduled appearances at the Republican National Convention.

Also, John McCain told reporters earlier that the convention schedule will be altered, and the RNC is scheduled to host a press briefing at 4 p.m. eastern at the Xcel Energy Center with a revised schedule for the event.

The Obama campaign, meanwhile, has said both Obama and Biden would steer clear the area, so as to avoid increasing the burden on local officials, and will instead mobilize campaign supporters to help areas damaged by the storm.

Senator Barack Obama said Sunday that his campaign would mobilize its giant email list of supporters – to volunteer or send contributions – as soon as the impact of Hurricane Gustav becomes known in the Gulf Coast.

"We can activate an email list of a couple million people who want to give back," Mr. Obama told reporters after leaving services at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Lima. "I think we can get tons of volunteers to travel down there if it becomes necessary."

Mr. Obama has made no plans to travel to the Gulf Coast, saying he does not want to get in the way of emergency efforts there, but he has spoken by telephone to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.

Mr. Obama conducted telephone interviews with four TV stations and a news-talk radio station in New Orleans, aides said, amplifying the warning for any remaining residents to follow the evacuation order and leave the city.

No official word, as of yet, on whether McCain will deliver his acceptance speech "from the devastation zone," as earlier reports indicated.

Steve Benen 2:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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PROXIMITY TO RUSSIA IS IRRELEVANT.... On Friday, my friend Kevin Drum came up with a clever little way to preemptively mock Republicans' claims about Sarah Palin's foreign policy experience. "Isn't Alaska a central front in the new Cold War? That's foreign policy experience right there!" Kevin joked.

If only the Republican establishment wasn't serious about this. For example, Fox News' Steve Doocy, with a straight face, insisted, "[T]he other thing about her, she does know about international relations because she is right up there in Alaska right next door to Russia." (This led Jon Stewart to call Doocy a "moron.")

This morning, Cindy McCain made the exact same argument, telling George Stephanopoulos, in response to a question about national security experience, "[R]emember, Alaska is the closest part of our continent to Russia. It's not as if she doesn't understand what's at stake here."

Has Palin ever been to Russia? No. Has she ever demonstrated any expertise on U.S. policy towards Russia? No. Does she have any background in international relations at any level? No.

But for Republicans, the fact that she's lived near Russia is somehow a qualification for national office.

The mind reels.

Steve Benen 12:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (97)

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GOP VOTERS DON'T LIKE THE SCRIPT.... The plan, according to the McCain campaign, is to send Sarah Palin into specific areas in swing states, most notably Ohio and Pennsylvania, where there are "pockets of women who had supported [Hillary] Clinton in the primaries."

Republican voters aren't necessarily prepared to stick to the script.

This might not be the best way to reach out to those disillusioned Hillary Clinton supporters.

In just her second appearance on the campaign trail with John McCain, newly-minted GOP running mate Sarah Palin was showered with boos on Saturday for attempting to praise Clinton's trail-blazing bid to become the first female president.

As she did at in her debut speech in Ohio yesterday, Palin appealed to the women in the crowd here in Pennsylvania with a political shout-out to Geraldine Ferraro, who preceded Palin as the first women to be tapped as a vice presidential candidate.

But in contrast with the mild reception that greeted her comments at the Ohio event, when Palin praised Clinton here for showing "determination and grace in her presidential campaign," the Alaska governor was met with a noisy mix of boos, groans and grumbles around the minor league ballpark where the "Road to the Convention Rally" was held.

And if that doesn't offend die-hard Clinton supporters who might give McCain a second look, maybe this will -- Palin recently thought it was hilarious when a couple of right-wing shock-jocks called a Republican foe a "bitch," and referred to the cancer-surviving rival "a cancer."

After hearing this, Palin not only laughed, but said she'd be "honored" if the shock-jocks attended her State of the State Address.

Steve Benen 11:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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'OUTRIGHT LIE' ON TAXES.... When he's not talking about Britney Spears, arugula, or tire-pressure gauges, John McCain tends to attack Barack Obama on taxes. In fact, most of McCain recent ads feature the phrase "higher taxes" -- in all caps -- alongside Obama's picture.

Obama is no doubt aware of McCain's deceptive attacks, and emphasized his tax plan in his acceptance speech in Denver on Thursday: "You know, unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America. I'll eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow. I will -- listen now -- I will cut taxes -- cut taxes -- for 95 percent of all working families, because, in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle class."

With that in mind, it was encouraging to see the Washington Post editorial board note today that "McCain's ads on taxes are just plain false," and his campaign's message is peddling a "phony, misleading and at times outright dishonest" line.

[T]he McCain campaign insists on completely misrepresenting Mr. Obama's plan. The ad opens with the Obama-as-celebrity theme -- "Celebrities don't have to worry about family budgets, but we sure do," says the female announcer. "We're paying more for food and gas, making it harder to save for college, retirement." Then she sticks it to him: "Obama's solution? Higher taxes, called 'a recipe for economic disaster.' He's ready to raise your taxes but not ready to lead."

The facts? The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found that the Obama plan would give households in the bottom fifth of the income distribution an average tax cut of 5.5 percent of income ($567) in 2009, while those in the middle fifth would get an average cut of 2.6 percent of income ($1,118). "Your taxes" would go up, yes -- but not if you're someone who is sweating higher gas prices. By contrast, Mr. McCain's tax plan would give those in the bottom fifth of income an average tax cut of $21 in 2009. The middle fifth would get $325 -- less than a third of the Obama cut. The wealthiest taxpayers make out terrifically.

The Post doesn't seem fond of any plan to cut taxes, but the editorial board nevertheless concludes that McCain has been pushing an "outright lie."

Given that news outlets are generally very reluctant to use the "l" word when it comes to McCain's shameless dishonesty, it was encouraging to see Hiatt & Co. set the record straight.

Steve Benen 11:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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POST-CONVENTION POLLING.... A couple of interesting new polls are out, but before considering the results, keep a key caveat in mind: polling over Labor Day weekend is a little tricky. The new numbers are noteworthy, but don't be too surprised if the next round of polls offer different results.

That said, I suspect these results will be welcome at Obama campaign headquarters.

The first national polls on John McCain's pick of Sarah Palin yesterday came out today from Rasmussen and Gallup -- and contrary to what the GOP probably hoped, she scored less well with women than men.

Here's a finding from Gallup: Among Democratic women -- including those who may be disappointed that Hillary Clinton did not win the Democratic nomination -- 9% say Palin makes them more likely to support McCain, 15% less likely.

From Rasmussen: Some 38% of men said they were more likely to vote for McCain now, but only 32% of women. By a narrow 41% to 35% margin, men said she was not ready to be president -- but women soundly rejected her, 48% to 25%.... Overall, voters expressed a favorable impression of her by a 53/26 margin, but there was a severe gender gap on this: Men embraced her at 58% to 23%, while for women it was 48/30.

And by a 29/44 margin, men and women together, they do not believe that she is ready to be President.

Gallup numbers from Friday showed 39% of respondents believe Palin is ready to serve as president if needed. It's the lowest confidence rate in a running mate since Dan Quayle in 1988.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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AN ODD TIME FOR A VISIT.... All indications suggest Hurricane Gustav, now a Category-4 storm, poses a very serious threat to the Gulf Coast. Mandatory evacuations are underway in New Orleans, and the National Guard has been mobilized. Highways out of southern Louisiana have implemented an elaborate contraflow system -- all lanes lead north.

It is, to put it mildly, an odd time for a campaign swing.

Likely GOP presidential nominee John McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, are traveling to Mississippi to check on people getting prepared for Hurricane Gustav.

McKain aides say McCain and his wife Cindy will join Palin in traveling to Jackson, Miss., Sunday at the invitation of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. They said the McCains and Palins want to check on preparations because they are concerned about the people threatened by the storm, which is heading through the Gulf of Mexico and threatening the same area ravaged by Hurricane Katrina three years ago. The storm could hit the coast as early as Monday afternoon.

They will receive a briefing at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency -- a permanent operations center monitoring hurricane response.

I'm trying to imagine a reasonable justification for this, but nothing comes to mind. Local officials no doubt have real work to do right now, showing some out-of-state politicians around while preparing a major storm probably isn't high on the list of priorities. McCain and Palin can get briefings over the phone over via teleconference, suggesting this is more about exploiting a potential disaster for the cameras.

Complicating matters, the Politico added, "McCain was scheduled to deliver his acceptance speech Thursday but now may do so from the devastation zone if the storm hits the U.S. coast with the ferocity feared by forecasters."

I'm going to hope this is some kind of trial balloon, and that someone on McCain's staff realizes what a mistake it would be to exploit human suffering for partisan gain. Maybe there's still some sense of decency left in McCain, and he'll realize a hurricane's devastation need not be a rebranding opportunity for the Republican Party.

Steve Benen 8:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (62)

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By: Hilzoy

Executive Experience

On the McCain Report, Michael Goldfarb writes that Sarah Palin "has more executive experience than Barack Obama and Joe Biden put together", a point that, by some strange coincidence, has popped up all over the conservative blogs. I think that the idea that Palin has an advantage over Obama in this area is completely wrong.

When this campaign started, one of my biggest questions about Barack Obama was whether he would be any good at managing things. The President is, after all, the head of a very large organization, and he had better either have good management skills or hire a chief of staff who does. The fact that I didn't know whether Obama had them didn't prevent me from voting for him -- none of the other candidates I might have supported had a track record in management either -- but I would have been happier had I known whether Obama was any good at running things.

I don't have that problem any more. Obama has spent the past year and a half running a large organization -- as of last December, it had "about 500 employees and a budget of $100 million" -- and running it very well. It's not just that he and his team beat the Clinton campaign, which started out with enormous advantages. It's not even that he often did so by building effective political machines from scratch in states in which Clinton had locked down the political establishment. It's that every account of the Obama campaign that I've read makes it clear that he has done an outstanding job of constructing and running a political organization. For instance, this account of Obama's campaign is very much worth reading, if you want to get a sense of how he runs things:

"The story of how Obama assembled his top advisers — and how he got them to work together as a team — offers a glimpse into his approach as a chief executive who manages an organization of nearly 1,000 employees. Obama has built "an amazingly strong machine," says Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, president of the Chief Executive Leadership Institute at the Yale School of Management. "People expected a more ad hoc, impromptu, entrepreneurial feel to it. It has been more of a well-orchestrated symphony than the jazz combo we expected."

Indeed, in merging the talents of powerful Washington insiders and outside-the-Beltway insurgents, Obama has succeeded at a task that has traditionally eluded Democratic candidates: forging an experienced inner circle who set aside their differences and put the candidate first. "The whole point is that it's not about any of these guys," says longtime GOP strategist Frank Luntz. "They feel blessed. They see it as how lucky they are to be working for this man, at this time, in this election. This is the dream team for the dream candidate. I waited all my life for a Republican Barack Obama. Now he shows up, and he's a Democrat.""

You can find more good descriptions of the Obama campaign here and here.

Executive ability is not the most important thing in the world. (For one thing, hiring a good chief of staff goes a long way towards making up any deficiencies you have as a manager.) But it does matter. At the beginning of this campaign, I don't think anyone knew whether Barack Obama would be any good at running things. Now, however, we do.

Hilzoy 1:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (132)

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August 30, 2008
By: Hilzoy

Now that I'm back from the convention, and have transferred all my backed up stuff onto my new computer (sigh), I've finally had a chance to sit down and consider McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate. I was in an airplane during her speech yesterday, but I saw her speak with McCain today, and I think it would be a mistake to underestimate her potential appeal. Besides making a significant chunk of the Republican base swoon with delight, she seems like a genuinely engaging person, and one who will give the McCain campaign some badly needed energy. These are not negligible things.

On the other hand, I completely agree with Steve:

"What matters most right now is John McCain's comically dangerous sense of judgment. He picked a running mate he met once for 15 minutes, who's been the governor of a small state for a year and a half, and who is in the midst of an abuse-of-power investigation in which she appears to have lied rather blatantly. She has no obvious expertise in any area, and no record of any kind of federal issues. McCain doesn't care.

Sensible people of sound mind and character simply don't things like this. Leaders don't do things like this. It's the height of arrogance. It's manifestly unserious. It's reckless and irresponsible. It mocks the political process. Faced with a major presidential test, McCain thought it wise to tell an imprudent joke of lasting consequence."

I have a terrible track record predicting how voters will respond to things, but I think that this choice will damage McCain in the long run, particularly since he made it so shortly after Obama's speech. This might have seemed like a good way to stomp on the Democratic convention, but it also ensures that a lot of voters will have this juxtaposition in their minds: Obama's speech, which, whether you agree with it or not, manifestly took the election and the choice before us with the seriousness they deserve, and McCain's transparently cynical choice of a charming but plainly unqualified person to be his running mate, which did not.

I was also struck by McCain's willingness to gamble not just with our country, but with his own campaign. He has chosen as his running mate someone he has barely met; who has no experience dealing with the kind of scrutiny she is about to face; who has, by all accounts, not been fully vetted; and who is in the midst of a scandal. That is a shockingly reckless thing to do. Obviously, I think it's worse to gamble with the country, but taking this kind of crazy flyer on someone you don't know nearly enough about is recklessness of a different kind, and worth noting in its own right.

Hilzoy 9:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (89)

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MANIFESTLY UNSERIOUS.... At this point, I realize I'm belaboring the point. "Sarah Palin is an awful choice for a running mate," I can hear you saying, "We get it."

But I can't help but think the magnitude of this mistake has not yet sunk in among political observers. I was talking to a friend last night who is a political professional in DC, and the discussion, not surprisingly turned to Palin. He has extensive campaign experience, and every time I argued that this is completely insane, he explained to me a variety of reasons why this John McCain's campaign will benefit, significantly, as a result of this move. I suspect he's probably right.

We were, however, talking about different things. The Palin announcement probably stepped all over Barack Obama's post-convention bounce. Hell, for all I know, this one decision might actually help McCain win the presidency.

But that doesn't change the fact that this is the single most ridiculous development in presidential politics in a generation.

A top "loyal Bushie" told the Politico's Mike Allen that McCain's decision is "disrespectful to the office of the presidency." That's actually a pretty good way of characterizing it.

Campaigns have their ads, their polls, and their tactics, but at the end of the day, credible people who care about the country know that this is more than just a theatrical game -- the future of the nation counts more than the future of a candidate. Those who take affairs of state seriously may take cheap shots, shade the truth now and then, and run the kind of conventional campaigns we've all grown accustomed to, but honorable Americans of character don't gamble with the nation's well-being. They know there are lines that can't be crossed for expediency's sake, no matter how strong the temptation.

McCain was asked a while back about what he'd look for in a running mate. He said the "key" is to find the person "most prepared to take my place" in the event of a crisis. McCain spent the ensuing months with a motto: "Country first."

I don't doubt for a moment that Sarah Palin is a nice person and probably a competent Alaskan governor. But she also has the thinnest background of any candidate for national office since 1908. Is McCain willing, with a straight face, to argue that Palin is the single "most prepared" person in the entire United States to assume the presidency should tragedy strike? Is anyone, anywhere, prepared to argue that McCain has put "country first"? Of course not; these ideas are literally laughable.

Palin's qualifications are, to a very real degree, secondary to the issue at hand. What matters most right now is John McCain's comically dangerous sense of judgment. He picked a running mate he met once for 15 minutes, who's been the governor of a small state for a year and a half, and who is in the midst of an abuse-of-power investigation in which she appears to have lied rather blatantly. She has no obvious expertise in any area, and no record of any kind of federal issues. McCain doesn't care.

Sensible people of sound mind and character simply don't do things like this. Leaders don't do things like this. It's the height of arrogance. It's manifestly unserious. It's reckless and irresponsible. It mocks the political process. Faced with a major presidential test, McCain thought it wise to tell an imprudent joke of lasting consequence.

Kevin noted:

This is all part of what I was talking about the other day when I noted that McCain is running such a palpably unserious campaign. Steve Schmidt seems solely interested in winning the daily news cycle; his staff spends its time gleefully churning out juvenile attack videos; McCain himself has retreated into robotic incantations of simpleminded talking points; and now he's chosen a manifestly unqualified VP that he knows nothing about. I've honestly never seen anything like it.

No one has; it's without precedent in modern American politics. The novelty and gimmickry might hold sway with those who base their votes on who they'd like to have a beer with, but that doesn't make it any less of a joke.

Sullivan added, "Palin isn't the issue here. McCain's judgment is. It's completely off the wall. Is there something wrong with him?"

That may sound like a flippant question, but it deserves a serious answer. Is there something wrong with him? Might this be evidence of some kind of impulse problem, as reflected in his shoot-first, think-second approach to foreign policy?

When I think about the respect that John McCain had worked so hard to develop, the stature he'd taken years to cultivate, and the reputation he'd built his career on, it's breathtaking to see him throw it all away. If there's a more complete collapse in modern political times, from hero to clown, I can't think of it.

We're poised to learn a great deal about Sarah Palin, but we've just learned even more about John McCain. He's fundamentally unsuited for the presidency.

Steve Benen 5:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (138)

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THE OTHER RUNNING MATE.... The Obama campaign released a new ad this morning that offers an interesting take on the McCain campaign's running mate announcement: Sarah Palin isn't especially important, because McCain is still just more of the same.

In effect, the message is: "Bush is McCain's real running mate."

"Well, he's made his choice," the voice-over says, "but for the rest of us there's still no change. McCain doesn't get it, calling this broken economy 'strong.' Wants to keep spending ten-billion-a-month in Iraq. And votes with George Bush 90 percent of the time. So, while this may be his running-mate, America knows this is John McCain's agenda. And we can't afford four more years of the same."

It's a compelling strategy: McCain offered four more years of failed policies before his announcement, and he offers four more years of failed policies now. So what difference does a running mate make?

What do you think of the new ad?

Steve Benen 3:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (70)

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THE RIGHT OFFERS SOME REVIEWS.... It's probably fair to say most sensible people would find it tough to defend John McCain's choice of running mates, but I've been genuinely curious to see how Republicans respond to yesterday's Sarah Palin announcement. I don't mean campaign surrogates or Fox News personalities, who don't have a choice; I mean more traditional Republican voices who actually have to consider this decision on the merits (or lack thereof).

* Charles Krauthammer: "The Palin selection completely undercuts the argument about Obama's inexperience and readiness to lead.... To gratuitously undercut the remarkably successful 'Is he ready to lead' line of attack seems near suicidal."

* Noah Millman, presenting a defense for Palin: "I realize, of course, that she's totally unqualified to be President at this point in time. If McCain were to die in February 2009, I hope Palin would have the good sense to appoint someone who is more ready to be President to be her Vice President, on the understanding that she would then resign and be appointed Vice President by her successor."

* Ramesh Ponnuru called it "tokenism," adding, "Can anyone say with a straight face that Palin would have gotten picked if she were a man?"

* David Frum: "The longer I think about it, the less well this selection sits with me. And I increasingly doubt that it will prove good politics. The Palin choice looks cynical.... It's a wild gamble, undertaken by our oldest ever first-time candidate for president in hopes of changing the board of this election campaign. Maybe it will work. But maybe (and at least as likely) it will reinforce a theme that I'd be pounding home if I were the Obama campaign: that it's John McCain for all his white hair who represents the risky choice, while it is Barack Obama who offers cautious, steady, predictable governance.... If it were your decision, and you were putting your country first, would you put an untested small-town mayor a heartbeat away from the presidency?"

* Kathryn Jean Lopez: "As much as I loathe Obama-Biden, I can't in good conscience vote for a McCain-Palin ticket. Palin has absolutely no experience in foreign affairs. Considering both McCain's advanced age and the state of the world today, it is essential that the veep be exceedingly qualified to assume the office of president. I simply don't have any confidence in Palin's ability to deal effectively with Iran, Russia, China, etc." [Update: Lopez was quoting an email, not expressing her actual views. My apologies.]

* Mark Halperin: "On the face of it, McCain has failed the ultimate test that any presidential candidate must face in picking a running mate: selecting someone who is unambiguously qualified to be president."

The phrase "jump the shark" keeps coming to mind.

Steve Benen 1:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (105)

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THOSE WHO KNOW HER BEST.... There's never been a politician from Alaska on the national stage before, so I kind of expected Alaskans and the Alaskan media to have a decidedly positive attitude about Sarah Palin joining the Republican ticket. It's not exactly turning out that way.

* The Daily News-Miner in Fairbanks: " She has never publicly demonstrated the kind of interest, much less expertise, in federal issues and foreign affairs that should mark a candidate for the second-highest office in the land.... Most people would acknowledge that, regardless of her charm and good intentions, Palin is not ready for the top job. McCain seems to have put his political interests ahead of the nation's when he created the possibility that she might fill it."

* State Senate President Lyda Green, a Republican from Palin's hometown of Wasilla: "She's not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president?"

* Dermot Cole, a longtime columnist for Alaska's second largest newspaper, The Daily News-Miner, called McCain's choice of Palin "reckless" and questioned her credentials.

* Mike Doogan, a former columnist now serving as a Democrat in the state legislature: "John McCain looked all over the United States to find the single Republican who is qualified to be, as the saying goes, a heartbeat away from the presidency, and he came up with Sarah Palin. Really? ... [L]et's be honest here. Her resume is as thin as the meat in a vending machine sandwich.... The long and short of it is this: We're not sure she's a competent governor of Alaska. And yet McCain, who is no spring chicken, has decided she's the best choice to replace him as president if he should win and then fall afoul of the Grim Reaper. Sarah Palin? Really?"

* The Anchorage Daily News' Gregg Erickson: "[Palin] tends to oversimplify complex issues, has had difficulty delegating authority, and clearly has some difficulty distinguishing the line between her public responsibilities and private wishes.... It is clear that she has not paid much attention to the nitty-gritty unglamorous work of government, of gaining consensus, and making difficult compromises. She seems to be of the view that politics should be all rather simple. That often appeals to the wider public, but frustrates those who see themselves as laboring in the less glamorous parts of the vineyard."

Erickson's description kind of makes Palin sound like George W. Bush, doesn't it?

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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THE CRIME AND THE COVER-UP.... At her kickoff event in Ohio yesterday, Sarah Palin boasted about having rejected congressional funds for the infamous "bridge to nowhere." Soon after, we realized that Palin wasn't telling the truth about one of her signature issues, on her very first day as a candidate for national office.

Now, some might say this is excusable, because Palin's remarks were written by McCain campaign aides, and the McCain campaign barely knows who Palin is. That's probably true.

But lying about an alleged abuse of power is far more serious.

Remember the expression, the cover-up is worse than the crime? It's plainly true in the case of Palin firing Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan. Take a look at this video, from the ABC affiliate in Alaska, and notice that Palin seems to have been caught, rather blatantly, misusing her power and then lying about it.

While we're at it, read this rather extraordinary report from the Washington Post about just how embarrassing this scandal is for Palin.

For that matter, let's not forget that Palin fired the Alaska Public Safety Commissioner for the most dubious of reasons, and then replaced him with a guy facing a credible sexual harassment accusation, and who was out of the job two weeks later. What a great example of sound judgment.

As part of the investigation, Palin will have to leave the campaign trail to be deposed soon, the results of an investigation from the legislature into the controversy is due shortly before the election, and the word "impeachment" has been thrown around more the once.

Josh Marshall added, "Using the power of the government to settle scores with estranged relatives or associates is far from unprecedented.... But I doubt very much that they were prepared for the heat of full bore national media scrutiny on this one. And in this case you not only the underlying act, which is sleazy, but the high probability that Palin is lying about her role."

Did John McCain even ask about any of this? Does he have any idea what it looks like? Why would he pick a running mate in the middle of an ethics scandal in which there's strong evidence that the governor told obvious untruths?

I'm not making any predictions here, but I can't help but wonder if Palin will still be on the Republican ticket by the time Election Day comes in November.

Steve Benen 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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'FAUX-FEMINISM'.... It may seem foolish -- in large part, because it is -- but John McCain believes he can win over women voters by picking a running mate whose opposition to reproductive rights is so extreme, she opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Now that's a good plan to woo supporters of Hillary Clinton.

We talked a little about this yesterday, but there are two great pieces on McCain's cynical and insulting outreach to women voters that I wanted to mention. The first is from the New York Times' Gail Collins.

....I do feel kind of ticked off at the assumptions that the Republicans seem to be making about female voters. It's a tad reminiscent of the Dan Quayle selection, when the first George Bush's advisers decided they could close the gender gap with a cute running mate.

The idea that women are going to race off to vote for any candidate with the same internal plumbing is both offensive and historically wrong.

And The American Prospect's Ann Friedman fleshes this out in more detail.

Palin's addition to the ticket takes Republican faux-feminism to a whole new level. As Adam Serwer pointed out on TAPPED, this is in fact a condescending move by the GOP. It plays to the assumption that disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters did not care about her politics -- only her gender. In picking Palin, Republicans are lending credence to the sexist assumption that women voters are too stupid to investigate or care about the issues, and merely want to vote for someone who looks like them. As Serwer noted, it's akin to choosing Alan Keyes in an attempt to compete with Obama for votes from black Americans. [...]

McCain has turned the idea of the first woman in the White House from a true moment of change to an empty pander. Why is this a pander? Because Palin is not a woman who has a record of representing women's interests. She is beloved by extremely right-wing conservatives for her anti-choice record (fittingly, she's a member of the faux-feminist anti-choice group Feminists for Life). Palin supports federal anti-gay marriage legislation. She believes schools should teach creationism. Alaska is currently considering spending more on abstinence-only sex education. And when it comes to a slew of other issues of importance to women, such as equal pay, she's not on the record.... [M[ost of us understand that a woman candidate is not the same thing as a woman's candidate.

I'd just add how striking it is that McCain had more capable women to choose from, but picked one who wasn't even a governor when he started his presidential campaign. Senators such as Hutchison, Dole, Snowe, Collins, and Murkowski were skipped over, as were more experienced governors like Lingle and Rell, as were "mavericks" like Todd-Whitman, as were cabinet secretaries like Rice, Spellings, and Chao, as were business leaders like Fiorina and Whitman.

McCain skipped over more capable women for a younger, less experienced woman he barely knows. This is supposed to impress women voters? Seriously?

Steve Benen 11:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... I'm not sure if the McCain campaign has thought this line through.

"[Sarah Palin is] going to learn national security at the foot of the master for the next four years, and most doctors think that he'll be around at least that long," said Charlie Black, one of Mr. McCain's top advisers, making light of concerns about Mr. McCain's health, which Mr. McCain's doctors reported as excellent in May.

First, it's not an especially good idea for top McCain aides to joke about whether McCain is going to survive four years in office.

Second, it's not an especially good idea to describe McCain as "the master" on national security, given that he's embarrassingly confused about national security and foreign policy for quite some time.

Third, it's not an especially good idea to concede, on the record, that the Vice President during two wars will need on the job training.

And fourth, John McCain's top strategist has effectively told the New York Times that the Republican nominee for V.P. won't be ready on Day One, but that's fine, because McCain will probably live until 2013. Seriously. That's his argument.

I'd love to hear some enterprising political reporter who travels with the McCain campaign to ask the senator, "In the event of a tragedy or national calamity, and a President McCain were unable to carry out his duties, who does John McCain believe is the single best, most trustworthy, most capable, most reliable person in the entire United States to lead the free world?"

Joe Lieberman? Tom Ridge? Lindsey Graham? Dick Lugar? John Warner? No, it's Sarah Palin.

I just want to see McCain or one of his top aides say this with a straight face. Just once.

Steve Benen 10:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (77)

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NOT-SO-PERFECT STRANGERS.... We've been told for quite a while about John McCain's style of inter-personal interaction. He likes to take time to get to know people, trust them, and get a sense of their character before knowing whether or not he can count on them.

I mentioned yesterday that McCain barely knows Sarah Palin, hasn't worked with her in any capacity, and hadn't even asked her to serve as a campaign surrogate at any point in the process. The two are, for all intents and purposes, practically strangers.

But let's flesh this out a little more. John McCain, literally, spoke to his running mate, the person he believes should be one heartbeat from serving as the leader of the free world, exactly twice before offering her a spot on the ticket.

1. McCain met Palin in February at a meeting of the National Governors Association. The one-on-one interaction between the two, according to the McCain campaign, lasted 15 minutes, at a reception after the meeting.

2. McCain talked to Palin on the phone on Sunday, while she was at the Alaska State Fair. The conversation, according to Palin's press secretary, lasted five minutes.

3. McCain had a brief meeting with Palin at one of his Arizona homes on Thursday morning, offering her a spot on the national ticket.

There's no personal relationship. There's no sense of how the two might work together running the executive branch. There's no way for McCain to know how she thinks, how she processes information, and how she responds when the pressures on. There's just nothing.

John McCain doesn't know Sarah Palin, but he wants the nation to trust her. We are, of course, also supposed to trust him, despite the fact that he just picked someone to help him lead the nation who he barely knows anything about. Indeed, when introducing Palin at an event yesterday, McCain had to carefully read from a script, as if he wasn't sure what what his running mate's name was.

I wrapped up yesterday thinking there's something deeply wrong with John McCain's decision making. This morning, I'm pretty certain of it.

Steve Benen 9:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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KARL ROVE'S BRILLIANT ANALYSIS..... Looking back at Karl Rove's campaign analysis from earlier this month, this might be the single funniest thing I've read in a long time.

Republican strategist Karl Rove said on Face The Nation Sunday that he expects presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama to choose a running mate based on political calculations, not the person's readiness for the job.

"I think he's going to make an intensely political choice, not a governing choice," Rove said. "He's going to view this through the prism of a candidate, not through the prism of president; that is to say, he's going to pick somebody that he thinks will on the margin help him in a state like Indiana or Missouri or Virginia. He's not going to be thinking big and broad about the responsibilities of president."

Rove singled out Virginia governor Tim Kaine, also a Face The Nation guest, as an example of such a pick.

"With all due respect again to Governor Kaine, he's been a governor for three years, he's been able but undistinguished," Rove said. "I don't think people could really name a big, important thing that he's done. He was mayor of the 105th largest city in America."

Rove continued: "So if he were to pick Governor Kaine, it would be an intensely political choice where he said, `You know what? I'm really not, first and foremost, concerned with, is this person capable of being president of the United States."

Yes, the real problem with Tim Kaine is that he's only been governor of a large state for three years, and before that, he was only the mayor of a mid-size city. This, of course, made him "undistinguished," unprepared for national office, and the very idea of putting him on a national ticket was practically ridiculous.

Thanks, Karl.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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August 29, 2008

FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Paul Begala: "John McCain needs what Kinky Friedman calls 'a checkup from the neck up.' In choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate he is not thinking 'outside the box,' as some have said. More like out of his mind."

* David Gergen was pretty impressed with Barack Obana's speech last night, calling it "a political masterpiece" and "less a speech than a symphony."

* The McCain campaign is selling pens on its website that misspell the word "students." Ouch.

* Sarah Palin actually doubts that human activity is responsible for global warming.

* Palin has never been to Iraq. I'm looking forward to McCain denouncing her disinterest in the troops.

* What a coincidence: "Ad featuring scandal-plagued Ted Stevens endorsing Sarah Palin for governor in 2006 mysteriously vanishes from her campaign Web site."

* Ezra makes it plain: "[H]ere's what even [McCain's] supporters must admit: Country did not come first. Polls did."

* In a few years, Palin may be as accomplished as Dan Quayle was in '88.

* McCain is 23 years older than Alaska.

* John Cole on the Palin pick: "It seems so transparently cynical, so deeply poll-driven and focus-grouped, and so manifestly just a bone to the wingnut pro-life base and the 8 PUMA holdouts, that I really can't treat this pick seriously."

* For months, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty have worked their asses off for the McCain campaign, traveling, speaking, doing interviews, and launching attacks. Palin, meanwhile, didn't do much of anything to help the McCain campaign. As of today, Romney and Pawlenty are pissed.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (128)

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PALIN ON HRC.... One of the more offensive angles to the McCain campaign's running mate announcement is how breathtakingly cynical it is. As the McCain gang sees it, supporters of Hillary Clinton are driven entirely by gender concerns -- the notion that Democrats may have actually liked Hillary for her record and agenda apparently isn't a consideration -- so picking a woman, any woman, even a far-right anti-choice woman, will necessarily drive Democrats to vote Republican.

I suspect this will backfire. No one likes to be played for a fool, and these crass tactics will probably be perceived by Clinton backers as more insulting than anything else.

And yet, in a move that was about as subtle as a sledgehammer, Sarah Palin praised Hillary Clinton during her first appearance on the national stage today, referencing the "18 million cracks in the glass ceiling" quote. Before anyone's fooled, though, keep in mind that Palin is not a Clinton fan.

Newsweek reports that back in March, at a Women and Leadership event held by the mag, Palin's view of Hillary wasn't quite as charitable: "She said she felt kind of bad she couldn't support a woman, but she didn't like Clinton's 'whining.'"

I'm sure that'll impress Clinton's most ardent backers, right?

McCain has taken the most patronizing attitude imaginable, and it's likely to fail. Note to the McCain campaign: we know Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is a friend of ours. Senator, Sarah Palin is no Hillary Clinton.

Steve Benen 4:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (77)

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38.3 MILLION VIEWERS.... Watching Barack Obama's acceptance speech last night, I remember thinking, "I sure hope people tuned in to watch this." They sure did.

Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president on Thursday as an estimated 38 million viewers watched on television, setting a new record for convention viewership, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Mr. Obama's speech -- a historic one given his status as the first African American nominee of a major political party -- reached significantly more viewers than the comparable addresses in 2004. Coverage of John Kerry's acceptance speech in 2004 had 24.4 million viewers; coverage of George W. Bush's convention speech that same year drew 27.5 million.

The audience estimate of 38.3 million means that Mr. Obama's speech reached more viewers than the Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing, the final "American Idol" or the Academy Awards this year, the Associated Press notes.

Furthermore, the four-night Democratic convention ranks as the most-watched convention of either party, Democratic or Republican, since Nielsen began measuring conventions in 1960.

Keep in mind, several decades ago, conventions dominated every major network -- and there was no cable.

For that matter, let's also not forget that Nielsen's numbers don't include those who watched the fourth night of the convention on PBS, C-SPAN, online, or via a DVR.

In order words, there was an extraordinary amount of attention in what the Democrats had to say during the convention. We'll learn soon enough whether the viewers liked what they heard, but the early results look favorable for the party.

Steve Benen 4:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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LET'S DEFINE 'FOREIGN POLICY'.... During the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush would occasionally claim to have foreign policy experience, by virtue of the fact that his adopted-home state of Texas bordered Mexico. Four years later, Howard Dean half-heartedly tried the same thing, reminding people about Vermont-Canadian relations.

With that in mind, I guess it shouldn't come as too big a surprise that Republicans now want to claim that Sarah Palin has foreign policy experience, thanks to Alaska's proximity to Russia.

Earlier, Kevin joked, "Isn't Alaska a central front in the new Cold War? That's foreign policy experience right there!" Proving once again how difficult satire is in an age of Fox News, this video shows Steve Doocy making the identical argument, only he was serious.

"[T]he other thing about her, she does know about international relations because she is right up there in Alaska right next door to Russia," Doocy said.

Note to Fox News: proximity to a foreign country has nothing to do with "knowing about international relations."

Steve Benen 3:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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By: Charles Homans

"NO THANKS"? REALLY?...In addition to what Steve and Bradhave already said re: the Bridge to Nowhere line in Palin's speech, it's worth noting that while she said "no thanks" to the bridge, she didn't have a problem keeping the money:

Under mounting political pressure over pork projects, Congress stripped the earmark -- or stipulation -- that the money be used for the airport, but still sent the money to the state for any use it deemed appropriate.

I think AP meant "bridge," not "airport," but point taken.

Charles Homans 3:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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PALIN AND THE BRIDGE TO NOWHERE.... John McCain's introduction of Sarah Palin as his running mate this afternoon was an interesting sight. If you watch the video carefully, and I hope you do, notice that in order to tell the audience his running mate's name, he had to carefully read it from a script. That's really not a good sign.

Palin's speech was rather routine, but there was a paragraph that stood out for me:

"...I championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. In fact, I told Congress -- I told Congress, 'Thanks, but no thanks,' on that bridge to nowhere. If our state wanted a bridge, I said we'd build it ourselves."

The McCain campaign has been flagging this pretty aggressively this afternoon. It's a shame, then, that Palin wasn't exactly telling the truth. As TNR's Brad Plumer explained, Palin actually supported the funding for the much-derided bridge project.

That's not a good start for her very first public appearance as the Republicans' VP candidate.

I'd add, by the way, that her reference to earmark spending is itself problematic. For all of McCain's alleged disgust for pork, Palin's Alaska receives more earmarks than any other state.

As for the rest of the event, I had a similar reaction to Jonathan Chait: "It sort of seemed like one of those regular person testimonials where somebody gets up and talks about their family and their blue-collar job -- except then she says that she's on the ticket. Maybe it will help McCain connect with blue-collar voters. Maybe she'll come off as someone you can't possibly imagine as president. I don't know. It's really different."

Steve Benen 3:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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A CONFOUNDING CHOICE.... Charles Homans offers some very helpful background in an item below about Sarah Palin, but I have to admit, I'm still struggling to understand what on earth the McCain campaign is thinking here.

* McCain has spent the last several years insisting that the most important qualities in a candidate for national office are experience and a background in national security. Sarah Palin was, up until recently, the mayor of a town of 9,000 people, and is currently the governor of a small state with a part-time legislature, with one-and-a-half years under her belt.

* McCain may want to improve his appeal among women voters, but he skipped right past more qualified Republican women -- women he actually knows -- such as Kay Bailey Hutchison, Elizabeth Dole, and Olympia Snowe, all of whom would have brought genuine credibility to a ticket.

* In an election season in which voters desperately want change, McCain has picked a hard-right conservative. I mean, really conservative. We're talking about a former activist for Pat Buchanan, staunch opponent of reproductive rights, global-warming denier, and skeptic of modern biology. There's a reason every right-wing group in America is jumping up and down with glee this afternoon.

* The usual pattern is for Republicans to reach national office and then face ethics investigation for alleged wrongdoing. This year, the GOP seems willing to reverse this, putting a governor on the national ticket who's already facing an ethics investigation.

* She recently asked what a Vice President does all day. How encouraging.

* Can anyone, anywhere, explain why Sarah Palin would make a good president? Given that McCain is a 72-year-old man with a history of health trouble, isn't this a rather important question right now?

I realize Palin is new, which necessarily generates some excitement. But I can't help but find this announcement utterly bizarre, and completely devoid of seriousness.

I heartily endorse Kevin's take: "This whole thing is crazy.... I'm just stunned by the cynicism of the whole thing. I'm sure Palin is a fine person, loving mother, devoted wife, learning her way as governor, and so forth. But a heartbeat away from the presidency? ... You gotta be kidding."

Steve Benen 1:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (141)

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By: Charles Homans

THE FALLOUT UP NORTH...Now that Palin's on the McCain ticket, the already interesting-bordering-on-absurd House and Senate races in Alaska are going to become more so. This year, the seats belonging to Rep. Don Young (who's been in office for 35 years) and Sen. Ted Stevens (40) are in play for Democrats for the first time in decades. Young and his primary challenger, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, are currently awaiting a ballot recount in the narrowly contested Republican primary--if Young wins, he stands a better chance than Parnell of losing to the Democratic challenger, Ethan Berkowitz. Stevens, meanwhile, is trailing his Democratic challenger Mark Begich, and is due in federal court in late September on corruption charges.

Palin's VP nod makes all of this even more interesting. There was talk of her taking Stevens's place on the Republican ticket in the general election if Stevens is found guilty, and it's probable she would have beaten Begich--so this is good news for Democrats in the Senate. Parnell, meanwhile, would presumably take over as governor if McCain/Palin wins.

Charles Homans 1:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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By: Charles Homans

THE PALIN PICK...Howdy folks--I'm a new editor here at the Monthly, and as someone who lived in and reported on Alaska for the entirety of Sarah Palin's tenure as governor (until a couple months ago), I feel like I should jump in here. I'm less quick than Steve to dismiss McCain's pick--the Palin choice does have a gimmicky quality to it, but Obama supporters should still be concerned. I'll get to why in a minute. First, a little history:

Palin was elected governor in 2006 in what was, for Alaska, an epochal election. The previous August, a bribery scandal in the Republican-dominated state legislature (which has since ensnared Sen. Ted Stevens, who was indicted on related charges in July) had dealt a serious blow to the state's Republican establishment, which had more or less run Alaskan politics since the '60s. Palin was uniquely positioned to take advantage of that--she had been a persona non grata with many party leaders since two years earlier, when she blew the whistle on the state Republican Party chairman for a conflict of interest when both of them were on the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (Ben Stevens, Ted Stevens's son and the former president of the state Senate, once personally called Palin to tell her she was a "Pollyanna" for her concerns over his ethics). Running as an insurgent in the Republican primary, she walloped Frank Murkowski, the incumbent and previously a two-decade veteran of the U.S. Senate (Murkowksi has so far remained clear of the corruption probe--Alaskans mostly just didn't like the guy). Her election is credited by both reformist Republicans and Democrats in Alaska with opening the door for new political blood in a state that badly needs it. It's unlikely that either Ted Stevens or Rep. Don Young, both of whom are fighting for their lives in this year's elections after holding office for the majority of Alaska's statehood, would be doing so if Palin hadn't won.

In short, Palin can legitimately claim the maverick reformist credentials that McCain himself has long since lost. Her pro-life record helps McCain with the Republican base, her gender might lure away a few Hillary bitter-enders, and her youth goes a little way towards compensating one of McCain's major weaknesses. Palin also manages the Obama-esque feat of commanding a great deal of popularity among people who don't really know what she stands for--Dave Dittman, an Anchorage-based pollster, who has done a lot of polling and thinking about this, pointed out to me several months ago that Palin was maintaining a 85 percent approval rating among Alaskan voters even when her policies (particularly a natural gas line deal that has been a signature ambition of her administration) polled far short of that, and even when voters had trouble accurately describing her political leanings. She also pretty much guarantees a McCain victory in her home state, where Obama has been polling astoundingly well (Alaska hasn't gone for a Democrat since Lyndon Johnson).

On the other side of the balance sheet, Palin's been in the governor's office less than two years, and her only executive experience before that was her stint as mayor of a small town (coming from Alaska--where one-party dominance and a massive oil economy eventually make it hard for even the most upright Republican politician to stay clean--this probably isn't a bad thing). A short resume isn't a great target for Obama, but it also robs McCain of what's been a pretty key talking point for him so far. Back home, Palin's entangled in an investigation into a controversial firing incident, which has nicked the otherwise unassailable approval ratings she's maintained since she took office. Still, it's not much compared to the spectacular corruption Alaskans are used to by now, and it doesn't seem likely to gain much more traction that Obama's real estate troubles.

Obama's best bet is probably to play up Palin's conventionally conservative ideology, which is often masked by her considerable charisma--it doesn't seem terribly likely to me that voters who are disgruntled over what they see as the misogynistic underpinnings of Obama's victory will go en masse for a pro-life candidate. Other than that, there aren't a lot of handholds here at the outset.

That said, it's a risky move for McCain to go with someone so totally un-tested in national politics when the race is still arguably Obama's to lose--the vice presidential debates should be fun to watch. Alaska is also a pretty idiosyncratic state, politics-wise--what worked for Palin there won't necessarily transfer to the country as a whole. Palin is coming in with a more solid array of positives than most of McCain's alternatives, but they don't seem to have anywhere to go but down.

Charles Homans 12:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

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REEKING OF DESPERATION.... Following up on the last item, I can appreciate the McCain campaign's perspective on picking Sarah Palin. She's young (the exact same age as Dan Quayle when he was tapped for the Republican ticket), she's virulently opposed to abortion rights (which helps McCain with his party's far-right base), and she's unexpected. Plus, I guess we can say Alaska is no longer in play this year.

But in trying to wrap my head around this, the same word keeps coming to mind: gimmick. Under the circumstances, this choice has literally nothing to do with governing and everything to do with a desperate search for an electoral edge. McCain used to bill himself as the credible, serious grown-up candidate. That's an exceedingly difficult pitch to make now. When looking for a running mate, Barack Obama looked to someone who could help make him a better president. When looking for a running mate, John McCain looked to someone who could help him look like a better candidate.

Indeed, today's announcement seems to be largely based on two considerations: 1) who might help peel off some disaffected Clinton supporters; and 2) what might help undercut coverage of Obama's big speech in Denver. These aren't the considerations of a national leader; they're the considerations of a political hack.

Consider this item from Power Line, a conservative blog, written before the reports had been confirmed.

I'm worried about Palin. I'm afraid she may be the Geraldine Ferraro of 2008. If she really is the nominee, will it come across as a desperation move, a Hail Mary, as Mondale's choice of Ferraro did in 1984? I'm afraid so. Her experience just doesn't justify a place on the ticket. [...]

The most important thing McCain has going for him in this race is the perception that he is the serious candidate. Choosing a running mate who will be widely perceived as unqualified would go a long way toward squandering that advantage.

McCain had a vast group of Republicans to choose from, and he picked someone he barely knows, who's been a governor for a year and a half.

I'm very much looking forward to Ron Fournier's piece, explaining how this shows just how little confidence John McCain has in his own campaign.

Steve Benen 11:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (115)

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MCCAIN/PALIN '08.... There's a political adage that's been around for a while that says the first "presidential decision" a candidate makes is picking a running mate. If that's the case, John McCain would apparently be a very odd president.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain has chosen Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, NBC News has learned.

She would be the first woman ever to serve on a Republican presidential ticket. The pro-life Palin would also be the first Alaskan ever to appear on a national ticket.

Palin, 44, was elected Alaska's first woman governor in 2006.

Every network confirms it; this is the actual Republican ticket for 2008: McCain/Palin.

It's more than surprising; it's the strangest running-mate decision since Dan Quayle. Sarah Palin spent a year working as a commissioner for the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and has been governor for a year and a half. Now, she'll be the Republicans' vice presidential candidate, and if things go well for McCain, one heartbeat from the presidency. When it comes to being untested and unknown, Palin is in a league of her own.

Just yesterday, advisers to the McCain campaign conceded to the New York Times that McCain "thinks highly" of Palin, but "her less than two years in office would undercut one of the McCain campaign's central criticisms of Senator Barack Obama -- that he is too inexperienced to be commander-in-chief." So much for the McCain campaign's message.

Stepping back, we have the man who would be the oldest president in American history, who happens to have a record of health problems, picking a virtual unknown who's been a governor for less than two years. Amazing.

McCain communications chief Jill Hazelbaker told CBS News this morning that McCain is going to "make the choice from his heart." That seems even more bizarre -- McCain barely knows Palin, hasn't worked with her in any capacity, and hadn't even asked her to serve as a campaign surrogate at any point in the process. For all the talk about McCain valuing personal relationships above all else, McCain has practically picked a stranger, to himself and the rest of the nation.

This strikes me as a tremendously desperate move on McCain's part, which is unlikely to go over well. More soon.

Steve Benen 10:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (201)

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DELAYING THE GOP CONVENTION?.... Tropical Storm Gustav, which is expected to become a hurricane sometime soon, continues to move towards the Gulf Coast. For the people along the coast, this is obviously a scary situation that will leave many communities scrambling. For Republicans planning to kick off a national convention, there's a different kind of scramble going on.

Republican officials said yesterday that they are considering delaying the start of the GOP convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul because of Tropical Storm Gustav, which is on track to hit the Gulf Coast, and possibly New Orleans, as a full-force hurricane early next week.

The threat is serious enough that White House officials are also debating whether President Bush should cancel his scheduled convention appearance on Monday, the first day of the convention, according to administration officials and others familiar with the discussion.

For Bush and Republican presidential candidate John McCain, Gustav threatens to provide an untimely reminder of Hurricane Katrina. A new major storm along the Gulf Coast would renew memories of one of the low points of the Bush administration, while pulling public attention away from McCain's formal coronation as the GOP presidential nominee.

Senior Republicans said images of political celebration in the Twin Cities while thousands of Americans flee a hurricane could be dubious.

Complicating matters, the McCain campaign and its surrogates spent quite a bit of time earlier this summer insisting that coastal oil drilling is perfectly safe, and that Hurricane Katrina didn't produce any oil spills at all. The campaign's claims, of course, were demonstrably ridiculous.

With this in mind, reports like these are unhelpful: "A hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico could also cast unwelcome attention on the offshore oil rigs that McCain has championed as a solution to rising gasoline prices -- they are now being evacuated in the face of the coming storm."

Also note, if a major storm hit the coast, it might not just necessitate moving the convention, it might also prompt Republicans to alter their message a bit. A senior GOP official told the Washington Post, "You would have to dramatically change the nature of what you do. Much less partisan. Much less political."

I find that hard to believe -- this is the Republican convention after all -- but it's something to keep an eye on.

Steve Benen 10:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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LAYING THE GROUNDWORK FOR A MANDATE.... As has been the case for quite a while, Barack Obama lit into John McCain in his acceptance speech last night, but not in personal terms. It highlighted the key distinction of the two campaign styles -- McCain has gone after Obama on character, integrity, and patriotism, while Obama has gone after McCain on policy, substance, and vision.

But this is about more than just competing approaches to character assassination, it's also about laying the groundwork for actually governing. Mark Schmitt had a very sharp take on last night's address:

Letting the Republicans go after Obama in all the ways we know they will, while leaving McCain's persona unchallenged is a huge risk. It calls on voters to make a fairly nuanced distinction between the candidate and the agenda.

But there's another lesson in George W. Bush's 2004 victory over Kerry by demolishing Kerry's personal reputation: It left Kerry's agenda untouched. As Bush discovered from the day after his 2005 inauguration, he had no mandate for conservative policies such as Social Security privatization because he had not run on them.

But if it succeeds, it will have the effect of giving the next president exactly what George W. Bush didn't have: A mandate. The voters will have rejected not just McCain, but the entire economic and foreign policy agenda of conservatism. And that's as important as winning the election, perhaps more important.

Well said. In 2004, voters agreed with Kerry, but were persuaded to reject him. They disagreed with Bush, but wanted to invite him to their barbecue. But when it came time to govern, Bush did what he wanted to do, Americans grew frustrated because they hated his agenda, and the president's popularity tanked. It's not rocket science -- Bush never received, and never actually sought, a mandate for his ideas. Indeed, if he had tried, he would have lost.

But this creates a dynamic in which governing is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible. Voters don't generally like to vote on the issues, but when it comes time for policy changes, the issues are what end up mattering most. If a candidate runs a campaign that hides his or her positions on the issues -- as Bush did twice, and McCain is doing now -- it's bound to deeply disappoint the electorate once he or she starts implementing the ideas no one endorsed.

That makes Obama's pitch a gamble -- he's counting on voters to be grown-ups -- but should he win, he'll have the advantage of a mandate.

As Kevin concluded, Obama's not only in a position to win, he can win "with a public behind him that's actively sold on a genuinely liberal agenda. This is why conservatives have so far been apoplectic about his speech tonight: if he continues down this road, and wins, they know that he'll leave movement conservatism in tatters. He is, at least potentially, the most dangerous politician they've ever faced."

Steve Benen 9:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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TIME FOR THE AP TO LOOK IN THE MIRROR.... About half way through Barack Obama's convention speech last night, he told his audience, "That's the promise we need to keep. That's the change we need right now. So let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am President."

He did just that, with an emphasis on depth. Taxes, healthcare, energy policy, education -- Obama left little doubt about what he would do if elected. Indeed, the emphasis on details, which his detractors have said is a weak point in his campaign, was hard to miss. Chris Cillizza said, "Obama's speech was more substance than style; more specifics than rhetorical flourish." Greg Sargent said the speech "was strong because of its specificity." Robert Gordon and James Kvaal added, "In its depth and detail, his speech resembled a State of the Union address more than a typical stump speech."

And yet, there was the Associated Press, doing what it's been doing far too often: parroting the Republican line.

Barack Obama, whose campaign theme is "change we can believe in," promised Thursday to "spell out exactly what that change would mean."

But instead of dwelling on specifics, he laced the crowning speech of his long campaign with the type of rhetorical flourishes that Republicans mock and the attacks on John McCain that Democrats cheer. [...]

The crowd at Invesco Field cheered deliriously, but Republicans almost surely will decry the lack of specifics.

This is utter nonsense. Obama detailed his policy vision in a way few convention speeches of the modern era have. What, exactly, did the AP's Charles Babbington expect Obama to do? Break out a chalk board and some pie charts? Start reading white papers?

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, soon after the AP piece hit the wires, read excerpts before trouncing the ridiculous analysis. "It is analysis that strikes me as having born no resemblance to the speech you and I just watched," Olbermann said. "None whatsoever. And for it to be distributed by the lone national news organization in terms of wire copy to newspapers around the country and web sites is a remarkable failure of that news organization. Charles Babington, find a new line of work."

That's reasonable advice, but I'd just add that it's time for the AP to take a long look in the mirror. The man responsible for directing the wire service's coverage of the presidential campaign, Ron Fournier, considered joining the McCain campaign's payroll just last year, and his "leadership" has taken the AP in an unprofessional direction. Its coverage of the race has not only been biased and misleading, but has become an embarrassment to once-great media institution.

The Associated Press is just too important to slip so far from where it once was. It can become credible again, but the service is in desperate need of sweeping changes.

Steve Benen 8:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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THE BEST DEFENSE IS A STRONG OFFENSE.... Realistically, it's not at all fair to keep expecting Barack Obama to deliver stirring, powerful, historic addresses. Faced with key moments repeatedly over the last few years, the political world seems to consistently wait for Obama with a four-word phrase in mind: "This better be good."

And yet, he keeps managing to exceed expectations.

It was, by most measures, a different kind of speech for Obama, a fact that did not go by unnoticed. Joe Klein noted, "Barack Obama's acceptance speech tonight wasn't what people have come to expect from a Barack Obama speech. It wasn't filled with lofty rhetoric or grand cadences. It did not induce tears or euphoria." John Dickerson added, "For a speech before 80,000 people and Doric columns in a football stadium, Barack Obama might have been expected to summon winged chariots, F-14s, and maybe a marching band. When he finished, hats would be cast into the air, and rent shirts would litter the floor. Obama didn't deliver that speech."

But those aren't criticisms. Indeed, Obama deliberately avoided that kind of speech, for a more forceful articulation of why he's ready to lead, why John McCain isn't, and precisely what he wants to do for the nation. It's easy to call for change, so Obama described the kind of change he envisions. It's easy to condemn an opponent, so Obama explained why McCain's ideas are intellectually and practically bankrupt.

The result was one for the books. People are going to be talking about last night for quite a while.

Most of Obama's more memorable speeches are powerful. Last night, he mixed power with persuasion. Listening to the substance and taking in his vision, it was clear this wasn't about Obama giving his audience goosebumps, but rather, giving his audience a direction, and a reason to follow him. To that end, over the course of 45 minutes, Obama set the campaign on a new course.

It's tricky to go on the offensive while maintaining an optimistic and inspirational tone, but that's precisely what made Obama's speech so effective. He didn't just take the fight to McCain, he eviscerated McCain, his worldview, his party, and his record. Obama took McCain's claims and debunked them. He took McCain's talking points, and mocked them. Remember the questions about Obama's toughness? His willingness to mix it up? Neither do I.

The speech was also strikingly self-aware. Obama knew exactly what detractors have been saying, and the areas of doubt for voters -- Does he have a clear agenda? Is he more talk than substance? Celebrity? Taxes? -- and methodically, almost surgically, made his case.

There weren't a lot of laugh lines or rhetorical tricks last night. Obama was, for lack of a better word, serious. In fact, he called McCain out for doing the one thing presidential candidates shouldn't do: run an unserious campaign. "The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook," Obama said. "So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America -- they have served the United States of America. So I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first."

As Josh Marshall concluded, "[F]or this moment, John McCain looks very, very small. Both in stature and as a person."

Game on.

Steve Benen 6:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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August 28, 2008

OBAMA DELIVERS.... I'll have more in the morning, of course, but I just have to say, this was as forceful a speech as I've seen Barack Obama deliver, and it worked extremely well.

I made a few notes this afternoon about things to watch for: 1) take the fight to McCain; 2) lay out a specific agenda; 3) counter and innoculate attacks. Obama did all of that, and then some.

I don't know what the pundits are saying right now, but from where I sat, that was one hell of a speech.

Steve Benen 11:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (140)

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CONVENTION OPEN THREAD.... It's a packed house, of course, at Invesco Field in Denver, and the fourth and final night of the Democratic Convention has been going off without a hitch. Tim Kaine ("Move, mountain!") was better than I expected, and Bill Richardson was probably the best I've ever seen him ("He may pay hundreds of dollars for his shoes, but we're the ones who'll pay for his flip-flops").

Al Gore, of course, continues to be one of the towering voices in the party, and the text of his speech has been posted on his blog. Take a look.

Coming up is a speech from someone named Barack Obama, who should take this stage within an hour or so. Also, hilzoy's iphone is working, so she may check in, and as I mentioned earlier, the Washington Monthly's Paul Glastris will be on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" immediately after Obama's address.

With that in mind, I thought I'd open the floor to some discussion. What do you think of the closing night of the convention? How cool was it to see Stevie Wonder perform, "Signed, Sealed, Delivered"?

The floor is yours.

Update: At first blush, the idea of putting regular ol' folks on stage to tell their personal stories may sound a little cheesy. It wasn't -- those folks were fantastic. A president who puts "Barney Smith over Smith Barney"? Awesome. The nurse from North Carolina who's been voting Republican since Nixon, but who said she can't afford it anymore? Awesome. The woman who became an Obama supporter after fact-checking a smear email? Awesome.

Note to convention organizers: Smart move.

Steve Benen 9:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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OBAMA TO TELL NATION: 'ENOUGH IS ENOUGH'.... I received an advance copy of excerpts -- not the whole text -- from tonight's speech from Barack Obama, and not surprisingly, it looks very strong.

Most notably, after characterizing this election as "one of those defining moments," Obama ties McCain to his party and the failures of Republican governance, and insists, "America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this."

"This moment -- this election -- is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive. Because next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third. And we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look just like the last eight. On November 4th, we must stand up and say: 'Eight is enough.'

"Now let there be no doubt. The Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our gratitude and respect. And next week, we'll also hear about those occasions when he's broken with his party as evidence that he can deliver the change that we need.

"But the record's clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush was right more than 90 percent of the time? I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change."

Obama also appears slated to connect his vision to the icons of the Democratic Party. First, of previous generations: "We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don't tell me that Democrats won't defend this country."

Second, of more recent years: "We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage; whether you can put away a little extra money at the end of each month so that you can someday watch your child receive her diploma. We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was President -- when the average American family saw its income go up $7,500 instead of down $2,000 like it has under George Bush."

I've posted the excerpts below the jump, but bear in mind, the speech may change, and there's content that isn't included here.

"The American Promise"

"Four years ago, I stood before you and told you my story -- of the brief union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas who weren't well -- off or well -- known, but shared a belief that in America, their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to.

"It is that promise that has always set this country apart -- that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well.

"It is why I stand here tonight. Because for 232, at each moment when that promise was in jeopardy, ordinary men and women -- students and soldiers, farmers and teachers, nurses and janitors ---- found the courage to keep it alive.

"We meet at one of those defining moments -- a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more.

"Tonight, more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less. More of you have lost your homes and more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can't afford to drive, credit card bills you can't afford to pay and tuition that is beyond your reach

"These challenges are not all of government's making. But the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed presidency of George W. Bush.

"America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this."

[...]

"This moment -- this election -- is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive. Because next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third. And we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look just like the last eight. On November 4th, we must stand up and say: 'Eight is enough.'

"Now let there be no doubt. The Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our gratitude and respect. And next week, we'll also hear about those occasions when he's broken with his party as evidence that he can deliver the change that we need.

"But the record's clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush was right more than 90 percent of the time? I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change."

[...]

"You see, we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress in this country.

"We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage; whether you can put away a little extra money at the end of each month so that you can someday watch your child receive her diploma. We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was President -- when the average American family saw its income go up $7,500 instead of down $2,000 like it has under George Bush.

"We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500, but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off to look after a sick kid without losing her job -- an economy that honors the dignity of work.

"The fundamentals we use to measure economic strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country great -- a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight."

[...]

"That's the promise we need to keep. That's the change we need right now. So let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am President.

"Change means a tax code that doesn't reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.

"Unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship our jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America.

"I will eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start -- ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.

"I will cut taxes -- cut taxes -- for 95% of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.

"And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as President: in 10 years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.

"Washington has been talking about our oil addiction for the last 30 years, and John McCain has been there for 26 of them. In that time, he's said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil as the day that Senator McCain took office.

"Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.

"As President, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I'll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I'll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy -- wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced."

[...]

"We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don't tell me that Democrats won't defend this country. Don't tell me that Democrats won't keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans -- Democrats and Republicans -- have built, and we are to restore that legacy.

"As Commander-in-Chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm's way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home.

"I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing so that America is once more the last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future."

Steve Benen 7:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Now here's a provocative charge: "Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of orchestrating the conflict in Georgia to benefit one of its presidential election candidates."

* The stock markets did well today, which I suppose means, based on Larry Kudlow's economic theories, that investors like what they're hearing from the Democratic National Convention.

* We talked earlier about John Goodman, who helped write McCain's healthcare plan, arguing that all Americans have access to healthcare thanks to emergency rooms. Soon after, the McCain campaign said Goodman isn't actually an advisor to the senator. The campaign appears to be lying.

* My friend Hilzoy's computer was stolen while at the Democratic convention. Damn.

* When Karl Rove thinks about hurricanes hitting the Gulf Coast, he thinks about how much they inconveniences Republicans.

* They want to let Abramoff out early?

* I didn't realize right-wing media personalities are still hung up on the whole Obama birth-certificate thing.

* AFSCME president Gerald McEntee spoke to Iowa Democrats this morning: "Toward the end of his 18 minute speech, McEntee sort of addressed the elephant in the room, saying there were some union members who won't vote for Barack Obama because he's black: 'I say to all those people out there in our own union and every other union in the United States: 'If that's the reason you can't vote for Barack Obama, that is bullsh*t and you have to change your mind.'"

* "McCain's Million Dollar Parking Lot"

* Del Martin died yesterday at age 87.

* Convention "word clouds" can be pretty interesting.

* And Tom Brokaw continues to carry water for McCain, suggesting that his background of a prisoner of war necessarily shields him against, well, everything.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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GOOD SEATS ARE STILL AVAILABLE.... There are competing reports on when, exactly, the McCain campaign is going to announce its running mate, with some rumors the news could come tonight. (Obama communications chief Dan Pfeiffer sounds skeptical: "If they do it, I will pay all of McCain's mortgages next month.")

McCain is, however, set to roll out his selection at an event in Dayton, Ohio, tomorrow. The good news for Republicans is that the event will probably generate enormous media attention. The bad news, the interest from locals isn't nearly as great.

Barack Obama can fill a 75,000 seat stadium. John McCain, it seems, is having trouble filling a 10,000 seat theater in Dayton. They're giving away free tickets in several states and plan to bus in supporters. The VP announcement can't be overshadowed by a less-than-capacity crowd.

This isn't a McCain-bashing post. McCain's campaign has got to be concerned about the relative level of excitement that the GOP base feels. One way to generate some heat is to turn Barack Obama into a boogeyman. That's had a marginal effect so far. Only McCain can close the gap.

That is kind of embarrassing. It's a major event, in a swing state, in a city in which McCain has been advertising heavily. It's also McCain's 72nd birthday, when one might expect Republicans to come out and express their well-wishes. You'd think the interest in who McCain would pick for his ticket would be intense enough to draw an enormous crowd, but they're having trouble filling a theater.

It's not reflected in most recent polling, but there's ample reason to believe the "enthusiasm gap" is real.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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DOWNPLAYING THE DIFFERENCES.... In early June, Paul Krugman had an interesting item on the media's coverage of the presidential campaign, as the dominant story shifted from a primary race to the general election. When the focus was on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, it was in the media's interest to exaggerate differences between two candidates who agree on almost everything. When the focus shifted to Obama and John McCain, it made the media's job easier -- there are, as Krugman noted, "stark differences on issues between the candidates."

There's no way to argue that Obama and McCain -- a classic story of contrasts -- offer similar ideas and solutions. Krugman noted that eight years ago, news outlets ran far too many stories downplaying the differences between Bush and Al Gore -- stories that look comically ridiculous in hindsight -- and wondered whether journalists might try a similar tack this year.

It seemed unlikely. Obama and McCain are so different -- personally, ideologically, professionally, temperamentally -- the media just can't screw this up.

But as the latest analysis piece from the AP demonstrates, they're going to give it their best shot.

John McCain and Barack Obama share common ground on a surprising selection of issues where the age-old Republican-Democratic divide doesn't cut it anymore.

Both want the United States to join the campaign against global warming in earnest. Both want to cut taxes for the middle class. [...]

As much as the candidates would be loathe to admit it, circumstance and the evolution of war policy have even diminished their differences over the course in Iraq.

Call it the McBama agenda, a limited but striking bipartisan convergence.

The LA Times recently had a similar front-page item downplaying the enormous differences between the two candidates, as did Bloomberg News.

There's just no excuse for such bizarre reporting.

Let's unwrap the AP piece in a little more detail.

* Global warming: The AP says both want to combat climate change "in earnest." In reality, yes, both Obama and McCain agree that global warming is serious. The difference is, Obama has an ambitious policy to combat the trend, while McCain's rhetoric doesn't meet reality.

* Taxes: The AP says both want to cut taxes for the middle class. This neglects to mention that Obama's tax cuts for the middle class are bigger, and that McCain's tax cuts for the extremely wealthy are even more regressive than Bush's tax policies.

* Iraq: While there's been security progress in Iraq, to suggest there are minimal differences between Obama and McCain on Iraq policy is backwards. These two haven't agreed on almost any aspect of the war for six years.

* Stem cell research: The AP says both want to end the ban on federal money for embryonic stem cell research. That's true, but it neglects to mention that McCain is running on a party platform that would prohibit any and all research, publicly or privately financed.

* Gay rights: The AP says there are "only shades of difference over key questions about gay marriage." This neglects to mention that while Obama is a supporter of gay rights, McCain is virulently anti-gay, even opposing civil unions and gay adoption.

* Cap and trade: The AP says, "They are both advocating a cap and trade system that would force companies that cannot meet targets to pay for the right to pollute." This neglects to mention that McCain recently announced that he no longer supports the "cap" part of his "cap-and-trade" policy.

In other words, even on issues where the media says these two agree, they disagree.

Voters have a choice between two very different candidates, offering two very different agendas, at a critical time in American history. Why would media outlets like the AP deliberately paper over these differences?

Steve Benen 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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ON THE AIR.... After Barack Obama's acceptance speech this evening, there will be plenty of news outlets offering analysis, but there's one, in particular, I'd recommend.

The estimable Paul Glastris, Washington Monthly's editor in chief, will be part of an hour-long panel tonight on NPR's "Talk of the Nation." Believe me, you don't want to listen to the talking heads on the cable networks for another night, and Paul is one of the more insightful political observers I know.

So tune in, immediately after Obama's speech. You'll be glad you did.

Steve Benen 3:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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KRISTOL ON CLINTON'S 'LEGACY'.... It's hard to imagine that Bill Kristol, as far gone as he is, actually believes this:

...Clinton was too inexperienced to be commander-in-chief in 1992. [...]

Clinton didn't, as he now claims, lead us "to a new era of peace." He inherited a hard-won peace, failed to lead, and part of his legacy is 9/11.

It's hard to know where to start with such a breathtakingly backwards perspective. Clinton "failed to lead"? He won two foreign wars.

The attacks of Sept. 11, which took place several months after Clinton left office, are part of Clinton's legacy? I don't think so.

Condoleezza Rice, writing for the Bush campaign in the January/February [2000] issue of Foreign Affairs said a lack of prioritization was a problem with the Clinton administration's foreign policy and that "a Republican administration should refocus the country on key priorities: building a military ready to ensure American power, coping with rogue regimes, and managing Beijing and Moscow."

In other words, Bush came into office determined to reduce the level of attention given to al-Qaeda. And boy did they! Richard Clarke's strategy for stepped-up efforts against al-Qaeda, developed in the waning days of the Clinton administration, was put on the back burner in favor of this approach: "The book's opening anecdote tells of an unnamed CIA briefer who flew to Bush's Texas ranch during the scary summer of 2001, amid a flurry of reports of a pending al-Qaeda attack, to call the president's attention personally to the now-famous Aug. 6, 2001, memo titled 'Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US.' Bush reportedly heard the briefer out and replied: 'All right. You've covered your ass, now.'"

I'd just add that the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush's national security adviser was scheduled to outline the administration's national security policy, outlining "the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday." The crux of the speech was about missile-defense, and made no mention of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or Islamic extremist groups.

This is no doubt a devastating part of one president's legacy, but I'll give Kristol a hint: it's not Clinton's.

Steve Benen 2:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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BUSH TO SKIP RNC?.... Under the circumstances, John McCain would probably be thrilled if George W. Bush didn't show up at the Republican National Convention. For that matter, Bush would probably be thrilled if he got a second chance to respond to a hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast, without screwing it up this time.

They might both get their wish.

The president is, of course, scheduled to speak on Monday (Labor Day) at the convention, right around the time Tropical Storm Gustav, which is expected to become a hurricane, hits the Gulf Coast. Fox News' Bret Baier reported this morning, "We're told, by the White House, there are conversations underway about [the] schedule, and whether [Bush] will, in fact, speak on Monday. They are meeting behind closed doors about the response, first of all -- they have FEMA Director David Paulison already active down there -- and the administration obviously very sensitive to this. But if this hurricane rolls in, and the timing is the same, you could see the president possibly not speak on Monday night. It's something that both the White House and the RNC are working on right now."

I haven't seen this reported elsewhere, but it's probably fair to say Fox News' contacts within the White House are pretty good.

Stay tuned.

Steve Benen 1:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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THE REPUBLICAN E.R. PLAN.... John McCain's healthcare plan, by his campaign's own admission, doesn't even try to extend coverage to every American without insurance. We're starting to get a better sense as to why this is.

[John Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis, a right-leaning Dallas-based think tank] who helped craft Sen. John McCain's health care policy, said anyone with access to an emergency room effectively has insurance, albeit the government acts as the payer of last resort. (Hospital emergency rooms by law cannot turn away a patient in need of immediate care.)

"So I have a solution. And it will cost not one thin dime," Mr. Goodman said. "The next president of the United States should sign an executive order requiring the Census Bureau to cease and desist from describing any American -- even illegal aliens -- as uninsured. Instead, the bureau should categorize people according to the likely source of payment should they need care.

"So, there you have it. Voila! Problem solved."

This nonsense is surprisingly common in Republican circles. Last year, Tom DeLay argued, "[N]o American is denied health care in America," because everyone can go to the emergency room. Around the same time, George W. Bush said the same thing: "[P]eople have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room." In 2004, then-HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said our healthcare system "could be defined as universal coverage," because of emergency rooms.

In a way, they're right. If you're sick, there are public hospitals that will treat you.

But as is too often the case, conservatives haven't thought through the implications of their argument. First, it's extremely expensive to treat patients this way, and it would be far cheaper, and more effective, to pay for preventative care so that people don't have to wait for a medical emergency to seek treatment.

Second, under this McCain/Bush/DeLay model, sick people with no insurance go to the E.R. for care. They can't pay the bills, and hospitals can't treat sick patients for free, so the costs are passed on to everyone else.

In other words, the man responsible for crafting McCain's healthcare policy effectively described the most inefficient system of socialized medicine ever devised.

Update: Of course, if we take McCain's policy advisor at his word, and build a "socialized medicine" system around public hospitals, there's a perfectly good model to follow: it's called the VA system.

Steve Benen 12:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (90)

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THURSDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:

* The weather, at this point, looks pretty good for Denver tonight.

* Republicans may not be as meteorologically fortunate.

* A Time/CNN poll shows Obama leading McCain in New Mexico by 13, 53% to 40%.

* A Time/CNN poll shows Obama leading McCain in Nevada by five, 49% to 44%.

* A Time/CNN poll shows McCain leading Obama in Colorado by one, 47% to 46%.

* A Time/CNN poll shows Obama leading McCain in Pennsylvania by five, 48% to 43%.

* A University of Akron poll shows Obama and McCain tied in Ohio at 40% each.

* If McCain added Lieberman to the Republican ticket, it may not help as much as expected in Florida.

* There's buzz in conservative circles about Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) possibly joining the McCain ticket, but Jonathan Martin reports that she hasn't been vetted.

* Terry McAuliffe is apparently considering running for governor of Virginia.

* Did Rove call McCain to urge him not to pick Lieberman for the ticket? Rove doesn't want to talk about it.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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THE PRICKLY TALK EXPRESS.... John McCain became a media darling by offering extraordinary access to campaign reporters. The candidate and the journalists would spend hours hanging out on a bus, enjoying the gabfests, on and off the record, about any subject that came to mind. The media ate it up, and rewarded McCain with the kind of fawning, sycophantic coverage most politicians can only dream of.

Asked during the primaries if he'd maintain his signature style if he got the Republican nomination, McCain told reporters, "You think I could survive if I didn't? We'd never be forgiven." McCain even had a sofa installed on his plane, in order to make his chats with the media more relaxed.

That was, of course, before Karl Rove's team took over the McCain campaign operation. Howard Kurtz recently had a good item detailing the remarkably curtailed access the senator now offers reporters, and the ways in which McCain replaced "straight talk" with stale talking points. To see just how dramatic a transformation this has been, take a minute to read this fascinating interview between McCain and Time's James Carney and Michael Scherer.

There's a theme that recurs in your books and your speeches, both about putting country first but also about honor. I wonder if you could define honor for us?
Read it in my books.

I've read your books.
No, I'm not going to define it.

But honor in politics?
I defined it in five books. Read my books.

[Your] campaign today is more disciplined, more traditional, more aggressive. From your point of view, why the change?
I will do as much as we possibly can do to provide as much access to the press as possible.

But beyond the press, sir, just in terms of ...
I think we're running a fine campaign, and this is where we are.

Do you miss the old way of doing it?
I don't know what you're talking about.

Really? Come on, Senator.
I'll provide as much access as possible ...

In 2000, after the primaries, you went back to South Carolina to talk about what you felt was a mistake you had made on the Confederate flag. Is there anything so far about this campaign that you wish you could take back or you might revisit when it's over?
[Does not answer.]

Do I know you? [Says with a laugh.]
[Long pause.] I'm very happy with the way our campaign has been conducted, and I am very pleased and humbled to have the nomination of the Republican Party.

You do acknowledge there was a change in the campaign, in the way you had run the campaign?
[Shakes his head.]

Note to reporters: this isn't the guy you fell in love with. He was replaced with an angry, overly-scripted ideologue.

Steve Benen 11:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

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TAKING THE LEAP ON STEM-CELL RESEARCH.... One of the more frustrating aspects of the Republican line on stem-cell research has been the arbitrary distinction between publicly- and privately-financed research. To hear most on the right tell it, experimenting on an embryo, even one that's going to be discarded, is morally unacceptable. Unless, of course, the research is privately funded, in which case, scientists can knock themselves out.

National Review's Stephen Spruiell had an item yesterday on the new Republican Party platform, which now calls for a "ban on the creation of or experimentation on human embryos for research purposes."

It is a call for a total ban on embryonic stem-cell research, including privately funded research using frozen embryos from in-vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics. By contrast, the 2004 platform was in accord with President Bush's policy at the time, which made limited federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research available for the first time. [...]

The 2008 Republican Platform calls for a ban on all embryonic stem-cell research, public or private.

Andrew Sullivan responded, "The Christianists just gave the Democrats one hell of a reverse wedge issue. McCain's GOP is now officially more neocon than Bush in foreign policy and more theocon in social policy. It is an intensification -- not a rebuke -- of the Bush-Cheney model of conservatism."

Quite right. It does, however, resolve the intellectual contradiction. The Bush White House has said embryos are human life, and deserve respect. Simultaneously, the same Bush White House has permitted -- indeed, has bragged about -- privately-financed research. In 2007, the Bush gang went so far as to veto expanded public research while encouraging privately research.

So, in this sense, the new Republican platform resolves the contradiction. The GOP opposes all embryonic stem-cell research, regardless of whether the embryos would be discarded, regardless of the science's promise, and regardless of who's paying for it.

But it also points to an extreme conservative worldview, which most Americans reject.

Post Script: Just to clarify, recent advances suggest the debate over embryonic stem-cell research may become moot. We aren't, however, there yet, and Republican efforts to prohibit all research would cost the field dearly.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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ROVE REJECTS LIEBERMAN FOR GOP TICKET.... For all the talk about divisions within the Democratic Party -- and for most of the convention, it's been the media's favorite topic of conversation -- it looks like Republicans are dealing with some fairly serious schisms of their own.

Republican strategist Karl Rove called Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) late last week and urged him to contact John McCain to withdraw his name from vice presidential consideration, according to three sources familiar with the conversation.

Lieberman dismissed the request, these sources agreed.

Lieberman "laughed at the suggestion and certainly did not call [McCain] on it," said one source familiar with the details.

"Rove called Lieberman," recounted a second source. "Lieberman told him he would not make that call." Rove did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This report comes just one day after Bob Novak reported, "Reports of strong support within John McCain's presidential campaign for Independent Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman as the Republican candidate for vice president are not a fairy tale." Novak added that Lieberman has personally warned McCain about the dangers associated with picking him for the Republican ticket, though Lieberman responded to Novak's report with an aggressive media push, insisting that Novak's report about behind-the-scenes warnings is "totally and absolutely false."

Kristol and Brooks like the idea of the pairing, while the religious right is already threatening a walkout.

I seriously doubt Democrats would be lucky enough to see McCain actually select Lieberman for the ticket, and I suspect this is a ruse to make McCain's eventual pick more palatable to the Republican base.

I guess we'll find out soon enough -- McCain has made his selection, and will announce his pick tomorrow at an event in Ohio.

Steve Benen 9:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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KERRY TAKES 'CANDIDATE MCCAIN' TO TASK.... With all the great speakers lined up for the Democratic convention last night, few expected John Kerry to deliver some of the night's most memorable lines. And yet, that's exactly what happened.



"I have known and been friends with John McCain for almost 22 years, but every day now I learn something new about Candidate McCain," Kerry said. "To those who still believe in the myth of a 'maverick,' instead of the reality of a politician, I say, let's compare Senator McCain to Candidate McCain. Candidate McCain now supports the very war-time tax cuts that Senator McCain once called 'irresponsible.' Candidate McCain criticizes Senator McCain's own climate change bill. Candidate McCain says he would vote against the immigration bill that Senator McCain wrote. Are you kidding me, folks? Talk about being for it before you were against it. Let me tell you, before he ever debates Barack Obama, John McCain should finish the debate with himself."

McCain is arguably one of modern politics' most shameless flip-floppers, and to hear John Kerry have the opportunity to turn the tables on his old friend was strikingly entertaining. It was, to my mind, the best speech I've heard Kerry give. We've all seen Kerry before, but never with this kind of passion.

His forceful response to attacks on patriotism also soared: "This election is a chance for America to tell the merchants of fear and division: you don't decide who loves this country; you don't decide who is a patriot; you don't decide whose service counts and whose doesn't. Four years ago I said, and I say it again tonight, that the flag doesn't belong to any ideology. It doesn't belong to any political party. It is an enduring symbol of our nation, and it belongs to all the American people. After all, patriotism is not love of power or some cheap trick to win votes; patriotism is love of country."

There must be something liberating about losing a presidential election. After 2000, Al Gore's passion came through. And last night, we saw the same from Kerry.

It was the highlight of the first night of the convention in which the party actually seemed to be firing on all cylinders.

Steve Benen 8:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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THE BIG DOG... Looking back at the contentious Democratic presidential primaries, it's probably fair to say that Bill Clinton didn't emerge from the process as revered and respected as he was going into the process. His standing in party circles is still arguably without equal, but it's not where it once was.

That said, watching the maestro at work last night, it became surprisingly easy for Democrats to forget all about the unpleasantness. TNR's Michael Crowley wrote, "I predict a wave of, 'Oh, Bill, how can we stay mad at you?' commentary in the coming days," which I wholeheartedly endorse.



After the speech, CBS News' Bob Schieffer wrapped it up nicely: "I love to watch people who can do something really well. You love to see a homerun hitter hit a homerun. You like to see Michael Phelps swim. Bill Clinton knows how to make a political speech. And this was really a classic. He touched all the bases. He was funny. He socked it to the Republicans. He explained his support and the work Hillary Clinton did in her historic race for this. I can't believe the Obama people could want any more than what they got from Bill Clinton tonight."

Quite right. Indeed, the former president's ringing endorsement of Obama, for all of the rumored grudges, seemed entirely unconditional. John Dickerson wrote, "The only way he could have endorsed Obama more enthusiastically is if he'd kissed him."

Some of the more annoying critiques of Hillary Clinton's speech suggested she wasn't explicit enough in arguing that Obama is ready to lead. Bill Clinton didn't leave any room for doubt: "Barack Obama is ready to lead and restore American leadership in the world. Ready to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. Barack Obama is ready to be president of the United States." He said Obama's "proven understanding, insight, and good instincts," combined with Biden's "experience and wisdom," would ensure that "America will have the national security leadership we need."

Clinton also graciously drew a parallel between Obama and himself: "My fellow Democrats, 16 years ago, you gave me the profound honor to lead our party to victory and to lead our nation to a new era of peace and broadly shared prosperity. Together we prevailed in a campaign in which the Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be commander-in-chief. Sound familiar? It didn't work in 1992, because we were on the right side of history. And it won't work in 2008, because Barack Obama is on the right side of history."

Clinton thoroughly trashed Republicans on practically everything -- including, by the way, Katrina and torture, which haven't been emphasized enough -- but was careful not to mention John McCain's name once. He said Republicans "will nominate a good man.... But on the two great questions of this election, how to rebuild the American Dream and how to restore America's leadership in the world, he still embraces the extreme philosophy which has defined his party for more than 25 years."

And the soundbites were just the quintessential Clinton. The world is more impressed with the "power of our example than the example of our power." Beautiful.

But stepping back from the specifics, Clinton's speech was a clinic on how to make policy talk sound compelling. As Ezra noted, "The speech he offered could have been a joint release from the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for American Policy foreign affairs department. But somehow, when Clinton reads it, policy slips free of the weighty terms and looping sentences that press it down, and drifts upward to read easily as part of the human condition, engaged with our everyday experience. It's a remarkable skill, and one that no other current politician possesses."

Al Gore, for a variety of reasons, decided not to utilize Bill Clinton extensively eight years ago, and John Kerry used him sparingly in 2004. The contentious primary notwithstanding, the Obama campaign would be wise to put Clinton out on the trail extensively this fall.

Steve Benen 8:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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A SCRAPPY KID FROM SCRANTON.... The political world has certain expectations about the kind of speech a vice presidential nominee is going to deliver at his or her convention. It's going to be polished, there will be a few clever turns of phrase, and there may be some call-and-response thrown in for good measure.

Joe Biden's speech last night didn't follow the script, literally or figuratively. It had a certain fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants quality, based on Biden's assumption that he could just say what's on his mind, and it'd be just as good as what the speechwriters put in the teleprompter. And as it turned out, he assumed correctly.



In all likelihood, no one will ever tell tales of Biden's oratorical skills, but under the circumstances, it doesn't much matter. Biden came across as earnest, honest, and sincere. He was likable. He made a powerful argument based on substance, but did so with the kind of raw emotion we very rarely see in speeches from candidates for national office.

In terms of the substance, Biden had two principal high points. First, on domestic policy, Biden demonstrated, with pure populism, that the Democratic ticket understands full well the challenges facing middle-class families: "Almost every night, I take the train home to Wilmington, sometimes very late. As I look out the window at the homes we pass, I can almost hear what they're talking about at the kitchen table after they put the kids to bed. Like millions of Americans, they're asking questions as profound as they are ordinary. Questions they never thought they would have to ask: Should mom move in with us now that dad is gone? Fifty, sixty, seventy dollars to fill up the car? Winter's coming. How we gonna pay the heating bills? Another year and no raise? Did you hear the company may be cutting our health care? Now, we owe more on the house than it's worth. How are we going to send the kids to college? How are we gonna be able to retire? That's the America that George Bush has left us, and that's the future John McCain will give us."

Looking abroad, Biden slammed McCain repeatedly for his poor judgment on everything from Iraq to Iran to Afghanistan to international diplomacy: "Again and again, on the most important national security issues of our time, John McCain was wrong, and Barack Obama was proven right."

After Biden's well-received speech, Barack Obama made a "surprise" appearance alongside his running mate. There was a chance Obama's arrival would step on Biden's remarks, but it offered an opportunity to get their picture on the front page together. If for no other reason, it was a good idea.

Ultimately, Biden struck me as a genuine guy with a few endearing rough edges. If Americans watching at home didn't connect with him, I'd be very surprised.

Steve Benen 7:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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August 27, 2008

CONVENTION OPEN THREAD.... The third night of the Democratic convention is well underway, and we've seen a pretty steady emphasis on national security concerns. Patrick Murphy sounded great, Evan Bayh was livelier than I'd ever seen him, and Jack Reed was one of the convention's more earnest speakers.

But do you know who was really good? CSM Michele S. Jones, the first female command sergeant major of the U.S. Army. Note to Dems: get her in front of more cameras.

Coming up, obviously, is Bill Clinton's much-anticipated speech, and Joe Biden's big speech in the 10pm (eastern) hour. I should also note that I got a peek at John Kerry's speech, and it looks like it's going to be a real stemwinder. Don't miss it.

I thought I'd open the floor to some convention-related discussion. How's it going? How does tonight compare with the previous nights? Which news outlets are screwing up the coverage of the convention most? Favorite moments?

The floor is yours.

Steve Benen 9:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (115)

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THE DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE.... It's official.




Barack Obama, claiming a prize never held by a black American, swept to the Democratic presidential nomination on Wednesday as thousands of national convention delegates stood and cheered his improbable triumph.

Former rival Hillary Rodham Clinton asked the convention delegates to make it unanimous "in the spirit of unity, with the goal of victory." And they did, with a roar.

Competing chants of "Obama" and "Yes we can" floated up from the convention floor as Obama's victory was sealed. [...]

Clinton's call for Obama to be approved by acclamation -- midway through the traditional roll call of the states -- was the culmination of a painstaking agreement worked out between the two camps to present a unified front.

The band played "Love Train" as the delegates celebrated.

[Updated with video via TPM.]

Steve Benen 7:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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WEDNESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* As expected, Hillary Clinton released her convention delegates at an event this afternoon.

* In an apparent effort to drive me batty, CNN is running its own reports on Clinton and "body-language experts."

* With a hurricane on the horizon, New Orleans is weighing an evacuation plan.

* We still don't know for sure if Rep. Don Young won his Republican primary in Alaska yesterday.

* Dan Pfieffer, Obama's communications director, thinks the Gallup daily tracking poll is "the worst thing that's happened in journalism in 20 years."

* Even after Paul Begala set the record straight, on the air, CNN still managed to screw up the Casey-in-'92 story.

* Ratings for Clinton's speech last night were pretty strong.

* Rudy Giuliani steps all over the McCain campaign line, insists this would be an awful time for a president with no executive experience.

* Why do I think Rachel Maddow is the best in the biz? This is why: "[S]he is determined to avoid the left-right pairings that sustain much of cable news. 'It creates fake balance,' she says. 'I'm sorry -- we're going to have a debate about whether or not the Earth is flat? It doesn't make sense to have a debate about whether offshore drilling is going to bring down gas prices. You know what? It's not. The fact that it's false ought to be reported, or you're advancing a lie.'"

* It's a shame the Blue Dogs aren't interested in hanging out with Glenn Greenwald.

* Wouldn't this be fun? "There's quiet buzz in Washington this week that convicted GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff and several colleagues -- including scam-artist Michael Scanlon -- will be sentenced soon for their roles in the 2005 tribes-and-bribes scandal. These rumors have circulated before, so perhaps it's the natural gossip of idle politicos during the Capitol's dog days. But individuals tangentially related to the case say the sentences could come as early as next week, during the Republican convention."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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SENATOR HOTHEAD.... Last week, senior Obama foreign policy adviser Susan Rice argued on a campaign conference call that there is "a pattern here of recklessness" when it comes to John McCain's approach to national security. Referencing McCain's drive to target Iraq immediately after 9/11, Rice added, "There's something to be said for letting facts drive judgment" On the same call, Richard Clarke slammed "quick-draw McCain," calling him "reckless," "trigger-happy" and "discredited."

Yesterday, TNR's Michael Crowley noted that Richard Danzig isn't especially impressed with McCain's temperament, either.

Former Navy Secretary, Obama advisor, and potential future Defense Secretary Richard Danzig is at a Truman Project-sponsored panel here, where he's doing some gloating about recent Bush Administration foreign policy shifts....

A good moment came when Democratic Congressman Adam Smith of Washington, sitting in the audience, rose to ask Danzig for advice on how Democrats can deliver a tough foreign-policy message that will be credible to voters. When Danzig started to back euphemistically into the question, Smith -- a proponent of tougher Obama campaign tactics generally -- jumped back up. "Don't be subtle!" he implored. "Just hit! Just say, 'John McCain does not have an even temper, and how is that going to factor into national security?"

At that, Danzig played ball. "I think John McCain is well-known for 'losing it' in a variety of circumstances," he said -- something which has potential policy implications.

And for good measure, Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Barbara Boxer (Calif.), in separate interviews, talked about McCain's propensity to "explode," regardless of the circumstances.

All of this comes just a few months after Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, one of McCain's conservative Republican colleagues and a man who's worked with McCain for years, raised serious doubts about McCain's temperament. "The thought of him being president sends a cold chill down my spine," Cochran said. "He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me."

I realize there are a lot of narratives to pursue when it comes to McCain's flaws. He's a flip-flopper. And he's out of touch. And he's frequently confused and befuddled. And he's an angry candidate running a desperately negative campaign. And he's self-righteous. And he's a hypocrite. And he's surprisingly immature and dishonest. McCain's detractors can't make all of these arguments at the same time; it would become a garbled rhetorical mess.

But given that McCain accepts the bizarre notion that he's qualified to lead in a time of war, the fact that he's a reckless hothead with an explosive temper who tends to lose his cool when the pressure's on probably deserves a little more attention.

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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ROMNEY DEFINES 'HARD WORK'.... I can appreciate the notion that those vying to be John McCain's running mate are going to have to become aggressive surrogates, and repeat talking points that sensible people would otherwise try to avoid. But Mitt Romney may not realize how foolish he sounds when pushing the rhetorical envelope as often as he does.

In June, Romney announced that counter-proliferation is a "liberal" issue, so Obama's work on the policy doesn't count. A month later, Romney insisted that McCain had invented counterinsurgency doctrine. And yesterday, Romney defended McCain's house flap from last week in the oddest way possible.

Former governor Mitt Romney, perhaps continuing his audition to be John McCain's running mate, attacked Barack Obama today for making an issue out of McCain's many homes.

Speaking to reporters at a lunch sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Romney said that while McCain deserved his houses because of the "hard work" of himself and his family, "Barack Obama got a special deal from a convicted felon."

Romney's wrong on both counts. Obama didn't get a "special deal" from Tony Rezko or anyone else; he and his wife worked hard, made money, and bought a home.

As for Romney's assertion that McCain "deserved his houses because of the 'hard work' of himself and his family," he does know that McCain's second wife is an heiress to a lucrative beer distributorship, right?

Steve Benen 3:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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BODY-LANGUAGE EXPERTS?.... On the evening of June 28, a few hours after Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton appeared together in Unity, N.H., for their first post-primary joint appearance, CNN devoted quite a bit of airtime to "body-language experts."

At one point, one of the "experts" argued that the position of Hillary Clinton's navel carries great political significance: "She angles her belly button toward him. She's treating him with respect. She has her hands in a fig leaf position, which tends to be a passive position, really turning the power over to Obama. We face our belly buttons and the core of our body to people we like, have affinity toward and people we respect. And she's doing it."

It was, to my mind, some of the worst on-air political "journalism" -- I use the word loosely -- I've ever seen from a major news outlet. And yet, CBS News this morning did the exact same thing.

[Body language expert and former FBI agent Joe Navarro] explained to Early Show co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez Wednesday, "We need non-verbal (cues) to tell us what is important, what is significant, and what should we be looking for."

And Clinton's non-verbals, he says, were revealing. "What we wanted to see was a Churchillian speech, something that would move her candidate to cross that magic fence. And she delivered a speech, but the gestures -- the non-verbals that give us the emotion -- really weren't there."

Navarro later added, "I think her message was supposed to be, 'Hey, go with me and let's vote for Barack.' There should have been a lot more emotive displays, and we just simply did not see that."

It's come to this. Major American news outlets can't report what Hillary Clinton says or does; they have to tell the electorate what she might be thinking, based on what "experts" think about the placement of her hands.

And what's the point of these inane reports? Greg Sargent noted that some media figures are "desperate to find some way, any way, of arguing that Hillary's speech yesterday was in fact a tacit non-endorsement of Obama."

It's more than a little painful to see so many major news outlets be this bad, this often.

Steve Benen 2:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (62)

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GOP GRAMMATICAL RULES.... For quite some time now, Republicans have taken pleasure in calling the Democratic Party the "Democrat Party." Apparently, using poor grammar is entertaining to Republicans, and has been for years. In 1996, the GOP platform excised references to the "Democratic Party" altogether.

This year, at long last, there's a sense of progress.

For years now, the GOP has gone after "Democrat schemes," "Democrat presidents," "Democrat Congresses" -- all phrases from the 1996 Republican platform, repeated many times since. Twenty years earlier, Bob Dole famously declared that all wars of the 20th century were "Democrat wars."

On Tuesday, members of the Republican platform committee meeting in Minneapolis voted down a proposal to call the opposition the "Democrat Party" in the 2008 platform. Instead, they'll go with the proper Democratic Party.

"We probably should use what the actual name is," said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, the panel's chairman. "At least in writing."

Talk about your soft bigotry of low expectations. When Republicans decide to use proper grammar, and recognize the actual name of their rival, this is not only an unusual development, it comes as something of a relief to Democrats.

But notice that Barbour thinks Republicans should "probably" use Democrats' "actual name." I guess Dems are supposed to consider this a magnanimous gesture?

Steve Benen 1:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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'TINY'.... I'll give the McCain campaign credit for one thing: these guys are among the most accomplished liars in a generation. Sure, some shameless charlatans have come and gone over the last few decades, but when it comes to genuine, almost pathological, dishonesty, the McCain campaign is setting the bar very high (or low, depending on one's perspective).

This morning, for example, the presumptive Republican nominee released a new ad, called, "Tiny." Whether this is a real ad, or just another scam to fool the news networks is unclear, but the message is interesting enough to consider in its own right. The voiceover tells the viewer:

"Iran. Radical Islamic government. Known sponsors of terrorism. Developing nuclear capabilities to 'generate power' but threatening to eliminate Israel.

"Obama says Iran is a 'tiny' country, 'doesn't pose a serious threat.' Terrorism, destroying Israel, those aren't 'serious threats'?

"Obama -- dangerously unprepared to be president."

And here's what Obama actually said, back in May:

"Strong countries and strong Presidents talk to their adversaries. That's what Kennedy did with Khrushchev. That's what Reagan did with Gorbachev. That's what Nixon did with Mao. I mean, think about it: Iran, Cuba, Venezuela -- these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don't pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us. And yet we were willing to talk to the Soviet Union at the time when they were saying, 'We're going to wipe you off the planet.' And ultimately, that direct engagement led to a series of measures that helped prevent nuclear war and over time allowed the kind of opening that brought down the Berlin Wall."

If McCain disagrees with this, fine, let him make his case. But that would require intellectual seriousness and integrity, both of which have gone missing at McCain campaign HQ.

Look, this isn't complicated. During the cold war, the former USSR was "the world's greatest land military power, with a massive strategic nuclear capacity that carried on a multi-decade ideological struggle" with the United States. Iran, meanwhile, has an economy the size of Finland's, an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion, and hasn't invaded a country since the late 18th century.

Anyone who thinks the threat posed by modern-day Iran is similar, both in size and scope, to a former nuclear superpower is just blisteringly dumb. Kind of like the new McCain ad.

Steve Benen 12:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (68)

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WEDNESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:

* The Rocky Mountain News has the latest details on how the roll-call vote at the Democratic convention this evening is probably going to work.

* On Friday, Obama and Biden will kick off a bus tour, traveling first to Pennsylvania, followed by stops in Ohio and Michigan.

* Michael Dukakis told Katie Couric yesterday: "I owe the American people an apology. If I'd beaten the old man, we would have never heard of the kid, and we wouldn't be in this mess." Laughing, he added, "So, it's all my fault."

* No, Springsteen won't perform at Invesco tomorrow night.

* Bob Novak doesn't want to see a McCain-Lieberman ticket.

* Pat Leahy thinks McCain's confusion is reminiscent of Reagan's, circa 1987.

* Sen. Ted Stevens (R) of Alaska survived a primary challenge yesterday.

* A Brown University poll shows Obama leading McCain in Rhode Island by 21, 51% to 30%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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VIDEO PRESS RELEASES.... Just about every day, the McCain campaign releases a new "ad," which is released to the media along with a vague promise that the commercial will air somewhere, at some point. Cable networks, predictably, run the ad over and over again, for free, as part of their coverage of the campaign. This has been especially true this week, with a series of McCain campaign "ads" featuring Hillary Clinton.

The WSJ's Aaron Rutkoff noted that this is part of a well-executed scam that the news networks keep falling for.

In the press releases accompanying each new ad, the McCain team pledges to air them in "key states." But don't expect to see many show up in battleground state living rooms. According to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which monitors political advertising across the country, only one of the three Clinton-themed ads has been broadcast so far -- and that ad, featuring a Clinton delegate who now endorses McCain, is only airing in Toledo, Ohio.

That doesn't mean these McCain ads won't be seen by voters. The national media, which has its sensors tuned to any signs of Clinton-Obama drama in Denver, has readily amplified the messages. "These were basically video press releases," says CMAG's Evan Tracey. McCain's Hillary-related ads are "designed to get under Democrats' skin in Denver and designed to get into the convention coverage."

Obama spokesperson Tommy Vietor told reporters yesterday, "Note to cable networks: The only time McCain's Clinton-themed ads are running is when they're included in your programming."

Kevin added, "If they were podcasts, or blog posts, or flyers, or email blasts, the media would ignore them if their purpose were so transparent. I mean, who cares about a flyer produced in small quantities and handed out only to the media? But if it's video, it's news!"

But why would major news outlets repeatedly fall for the same trick, even when they realize the ads are created for the sole purpose of free media attention? There are competing explanations, but my hunch is a lot of outlets are just lazy, and video press releases make their jobs easier.

Steve Benen 11:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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FOURNIER CAN'T HELP HIMSELF.... Over the weekend, Ron Fournier, the AP's Washington bureau chief and the man responsible for directing the wire service's coverage of the presidential campaign, received a fair amount of criticism for the latest in a series of pieces that toed the McCain campaign line.

I was curious to see if Fournier would consider the negative response, reevaluate his rather obvious biases, and take pains to improve his reporting going forward. Apparently not. Here's his piece analyzing Hillary Clinton's speech to the Democratic convention:

"Barack Obama is my candidate," she said. "And he must be our president." But did she mean it? And would it matter?

True, her challenges Tuesday night were impossibly high, perhaps mutually exclusive.

She had to both promote her political future and unify her party. Clinton had to somehow convince people that she honestly thought Obama was ready for the presidency. But something stood in her way: Her words.

From there, Fournier recites the very quotes from the Democratic primaries that the McCain campaign has been pushing desperately all week. So, to hear the AP's Washington bureau chief tell it, the most important takeaway from Clinton's stirring speech at the convention is the criticism she directed at Obama as far back as nine months ago. And this, coincidentally, just happens to be what Republicans want to see emphasized this week more than anything else.

Swopa added, "[W]hat Clinton and Obama actually believe isn't important to Fournier, any more than he gave a flying fig about Clinton's actual speech last night. His intention is to distract readers from what she said, to disrupt what Clinton and Obama are seeking to achieve by imposing his previously-formed opinions on the event."

Fournier isn't exactly a neutral observer. I get it. But given Fournier's recent history -- he actually considered joining the McCain campaign's payroll last year -- one would like to think he'd take steps to bolster his journalistic credibility and objectivity. As the criticism has grown louder, even from mainstream news outlets, it stands to reason that Fournier would go out of his way to clean up his act.

He is, regrettably, doing the exact opposite.

Steve Benen 10:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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CNN'S DEFINITION OF 'AVERAGE'.... One of the great secrets of this year's presidential campaign is that Barack Obama and John McCain have both released relatively detailed tax plans, and Obama's tax breaks for the middle-class are significantly bigger than the Republican's.



It doesn't help at all when CNN's Wolf Blitzer, as part of his coverage of the Democratic convention, does a segment with retired basketball player Charles Barkley on the "average tax change" on incomes above $161,000, but leaves the 95% of Americans who make less out of the picture, both figuratively and literally.

Watching the clip, it was as if Blitzer just thought it'd be fun if he could get a multi-millionaire athlete to complain about Obama's intention to raise taxes on the very wealthy. Barkley, a former Republican, didn't take the bait: "Well, I think that if you're rich -- I thank God I've been very successful -- if you're rich, you're always going to be rich. If we pay more in taxes, I got no problem with that. If you're making that kind of money, a couple hundred thousand dollars here or there are not going to change your life."

Barkley's answer notwithstanding, CNN showed the "average tax change" for exactly four groups of incomes: those who make more than $2.9 million annually, more than $603,000, between $227,000 and $603,000, and those between $161,000 and $227,000. That's not exactly a comprehensive look at the "average."

Blitzer's chart left out the entire middle-class, and just as importantly, the fact that those making $112,000 or less would actually get a bigger break from Obama than McCain. Given that McCain is running mendacious ads about Obama's desire to "raise taxes," it seems like the kind of detail a news network might want to mention, so the public will have all the facts.

To be fair, earlier in the summer, CNN did a brief segment that actually did a good job on the details. But airing an accurate report on taxes on an early morning in June, and then airing a misleading report on taxes during the Democratic convention, doesn't amount to quality reporting.

Steve Benen 9:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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A STAR IS BORN?.... It's not unusual at a major party convention for an unexpected speaker to stand out and cause people to take notice. For this person, the convention is something of a springboard, generating "buzz" that can last for quite a while.



As it turns out, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) fit the bill quite nicely. Josh Marshall noted last night, "Can we just have Brian Schweitzer give all the speeches? Please? I'll do anything." Markos added, "Now do you guys see why I champion Schweitzer so much?"

Here, in particular, is the soundbite you're likely to hear more of: "We simply can't drill our way to energy independence. If you drilled everywhere, if you drilled in all of John McCain's backyards, even the ones he doesn't know he has, that single proposition is a dry well."

The LA Times' Peter Wallsten added that party activists "got a glimpse Tuesday of a surprising new breakout star: a jovial, round-faced warrior with a bolo tie who managed to attack Republicans while keeping a smile on his face."

Keep an eye on Schweitzer. We're likely to hear more from him in the future.

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CLINTON STEALS THE SHOW.... "You haven't worked so hard over the last 18 months, or endured the last eight years, to suffer through more failed leadership," she said. "No way. No how. No McCain."

Hillary Clinton had a variety of competing goals to achieve in her convention speech last night, none of them easy. She had to offer her forceful, unequivocal support for her former rival, Barack Obama. She had to make the case that John McCain would be a disaster. She to convince some of her reluctant supporters to come together as Democrats for the good of the nation. And she had to do it all with grace, humor, and memorable soundbites that could be replayed over and over again.



To borrow the grand-slam metaphor I've heard quite a bit, Clinton touched all the bases.

To those supporters who may be tempted to help McCain win, Clinton's message was unambiguous: "I want you to ask yourselves: Were you in this campaign just for me? Or were you in it for that young Marine and others like him? Were you in it for that mom struggling with cancer while raising her kids? Were you in it for that boy and his mom surviving on the minimum wage? Were you in it for all the people in this country who feel invisible?" It was a powerful reminder that Clinton's values and priorities are more important than one candidate or one campaign.

It was an obvious argument that Clinton made eloquently -- it won't honor Clinton to betray her vision for a stronger nation. To support her is to support her agenda, and Obama shares her agenda.

Her indictment against McCain was just as powerful: "[W]e don't need four more years, of the last eight years. More economic stagnation, and less affordable health care. More high gas prices, and less alternative energy.... John McCain says the economy is fundamentally sound. John McCain doesn't think that 47 million people without health insurance is a crisis. John McCain wants to privatize Social Security. And in 2008, he still thinks it's okay when women don't earn equal pay for equal work. With an agenda like that, it makes sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities. Because these days they're awfully hard to tell apart."

I've seen some argue that Clinton's endorsement of Obama wasn't personal enough. Perhaps. But at the same time, she effectively explained that an Obama victory is an absolute necessity: "We are Americans. We're not big on quitting. But remember, before we can keep going, we have to get going by electing Barack Obama president. We don't have a moment to lose or a vote to spare. Nothing less than the fate of our nation and the future of our children hang in the balance."

There wasn't a hint of disappointment or regret. I don't know if this will silence the incessant media obsession with an intra-party "rift" -- it probably won't -- but most reasonable people who gave Clinton a fair hearing came away feeling more confident in the strength of the party, and Obama's chances in November.

Some of McCain's advertising this week has emphasized the line, "Hillary's right." After watching her address last night, I kept thinking, "She sure is."

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

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August 26, 2008
By: Hilzoy

Convention

by hilzoy

Sorry to have been absent: I've been having internet problems. I did manage to catch a little CNN coverage after I got in last night, and it was absolutely surreal: the convention they are covering bears no relation whatsoever to the one I had been walking around observing all yesterday.

I've been wandering around having random conversations, and by pure chance, all the delegates I've talked to have been Clinton delegates. I have asked all of them whether they will have any problem voting for Obama, or are in any way aware of any of the disunity I see so much about on CNN. In every case the answer is not just 'no', but something closer to 'are you crazy?' The first Clinton delegate I talked to said: "For heaven's sakes, we're Democrats." The second said: "I'm sure some Clinton supporters, somewhere, won't support Obama, but everyone who thinks will." I cannot pretend that the delegates I've talked to are in any way representative, but for what it's worth, they have all reacted to the idea of not supporting Obama by looking at me as though I had come from Mars.

What they are concerned about, more than anything else, is the economy. I would have thought that a convention full of people who can somehow afford to take a week off and get to Denver might be somewhat insulated from that, but I would have been wrong. One of them was telling me, at some length, about the economic problems in her town: the way everyone is cutting back, the fact that she and her husband used to go out to eat every so often, but have cut that out along with the rest of their luxuries, the effects this is all having on local restaurants and other merchants, her fear that it will only get worse, and that politicians do not really get how bad it is. She was sure that the Republicans don't get it; she has her doubts about some people in the upper reaches of the Democratic party. She had none about Obama.

The delegates and politicians I have talked to are all passionate this year. They are really committed to Obama, and their concerns all involve whether or not he will win, not whether or not he will be a great President if elected. Again, I have just been wandering around talking to utterly random people -- the politicians I referred to above are local officials -- and I have absolutely no reason to think they are representative of anything. But it's striking that none of them have expressed anything other than real enthusiasm about the idea of Barack Obama being President. (I should say that because I have been just wandering around talking to people I meet at random, I really don't think any of them were saying things they didn't think for public consumption.)

To them, the drama this year involves the campaign between Obama and McCain: a lot of them are very, very afraid of four more years of a Republican presidency. It does not involve Clinton vs. Obama at all.

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CONVENTION OPEN THREAD.... The second night of the Democratic convention is well underway, and while the first night went easy on John McCain and the Republicans, pretty much every speech tonight has offered a balance between building Obama up and tearing McCain down.

Kucinich delivered a real stemwinder (seriously, you'll have to see it to believe it), Napolitano was great, and Rendell seemed to give up on his script but ended up with a pretty good speech anyway. Rahm Emanuel still knows how to turn a phrase.

And I don't know if anyone else caught the former textile-plant worker named Gloria Craven from North Carolina, but she was really good.

Coming up, obviously, are Hillary Clinton's much-anticipated speech, as well as Mark Warner's keynote address.

I thought I'd open the floor to some convention-related discussion. How's it going so far? How does tonight compare with last night? Which news outlets are screwing up the coverage of the convention most? Favorite moments?

The floor is yours.

Update: Who knew Bob Casey was actually pretty good? "McCain likes to call himself a 'maverick,' but he votes with George W. Bush more than 90% of the time. That's not a maverick; that's a sidekick." You know, that's not a bad line at all.

Steve Benen 9:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (127)

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TUESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Russia "stunned" Europe and the U.S. today, by recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The AP noted that the Kremlin's move "suggested it was willing to risk nearly two decades of economic, political and diplomatic bonds with its Cold War antagonists."

* Barack Obama condemned Russia's decision and called on other nations "not to accord any legitimacy to this action."

* Russia President Dmitry Medvedev said, "We are not afraid of anything, including the prospect of a new Cold War."

* Good question: "What was a top national security aide to Vice President Dick Cheney doing in Georgia shortly before Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's troops engaged in what became a disastrous fight with South Ossetian rebels -- and then Russian troops?"

* Good advice for one of the media's more transparent and shameless hacks: "Jesus, Joe, why don't you get a shovel."

* Alaskan Sen. Ted Stevens (R) thinks Bush administration prosecutors are trying to smear him. I think the poor guy is cracking under the pressure.

* How much longer can the White House stall? "A district court judge denied Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten's request for a stay on their Congressional testimony pending the appeal of the recent decision in HJC v. Harriet Miers et al."

* The new data from the Census Bureau did not go unnoticed by Obama campaign HQ.

* The closer one looks at McCain's record on women's issues, the worse it looks.

* Bloggers and MoveOn.org aren't the only ones who've noticed the AP's Ron Fournier's trouble with objectivity.

* And Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) is the latest far-right Republican to raise the specter of a government shutdown over coastal drilling.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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WAITING FOR HILLARY.... Watching coverage of the Democratic convention earlier, Atrios noted, "CNN is informing that Hillary Clinton has to do 15 things simultaneously with her speech, and wise Soledad finally remarked that some of these things may be contradictory."

It is, to be sure, a reminder that what passes for political coverage at major news outlets is mind-numbing. But it also points to the fact that expectations for Hillary Clinton's speech tonight simply aren't reasonable, or even fair.

The Washington Post's Marie Cocco had a good item today, noting that the senator who almost won the Democratic nomination will be in an untenable position on the dais tonight.

Hillary Clinton will be damned if she looks too methodically perfect, too much the purveyor of practiced routine and not enough the cheery personification of enthusiasm. She'll also be damned if she's too exuberant, too obviously raising her voice in unbridled exhortation for the team. She will either be deemed too cool or all-too-cagily warm.

Clinton can't win tonight. But then, she knows that.

At this point, if the media's pre-coverage of her speech is right, Hillary Clinton will be expected to make a powerful case for an Obama presidency. And destroy John McCain. And acknowledge the concerns of her most ardent supporters, while promoting party unity and bringing the various factions together. All the while, every syllable will be scrutinized to measure her sincerity, in part because the media enjoys it, and in part because reporters have nothing else to do.

No pressure.

Steve Benen 4:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

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RUNNING A NETWORK LIKE A GOP CAMPAIGN.... Way back in September 2003, Christiane Amanpour noted that in the months leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, CNN "self-muzzled," in large part because it was "intimidated by the administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News."

A Fox News spokesperson immediately responded, "Given the choice, it's better to be viewed as a foot soldier for Bush than a spokeswoman for al-Qaeda."

It was one of those moments that made it obvious how similar Fox News is to a Republican political campaign. Indeed, it's become one of the keys to the partisan news network's m.o. -- attack and destroy anyone who dares to criticize or get in the way. This week, Fox News even started running negative ads against CNN. When was the last time a major national news outlet trashed a rival in an attack ad?

This came up again yesterday, when Jon Stewart had the temerity to tell the truth about Fox News. (via Faiz)

Jon Stewart ripped the cable news networks Monday as a "brutish, slow-witted beast" and castigated Fox News in particular as "an appendage of the Republican Party."

Wearing a gray T-shirt, khaki pants and a healthy stubble, the "Daily Show" host told reporters at a University of Denver breakfast that Fox's "fair and balanced" slogan is an insult "to people with brains" and that only "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace "saves that network from slapping on a bumper sticker.... Barack Obama could cure cancer and they'd figure out a way to frame it as an economic disaster."

A Fox News spokesperson who preferred to attack Stewart anonymously, told the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, "Jon's clearly out of touch.... But being out of touch with mainstream America is nothing new to Jon, as evidenced by the crash-and-burn ratings of this year's Oscars telecast."

Fox News could have just ignored Stewart, or perhaps could have defended its version of "journalism," but it's easier to trash the critic than to maintain professional standards.

In other words, the tactics of Fox News and the standard operating procedure of the McCain campaign are practically indistinguishable. What a coincidence.

Steve Benen 4:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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WHAT RACE IS BROKAW WATCHING?.... One of the more discouraging elements of the current presidential race -- and really, there are quite a few -- is the way in which media figures haven't noticed John McCain's latest metamorphosis. They remember McCain from 2000, found him delightful, and assume he's just the same ol' guy eight years later.

To be sure, there are notable exceptions.

Time's Joe Klein recently conceded last week that he was wrong to believe McCain is an "honorable man." Newsweek's Jonathan Alter also acknowledged in a recent column that he's "misread McCain," who, it turns out, is "a surprisingly immature politician" who may not be "ready to lead."

But for every Alter who recognizes McCain's painful shift into conservative hackery, there's a Tom Brokaw who apparently hasn't been paying any attention at all. Eric Alterman reports:

Discussing McCain's success in the Republican primaries, Brokaw attributed it to the candidate's "indomitable will," and opined that McCain won by simply being "the most authentic ... he wasn't trying to reinvent himself."

This is not only wrong, but diametrically, screamingly wrong. It's not a difficult point -- McCain won the primaries specifically by reversing himself on taxes, immigration, the religious right, and virtually every other issue important to the hard right. These policies were not only blazingly visible -- Mitt Romney and others called him on it loudly during the Republican debates -- but obviously destructive, as the last eight years have proven.

And yet, here is Brokaw saying of the candidate who by far has done the most to change his positions that McCain was "the most authentic ... he wasn't trying to reinvent himself."

It's hard to believe someone of Brokaw's stature could say something so spectacularly dumb, in public, without any idea of how wrong he is.

I've been working on a project during the campaign, chronicling John McCain's flip-flops. As of now, the grand total stands at 74 reversals, but just as importantly, the vast majority of the reversals were part of a coordinated effort to reinvent McCain in order to shamelessly pander to the Republican base, abandoning nearly all of the positions that people like Brokaw admired so much eight years ago.

As Kevin noted, "It's not just that McCain has changed a lot of his positions, it's the fact that he's so plainly changed them purely for the sake of political expediency."

Quite right. In order to con Republican voters into supporting his campaign, McCain reversed course on practically every pillar of the GOP policy agenda, including taxes, energy, the role of social conservatives, gun control, abortion rights, and immigration. No presidential nominee in modern U.S. political history has reinvented himself more than John McCain.

Of course, if McCain has Brokaw fooled, and Brokaw is a veteran journalist and the host of "Meet the Press," imagine how easy it is for McCain to con the typical American voter who doesn't have time to pay attention to the ins and outs of politics.

Steve Benen 3:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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THE KEY LESSON OF TODAY'S HEALTHCARE NEWS.... If you swing by MSNBC's homepage right now, you'll see the main headline reads, "Number of uninsured Americans drops." The report's lede reports, "The Census Bureau reports that the number of people lacking health insurance dropped by more than 1 million in 2007, the first annual decline since the Bush administration took office."

That is, to be sure, good news. But it's important, in a political context, not to misread how this progress was achieved. One assumes the right will see the encouraging data and say, "See? The market is working, more people are getting insured, and there's no reason for government intervention." The reality is, more people are getting insured because of government intervention.

TNR's Jonathan Cohn encourages us to "take a closer look at the numbers."

Enrollment in private insurance continued to decline in percentage terms, mostly because the percentage of people with employer-sponsored coverage fell from 59.7 to 59.3. The reason the overall numbers look good is rising enrollment in public insurance programs, particularly Medicaid.

In other words, if not for more robust public insurance, it's likely far more people would be without medical coverage. And that's true of the long-term, as well. Employer-sponsored insurance has declined over the last 30 years or so, as rising costs have made it harder for employers and employees to pay for it. If not for the expansions of eligibility for Medicaid and establishment of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, many more people would be without insurance and, as a result, struggling to pay their medical bills.

So the case for expanding public insurance -- ideally, to help cover everybody -- isn't weaker because of the new numbers. If anything, it's stronger.

Paul Krugman also noted the cyclical context: "The key point is that 2007 was the end of an economic expansion.... So 2007 was as good as it got in this cycle. Yet median household income was lower than in 2000, while both the poverty rate and the percentage of Americans without health insurance were higher. In short, the economic policies we've been following just aren't working."

Given that John McCain insists we need to continue with the identical economic policies for another four years, here's hoping today's news gets a little more attention.

Steve Benen 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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MCCAIN'S BOLD STAND AGAINST GLOBAL COOPERATION.... According to an excerpt published by Time's Mark Halperin, John McCain will launch a brand new attack against Barack Obama in a speech to the American Legion National Convention this afternoon.

About a month ago, in his speech in Berlin, Obama reminded his audience, "[L]ook at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one." It seemed like an innocuous thing to say, but it's the basis for a new round of criticism from McCain.

"There are those who say that our day as the free world's leader has passed, that our moment is waning. They point to the anti-Americanism that is sometimes heard in Europe and elsewhere, and take this as a sign that America no longer has the strength or the moral credibility to lead. The criticisms tend to pass or quiet down when global threats and dangers appear. In times of trouble, free nations of the world still look to America for leadership, because they know the strength of America remains the greatest force for good on this earth.

"My opponent had the chance to express such confidence in America, when he delivered a much anticipated address in Berlin. He was the picture of confidence, in some ways. But confidence in oneself and confidence in one's country are not the same. And in that speech, Senator Obama left an important point unclear. He suggested that the end of the Cold War proved that there was, quote, 'no challenge too great for a world that stands as one.' Now I missed a few years of the Cold War, as the guest of one of our adversaries, but as I recall the world was deeply divided during the Cold War -- between the side of freedom and the side of tyranny. The Cold War ended not because the world stood "as one," but because the great democracies came together, bound together by sustained and decisive American leadership."

Putting aside McCain's not-so-subtle reference to his background as a prisoner of war, again, I'm not at all sure what, exactly, McCain is whining about here.

Indeed, McCain seems to have gotten Obama's speech backwards. Obama talked about taking on global challenges -- counter-terrorism, global warming, counter-proliferation, the international drug trade -- and encouraging Europeans to join with the United States because, "No one nation, no matter how large or powerful, can defeat such challenges alone. None of us can deny these threats, or escape responsibility in meeting them."

Why would a man running to be Leader of the Free World publicly reject the notion of international cooperation on global challenges?

Obama's message in Berlin need not be controversial. We saw an American political leader, addressing Europeans waving American flags, encouraging people everywhere to rally to confront problems we can't resolve on our own. As Obama described it, encouraging our allies to follow our lead ultimately serves our interests, and the interests of free people around the globe.

McCain perceives this as lacking "confidence in America." I'm afraid today's bizarre criticism says more about McCain's twisted worldview than Obama's faith in American strength.

Steve Benen 1:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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REPUBLICAN BOASTS ABOUT 'MINISTRY OF TRUTH'.... Last year, in an unusual display of ignorance, Fox News' Sean Hannity announced that he would begin offering "Enemy of the State" awards to liberals he disapproves of. Hannity, never accused of being the sharpest crayon in the box, had no idea that the phrase has Stalinist origins, and quietly renamed his on-air segment, "Enemy of the Week."

At the time, one of Andrew Sullivan's readers noted: "It makes me wonder if Hannity has anything above a 4th-grade level education when it comes to the history of totalitarian movements."

As it happens, Hannity isn't the only one who isn't well read. Eric Kleefeld reports on this gem:

[A] leading Republican appears to have just inadvertently admitted that the GOP's spin machine set up to counter Barack Obama during the convention is a propaganda machine spewing nothing but lies.

The GOPer in question is Colorado GOP chairman Dick Wadhams, who accidentally made the admission when describing the GOP's war room in Denver set up to hammer Obama during convention week.

Wadhams described the GOP's outfit thusly to the Denver Post: "Just consider this the Ministry of Truth."

Now, I will gladly concede that the word "Orwellian" is used a little too often, sometimes in instances in which it doesn't really apply.

But in a case like this, Republicans like Wadhams is just making it too easy. The "Ministry of Truth," of course, comes from Orwell's 1984. Its responsibility was to create bogus propaganda and re-write history, all in the interests of lying to -- and ultimately, maintaining control over -- the public.

Kleefeld quoted Orwell's description: "The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy; they are deliberate exercises in doublethink."

And now we have a leading Republican Party official comparing its own propaganda outlet to Orwell's. It'd be funnier if it didn't hit quite so close to the truth.

Steve Benen 12:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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TUESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:

* John McCain appeared on "The Tonight Show" last night, and Jay Leno joked about McCain's confusion over how many houses he owns. McCain responded by pointing to -- you guessed it -- his background as a former prisoner of war during Vietnam.

* Quinnipiac shows Obama leading McCain in Ohio by one, 44% to 43%. The same poll showed Obama up by two in July.

* Quinnipiac shows McCain leading Obama in Florida by four, 47% to 43%. The same poll showed Obama up by two in July.

* Quinnipiac shows Obama leading McCain in Pennsylvania by seven, 49% to 42%. This is unchanged from July.

* A Suffolk University poll shows Obama leading McCain in Colorado by five, 44% to 39%.

* A Detroit News poll shows Obama leading McCain in Michigan by two, 43% to 41%.

* A Columbus Dispatch poll shows Obama leading McCain in Ohio by one, 42% to 41%.

* More swiftboating underway, this time from the right-wing Vets for Freedom.

* Just what the political world needed, yet another "3 a.m." ad.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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LEACH GETS THE SHORT SHRIFT.... Last night, DDay asked a very reasonable question: "If a 30-year Democrat spoke at the RNC, excoriated his former party, and endorsed the Presidential candidate of the opposite party, would the media cover it?"

DDay was referring, of course, to former Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa, a respected, long-time Republican lawmaker who not only endorsed Barack Obama, but appeared at the Democratic convention last night to urge others to follow his lead.




This development barely generated any attention at all. When Zell Miller appeared at the Republican convention, it was a key development. When Joe Lieberman, who isn't even a Democrat anymore, announced his own appearance at the GOP convention, this was a major story. Some former Democratic delegate in Wisconsin moved inexplicably from supporting Clinton to backing McCain, and her switch is treated as exceedingly important.

Leach, however, is getting the short shrift. He's a credible, serious guy, who was part of the House Republican caucus for decades, and this year, Leach concluded that Obama is the leader the nation needs.

Maybe he's too mild-mannered to generate more attention (he did not, for example, mention "spitballs" during his speech last night). Maybe if he'd challenged Chris Matthews to a duel, news outlets would have taken his remarks more seriously.

But that's a genuine shame, because Leach had a message worth listening to: "As a Republican, I stand before you with deep respect for the history and traditions of my political party. But it is clear to all Americans that something is out of kilter in our great republic.... Seldom has the case for an inspiring new political ethic been more compelling. And seldom has an emerging leader so matched the needs of the moment.... I stand before you proud of my party's contributions to American history but, as a citizen, proud as well of the good judgment of good people in this good party, in nominating a transcending candidate, an individual whom I am convinced will recapture the American dream and be a truly great president: the senator from Abraham Lincoln's state -- Barack Obama.... This is not a time for politics as usual.... Obama will recapture the American dream and be a truly great president."

Steve Benen 11:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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KUDLOW BLAMES THE MIGHTY DEMS.... Perusing the headlines yesterday afternoon, and noting that the stock market was having yet another rough day, I knew it was only a matter of time before some nut connected a drop in the Dow Jones to the Democratic convention.

I should have checked "The Corner" first; Larry Kudlow had already gone there. (via Anonymous Liberal)

Are the Denver Dems downing the stock market today? The Dow is off 230 points, starting right from the get-go. So-called market analysts are blaming financials and the credit crunch as they always do. But there's more.

Obama and Biden gave us plenty of class warfare in their Springfield, Ill., get together on Saturday. Tax the rich. Redistribute income and wealth. Go after all those corporate meanies. Trade protection. Card-check for the Unions to stop secret elections.... With the Denver Dems strutting their stuff, this could be a bumpy week for stocks.

It's a reminder for all of us to feel sorry for those writers tasked with writing parodies. How do you poke fun at those who excel at making themselves appear ridiculous?

Three quick thoughts here. First, in our reality, the market decline yesterday wasn't exactly a mystery.

Second, on the day George W. Bush was sworn into office in January 2001, the Dow Jones stood at 10,732.46. As I'm typing, it stands at 11,427.44. Under Reagan, the Dow went up 148%. Under Clinton, it grew 187%. After nearly eight years, Bush is barely breaking even. Blaming an Obama/Biden campaign rally isn't exactly a compelling explanation.

And third, it amazes me just how much credit Kudlow is willing to give the Democratic Party. As the conservative media personality sees it, Dems have the power to move markets before even starting their national convention, simply by giving a few speeches.

Those Democrats sure are mighty, aren't they?

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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NO 'CREDIBLE THREAT' AGAINST OBAMA.... Based on the latest reports, the talk of a possible plot against Barack Obama appears to be less serious than previously feared, at least according to local authorities.

Authorities are investigating whether a man arrested with rifles, ammunition and drugs in his truck made statements threatening Barack Obama, but emphasize he never posed a "credible threat" to the candidate or the Democratic National Convention.

Federal and local authorities had scheduled a news conference for Tuesday afternoon, but U.S. Attorney Troy Eid downplayed the case.

"We're absolutely confident there is no credible threat to the candidate, the Democratic National Convention, or the people of Colorado," Eid said in a statement.

There have been some competing reports about the gravity of the situation. On Sunday, police arrested Tharin Gartrell, who was driving erratically on a suspended license, and was found with rifles, walkie-talkies, and suspected narcotics in his truck. Three hours later, federal agents arrested Nathan Johnson on drug charges, and a half-hour after that, police tried to arrest Shawn Robert Adolf, who proceeded to jump out of a sixth-story window to evade police. It didn't work, and he's in the hospital, also under arrest on drug charges.

Interviewed by a local reporter, Johnson was asked if there was a plot to kill Obama. "Looking back at it, I don't want to say yes, but I don't want to say no," Johnson said, adding that he wasn't involved in any such plot.

The situation is obviously unresolved, and remains under investigation, but the most recent report from the Rocky Mountain News quotes the U.S. Attorney's office in Denver saying, "We can say this: We're absolutely confident there is no credible threat to the candidate, the Democratic National Convention, or the people of Colorado."

Stay tuned.

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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A LIBERAL LION'S FINAL ROAR.... Caroline Kennedy gave a touching speech about her "Uncle Teddy" last night, which segued into a Ken Burns-crafted tribute on the extraordinary career for Sen. Ted Kennedy. But it was Kennedy's speech -- a poignant bookend to his "The Dream Will Never Die" speech to the 1980 Democratic convention -- that tug on the heart-strings. Hell, even Sullivan found himself "choking up a little."



Given his battle with brain cancer, Kennedy's appearance was by no means a given. It's why he seemed entirely sincere when he began his speech, "My fellow Democrats, my fellow Americans, it is so wonderful to be here. And nothing -- nothing -- is going to keep me away from this special gathering tonight." After Kennedy took labored steps to the podium to give the speech, a stool was slipped in behind him. He ignored it.

As for the substance, it was hard to miss the issue the Liberal Lion cared about most. As Ezra noted, "Before he even mentioned Obama's name. Health care. After he spoke of the hope Obama brings. Health care. In the last few weeks, I've spoken to a couple Kennedy aides who all told me the same thing: Health care.... It will be his legacy. It is his dream. Health care."

Rhetorically, Kennedy's voice still boomed, and his message still resonated: "There is a new wave of change all around us, and if we set our compass true, we will reach our destination -- not merely victory for our party, but renewal for our nation. And this November, the torch will be passed again to a new generation of Americans. So with Barack Obama, and for you and for me, our country will be committed to his cause. The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on."

Kennedy seemed frailer than we're accustomed to seeing him, and his eyes rarely strayed from the prompter at the back of the arena. I'm pretty sure those watching couldn't have cared less. His speech, like his career, was a triumph.

Steve Benen 9:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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MEET MICHELLE OBAMA.... By most measures, Michelle Obama was under quite a bit of pressure last night to deliver a great speech. She's been the target of some pretty vicious right-wing smears; polls suggest public perceptions of her aren't entirely positive, and she was, in effect, headlining the opening night of the Democratic National Convention. Michelle Obama isn't a candidate, she's never public office, and she's not necessarily accustomed to delivering a nationally-televised address in prime-time.



And yet, Michelle Obama not only delivered, she flourished.

I suspect the original goal of Michelle's speech was to help humanize her husband, but she ended up going much further, telling an amazing American story, and one hopes, erasing any doubts about her love of country. She wasn't just good, and she didn't just exceed expectations, Michelle Obama couldn't have been any better. Remember the image of the scary, machine-gun toting woman on the cover of the New Yorker? Yeah, that's gone now.

CNN's David Gergen, hardly a Democratic cheerleader, went so far as to say Michelle Obama "rescued" the Democratic convention. "She was extraordinary, talking in ways that were both conversational -- always welcome in people's living room -- but also inspiring," Gergen said. "She spoke in ways that reached out to people of all backgrounds. Democrats should be both proud and grateful."

If you watch the speech, and I certainly hope you do, you'll notice a heavy emphasis on the Obamas' working-class backgrounds. As David Kusnet, a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton explained, the theme should help undermine the Republicans' preferred attack: "It inoculates her and her husband against the Republican attacks that they're out-of-touch elitists, in addition to Barack being a secret Muslim, Michelle being 'bitter,' and both being anti-American radicals. By revealing her roots in the black working class -- and rooting Barack Obama implicitly in the white working class -- she refutes right-wing populist attacks that the Obamas look down on working Americans."

And, of course, there was the important recognition of Hillary Clinton: "I stand here today at the crosscurrents of that history -- knowing that my piece of the American Dream is a blessing hard won by those who came before me.... People like Hillary Clinton, who put those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, so that our daughters -- and sons -- can dream a little bigger and aim a little higher."

I'd be remiss if I neglected to mention the very sweet moment after her speech, when Michelle Obama was joined on stage by her daughters, all of whom spoke to Barack Obama via video. The younger of the two girls kept interrupting the senator to tell him she loved him. As Slate's John Dickerson noted, "It was a beautiful family tableau.... The whole bunch seemed straight out of Central Casting. That's a cliche, and for the first black family with a realistic chance of living in the White House, becoming a cliche is a big win."

Michelle Obama went into last night in need of a re-introduction to the electorate. The one she delivered couldn't have been much better.

Steve Benen 8:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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August 25, 2008

CONVENTION OPEN THREAD.... The first night of the Democratic convention is well underway, but some of the night's big speeches are still to come. If you missed Speaker Pelosi's address, which was quite good, MSNBC has posted the clip.

Coming up, of course, are Caroline Kennedy's remarks, and a likely special appearance from Ted Kennedy himself, and Michelle Obama's speech, the text of which has been released to the media.

I thought I'd open the floor to some convention-related discussion. How's it going so far? Which news outlets are screwing up the coverage of the convention most? Favorite moments?

The floor is yours.

Steve Benen 9:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (97)

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SHE DOES NOT APPROVE THIS MESSAGE....



If you were watching any of the networks this afternoon, you probably got the impression that Hillary Clinton is stoking some kind of intra-party civil war among Democrats. But I have to say, I've seen some clips from Clinton speeches today, and heard several reports about remarks she's delivered, and I have to say, she sounded pitch-perfect to me.

This clip shows Clinton appearing before the Hispanic Caucus today, but she had a similar message about the McCain campaign's latest ads when speaking to the New York State delegation breakfast: "I understand that the McCain campaign is running ads trying to divide us and let me state what I think about their tactics and these ads: I am Hillary Clinton and I do not approve that message."

It's almost as if the party "rift" has been exaggerated for effect by news outlets obsessed with the notion of drama, and desperate to find some kind of major conflict, whether it exists or not.

Steve Benen 8:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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MONDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Deal in the works: "Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are working on a deal to give her some votes in the presidential nomination roll call, but end the divided balloting quickly with a unanimous consent for Obama."

* Obama told Bill Clinton, "Mr. President you can say whatever you like" during your convention speech.

* This morning at the New York State delegation breakfast: "Now I understand that the McCain campaign is running ads trying to divide us and let me state what I think about their tactics and these ads: I am Hillary Clinton and I do not approve that message."

* Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice used some surprisingly kind words to describe Joe Biden.

* Jon Stewart doesn't think highly of the cable news networks. I don't blame him.

* No, everyone does not love Karl Rove.

* The AP's Ron Fournier has caught MoveOn.org's attention.

* I was going to do an item how terribly disappointing it was to see Sean Wilentz's nasty piece in Newsweek, but it looks like publius already has it covered in a fine post.

* Bill Kristol in January: "Thank you, Senator Obama. You've defeated Senator Clinton in Iowa. It looks as if you're about to beat her in New Hampshire. There will be no Clinton Restoration. A nation turns its grateful eyes to you." So much for the glass-ceiling talk.

* I can't remember the last time a national news outlet ran negative ads targeting a rival national news outlet, but that's Fox News for you.

* For that matter, I can't remember the last time a national news outlet sent someone to a political convention for the express purpose of "causing trouble," but that's Fox News for you.

* "Welcome, rich white oligarchs!"

* It's tough to get eight in 10 Americans to agree on much, but that's how many people are dissatisfied with the direction of the country.

* What does "Swiftboating 2.0" look like? Media Matters has a chart.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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AND SO IT BEGINS.... We've seen the McCain campaign, the RNC, and state Republican Parties take the campaign in some deeply offensive directions, but to get closer to actual swiftboating, we'd have to turn to the American Issues Project.

The other day, the independent Swift-Boating outfit American Issues Project vowed to plunk down a cool $2.8 million on a slimy and vicious ad tying Obama to former Weatherman Bill Ayers.

Such vows often can be mere bluster designed to get free media and gin up contributions. Not this time, however.

The FEC report from the group is in, and it confirms that the group did in fact plunk down the nearly $3 million to air the ad.

If you live in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Virginia, you may have already seen it -- and if not, you probably will sometime soon.

And just as the Swiftboat gang from four years ago had tangential-but-meaningful ties to the Bush-Cheney campaign, the American Issues Project is led in part by Ed Failor Jr., who was a paid McCain campaign consultant last year.

The Obama campaign is reportedly taking this seriously -- an ad buy of this size in these states is impossible to ignore -- and has a response ad that has not yet been aired.

I'd just add that when Obama withdrew from the public-financing system, he and his campaign suggested it was a necessary step, in part to help combat the "independent" right-wing groups who would likely launch swiftboat-style attack ads. At the time, there were no such groups in place, and the media scoffed at the rationale.

The argument doesn't look nearly as baseless anymore.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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THE BLIND LEADING THE BLIND.... We talked earlier about Wisconsin nurse Debra Bartoshevich, a former Clinton delegate who is now appearing in McCain campaign ads. It's hard not to wonder what on earth she's thinking.

This afternoon, however, we actually got a better sense of the answer. At a Denver press conference this afternoon organized by Republicans, Bartoschevich, who claims to be a pro-choice Democrat, was asked about her concerns about reproductive rights under another pro-life Republican president.

"Going back to 1999, John McCain did an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle saying that overturning Roe v. Wade would not make any sense, because then women would have to have illegal abortions," Bartoschevich said.

This is surprisingly helpful. I've wondered why a pro-choice Democrat who cares about women's rights would even consider a conservative Republican with an abysmal record on women's rights. It turns out, the answer is pretty straightforward: she's terribly confused.

McCain did, in fact, say in 1999, that he "would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade." It was a reversal from his previous position, and soon after, McCain reversed right back, denounced Roe, vowed to overturn it, and assured voters he would lead an exclusively pro-life administration, arguably slightly to the right of Bush/Cheney.

Indeed, Sarah Blustain had a great item in The New Republic recently, explaining just how serious a "zealot" McCain is on the issue of reproductive rights.

During his political career, McCain has participated in 130 reproductive health-related votes on Capitol Hill; of these, he voted with the anti-abortion camp in 125. McCain has consistently backed rights for the unborn, voting to cover fetuses under the State Children's Health Insurance Program and supporting the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which allowed a "child in utero" to be recognized as a legal victim of a crime. He has voted in favor of the global gag rule, which prevents U.S. funds from going to international family-planning clinics that use their own money to perform abortions, offer information about abortion, or take a pro-choice stand.

There's a reason McCain has a zero rating from Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America. The 1999 quote was just a cheap ploy, intended to make McCain appear reasonable. He's not -- when it comes to women's rights, he's nothing short of a nightmare.

Last week, Slate's Dahlia Lithwick had an excellent item, explaining that a key component of McCain's campaign strategy is fooling women into thinking he's not a staunch opponent of reproductive rights. Lithwick argued if McCain can "keep [voters] in the dark," he might "snooker voters into thinking that his abortion views are centrist," when that's obviously not the case.

As of this afternoon, the scheme appears to actually have fooled a couple of Democrats, who regrettably don't know better.

But here's a fun little test, to see who's right. Ask the McCain campaign if Bartoschevich was accurately describing John McCain's current position on abortion rights. It's a straightforward proposition: she said McCain believes "overturning Roe v. Wade would not make any sense." Does McCain and his team agree with this assessment? Or is Bartoschevich & Co. under a false impression?

We're waiting.

Steve Benen 3:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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IRAQ: YOU DON'T HAVE TO GO HOME, BUT YOU CAN'T STAY HERE.... I suppose we can debate the meaning of the word "timetable," but this sounds like we're talking about an agreement that goes well beyond "aspirational time horizons."

Iraq and the United States have agreed that all U.S. troops will leave by the end of 2011, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Monday, but Washington said no final deal had been reached.

"There is an agreement actually reached, reached between the two parties on a fixed date, which is the end of 2011, to end any foreign presence on Iraqi soil," Maliki said in a speech to tribal leaders in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

"An open time limit is not acceptable in any security deal that governs the presence of the international forces," he said.

Maliki's remarks were the most explicit statement yet that the increasingly assertive Iraqi government expects the U.S. presence to end in three years as part of a deal between Washington and Baghdad to allow them to stay beyond this year.

When Maliki first roughly endorsed the Obama withdrawal policy, the McCain campaign suggested there was a translation problem. Or maybe a context problem. Or better yet, we should only listen to McCain, because only he knows exactly what Iraqis really want.

But today's pronouncements doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room for the Republican campaign. "Fixed date" and "end any foreign presence on Iraqi soil" aren't exactly ambiguous phrases.

Yglesias added, "Smart political leadership in the United States would consider this an open door that we should walk through -- a way to extricate ourselves from Iraq in an honorable and relatively painless manner."

So, how smart is our political leadership?

Steve Benen 3:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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TARGETING OBAMA'S HALF-BROTHER.... One need look no further than its party platform to know the Texas Republican Party is, shall we say, a little unusual idiosyncratic. This is, after all, the same party committed, in writing, to eliminating Social Security, church-state separation, lessons on modern biology, income taxes, the Federal Reserve, and the minimum wage.

This week, however, the Texas GOP has stopped looking for the invasion of black helicopters, and started going after Barack Obama's family. In a new "ad" -- I use the word loosely -- the state party argues that the presumptive Democratic nominee can't be trusted, because he has a half-brother who's poor. Seriously. The ad argues:

"Obama claims he's looking out our families in an economic downturn but ask yourself this: If Obama cares so much about your family, why doesn't he doesn't take care of his own family first? Barack Obama lives in this house [image of Obama's house], wants to live in this one [image of the White House], while his own brother lives in this one [image of Obama's half-brother standing in front of a shack in Kenya]."

The ad, not surprisingly, uses the half-brother's full name: George Hussein Onyango Obama.

On its face, this is pretty weak tea. For one thing, Obama has several half-siblings, and he's met George exactly once. Second, if neglect towards half-siblings is going to become a campaign issue, Texas Republicans have a very poor sense of timing.

But let's cut the nonsense -- the Texas Republican Party isn't concerned about George Obama. There's a transparent subtext, which, once again, hopes to characterize Barack Obama as foreign, different, and somehow less than American. Even by Republican standards, this is unusually cheap and ugly.

Stay classy, Texas GOP.

Steve Benen 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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KRISTOL CLEAR.... In the first sentence of his latest NYT column, Bill Kristol reports on the "anguished cries" he's heard in Denver from Hillary Clinton supporters who are outraged about Joe Biden joining the Democratic ticket. In the second sentence, he concedes that he hasn't actually heard any "anguished cries" at all, but he "felt" as if he could "hear" them.

Yes, Bill Kristol is apparently doing his best Stephen Colbert impression, sans the wit, charm, and satire.

The point of the piece, though, is Kristol's case for John McCain adding Joe Lieberman to the Republican ticket.

[Lieberman] is pro-abortion rights, and having been a Democrat all his life, he has a moderately liberal voting record on lots of issues. Now as a matter of governance, there's no reason to think this would much matter. McCain has made clear his will be a pro-life administration. And as a one-off, quasi-national-unity ticket, with Lieberman renouncing any further ambition to run for the presidency, a McCain-Lieberman administration wouldn't threaten the continuance of the G.O.P. as a pro-life party. In other areas, no one seriously thinks the policies of a McCain-Lieberman administration would be appreciably different from those, say, of a McCain-Pawlenty administration. [...]

Obama and Biden will try to frame the presidential race as a normal Democratic-Republican choice. If they can do that, they should win. That would be far more difficult against a McCain-Lieberman ticket. The charge that McCain would merely mean a third Bush term would also tend to fall flat.

There's something oddly disjointed about the argument. A McCain/Lieberman ticket would be just as conservative as any McCain/Generic Republican ticket, Kristol argues. But in the next breath, he also insists that a McCain/Lieberman ticket would represent a different kind of ticket, which would break with Bush, and become a "quasi-national-unity" pairing.

Except, there's a contradiction here. Either the ticket would be more of the same, or it would be a striking break with the past. It can't, however, be both.

On second thought, maybe "contradiction" is the wrong word. Reading between the lines, Kristol seems to believe a McCain/Lieberman ticket would be as conservative as any traditional Republican pairing, but voters might be fooled into thinking otherwise. That, at its core, is Kristol's message to the McCain campaign: pick Lieberman, run to the right, and con the public into thinking the ticket is something unique and different.

How painfully cynical, and yet, strangely predictable, given the source.

Post Script: I should add, by the way, that this makes one column in a row in which Kristol did not publish any obvious factual errors that required printed corrections. Keep up the sterling work, Bill.

Steve Benen 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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WHAT ABOUT CHENEY'S FEELINGS?.... For a while, it seemed as if Dick Cheney wouldn't be welcome at the Republican National Convention at all. As recently as Aug. 5, CNN quoted a Republican official saying that McCain's campaign and the vice president's office had reached a "mutual understanding," and that Cheney, given his strikingly low approval ratings, was "unlikely" to appear in St. Paul.

Realizing that it might look ridiculous to snub a sitting vice president at his own party's convention, both camps reversed course, and Cheney is slated to take the stage next week.

And just as soon as he's done, Cheney is leaving the country.

Vice President Cheney will travel abroad beginning September 2, 2008. President Bush has asked the Vice President to travel to Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine and Italy for discussions with these key partners on issues of mutual interest.

Christopher Orr responded, "The International Space Station was booked solid."

To summarize, Cheney will speak on Monday, Sept. 1 -- the night of Labor Day, when the smallest possible television audience is expected -- and will then immediately head to Azerbaijan.

You know, Cheney is probably a human being, who, in all likelihood, has emotions just like the rest of us. How do you suppose this shoddy treatment makes him feel?

Update: Kevin adds that Cheney's itinerary isn't reassuring: "Looks to me like Bush thinks Cheney is the perfect guy to get the Cold War started back up. Unless, that is, you can think of any other issue that's of 'mutual interest' to those three particular countries."

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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MONDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:

* Clinton adviser Maggie Williams and Obama strategist Axelrod release a joint statement: "The fact is that our teams are working closely to ensure a successful convention and will continue to do so. Senator and President Clinton fully support the Obama/Biden ticket.... Anyone saying anything else doesn't know what they're talking about. Period."

* Hillary Clinton is expected to formally release her primary delegates at a reception on Wednesday.

* In a bit of a surprise, Ted Kennedy will speak tonight at the convention.

* Remember the fight over what to do with the Florida and Michigan convention delegations? It's all water under the bridge -- the credentials committee voted unanimously yesterday to restore full voting rights to both states' delegations.

* Former Rep. Jim Leach, an Iowa Republican, will speak to the Democratic convention tonight, and Fairbanks Mayor Jim Whitaker, an Alaska Republican, will do the same tomorrow.

* The latest CNN/Opinion Research poll shows Obama and McCain tied nationally at 47% each.

* The Hill reported, "AFL-CIO officials have kicked off their push to introduce Barack Obama to union voters in 24 'priority' states, unveiling a mail piece that will go out to more than a million swing voters in four states this week." Karen Ackerman, political director of the AFL-CIO, called it the "biggest grassroots effort in history."

* The RNC has established a "war room" in Denver, to attack Dems during their convention.

* The RNC also continues to utilize Hillary Clinton's attacks against Obama from the primary season.

* A Public Policy Polling poll shows Obama leading McCain in Virginia by two, 47% to 45%.

* A Suffolk University poll shows Obama leading McCain in Colorado by five, 44% to 39%.

* Rasmussen shows McCain leading Obama in Indiana by four, 46% to 42%.

* Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain in California by 14, 51% to 37%.

* Rasmussen shows McCain leading Obama in Mississippi by 13, 54% to 41%.

* Mason-Dixon shows McCain leading Obama in Arizona by six, 47% to 41%.

* Mason-Dixon shows Obama leading McCain in Colorado by three, 46% to 43%.

* Mason-Dixon shows McCain leading Obama in New Mexico by four, 45% to 41%.

* Mason-Dixon shows McCain leading Obama in Nevada by seven, 46% to 39%.

* Mason-Dixon shows McCain leading Obama in Utah by 39, 62% to 23%.

* Mason-Dixon shows McCain leading Obama in Wyoming by 37, 62% to 25%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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A LIGHTER TOUCH.... Most negative campaign ads have a fairly predictable tone: ominous music, overdramatic voice-over, dire warnings, etc. This morning, the Obama campaign unveiled a new ad that tries something a little different: a negative ad with a much lighter tone.



Aside from the fact that the ad features a song that immediately gets stuck in your head -- thanks a lot, Obama campaign -- I found the ad to be pretty effective. It mocks McCain, and emphasizes one of his more embarrassing concessions -- "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should" -- and does so in a way that makes the viewer take notice. It's tough to thread the needle, attacking with a light touch, and the ad pulls it off.

For those of you who can't watch clips from your office computers, the ad features a song, to the tune of Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World," with a vocal track that tells the viewer, while McCain's infamous quote is on screen, "I'm not up on the economy, don't know much about industry. Really can't explain the price of gas, or what has happened to the middle class."

The image shifts to McCain and Bush together, and the song goes to, "But I know that one and one is two, and if I could be just like you, what a wonderful world this would be." A voice-over concludes, "Do we really want four more years of the same old tune?"

The ad, titled "Don't Know Much," is slated to air, according to a campaign press release, on "national cable and in battleground states around the country beginning today."

What'd you think of it?

Steve Benen 11:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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MCCAIN TRIES THE 'CHICKEN PRANK'.... For the second time in two days, the McCain campaign has unveiled a television ad intended to drive a wedge between Hillary Clinton's supporters and the candidate Hillary Clinton endorses and agrees with. In the new one, which the media is no doubt going to love, we see a former Clinton delegate from Wisconsin, touting her support for John McCain, and encouraging her other Democrats to follow her.

Now, I can't begin to relate to what this woman is thinking. As recently as a couple of months ago, she wanted the nation to move in one direction; now she prefers the opposite direction. She preferred a progressive approach on key issues; now she prefers a conservative approach. She wanted a break away from the policies of George W. Bush; now she wants four more years like the last eight. I'm not even going to pretend to understand why.

But before the networks take the ad too seriously, they should consider an anecdote about the "chicken prank" from TNR's Eve Fairbanks.

I almost feel like a dupe writing about the second pro-Hillary ad McCain released today at 6am: It's a stunt, a trick meant to keep him in the press during the Democratic convention and gin up more Hillary-Obama-tension media storylines. Message: neener neener neener.

It is, in fact, the political equivalent of a prank legendarily pulled at my high school in which students procured well fewer than 20 live chickens, numbered them 1 through 20 with magic markers (leaving some numbers out), set them loose, and then sat back and gleefully watched as hapless school officials ran around the school searching for the remaining missing chickens that had never actually existed.

Nobody knows how much truly dangerous anti-Obama sentiment exists among former Hillary supporters or how many Hillary delegates will vote for John McCain in November (this past June, McCain said that the woman in today's ad, Wisconsin nurse Debra Bartoshevich, was the only Hillary delegate they knew of who was committed to pull the lever for McCain). But I guarantee some of us in the press will spend today haplessly running around looking for more of them out here, to fill out our stories about this ad and the angry-Hillary-brigades-hit-Denver storyline.

The vast majority of Democrats, especially those who found Hillary Clinton's campaign appealing, will simply have no rational reason to do what Bartoshevich has inexplicably done. But to use Fairbanks' metaphor, I also don't doubt that the race for additional chickens is on.

For what it's worth, while the McCain campaign is touting support from Bartoshevich, be prepared to hear more about high-profile Republicans throwing their support to Barack Obama.

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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'CLEARLY A TACTICAL OR STRATEGIC MOVE'.... McCain campaign officials argued yesterday that they have "underused" stories about John McCain's past as a prisoner of war, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. With that in mind, perhaps it shouldn't have been too big a surprise to see the presumptive Republican nominee respond to his multi-house flap by, once again, referencing his Vietnam service.

[CBS News' Katie] Couric asked about McCain's answer when Politico inquired about the number of homes he and his wife, Cindy, own. McCain referred the question to his staff, who said he had at least four. Records show the number could be twice that, depending on how you count the family's properties.

"I am grateful for the fact that I have a wonderful life," McCain said. "I spent some years without a kitchen table, without a chair, and I know what it's like to be blessed by the opportunities of this great nation."

Last week, a McCain campaign spokesperson made a similar argument, but this was the first time the candidate himself defended his gaffe by reminding us again of his days as a prisoner of war.

Now, we've already talked about how this excessive exploitation ultimately cheapens McCain's experience, but Yglesias reminded me of a point that often goes overlooked: "[O]nce upon a time McCain was criticizing John Kerry for talking too much about Vietnam, saying he essentially invited the swift boat attacks by doing so."

Quite right. In fact, it seems almost comical in hindsight, but four years ago, McCain chastised Kerry for reminding voters about his decorated service in Vietnam, saying the message is "clearly a tactical or strategic move," adding, "I'm sick and tired of re-fighting the Vietnam War."

I guess McCain got over his disgust, because he seems to talk about little else now.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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ALL NEWS IS GOOD NEWS FOR MCCAIN.... It's difficult to identify with any real certainty the single worst political analysis of the presidential campaign, but if you missed ABC News' "This Week" yesterday, you missed Time's Mark Halperin offering analysis that was so bizarre, it was tempting to think it was intended as satire. Only in this case, Halperin was serious.



For those of you who can't watch clips online, the roundtable discussion turned to the story about John McCain having so many homes, he can't remember how many he currently owns. "My hunch is this is going to end up being one of the worst moments in the entire campaign for one of the candidates, but it's Barack Obama," Halperin argued, adding, "I believe that this opened the door to not just Tony Rezko in that ad, but to bring up Reverend Wright, to bring up his relationship with Bill Ayers."

It was so odd, host George Stephanopoulos said, on the air, "I'm having a little trouble following your argument." Stephanopoulos wasn't the only one.

Pressed on the notion that McCain, who's run a relentlessly negative campaign in recent months, was going to go after Rezko, Wright, and Ayers anyway, Halperin, who apparently has been watching a presidential race in a parallel universe, insisted, "I think it would have been hard for John McCain, given the way he says he's going to run his campaign, to do all this stuff without the door being opened."

Really? Because McCain and his campaign have been attacking Obama's character, integrity, and patriotism pretty much non-stop for months, and no one "opened the door" to make that happen. Indeed, McCain didn't even need a nudge to be relentlessly negative -- as Kevin explained, McCain hired Karl Rove's team to run his campaign operation for a reason.

Ultimately, the biggest problem with Halperin's mind-numbing commentary is the underlying strategic message it offers Obama: If McCain makes a humiliating mistake, don't say anything. If you do, you'll get smeared and you'll deserve it. Even if McCain accuses you of treason, don't fight back. It'll only empower McCain to take the campaign even further into the gutter.

Josh Marshall added, "It's a very tough standard, but I think this may be the stupidest thing Halperin has ever said. (Yes, I know, I know...) The McCain folks must be both loving and laughing at the guy at the same time."

I suppose it's possible we'll see worse political analysis at some point this year, but after watching Halperin yesterday, it's hard to imagine what it would be.

Steve Benen 8:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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HOUSEKEEPING NOTE.... It occurred to me that a reader, just returning from vacation, may start checking in on the blogs this morning and ask, "Was there a game of blogosphere musical chairs while I was gone?"

Well, sort of. If you've been out of the loop, Kevin Drum, after several fantastic years here at the Washington Monthly, has a new blog at Mother Jones. I've moved from The Carpetbagger Report to here. Hilzoy is joining me here at the Political Animal, cross-posting items from Obsidian Wings.

Depending on how long your vacation has been, you may also be interested to know that Ta-Nehisi Coates is now at The Atlantic, and Matt Yglesias has moved from The Atlantic to the Center for American Progress, and Blue Girl has abandoned Blogger and is now blogging at They Gave Us a Republic.

Also, in case readers are wondering, I won't be attending either major party convention this year, but Hilzoy is going to be in Denver this week.

And now, back to the news....

Steve Benen 7:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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August 24, 2008

'UNDERUSING' THE P.O.W. STORY.... We talked the other day about the McCain campaign overplaying the prisoner-of-war card, so much so that even sympathetic reporters have begun questioning McCain for "trivializing" his service.

For its part, the McCain campaign has come to the opposite conclusion.

They will be prepared to show McCain's "home" in Hanoi by using images of his cell. They claim they have not overused the POW element and insist they have "underused it."

There's no indication that McCain aides were kidding.

In case there were any doubts about McCain excessively exploiting his service, even the NYT's Maureen Dowd is calling McCain out: "McCain is now in danger of exceeding his credit limit on the equivalent of an American Express black card. His campaign is cheapening his greatest strength -- and making a mockery of his already dubious claim that he's reticent to talk about his P.O.W. experience -- by flashing the P.O.W. card to rebut any criticism, no matter how unrelated."

Given that the campaign apparently believes it's been "underusing" the story, I suppose we can expect this to get considerably worse.

Steve Benen 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (141)

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WHO KNEW KRISTOL WAS SUCH A FEMINIST?.... Throughout much of the presidential campaign, Bill Kristol spent a considerable amount of time trashing Hillary Clinton and explaining to Fox News viewers, "White women are a problem, that's, you know -- we all live with that."

But now that Joe Biden is joining the Democratic ticket, wouldn't you know it, Kristol has found the feminist within.

Will the Democratic party, which is committed (to say the least) to gender equity, and which in fact has a 50 percent quota for female delegates, accept Obama's imposition of a glass ceiling at its convention?

As part of Kristol's "argument" -- I use the word loosely -- the Weekly Standard editor insists that it's outrageous Hillary Clinton wasn't considered for the ticket, especially given that she and Biden "have basically comparable foreign policy 'experience.'"

The transparently shameless stunt here is for far-right Republicans to incite as much intra-party tensions among Democrats as humanly possible. Indeed, it's not just Kristol. Republicans are hoping, desperately, to drive a wedge between Hillary Clinton's supporters and the candidate Hillary Clinton agrees with, enthusiastically endorsed, and continues to campaign on behalf of.

A few thoughts. First, it's fascinating to see Kristol suddenly become a feminist. He's never expressed any interest in gender equality before, but I'm sure that's just a coincidence.

Second, given Kristol's new-found interest in feminism, I'm sure he'll devote another column soon to decrying Republicans' aversion to promoting women into positions of political power.

And third, James Joyner notes, "Stoking the lingering resentments of the Hillary camp is probably smart politics, although doing it so brazenly could backfire and cause more of them to realize that they're playing into the Republicans' hands."

That sounds right. No one likes to be thought a fool by shameless con-men, least of all Republican ideologues like Kristol who've not only spent their careers trashing the Clintons, but who also staunchly oppose everything Clinton has fought for throughout her life. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if these tactics have the opposite of the intended effect. Kristol's column and McCain's latest ad are just too insulting to Clinton backers to work.

Ultimately, it seems most of the Republicans' election-year strategy is predicated on the notion that voters must be played for suckers. It's kind of sad, really.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (92)

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WHEN MCCAIN DENIES THE OBVIOUS.... The AP ran an extremely long, largely flattering, bio piece on John McCain the other day, and towards the end of the 3,000-word profile, there was some attention paid to the presumptive Republican nominee's recent policy reversals.

[McCain's] shifts on issues such as taxes and immigration seemed designed to placate the GOP right. "He appears less flexible," says [former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey]. "He appears to be something different than what he was."

Former Sen. Lincoln Chafee, a Republican-turned-independent who backs Obama, credits McCain for going his own way in the Senate, but worries that in reaching out to the right during the campaign, he's "compromised his credibility."

Gary Hart, another Obama supporter, doubts McCain is a new man. "I don't think you get to be 70 years old and then fundamentally change," says Hart. "McCain's gyrations have more to do with figuring out his own party than anything else. ... He's had to sublimate for obvious reasons."

McCain bats away that notion. "In all due respect to my colleagues," he says, "They're drinking the Kool-Aid that somehow I have changed positions on the issues. All I can say is that we all grow. We all grow wiser. And we all refine our positions."

This is utter nonsense. I've been working on a project during the campaign, chronicling John McCain's flip-flops. As of now, the grand total stands at 74 reversals.

I should note that there's nothing offensive about a political figure changing his or her mind once in a while. Policy makers come to one conclusion, they gain more information, and then they reach a different conclusion. That is, to be sure, a good thing -- it reflects a politician with an open mind and a healthy intellectual curiosity. Better to have a leader who changes his or her mind based on new information than one who stubbornly sticks to outmoded policy positions, regardless of facts or circumstances. McCain says he's "grown" and "refined" his positions. At first blush, this sounds completely reasonable.

So why do McCain's flip-flops matter? Because all available evidence suggests his reversals aren't sincere, they're cynically calculated for political gain.

McCain has been in Congress for more than a quarter-century; he's bound to shift now and then on various controversies. But therein lies the point -- McCain was consistent on most of these issues, right up until he started running for president, at which point he conveniently abandoned literally dozens of positions he used to hold, as part of a drive to pander and become palatable to the far-right Republican base.

One need not "drink the Kool Aid" to notice this. McCain's contradictory record speaks for itself.

Steve Benen 11:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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LIFE IMITATING ART.... With Joe Biden joining the Democratic ticket, the race is on ... for the perfect analogy. The media seems to have settled on Biden taking on a role similar to that of the current vice president. "Is Biden the new Cheney?" seems to be a very common question this morning.

But as silly as this may sound, the first name that came to my mind wasn't Cheney, it was McGarry. As in Leo McGarry.

Everyone remembers the seventh season of "The West Wing," right? A young, charismatic, relatively inexperienced member of Congress, who happens to be part of a minority group, endures through a lengthy and contentious Democratic primary season, and defies the odds against a better known and better tested party favorite to win the nomination. Waiting for him is an older Republican senator from out west, who's occasionally rankled various constituencies in his own party.

Ring a bell?

And what, pray tell, does the captivating Democratic candidate do when it comes time to pick a running mate? He chooses an older member of the party establishment, with a background in foreign policy, who helps bring heft to the ticket.

Sure, the parallels are far from exact, but am I the only one who thought of this?

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... At my old site, I did a weekly item called "This Week in God" -- yes, I borrowed the name from "The Daily Show" -- summarizing some of the news from the world of religion, most notably in instances in which faith intersected with politics and/or public policy. I've traditionally run the posts on Saturdays, but with the Biden announcement yesterday, I delayed it a day this week.

First up from The God Machine this week is a major court decision on doctors trying to limit medical treatment on religious grounds.

Doctors cannot discriminate against gays and lesbians in medical treatment, even if the procedures being sought conflict with physicians' religious beliefs, the California Supreme Court decided unanimously yesterday.

In the second gay-rights victory this year, the state Supreme Court said religious physicians must obey a state law that bars businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

"The First Amendment's right to the free exercise of religion does not exempt defendant physicians here from conforming their conduct to the ... antidiscrimination requirements," Justice Joyce L. Kennard wrote for the court.

In this case, a California woman hoped to have a baby through intrauterine insemination. A physician at the North Coast Women's Care Medical Group refused, saying her religious beliefs compelled her to deny treatment to lesbians.

There are plenty of OB/GYN doctors who refuse to perform abortions, but this is different -- we're talking about doctors who provide insemination services, but only want to make the services available to certain kinds of patients. This week, the California Supreme Court agreed that the medical group's religious objections do not trump anti-discrimination laws.

Also from The God Machine this week:

* We are poised to see the first ever invocation from a rabbi before a presidential nominee's acceptance speech: "Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, will be making history August 28 as he opens the Democratic convention's last day."

* Jim Wallis "oozed patriarchy" this week, and Pastor Dan called him on it.

* Incredible: "This summer, 11 years after the FBI raid, the Pentagon's inspector general exonerated [Army engineer David Tenenbaum] and endorsed his assertion that the investigation by the leaders of the Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) in [Michigan] targeted him because he is a practicing Jew."

* It seemed like a good idea at the time: "It was a coup for Democrats: An emerging young evangelical voice, a registered Republican no less, accepted their invitation to deliver a prayer at next week's Democratic National Convention. But Cameron Strang, the 32-year-old editor of edgy and hip Relevant Magazine, had second thoughts and pulled out of delivering the benediction on the convention's first night, Monday. Citing fears that his bridge-building gesture would be wrongly construed as an endorsement, Strang said he instead hopes to take a lower-profile role, participating in a convention caucus meeting on religion later in the week."

Steve Benen 9:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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THE DREADED SEPTUAGENARIAN ISSUE.... There's a new Washington Post/ABC News poll out this morning, and it appears to be the last major national poll before the presidential race shifts gears (it was taken before the Biden announcement and on the eve of the Democratic convention).

Given that the campaign is probably about to change, at least a little, it's hard to know just how much predictive value, if any, a poll like this is going to have. For what it's worth, it shows Barack Obama leading John McCain by four among likely voters, 49% to 45%. The lead is slightly bigger among registered voters, 49% to 43%.

But looking through the data, there was one set of questions that jumped out at me:

"If elected, McCain would take office at age 72. If you honestly assessed yourself, is that something with which you're entirely comfortable, somewhat comfortable, somewhat uncomfortable or entirely uncomfortable?"

The same poll also told respondents, "If elected, Obama would be the first African-American president," followed by the identical question about voters' comfort levels.

Interestingly enough, 87% said they were comfortable with an African-American president, but 55% said the same about a 72-year-old president. Moreover, while 11% conceded they were uncomfortable with an African-American president, 45% said the same of a 72-year-old president. Only 6% said they were "entirely uncomfortable" with a black president, while more than triple, 20%, said the same of a septuagenarian.

Now, I don't doubt that some respondents were being less than honest about their racial prejudices, but even putting that aside, that's a lot of people who are obviously uneasy about McCain's advanced age.

I continue to think this is something of a sleeper issue in this campaign. There's been enormous interest in exploring the racial angles to this campaign, but there's ample data -- going back to early last year -- that McCain's age actually matters to voters, and it's an issue that raises doubts.

Something to keep an eye on.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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August 23, 2008

HELLO, SPRINGFIELD.... The event on the steps of the old Illinois Capitol wrapped up a little while ago, and we got a chance to see Barack Obama and Joe Biden, side by side, for the first time. Other than Biden referring to Obama as "Barack America" at one point, it seemed to go off without a hitch. (If you're going to screw up Obama's name, I have to say, "Barack America" is probably the least problematic way to do it.)

Obama's introduction suggested a genuine affection for Biden, and Obama told a story about Biden's background that a lot of people may not have known.

"[Biden] he picked himself up, worked harder than the other guy, and got elected to the Senate -- a young man with a family and a seemingly limitless future.

"Then tragedy struck. Joe's wife Neilia and their little girl Naomi were killed in a car accident, and their two boys were badly hurt. When Joe was sworn in as a Senator, there was no ceremony in the Capitol -- instead, he was standing by his sons in the hospital room where they were recovering. He was 30 years old.

"Tragedy tests us -- it tests our fortitude and it tests our faith. Here's how Joe Biden responded. He never moved to Washington. Instead, night after night, week after week, year after year, he returned home to Wilmington on a lonely Amtrak train when his Senate business was done. He raised his boys -- first as a single dad, then alongside his wonderful wife Jill, who works as a teacher. He had a beautiful daughter. Now his children are grown and Joe is blessed with five grandchildren. He instilled in them such a sense of public service that his son, Beau, who is now Delaware's Attorney General, is getting ready to deploy to Iraq. And he still takes that train back to Wilmington every night. Out of the heartbreak of that unspeakable accident, he did more than become a Senator -- he raised a family. That is the measure of the man standing next to me. That is the character of Joe Biden."

Obama added, "Joe Biden is what so many others pretend to be -- a statesman with sound judgment who doesn't have to hide behind bluster to keep America strong." I can't imagine who he might have been referring to.

Biden, meanwhile, did exactly what he needed to do -- bear witness to Obama's strengths and hammer away at John McCain.

By any reasonable measure, Biden isn't the orator Obama is, but a) we knew that; and b) that's not the role for which he's been cast.

It's pretty easy to guess which of the sound-bites is going to get picked up tonight. After describing the economic difficulties facing so many millions of Americans, Biden said, "Ladies and gentlemen, if your kitchen table is like mine, you sit there at night after you've put the kids to bed and you talk about what you need, you talk about how much you're worried about being able to pay the bills. Well, ladies and gentleman, that's not a worry John McCain will have to worry about.... He'll have to figure out which of the seven kitchen tables to sit at."

This was almost certainly his biggest applause line.

But it wasn't Biden's only shot across McCain's bow. Biden read (and re-read) quotes from McCain about how much he agrees with Bush. Every criticism of the current administration came as a rejection of "Bush-McCain." Biden said the "harsh truth" is that "you cannot change America" when you vote with Bush "95% of the time." Biden emphasized that McCain is a friend, but he explained how disappointed he was to see McCain "gave in to the right wing of his political party, and gave in to the swift boat politics that he once so deplored." He said McCain is wrong on everything from Iraq to Social Security.

He came across as a fighter. I'm glad; Obama needs one.

Biden wasn't polished -- he used the word "literally" excessively -- but he emphasized populist themes, articulated a compelling rejection of the status quo, and sounded every bit the "scrappy kid from Scranton who beat the odds."

What'd you think?

Update: If you missed the event and wanted to watch it, MSNBC has the video of both speeches.

Steve Benen 4:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (102)

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By: Hilzoy

Never Say Never...

Politico:

"But Biden watchers also know that there is much to like and admire about the man. Biden is a fighter who is joining a campaign some Democrats believe should scrap a little more. He is a serious adult on the serious, adult issues of the day.

And no one will liken Joey Biden of Scranton, Pa., to Paris Hilton or Britney Spears."

Well, that might seem like a safe bet. But remember, we're talking about Republican political operatives here; and no one ever went broke betting on Republicans' ability to mount completely implausible attacks.

Right on cue, a "GOP adman and noted quipster":

"It's the Britney-Paris ticket."

Joe Biden. As Paris Hilton. You just can't make this stuff up.

(Cross-posted at Obsidian Wings)

Hilzoy 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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BIDENMANIA CONTINUES.... As part of our ongoing coverage of the big political story of the day, here are a few more Biden-related items of note:

* At BeliefNet, Steve Waldman has an interesting item, taking a closer look at Joe Biden and the "faith factor." Biden is, Waldman notes, a "proud and committed Catholic," who "goes to mass regularly," and who has acknowledged publicly, "I get comfort from carrying my rosary, going to mass every Sunday. It's my time alone."

* The Drum Major Institute has a good report out on Biden's record on economic issues and the middle class. Other than that bankruptcy bill, Biden looks strong.

* The Huffington Post has a helpful collection of Biden video clips. (To understand why I'm looking forward to seeing Biden on the campaign trail again, going on the offensive against the Republican ticket, pay particular attention to this one.)

* Biden, of course, competed against Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination, and, not surprisingly, encouraged voters to support him instead of his rival. The McCain campaign hopes to exploit this, but I think Jonathan Cohn strikes the right note: "[I]t's obviously not a good thing that these quotes are out there. I'm just saying they could be much, much worse, given that Biden and Obama were rivals for the presidency just a few months ago."

* In August 2005, during an appearance on "The Daily Show," Biden told Jon Stewart, "I would be honored to run with or against John McCain because I think the country would be better off." I don't doubt Republicans love this line, but it seems to me the retort is rather obvious: "When I said this, McCain opposed Bush's tax policies, didn't plan to keep U.S. troops in Iraq for 100 years, wanted the Republican Party platform to be less extreme on abortion rights, supported affirmative action, and rejected the religious right. McCain has since reversed course on all of those issues. I liked the old McCain a lot better than the new one."

* And it doesn't get a lot of attention, but Biden's record/agenda on global poverty is very strong.

* Clinton, Kaine, and Republicans Hagel and Lugar have all offered very high praise of Obama's choice.

Steve Benen 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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FOURNIER IS AT IT AGAIN.... The latest piece from Ron Fournier, the AP's Washington bureau chief and the man responsible for directing the wire service's coverage of the presidential campaign, on Joe Biden joining the Democratic ticket, is drawing a fair amount of attention this morning. More importantly, McCain campaign staffers are pushing it fairly aggressively to other reporters, in large part because it mirrors the Republican line with minimal variation.

By choosing Biden, Fournier argues, Barack Obama is showing a "lack of confidence," and is siding with "the status quo."

There are two ways to consider Fournier's piece: substantively and in the broader context.

First, on the substance, Fournier's analysis seems a little lazy. By his logic, any potential running mate shows a "lack of confidence" -- picking Hillary would mean Obama lacked confidence in his ability to win over women voters; picking Bayh would mean Obama lacked confidence in his ability to win over independents and conservative Dems; picking Webb would mean Obama lacked confidence in his ability to win over voters concerned about national security; picking Kaine would mean Obama lacked confidence in his ability to win over voters in the South; etc. For that matter, "the status quo" in Washington has been conservative Republican rule. Biden may be an old pro and a DC insider, but he's anything but "the status quo."

Second, in context, Fournier's objectivity covering the presidential race continues to look shaky. We are, after all, talking about a journalist who, as recently as last year, considered working for the McCain campaign.

Before Ron Fournier returned to The Associated Press in March 2007, the veteran political reporter had another professional suitor: John McCain's presidential campaign.

In October 2006, the McCain team approached Fournier about joining the fledgling operation, according to a source with knowledge of the talks. In the months that followed, said a source, Fournier spoke about the job possibility with members of McCain's inner circle, including political aides Mark Salter, John Weaver and Rick Davis.

We learned not too long ago that Fournier exchanged emails with Karl Rove about Pat Tillman, in which Fournier wrote, "The Lord creates men and women like this all over the world. But only the great and free countries allow them to flourish. Keep up the fight." Fournier was also one of the journalists who, at a gathering of the nation's newspaper editors, extended McCain a box of his favorite donuts ("Oh, yes, with sprinkles!" McCain said).

It's led to a series of AP reports that can, at best, be described as "questionable."

In March, for example, Fournier wrote an item -- whether it was a news article or an opinion piece was unclear -- that said Barack Obama is "bordering on arrogance," "a bit too cocky," and that the senator and his wife "ooze a sense of entitlement." To substantiate the criticism, Fournier pointed to ... not a whole lot. It was basically the Republicans' "uppity" talking point in the form of an AP article.

But much of the AP's coverage has deteriorated since. There was a slam-job on Obama that read like an RNC oppo dump, followed by a scathing, 900-word reprimand of Obama's decision to bypass the public financing system in the general election, filled with errors of fact and judgment.

When Obama unveiled his faith-based plan, the AP got the story backwards. When Obama talked about his Iraq policy on July 3, the AP said he'd "opened the door" to reversing course, even though he hadn't.

The AP's David Espo wrote a hagiographic, 1,200-word piece, praising McCain's "singular brand of combative bipartisanship," which was utterly ridiculous.

The AP pushed the objectivity envelope a little further with a mind-numbing, 1,100-word piece on Obama "being shadowed by giant flip-flops."

The AP flubbed the story on McCain joking about killing Iranians, and then flubbed the story about McCain's promise to eliminate the deficit. It's part of a very discouraging trend for the AP that's been ongoing throughout the campaign.

And then, within hours of Obama announcing his running mate, there's Fournier again, writing up another piece -- whether it's a news article or an opinion piece is, again, unclear -- that the McCain campaign just loves.

Sandy Johnson, the former DC bureau chief of the AP, was asked about Fournier and the bureau when she was forced out as part of a staff shake-up. "I just hope he doesn't destroy it," she said.

The more I see the AP's coverage, the more I think about that quote.

Steve Benen 10:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (169)

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A MATCH MADE IN ELECTORAL HEAVEN?.... So much for my predictive skills. As regular readers may recall, back in April, I argued, "I just don't think Obama would pick Biden, at least not for VP," adding that his "chances appear remote." I cited his role in passing the 2005 bankruptcy bill, his reputation for lacking message discipline, and his relative inability to deliver a state or constituency that Barack Obama would need to win in November.

More than four months later, it's odd, then, that I feel rather relieved that it's Biden joining Obama's ticket. He was wrong on the bankruptcy bill, but he was supporting his home-state's industry (much like an otherwise fine senator from West Virginia voting for coal). Biden has a history of being gaffe-prone, but as a presidential candidate, he seemed to learn quite a bit about staying on message. And while Delaware's three electoral votes were probably a safe bet for the Obama campaign anyway, Biden's Irish-Catholic, working-class background, and connection to Pennsylvania, may yet prove to be a valuable electoral asset.

There's obviously no shortage of angles to consider this morning, but fundamentally, is Biden the perfect choice? No. Is he a wise choice? Almost certainly, yes. I was just re-reading an item Mark Halperin published earlier this week from a "keen" political observer:

"Biden is deeply thoughtful, serious, passionate, experienced, highly knowledgeable, and incredibly sensible and clear when talking about major issues. He has a vast and creative understanding of politics and policy, a sharp mind, and a sincere heart. He's totally ready to be president. Together, Obama and Biden would represent the best of the last 30 years of the Democratic Party, and the hope for the next 30.

"Biden may be a ridiculous, overbearing blowhard, and he'll doubtless make foolish blunders and imprudent comments if he's on the ticket, but he'd still be an excellent campaigner, surrogate, and debater. He'd be thrilled at the prospect of being vice president (his own aspirations aside), and grateful and proud to have been chosen -- he'd work hard to make Obama look good, and not deliberately outshine him -- plus the chemistry will be appealing, and they genuinely like and respect each other, which will be winningly apparent.

"Also, America is no longer a place where citizens care about plagiarism or hair plugs. A Biden pick would immediately elevate Obama's gravitas, give him a semblance of humility, delight the media, and reassure the nation that a grownup is involved. Democrats would be simultaneously relieved and apprehensive, but they'd be pleased with the choice overall. Plus, Biden is Catholic, is a Washington insider in a good way (a hardworking man of the people unchanged by three decades inside the Beltway), and has an endearingly tragic history with a happy ending."

It's probably fair to say that Biden isn't an exciting, inspirational choice, but that's largely the point -- Obama has the exciting, inspirational aspect of the race already covered.

Biden is overwhelmingly qualified, brings foreign policy heft to the ticket, has a fairly progressive voting record, does not suffer fools kindly, and is extremely well suited to be an aggressive, attack-dog running mate. He would help Obama govern, and given his age (65), Biden would likely follow Cheney's example and not spend his time positioning himself for a run in 2016.

All things being equal, Obama could have done a whole lot worse.

Steve Benen 9:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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RANDOM BIDEN-RELATED OBSERVATIONS.... While the political world digests the big announcement about Joe Biden joining Barack Obama on the Democratic ticket, I thought I'd pass along a few random observations.

First, Obama/Biden is only the second Democratic ticket in the last 35 years not to have at least one candidate from the South.

Second, if Obama/Biden wins in November, Biden will be the first Roman Catholic vice president in American history.

And third, Biden happens to be up for re-election in Delaware this year. As I understand it, he will, like Joe Lieberman in 2000, run simultaneously for both seats.

Just thought I'd pass these along.

Steve Benen 8:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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OBAMA-BIDEN '08.... The campaign ended the suspense early this morning.

Senator Barack Obama has chosen Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware to be his running mate, turning to a leading authority on foreign policy and a longtime Washington hand to fill out the Democratic ticket, Mr. Obama announced in text and e-mail messages early Saturday.

Mr. Obama's selection ended a two-month search that was conducted almost entirely in secret. It reflected a critical strategic choice by Mr. Obama: To go with a running mate who could reassure voters about gaps in his resume, rather than to pick someone who could deliver a state or reinforce Mr. Obama's message of change.

Mr. Biden is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and is familiar with foreign leaders and diplomats around the world. Although he initially voted to authorize the war in Iraq -- Mr. Obama opposed it from the start -- Mr. Biden became a persistent critic of President George W. Bush's policies in Iraq.

The brief text message from the Obama campaign came at 3:00 a.m., less than three hours after word of the decision began leaking out. "Barack has chosen Senator Joe Biden to be our VP nominee. Watch the first Obama-Biden rally live at 3pm ET on www.BarackObama.com. Spread the word!"

I'll have plenty of commentary and analysis in a bit, but I thought I'd get the thread going. Pleased with the pick? Relieved it's not Bayh? Does Biden improve Obama's chances in November?

Steve Benen 5:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

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August 22, 2008
By: Hilzoy

Gaining Ground By Standing Still

Yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office released new long-term Social Security projections (pdf):

"CBO projects that outlays will first exceed revenues in 2019 and that the Social Security trust funds will be exhausted in 2049. If the law remains unchanged, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will then no longer have the legal authority to pay full benefits."

However:

"CBO's projections indicate that future Social Security beneficiaries will receive larger benefits in retirement -- and will have paid higher payroll taxes -- than current beneficiaries do, even after adjustments have been made for inflation and even if the scheduled payments are reduced because the trust funds are exhausted. However, CBO estimates that under both scenarios, those benefits will represent a smaller percentage of beneficiaries' preretirement earnings than is the case now."

According to the CBO projections, "the 75-year actuarial imbalance in the program amounts to 0.38 percent of GDP, or 1.06 percent of taxable payroll." This sounds rather manageable.

One interesting note: like any attempt to project the economy decades into the future, long-term Social Security projections are bound to be inaccurate. It's therefore always interesting to see how they change over time, as we inch closer to the dates they're talking about. In 2006, the CBO projected (pdf) that the Social Security trust funds would be exhausted in 2046. Apparently, during the last two years, the date when the Social Security trust funds will be exhausted has been pushed three years further into the future. At this rate, if we keep on doing nothing, that date will never arrive at all.

The point is not that we should keep on doing nothing forever. (Maybe we can; maybe we can't.) It's that since we're talking about a rather manageable problem involving economic projections decades into the future, we can afford to wait and see how accurate our assumptions are.

Hilzoy 10:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* As of this minute, we don't know who Barack Obama's running mate is.

* Russia doesn't appear to be in any kind of rush in Georgia.

* Did the McCains embellish their Mother Teresa adoption story? Maybe.

* It must be terribly unpleasant to be Evan Bayh's neighbors today.

* Spencer Ackerman has a good item on Obama's response today to developments in Iraq.

* Media Matters launched "County Fair" today, a media blog "featuring news links and progressive media criticism from around the web, along with commentary from Eric Boehlert and Jamison Foser."

* How do you know a right-wing ad is way too over the top? When Fox News declines to run it. (Except, as it turns out, Fox News ended up running the ad it had rejected.)

* I'm probably a big geek, but I really like the video fact-checking clips the Obama campaign's been doing.

* Obama's "lost" law review article turned out to be no big deal.

* Krugman: "So the Obama campaign is going all out on the issue of McCain's multiple houses. Isn't that kind of stupid? Yes, it is -- and it was also necessary."

* McCain probably didn't expect Robin Leach's support, and probably wishes he hadn't received it.

* Oliver Willis: "Dave Mudcat Saunders could be the greatest political operative since Machiavelli, no Democrat should be working with a guy who sleeps with the confederate flag on his bed."

* And finally, it's not nearly as bad as the house flap, but it's not encouraging that John McCain doesn't know what kind of car he drives.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

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EXPECTATIONS GAME.... With the Democratic convention poised to begin, the McCain campaign has begun spinning furiously, ratcheting up expectations to a comical level. From a memo released this afternoon:

Obama's stadium address on Thursday -- the 45th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech -- will result in effusive and overwhelming press coverage. On Thursday, Obama will give a great speech, as has been his trademark. The press will sing his praises and remark on his historic address and Obama's place in history. For example, The Associated Press today published an article comparing the historic nature of the addresses -- a week before Obama's speech. This coverage will be impenetrable and will undoubtedly impact the polls.

We believe Obama will see a significant bump, and believe it is reasonable to expect nearly a 15-point bounce out of a convention in this political environment.

First, by hitting media coverage before it happens, the McCain campaign obviously hopes to discourage reporters from noting the fact that Obama's speech falls on the anniversary of the MLK speech. I suspect this won't work.

Second, trying to set expectations for an absurd 15-point bounce is overkill. These guys might as well have "predicted" a 70-point bounce -- no one seriously believes 15 points is realistic, so the memo comes across as more than a little excessive.

Regardless, don't miss the Obama campaign's response: "Presidential races are close, and we expect this one to be no different. But they should figure out how to spin the fact that John McCain owns a dozen houses and thinks the fundamentals of our economy are strong before trying to spin our convention."

I get the sense Team Obama is starting to take message discipline seriously.

Steve Benen 5:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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POOR, POOR NRSC.... The Senate Democratic leadership is asking, "How close can we get to 60 seats?" The Senate Republican leadership is asking, "Why isn't anyone giving us money?" Subscription-only Roll Call reports today:

In a stunning admission, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) on Friday morning blasted his GOP colleagues for not doing enough to help the committee financially, and he said he would have to scale back the NRSC's independent expenditure budget as a result. [...]

For months Ensign has pushed his colleagues to cough up more funding to help eat away at Democrats' money advantage, and has repeatedly complained that Republicans in the Senate have taken a dangerously nonchalant approach to the 2008 cycle.

It sounds they're not expecting to do particularly well. In a statement, Ensign announced, "...I have had no choice but to decrease the total budget of our [Independent Expenditure] Unit."

Ensign, as it turns out, has reason to be annoyed. Through June, Republican senators had contributed $1.1 million to the NRSC. On the other side of the aisle, Democratic senators had chipped in nearly quintuple that number. All told, as of Aug. 1, the DSCC had nearly $43 million in the bank, while the NRSC's cash on hand totaled $25.4 million.

No wonder Ensign is taking the unusual step of chastising his Republican colleagues in a press release -- his party is poised to have a very bad cycle, and he's not anxious to shoulder the blame.

Noting the development, Kevin asks, "I wonder why no one wants to give Republicans any money this year?" I'm sure, if we put our minds to it, we could come up with a few reasons....

Steve Benen 4:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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By: Hilzoy

McCain Flip-Flops On Women's Lives

From ABC News:

"ABC News' Teddy Davis and Rigel Anderson Report: John McCain's campaign signaled on Wednesday that the Arizona senator is backing away from his previously stated goal of changing the GOP's platform on abortion. (...)

McCain's plan to take a hands-off approach with the abortion platform stands in stark contrast with the position he took during his first presidential run.

Back in 2000, McCain clashed with then-Gov. George W. Bush over his unwillingness to change platform language that called for a human life amendment banning all abortions.

McCain implored Bush to join him in wanting to add exceptions for rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother. (...)

But now that he is the presumptive Republican nominee, the McCain camp is making it clear that he has no plans to push for changes to the platform.

McCain's decision to leave the platform untouched follows a warning from a prominent social conservative.

"If he were to change the party platform," to account for exceptions such as rape, incest or risk to the mother's life, "I think that would be political suicide," Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Council, told ABC News in May. "I think he would be aborting his own campaign because that is such a critical issue to so many Republican voters and the Republican brand is already in trouble.""

I can see opposing the exemption for rape and incest. If I believed that abortion was murder, which I don't, I would not think that abortion became any less wrong because of the circumstances in which a fetus was conceived. But opposing the exemption for cases in which carrying a child to term risks the life of the mother is another story entirely.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Republican party: where the political incentives line up in such a way that letting women die rather than get an abortion is the smart way to go.

Hilzoy 3:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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LIBERALS ON THE TEEVEE.... Starting Sept. 8, MSNBC will feature two -- count 'em, two -- left-leaning voices in its primetime lineup. Plenty of people apparently don't know what to make of these shocking developments.

With the promotion of Rachel Maddow, the Air America radio host, to a prime-time television spot this week, the longtime third-place cable news network MSNBC cemented its identity as a channel for a liberal audience.

But is that what advertisers want it to be?

MSNBC, which is owned by NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric, does not trumpet its shift. But in the 12 years that MSNBC has competed head-to-head with CNN and the Fox News Channel, the partisan lines have never been drawn so neatly.

I can appreciate that MSNBC's lineup is outside the norm for American media, but asking whether advertisers are ready for the one-two punch of Olbermann and Maddow seems to miss the point. Advertisers turn to television shows that people watch.

If we turn back the clock a bit, we see that it wasn't too long ago that MSNBC added Tucker Carlson to its primetime lineup, apparently hoping to capitalize on Fox News' success appealing to a Republican audience. If cable-news viewers were flocking to a conservative, partisan network, MSNBC seemed to believe, then the answer was to keep up by putting more conservatives on the air.

The result was Fox News-lite -- a lineup with conservative Carlson, conservative Joe Scarborough, and the politically baffling Chris Matthews, who, within a single program, is capable of both praising Obama and criticizing him for drinking orange juice. (At one point, MSNBC even gave Michael Savage a show.)

Viewers didn't exactly flock to this lineup. There's already a Republican news network; no one needed a pale imitation. But with Olbermann's ratings continuing to blossom, MSNBC seems to think it's time to offer something different. It strikes me as good business sense, and a healthy dose of common sense.

"Is that what advertisers want it to be?" If viewers show up, and I'm confident they will, the advertisers will be fine.

Steve Benen 3:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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NO PLACE LIKE HOME(S).... Yesterday, the Obama campaign had quite a bit of fun at John McCain's expense. Today, the campaign kept the pressure on, unveiling a second ad about McCain's uncertainty about the number of homes he owns.



For those of you who can't watch videos from your work computers, the 30-second ad features a voice-over saying, "Call it 'Country Club Economics.' How many houses does he own? John McCain says he can't even remember anymore. Well, it's seven. No wonder McCain just said the fundamentals of our economy are strong. And anyone making less than five-million-dollars-a-year is middle-class."

The ad continues, "Maybe McCain thinks this economy is working ... for folks like him. But how are things going for you?" The text on the screen at that point says, "John McCain. We just can't afford more of the same."

There's plenty of entertaining subtleties here, most notably the footage of McCain riding around in a golf cart with the first President Bush when the voice-over talks about "Country Club Economics."

The ad comes a couple of hours after the McCain campaign unveiled a new ad telling voters, "Celebrities don't have to worry about family budgets, but we sure do." I'm curious, what's this "we" stuff? If McCain can't keep track of how many homes he owns, and spends about a quarter of a million dollars a year on household staff, he's probably not especially worried about family budgets. Call it a hunch.

The McCain campaign couldn't wait a couple of days before unveiling a new "elitism" attack? Did it not occur to these guys that their latest spot would look pretty silly today?

Steve Benen 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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NATIONAL SOLIDARITY PROGRAM.... Once in a while, a good op-ed is even better when you read between the lines and appreciate the point the writer hopes to make with subtlety.

Today, for example, World Bank president Robert Zoellick, who replaced Paul Wolfowitz about a year ago, has an important piece in the Washington Post that might get overlooked.

During a recent visit to Afghanistan, I was reminded of the counterinsurgency principles of "clear, hold, build." In the language of the World Bank Group, that translates to "security, governance and development." As events in Iraq have shown, who assumes responsibility for these principles is as important as the principles themselves: Local ownership is key to achieving legitimacy and effectiveness. [...]

The National Solidarity Program (NSP) that the World Bank helped launch with former finance minister Ashraf Ghani in 2003 empowers more than 20,000 elected Community Development Councils to allocate modest grants to local priorities, whether micro-hydroelectric generators, schools, roads, irrigation, erosion or water supply projects. It touches more than 17 million Afghans in all 34 provinces and has an economic rate of return of close to 20 percent. The program links self-help with self-determination.

In many ways, the NSP is a silver-bullet program for Afghanistan. It gets needed resources to Afghan villages; it promotes stability by connecting local governance and development with the national government in Kabul; and it fosters democracy and accountability throughout the country.

The problem, of course, is that the U.S. is poised to cut funding to the NSP, in part because of Wolfowitz's ineptitude, which no doubt frustrates Zoellick, though he wasn't in a position to admit it in the WaPo op-ed. Zoellick couldn't very well write, "Screw Wolfowitz and fund the f*#%ing program," so he diplomatically explained what the NSP can do, why it's important, and concluded that we have a "choice."

For more on this, Gregory Warner had a fascinating piece in the Monthly last year, called, "The Schools the Taliban Won't Torch." Take a look.

Steve Benen 1:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (4)

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A NOUN, A VERB, AND P.O.W..... After the McCain campaign responded to yesterday's flap over the senator's untold number of homes by emphasizing his background as a former prisoner of war, I started wondering just how often Team McCain plays this card.

Perusing the last couple of weeks, I found four examples: 1) in response to questions about McCain's marital infidelities; 2) in response to criticism of McCain's healthcare plan; 3) in response to a question about the first thing that comes to his mind when he thinks of Pittsburgh; and 4) in response to allegations he may have heard the questions in advance of Rick Warren's recent candidate forum.

The Huffington Post's Sam Stein went a little further, noting that McCain also emphasized his background as a prisoner of war while railing against earmarks and again when talking about his taste in music.

After all of this, for the first time, McCain is actually starting to face some media push-back.

Once a remarkable and respected aspect of his biography, John McCain stands on the brink of "trivializing" his past as a prisoner of war, which has become a "crutch in the campaign," Newsweek's Howard Fineman declared Thursday.

"I think they are going to it way too many times. It's the original story that defined John McCain, that still when you read it in his book 'Faith of my Fathers,' when you read about it in 'The Nightingale's Song,' you can't help but have admiration and respect for the guy. And I think he wisely for many years stayed away from it as a political tool, he really did. But now it not only defines him, it's become a crutch in the campaign. And I think he is in danger of trivializing it. By the time they get to the convention in St. Paul, there might not be much of it left to use."

It's not just Fineman. Time's Ana Marie Cox went so far as to argue that McCain's over-reliance on this is "bordering on irrational."

Greg Sargent summarized the problem nicely: "[I]f you print too much currency, it devalues it. The McCain campaign is cranking out all these bills with a little 'McCain as P.O.W.' logo on it and is trying to use them to buy their way out of every controversy that comes along. Pretty soon the McCain team's money won't be good anywhere."

Quite right. I'd just add that the hard-sell wouldn't be quite so awkward if McCain didn't go around saying that he's reluctant to talk about his Vietnam experiences.

Steve Benen 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (72)

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FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:

* Even now, no one seems to be sure exactly how many homes John McCain actually owns.

* Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) isn't really on Obama's short-list, is he?

* On Sept. 11, both McCain and Obama will pull their television ads and appear separately at a forum hosted by a coalition called ServiceNation.

* After Obama appears with his yet-to-be-named running mate tomorrow in Springfield, Ill., the two will make campaign stops in Eau Claire on Sunday, the Quad Cities area on Monday, Kansas City on Tuesday, and Billings on Wednesday.

* There's a lot of buzz this morning about Mitt Romney being the frontrunner for McCain's running mate, but Jonathan Cohn raises an interesting point: "If this housing gaffe sticks and John McCain has a hard time shaking the economic elitist level, it's hard to imagine him picking Mitt Romney as running mate. According to documents that Romney released during his presidential run, he is worth between $190 and $250 million, making him the wealthiest presidential candidate to run this election cycle. And, yes, he owns several homes."

* For those of you worried about former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) becoming Obama's running mate, rest easy -- he'll be out of the country over the weekend.

* A Detroit Free Press poll shows Obama leading McCain in Michigan by seven, 46% to 39%.

* Research 2000 shows Obama leading McCain in Nevada by one point, 44% to 43%.

* Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain in New Mexico by six, 47% to 41%.

* Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain in Pennsylvania by five, 45% to 40%.

* SurveyUSA shows McCain leading Obama in Kansas by 23, 58% to 35%.

* How much do Dems in Minnesota want a picture of Bush and Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) together? Enough to pay for one.

* And finally, it turns out, there may be no such thing as an undecided voter.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

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By: Hilzoy

In my ideal world, the fact that John McCain cannot remember how many houses he has would not be a very big deal. It does make it clear just how wealthy he and his wife are, and it raises the question how well he understands life outside the cocoon of privilege. But in my ideal world, it would have been far less important than some of the other things McCain has said. For instance, the unforgettable moment in which John McCain revealed that he doesn't know what an economic stimulus is:

"People talk about a stimulus package. Fine, if that's what we want to come up with. But stop the spending first."

Or the fact that he doesn't understand what a cap and trade system is, despite having co-authored legislation that would create one:

"Russert: Senator McCain, you are in favor of mandatory caps.

McCain: No, I'm in favor of cap-and-trade."

Or perhaps his record of alarmism on foreign policy:

"In short, not only is Russia on the march beyond Tbilisi to Ukraine, Finland, and substantial swathes of Poland but that's not even the transcendent issue of our time. And North Korea's nuclear program is "the greatest challenge to U.S. security and world stability today" but that's not the transcendent issue of our time. And Islamism is the transcendent issue of our time, but not a serious international crisis or an especially great challenge to U.S. security and world stability. Now of course there's no way to make sense of that, because it's not supposed to make any kind of sense. McCain just thinks that overreacting is the right reaction to everything. It's a hysteria-based foreign policy."

However, we don't live in my ideal world. In the world we actually live in, as Paul Krugman says:

"Republicans always -- always -- campaign by portraying the Democratic candidate as an out-of-touch elitist, while their guy is a man of the people. Al Gore grew up in a penthouse apartment! (In a shabby residence hotel, but never mind.) John Kerry windsurfs! Meanwhile, George Bush vacations at his ranch (bought as a prop for the 2000 campaign -- and he doesn't ride horses -- but somehow that never got brought up.)"

Every four years they do the same thing. If memory serves, they did it to Bill Clinton, of all people. And every four years, they protest bitterly whenever anyone points out the absurdity of thinking, for instance, that George W. Bush of all people is just an ordinary guy, like all those other ordinary guys who are legacy admissions to Andover and Yale, and have their failing businesses rescued by an apparently endless series of family acquaintances and people who want to sink their savings into a money-losing business run by the Vice President's son.

The reason it matters that John McCain can't remember how many houses he has is just this: with one little remark, he has made it impossible for Republicans to run their usual storyline about their candidate as an everyday guy in touch with ordinary people, and the Democratic candidate as a scary elitist who lives on latte and arugula. That line of attack, which was always ludicrous and never relevant, has just gone glimmering, to be replaced by the stories like this:

"McCain, who has portrayed Obama as an elitist, is the son and grandson of admirals. The Associated Press estimates his wife, a beer heiress, is worth $100 million. Obama was raised by a single mother who relied at times on food stamps, and went to top schools on scholarships and loans. His income has increased from book sales since he spoke at the 2004 Democratic convention."

About time. With that line of attack neutralized, perhaps we can get to actual issues.

(Cross-posted at Obsidian Wings)

Hilzoy 11:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD.... For quite a while, Republicans, including the McCain campaign, have taken quite a bit of pleasure in admonishing Barack Obama for enjoying endorsements (and contributions) from the Hollywood crowd. And yet, guess who's headed to Tinseltown to rub elbows with stars of screen and stage?

As Democrats celebrate in Denver next week, Republican presumptive presidential nominee Sen. John McCain will be trying to fire up some star power of his own by collecting checks and support from conservatives in Hollywood.

Mr. McCain will attend a fundraiser at the Beverly Hilton on Monday, the day the Democrats' convention opens, bringing together top leaders from the Los Angeles business and entertainment communities, according to an invitation for the event obtained by The Washington Times.

Show business publication Variety reported that Angie Harmon, David Zucker, Jon Cryer, Lionel Chetwynd, Craig T. Nelson, Jon Voight, Craig Haffner and Robert Duvall are among those expected to attend.

The truth is, Republican Hollywood-bashing has always been pretty silly. Sure, there are probably more Democratic movie stars. And yes, the entertainment industry makes for a convenient cultural foil for the GOP base and the Bill Bennett crowd, which still occasionally blames Hollywood for societal ills.

But events like McCain's fundraiser are a reminder that Republicans look to movie stars for support just as much as Dems do. Indeed, Republicans tend to take this one step further, turning to Hollywood for candidates (Reagan, Schwarzenegger, Fred Thompson, et al).

I don't really expect the right to stop bashing Hollywood, and I don't much care that McCain is going to be hanging out with Jon Voight, but if the presumptive Republican nominee is going to hang out with movie stars, it's hardly unreasonable to wonder if the McCain campaign is going to stop slamming Obama for doing the same thing.

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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NEVER MIND THE WITHDRAWAL 'HORIZON'.... The encouraging reports from yesterday were apparently accurate, and a withdrawal timeline for U.S. troops in Iraq is moving forward apace. The Washington Post reported, "U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have agreed to the withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces from the country by the end of 2011." There are some remaining roadblocks among Iraqi officials, but they believe they're "very close" to an agreement.

The AP's Charles Babington considers the political implications.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain prides himself on being gung-ho about pursuing the Iraq war even if it hurts him politically. Recent events in Baghdad threaten to put him still farther out on a limb, however, as the Bush administration works toward a troop withdrawal schedule that is more aggressive than McCain envisions. [...]

Campaigning Thursday in Virginia, Obama said, "They are working on a plan that looks, lo and behold, like the plan that I've been advocating. I will encourage the administration to move forward with it."

McCain campaign spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said, "We're monitoring closely and will have something to say when an agreement is finalized."

That's not a bad way, I suppose, of pushing off a politically problematic development, but a timeline agreement is nevertheless a dilemma for McCain for which there is no obvious solution.

Brookings' Michael O'Hanlon, of all people, said, "At this point, Obama looks a little less reckless than he might have a few months ago."

A "little"? Obama's policy has been embraced by the Maliki government and the Bush administration. As Josh Marshall put it, "John McCain has staked his whole campaign on opposing Barack Obama's call for a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.... And yet today, the US and Iraq have agreed on a 'timetable,' using that very word, for leaving Iraq. Reality, the Bush administration and the Iraqi government have jointly endorsed Obama's position and left McCain a relic."

To be sure, the issue isn't off the table with regards to the presidential election, but McCain is going to a) have a tough time calling Obama an elitist if he can't count his own homes; and b) have a tough time blasting Obama's Iraq policy as irresponsible if it's being implemented in Iraq right now.

As Kevin concluded, "It's true that you never know how these things will go, but Obama's judgment has been so spectacularly vindicated by this that it's hard not to see it helping him in the long run."

Steve Benen 10:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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RUSSIA AND THE G8.... I really wish they'd stop doing this.

"We're not going to let Russia, so soon after the Iron Curtain fell, to again draw a dividing line across Europe," said Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut and close friend of Republican presidential hopeful John McCain. "It is simply unacceptable." [...]

"The G-8 should become for a while the G-7 until Russia proves that it is capable of being a law-abiding member of the international community," he said.

Look, I'm not about to defend Russia's recent conduct in the Caucasus, but the talk about kicking Russia out of the G8, principally from the McCain campaign and its surrogates, is misguided.

John McCain got the ball rolling in March, in hisfirst major address on foreign policy, stating his intention to remove Russia from the G-8. A few months later, the McCain campaign said the senator no longer believed what he said. A McCain adviser told McClatchy that the candidate's policy on Russia and the G-8 as "a holdover from an earlier period," adding, "It doesn't reflect where he is right now."

In July, however, McCain went back to the "earlier period," saying excluding Russia from the G8 would be "what's best for America" and might "improve" Russian behavior. Lieberman is singing from the same hymnal.

If McCain and his cohorts want to take steps to punish, or even isolate, Russia in the midst of its conflict with Georgia, they can certainly make a compelling case. But this G8 talk is foolish -- given how the G8 works, through consensus, Russia would have to approve its own removal. A senior Bush administration official recently conceded, "It's not even a theoretical discussion. It's an impossible discussion." The official described McCain's idea as "just a dumb thing."

But practicality aside, there's also the issue of what makes McCain and Lieberman think this is a good idea in the first place.

From a recent McClatchy report:

[M]any wonder whether McCain's suggestion would be wise policy. They fear that if McCain is elected and follows through on an attempt to toss Russia from the group, it could anger and isolate Russia, which has been increasingly assertive on the world stage, autocratic within its borders and is the second-largest producer of the hydrocarbons that feed the world's energy needs.

"In Europe, there's very little support ... for a policy like that," said Stephen Larrabee, an expert on Europe and Russia at the RAND think tank. "It's too late in the game to try and oust Russia."

The proposal also seemed at odds with the theme of McCain's speech, which promised a less unilateral approach to world affairs than the Bush White House has pursued. That could reflect tension between two Republican foreign-policy camps vying for influence in McCain's campaign: the pragmatic realists and the hard-line neo-conservatives -- with the neo-cons ascendant for now in Russia policy.

"There are a lot of important issues that we need Russia's support on....What's to be gained by tossing Russia out? We feel more self-righteous about ourselves?" said Andrew Kuchins, the director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, a center-right think tank.

Fareed Zakaria also explained recently why McCain seems to have Russian policy backwards.

What McCain has announced is momentous -- that the United States should adopt a policy of active exclusion and hostility toward two major global powers. It would reverse a decades-old bipartisan American policy of integrating these two countries into the global order, a policy that began under Richard Nixon (with Beijing) and continued under Ronald Reagan (with Moscow). It is a policy that would alienate many countries in Europe and Asia who would see it as an attempt by Washington to begin a new cold war. [...]

The single most important security problem that the United States faces is securing loose nuclear materials. A terrorist group can pose an existential threat to the global order only by getting hold of such material. We also have an interest in stopping proliferation, particularly by rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea. To achieve both of these core objectives -- which would make American safe and the world more secure -- we need Russian cooperation. How fulsome is that likely to be if we gratuitously initiate hostilities with Moscow? Dissing dictators might make for a stirring speech, but ordinary Americans will have to live with the complications after the applause dies down.

One gets the distinct impression that McCain and Lieberman have very little to offer by way of a response to this, but they think their rhetoric makes them sound "tough on Russia," so they'll keep repeating it.

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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STUCK IN THE DOG HOUSE(S).... The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza suggested yesterday that the Obama campaign may delay its running-mate announcement, just a bit, because aides believe "the story about McCain's many houses is political gold and they won't want to step on it with a veep announcement that would immediately change the day's storyline."

Of course, it's equally likely the Obama campaign planned to hold the news until Saturday anyway, and the fact that the house flap is manna from heaven for Democrats is just a happy coincidence. Either way, I'm probably not the only one who wasn't too surprised this morning not to get a nice little note from David Plouffe ending the suspense.

Regardless, while there's not a whole lot to add to yesterday's flap du jour, I couldn't help but enjoy the evolution of the McCain campaign's response. Seeing Team Obama go on the offensive seemed to catch McCain staffers off guard, and their furious responses seemed oddly in line with McCain's foreign policy worldview -- act first, think second.

Notice the iterations of the campaign's statements. First, the McCain gang said the story didn't matter because Barack Obama likes arugula. When that was a dud, they said the story didn't matter because McCain had been a prisoner of war. By late yesterday, McCain aides were trying to bring the candidates' spouses into this.

Though McCain is widely perceived to drawn first blood by attacking Obama's character, the official said that the difference between Obama's mocking McCain for his wealth and his shaky answer on the number of homes he owns was that McCain's charge "reflects an existential reality," where Obama's charges "attack Cindy. She owns the homes. I thought he said the wives were off-limits."

Does that make any sense at all? Mocking McCain for not knowing how many homes he owns, and tying this together with McCain's bizarre economic agenda, is necessarily an "attack" on the senator's wife? How very odd, even by McCain standards.

Just to add a brief coda to this, Fox News' reaction to the story was especially entertaining: "Martha MacCallum justified McCain's comments, saying the reason he couldn't answer was simply because the McCains 'have real estate investments and he wanted to make sure he got that right.'"

Yes, of course. I'm sure that's exactly why McCain has lost count of his homes. Riiiiiight.

Steve Benen 9:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

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CHURCH AND STATE.... About a week ago, at the candidate forum at Saddleback Church, the Rev. Rick Warren kicked off the event with a fairly straightforward message: "We believe in the separation of church and state, but we do not believe in the separation of faith and politics."

As it turns out, a growing number of Americans disagree.

For the first time in more than a decade, a narrow majority of Americans say churches should stay out of politics, according to a poll released today by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The results suggest a potentially significant shift among conservative voters in particular. In 2004, 30% of conservatives said the church should stay out of politics while today 50% of conservatives today express that view.

Conservatives are now more in line with moderates and liberals when it comes to their views on mixing religion and politics. "Similarly, the sharp divisions between Republicans and Democrats that previously existed on this issue have disappeared," Pew reports.

The results are encouraging, and more than a little surprising. In the decade between 1996 and 2006, Pew Forum surveys showed a stable trend -- a narrow majority of Americans wanted houses of worship to be publicly engaged in policy debates. Now, the numbers have reversed, and a narrow majority wants ministries to "stay out."

There's bound to be debate as to how this trend developed, but my best guess would be a combination of public disgust for the religious right movement and the unpopularity of George W. Bush, who has been enthusiastic in mixing religion and politics.

That said, I suppose the next politically salient question is how this might affect the 2008 race. The conventional wisdom suggests Barack Obama has been more proactive in adding a religious component to his campaign than John McCain, which might help the Democrat connect with the faithful.

But what if, after eight years of Bush, voters are moving in the other direction?

Steve Benen 8:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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HAPPY TO BE HERE....Hi, I'm Troy McClure Steve Benen. You may remember me from such blogs as The Carpetbagger Report, Salon.com's Blog Report, Crooks & Liars, and Talking Points Memo.

I couldn't be more excited about the chance to take over for Kevin Drum -- I was going to say, "replace," but we know Kevin is irreplaceable -- here at Political Animal. Not only have I been a loyal subscriber to the Washington Monthly for years, but Kevin is one of the reasons I started blogging in the first place in early 2003. My most sincere thanks to Paul Glastris and the rest of the team for this opportunity.

My posting schedule is going to be a bit different from Kevin's, by virtue of the fact that I'm on the east coast and like to get started bright and early. And I should also mention that I'm bringing along my commenters from The Carpetbagger Report. They're a spirited bunch, but I'm confident the two sets of regulars will get along just fine.

It's truly an honor to be here, and by the looks of things, I'm getting started at a very exciting time in the political world. Thanks for the warm welcome.

And now, back to the news....

Steve Benen 7:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (98)

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August 21, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

MY LAST POST....This is it: my final post for the Washington Monthly. Starting tomorrow I'll be blogging at Mother Jones. Here's the URL to bookmark:

http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum

Also starting tomorrow, this blog will be taken over by Steve Benen of the Carpetbagger Report and Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings. They're two of the best in the business, so Political Animal will be in good hands. I wish them the best of luck and I hope they have as good a time here as I've had over the past four years.

And speaking of that, many, many, many thanks to everyone who's written to wish me luck on my move today: Paul, Zack, Christina, Tom, and Jon on the blog, as well as the many others who have written via email and comments. I appreciate it more than I can say. This has been the best blogging home I could have hoped for, and I'm going to miss it.

And with that, I'm off. I'll see you all (I hope) at Mother Jones tomorrow. Maybe by the time I wake up we'll even know who our Democratic vice presidential candidate is going to be. Wouldn't that be a nice way to end the week?

Kevin Drum 10:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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By: T.A. Frank

CYBER FAREWELLS TO KEVIN, CONTINUED...Since Kevin and I live only about 50 miles or so from each other, I probably ought to be representing the Washington Monthly better and taking this farewell party to his doorstep. But I have a small dog who would be dwarfed and possibly consumed by Inkblot and Domino, so I hope it's okay that I write from Los Angeles.

I think one nice quality of persuasive people is that they spare me from having to think. For instance, anyone who moves to California must suddenly contend with a tyranny of ballot initiatives. Only thanks to Kevin do I have an inkling of how to respond to them. (The short answer is No, although restrictions apply. Consult Kevin's archives for details.) He's a master of making an argument succinctly and persuasively, and he doesn't show off. You just know he's done the work.

Blogging is a medium that encourages a what-am-I-thinking-right-now style, and Kevin is of course great at that sort of posting. But when it comes to what to make of big questions of the moment--the surge, oil production, the economy--Kevin is also that rare commentator who pores studiously through articles and books before coming to a considered yet concisely rendered opinion. Sure, he's unusually wise and decent, but he also just does the work. It's enough to make the rest of us think we should do the work, too. Come to think of it, thank God he's leaving.

T.A. Frank 9:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (2)

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By: Kevin Drum

FLAT EARTH ECONOMICS....Here's another passage from David Leonhardt's piece about Obama's economic agenda:

There have now been two presidents in the last 30 years — Bush and Reagan — who cut taxes and promised that deficits would not follow. But the deficits did come, and they went away only after two other presidents — George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton — raised taxes. It also seems fairly clear by now that tax cuts for the affluent do not necessarily trickle down to everyone else.

For Democrats who want to think the worst about their opponents, McCain's reliance on these ideas may be affirming. But it's really a shame. For the time being, only one party is applying the lessons of history to the country's biggest economic problems. There is no great battle of new ideas, and that can't make it more likely that those problems will be solved.

The palpable exhaustion of conservative economic thought really is extraordinary. The evidence has been clear for years that that, at current U.S. tax levels, neither modest cuts nor modest increases has any real effect on economic growth, but the GOP's core interest groups — rich people and corporations — want tax cuts, so that's what they continue to offer. They've simply got nothing else in the tank.

And John McCain desperately wants to be president, so he's surrendered to the flat earthers. He knows perfectly well that Grover Norquist and the Club for Growth and the cranks at the Wall Street Journal editorial page can torpedo his campaign if he doesn't pay fealty to their mindless tax cut jihadism, so fealty he pays. He's sort of a Manchurian candidate at this point, reciting the talking points in a monotone and hoping wearily that it's enough for one more trip to the well. Kinda sad, really.

Kevin Drum 9:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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By: Paul Glastris

MORE ON KEVIN....TNR's Jonathan Cohn, in comments:

I can't overstate my respect and admiration for Kevin. He consistently writes one of the smartest, most influential blogs in the political universe. But I can't remember a time when he was nasty, sloppy, or injudicious. And that's no small achievement. Kevin is proof that thoughtful blogging isn't an oxymoron; he sets an example that all of us, myself included, would do well to follow. And while his departure is clearly Mother Jones' gain, the addition of Steve Benen and Hilzoy mean that it's not the Monthly's loss. Although I'm not a Monthly alum, I've known — and admired — many over the years. This is, indeed, just another episode in the magazine's long history as a launching pad for great writers. My only complaint is that now I have one more blog I can't afford to skip.

Paul Glastris 8:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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By: Kevin Drum

HOUSES....I have to say that the McCain campaign's response to the "how many houses does he have?" dustup really has been hilarious. Roundup here. Most bizarre response here:

"This is a guy who lived in one house for five and a half years — in prison."

Roger that. You can almost smell the flop sweat, can't you? If these guys want to run the country, a good start would be to figure out a way to handle a minor political fracas without completely panicking.

Kevin Drum 8:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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By: Kevin Drum

CALORIE COUNTING....Via Ezra, here is Jacob Sullum arguing that we shouldn't force restaurants to conspicuously post the calorie counts of their meals:

In a 2007 survey of California voters, 84 percent said they thought the government should force restaurant chains to display calorie numbers on their menus and menu boards. That may happen soon: The state Assembly is considering a bill, already approved by the state Senate, that would make California the first state to impose such a menu mandate.

Yet the desires that people express in polls are often at odds with the preferences they reveal in the marketplace. The restaurant business is highly competitive. If customers really were clamoring for conspicuous calorie counts, restaurants would provide them voluntarily.

I won't pretend that I really have a strong opinion on this issue, but Sullum is off base here. It's like saying that if people really wanted to know how much mercury was in their fish, then fishmongers would just tell them. But it's not so — at least not in any time frame that might be helpful to actual existing people. Centuries of history suggests that, consumer preference notwithstanding, sellers will work like crazed lemmings to prevent buyers from finding out bad things about their products. Over and over, it's turned out that collective action has been the only effective way to force businesses to disclose negative information about their products.

And make no mistake: calorie counts are decidedly negative. Most people would be pretty shocked if they knew, for example, that even a medium-size Big Mac meal contains well over half the calories an average person ought to consume in an entire day. (You probably knew this already, but that's because Political Animal readers are such a well-informed lot. Most people have no clue.) Fast food marketing departments, conversely, are keenly aware of this, and would very much prefer to keep their customers unshocked and happily supersizing their purchases.

That being the reality we live in, then, there's nothing wrong with expressing our preferences for product disclosure through our legislatures as well as through our buying decisions. On the other hand, I suspect that Sullum is on stronger ground when he says that calorie disclosure laws probably won't work. After all, we've had federally-mandated calorie disclosures on food for many years, and although it's opened up new marketing opportunities for purveyors of "Lite" and "Lo-Cal" fare, it hasn't had any noticeable impact on aggregate calorie consumption. Calorie labeling in restaurants might be worth a try (states being the laboratories of democracy and all that), but I'll be surprised if it ends up having much of an effect.

Kevin Drum 6:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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By: Christina Larson

Dear Kevin: I'm in Beijing now, but wanted to say — your blogging sanity and clarity is even more appreciated from this distance. I can't possibly read everything that's out there, so I've had to whittle my Washington-centric reading; you're tops.

I hope you'll forgive a moment of dog-blogging. This is Hua Hua, a Pekingese from northern Beijing. Like most Chinese dogs, his name is a single syllable repeated twice. We met while I was jogging around Lake Houhai.

I asked what it'd be like trying to extract the essential information from Obama-McCain polling results without you, Kevin. He said, "Ruff." I totally agree.

Christina Larson 3:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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By: Zachary Roth

A CYBER FAREWELL TO KEVIN...Even as someone who worked for the same magazine as Kevin for two years — albeit on different coasts — I still feel like most of what I know about him I know from reading his blog. Not just the basic facts of his life, but his sensibility: rigorous, analytical, slightly detached but strongly opinionated, and above all, curious about almost everything. (Though I have to confess that, being a dog lover myself, I usually skipped the Friday cat-blogging.)

Working with him was a pleasure too, though. When I edited a piece on identity theft that he wrote for the magazine, I remember talking to him on the phone and struggling to keep up as his mind leapt quickly from a diagnosis of the problem to a perfectly crafted solution. I improved as an editor more from working on that piece with Kevin than on almost any other.

Thanks for being a great colleague, Kevin — as well as for producing a blog that's always one of the first things I turn to online. I'll be following you just as closely at your new home.

Zachary Roth 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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By: Kevin Drum

JOHN McCAIN'S HOMES....This is just straight-up DNC propaganda, but it's still pretty funny. As a friend remarks, "This is heaven sent for the Dem Convention. Couldn't you just see Ann Richards (RIP) running with this line?"


Kevin Drum 2:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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By: Kevin Drum

OBAMA'S ECONOMICS....In a New York Times Magazine piece running this weekend, David Leonhardt does a good job of describing Barack Obama's economic worldview, which is dominated by a mindful friendliness toward market solutions for economic problems (Cass Sunstein calls him a "University of Chicago Democrat"). Examples include his proposals on healthcare, housing, education, and 401(k) plans:

The best example of his approach, however, may be his climate policy. By last year, Democrats in Congress essentially agreed that to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, the government should place a nationwide cap on these emissions and then issue tradable permits giving companies the right to produce them (thus the term "cap and trade"). Most Congressional bills envisioned giving away many of the permits to power companies. Economists, by and large, considered this giveaway to be the worst part of the plan. It would require Congress to decide how many free permits each company should get and would set off a frenzy of corporate lobbying.

The alternative was to auction off the permits — to let the market set their value. "If you don't auction 100 percent of the permits," Goolsbee told me, "this could be one of the biggest pieces of corporate welfare ever." With Congress making the decisions, the power companies with the best political connections might get the permits. With a full auction, the permits would end up with companies willing to make the highest bids. Presumably, these would be the most efficient companies, the ones able to produce the most energy (and profits) for a given amount of greenhouse-gas pollution.

The auctions would have another big advantage too. They would raise billions of dollars for the government, money that could then be returned to taxpayers to offset the higher energy prices created by the emissions cap.

Their respective cap-and-trade plans are a pretty good illustration of the fundamental difference between Obama and McCain on economic issues. First, Obama is serious about a cap-and-trade plan. McCain isn't. Second, Obama puts in place cap levels that are actually meaningful attempts to reduce greenhouse gases — i.e., to actually address the problem at hand. For McCain, not so much. It's mostly check-the-box window dressing. Third, Obama wants to auction off emission credits, which is both fairer and more efficient than giving them away. McCain prefers the corporate giveaway approach, which would be worth tens of billions of dollars to existing polluters.

The rest of Leonhardt's piece is worth reading. It's a bit mushy overall, but I suspect Leonhardt himself would argue that this is because the last couple of decades have taught us that bright line ideology just isn't the best approach to deep and difficult economic problems. ("The battle of the Bobs," he says, referring to the Clinton-era conflict between Bob Rubin and Bob Reich, "may not be completely over, but it has certainly been suspended.") Obama seems to agree.

Kevin Drum 2:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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By: Kevin Drum

WINGNUT WELFARE....TPM reports that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has hired Hans von Spakovsky as a "special assistant." How heartwarming. This means that the guy reponsible for the infamous purging of the voter rolls in Florida before the 2000 election (just one among many of his greatest hits) will now be helping out with the Justice Department's monitoring of the 2008 election. I feel safer already.

Kevin Drum 1:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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By: Kevin Drum

TERRORIST PROFILING....The British security service, MI5, has concluded an exhaustive investigation into domestic terrorism and says that it's impossible to draw up a profile of a "typical" terrorist:

The sophisticated analysis, based on hundreds of case studies by the security service, says there is no single pathway to violent extremism.

....They are mostly British nationals, not illegal immigrants and, far from being Islamist fundamentalists, most are religious novices. Nor, the analysis says, are they "mad and bad".

Those over 30 are just as likely to have a wife and children as to be loners with no ties, the research shows.

The security service also plays down the importance of radical extremist clerics, saying their influence in radicalising British terrorists has moved into the background in recent years.

....Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could actually be regarded as religious novices. Very few have been brought up in strongly religious households, and there is a higher than average proportion of converts. Some are involved in drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes. MI5 says there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.

Is this bad news? Hard to say. If MI5 had identified a decent profile (or a set of profiles), that would have led inevitably to targeting of often innocent communities. But the lack of a profile will almost inevitably lead to authorities spreading an ever-wider surveillance net. Hobson's choice.

Kevin Drum 1:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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By: Kevin Drum

McCAIN'S HOMES....John McCain isn't sure how many homes he owns?



Could be anywhere from four to ten, I guess, and liberals are predictably kicking up a fuss.

But look: it's easy to get confused about this stuff. I'm not even sure how many homes I own. You'd think the answer would be one, but a while back we inherited another home. Does that count? Actually, we only inherited half of the home. And we're selling it anyway. And just to make this even more McCain-like, it's in Sedona. So do we own one home? Two homes? One and a half homes?

See? It gets confusing. So leave the poor guy alone. McCain's homes are probably all in Cindy's name anyway, so technically he doesn't own any homes. Isn't that sad?

Kevin Drum 12:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

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By: Kevin Drum

TAX PLANS....Today's LA Times headline on a story about Obama's and McCain's tax plans:

True to party doctrine, the GOP candidate's economic proposals would ease the burden on the rich, while the Democratic candidate's would increase it.

That's admirably direct. And it's even accompanied by a nice little chart showing McCain's $32,000 tax cut for people earning more than half a million a year. Because God knows, after eight years of hoovering up virtually the entire economic growth of the country, there's nothing America's wealthy deserve more than yet another big tax cut.

UPDATE: On the other hand, Quiddity has a legitimate complaint about the Times' chart here. They make it look like Obama will raise taxes on someone earning $117,000, but that's not true. It's just an artifact of using quintiles to measure the tax plans.

Kevin Drum 12:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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By: Paul Glastris

CYBER GOING-AWAY PARTY... As Kevin noted earlier this week, today is his last day blogging for us at the Washington Monthly. He'll be moving on to that media behemoth Mother Jones.

On these occasions, we typically throw a going away party for the departing staffer. That hasn't been possible in Kevin's case, since we're in DC and he's in OC. So instead we're having a kind of cyber going away party today, with posts from fellow Monthlyites reminiscing about our time working together and wishing Kevin well. If you're a reader, feel free to post a cyber goodbye in comments.

Let me start things off by first saying the obvious: I'm really going to miss Kevin. He's not only put our site on the map as a blogger, but behind the scenes he's been an integral player on the print side--suggesting story ideas, commenting on drafts, and helping me think through political and policy issues in long conversations over the phone. It was in those conversations especially that Kevin and I became good friends. Indeed, it has not always been easy for our wives to pry us off the phone.

Second, sad as I am about Kevin leaving, it's somewhat comforting for me to think of it as part of a great Monthly tradition. Our print writers typically come for two year stints and then move on up the journalistic food chain. Just in the last seven years we've seen Nick Thompson go to Wired, Josh Green to The Atlantic, Nick Confessore to the New York Times, Stephanie Mencimer to Mother Jones, Amy Sullivan to Time, and Ben Wallace-Wells to Rolling Stone.

Third, as any of these esteemed former staffers will tell you, no one ever truly leaves the Monthly. We rely pretty heavily on our former colleagues for story tips, book reviews, and general advice. So Kevin, be forewarned.

Finally, let me point out that it was my friend Josh Marshall who first suggested that Kevin might be a great blogger for us. As usual, Josh's judgement turned out to be excellent. And it was Kevin who suggested that Steve Benen would be the perfect blogger to replace him, with an assist from Hilzoy. I have every confindence that Kevin's judgement will turn out to be as excellent as Josh's.

Paul Glastris 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ WITHDRAWAL THOUGHTS....If the Journal is right and we're about to sign an agreement to withdraw combat troops from Iraq, what does it mean domestically? For starters, I assume that the agreement allows for some kind of long-term "residual force," and I also assume there will be a bit of weasel wording about the withdrawal depending on conditions on the ground. Still, a document that commits both sides to pulling out troops from the cities by next summer and completing the rest of the withdrawal by 2011 is a big-time game changer. Here are a few miscellaneous thoughts:

  1. This is very good news for Democrats. It means that our eventual withdrawal from Iraq will not only be a bipartisan action, it will have been the creation of a Republican president. This is going to make it almost impossible for conservatives to ramp up any kind of serious stab-in-the-back narrative against anti-war liberals.

  2. Basic Obama spin: "I'm glad to see that President Bush has finally come around to my view etc. etc." This ought to be a big win for him: he visits Iraq, meets with Nouri al-Maliki, gets Maliki's endorsement for a near-term troop withdrawal, and then gets to applaud as President Bush signs on.

  3. Looking ahead, it's also a big win for Obama if he wins in November. Instead of a bruising congressional battle on withdrawal starting in January, he can just continue along the path Bush has set out. At most he'll tweak it a bit, which he can do on his own and without expending a lot of political capital.

  4. This is also good news for Dems in conservative districts, since it eliminates a campaign issue that potentially hurts them.

  5. Basic McCain spin: "It's good news that Iraq is now secure enough that we can envision bringing our troops home etc. etc." He'll also talk about how the surge deserves all the credit and he'll claim that 2011 is a totally different thing than Obama's plan to withdraw by 2010. This isn't great spin, but it's probably the best he's got.

  6. Outside of spin alley, the news for McCain is mixed. The agreement takes Iraq largely off the table as a partisan campaign issue, which might be good (the public supports withdrawal, so it's been an Achilles heel for him) or might be bad (it takes the spotlight off foreign affairs, which he considers his strong suit). Overall, though, it's got to be a negative for a guy who just a few months ago was talking about staying in Iraq for a hundred years.

  7. I wonder what McCain's initial reaction to this is going to be? When rumors of an agreement like this were being floated last month, he insisted that he had talked to Maliki personally and he knew that Maliki didn't really want a timetable for withdrawal. Looks like he was wrong about that. Is he going to stick to that line, or, like Jerry Brown after Prop 13 passed in 1978, is he suddenly going to become withdrawal's greatest advocate?

Thursday should be interesting. At least it gives us something to talk about other than Obama's VP selection, anyway.

Kevin Drum 2:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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By: Kevin Drum

U.S. OUT OF IRAQ BY 2011....Holy cats. According to the Wall Street Journal, we're getting out of Iraq:

U.S. and Iraqi negotiators reached agreement on a security deal that calls for American military forces to leave Iraq's cities by next summer as a prelude to a full withdrawal of combat troops from the country, according to senior American officials.

The draft agreement sets 2011 as the date by which U.S. combat troops will leave Iraq, according to Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Haj Humood and other people familiar with the matter.

...."The talking is done," one U.S. official said late Wednesday night. "Now the decision makers choose whether to give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down."

....U.S. President George W. Bush is almost certain to accept the agreement, according to U.S. officials. The administration believes that the deal doesn't require congressional approval and won't present it to U.S. lawmakers.

Wow. As the story points out, "precise terms of the agreement weren't clear Wednesday night," so full-scale celebrations probably ought to wait. Still, we're getting out! I'm a little stunned by this even though it's pretty much what I've been expecting for the past few weeks.

I'm not sure what effect this is going to have on the presidential campaign — that needs a little more thought — but who cares? We're getting out of Iraq!

UPDATE: A couple of hours after I posted this, the Journal updated their story to clarify that the agreement calls for full withdrawal of all combat troops by 2011, not all military forces. I've corrected the text above. This is pretty much what I assumed anyway, since even withdrawal advocates like Barack Obama routinely talk about keeping a residual force of some kind in Iraq over the long term.

Kevin Drum 12:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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August 20, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

OIL SPECULATION....Was the recent spectacular rise, and subsequent fall, in oil prices driven by speculation? In June I admitted that "the huge increase over the past five months has had a bit of a bubbly feel to it," but I didn't really have any evidence to back that up. In July I linked to a report from the CFTC, the body that regulates oil futures trading, which said that prices were up because of supply constraints, not speculation. In August, a "quiet data revision" suggested that maybe the CFTC ought to change its mind about that. And finally, today, thanks to David Cho of the Washington Post, the other shoe dropped:

Regulators had long classified a private Swiss energy conglomerate called Vitol as a trader that primarily helped industrial firms that needed oil to run their businesses.

But when the Commodity Futures Trading Commission examined Vitol's books last month, it found that the firm was in fact more of a speculator, holding oil contracts as a profit-making investment rather than a means of lining up the actual delivery of fuel. Even more surprising to the commodities markets was the massive size of Vitol's portfolio — at one point in July, the firm held 11 percent of all the oil contracts on the regulated New York Mercantile Exchange.

....The CFTC, which learned about the nature of Vitol's activities only after making an unusual request for data from the firm, now reports that financial firms speculating for their clients or for themselves account for about 81 percent of the oil contracts on NYMEX, a far bigger share than had previously been stated by the agency.

Read the whole thing for more. This still isn't conclusive evidence one way or the other, but it's certainly suggestive that there have been a few big financial players helping to drive prices up in the past few months. Supply constraints are still the main culprit for long-term price increases, but all the same it's beginning to look like it wouldn't hurt to tighten up the oversight of the oil futures market a wee bit.

Kevin Drum 11:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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By: Kevin Drum

GEORGIA UPDATE....In a development which, at this point, should surprise just about no one, it turns out that Russia doesn't plan to withdraw from Georgia at all:

A ranking Russian military official today said Moscow plans to establish 18 long-term checkpoints inside Georgian territory, including at least eight within undisputed Georgian territory outside the pro-Russian enclave of South Ossetia.

The checkpoints will be staffed by hundreds of Russian troops, with those in Georgia proper needing supplies that would be ferried to them from South Ossetia.

...."This is the essence of it," Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the army general staff, told reporters at a briefing. He showed maps detailing the proposed Russian positions, one just outside the key city of Gori.

"The president ordered us to stop where we were," he said. "We are not pulling out and pulling back troops behind this administrative border into the territory of South Ossetia."

An "administrative border." Nice euphemism there.

Kevin Drum 4:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

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By: Kevin Drum

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Barack Obama, in 1995, telling a story about the first time his grandmother came to Chicago to meet his in-laws:

My grandmother walks in, it's all black people in the room, she's the only white person there except for my mother, and she's feeling a little nervous and a little out of place. And she suddenly sees this table set with fried chicken, and succotash, and a jello mold, and suddenly she realizes that she has a culture that she's sharing with all these people.

Ah, the healing balm of Jell-O™. It really does bring us all together.

(Via Sullivan.)

Kevin Drum 3:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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By: Kevin Drum

VOWEL SHIFTS....Over at The Corner, Jay Nordlinger bridges ideological gaps by turning the conversation to matters of pronunciation:

Yesterday, had a little language note, particularly on "forte," meaning strong point or expertise. It is pronounced "fort" (not "fortay," which we reserve for the musical marking). That provoked a lot of mail, as you might imagine, and one of our readers said that he had stopped using the correct pronunciation altogether. The reason? He was sick of being corrected incorrectly (or of being thought incorrect).

Yes, this is a problem — you have it on "short-lived" and "err," too. Pronounce these words correctly, and you are apt to be thought incorrect, or strange. Pronounce "coup de grâce" correctly, and people will look at you funny. (Because people have taken to saying "coup de gras," as in "foie.")

Inevitably, incorrect pronunciation will swamp correct pronunciation — so the incorrect will become the correct. Take "err." For another generation or two, people will be saying "air," and voilà: That will be correct.

Hmmm. I plead guilty on all four counts — though I'll note that my c. 1980 desk dictionary provides multiple pronunciations for "err" and "short-lived," so those, at least, have been commonly accepted in their "incorrect" forms for at least several decades now. But what strikes me as odd is that I've never heard any of these four words pronounced the way Nordlinger (and the dictionary) says they should be. Like a lot of heavy book readers, I'm keenly sensitive to the risk of mispronouncing words that I've seen only in print, so whenever I hear a word being pronounced in what seems like an odd way I make a point of looking it up. But these four? Not once have I hear err pronounced ur; coup de grâce as koo duh grawss; or forte as fort. (I have, however, heard short-lived pronounced with both a long and a short i.) And then there's this:

(By the way, you know what one of the most mispronounced words in the English language is? "Mispronunciation" — which we tend to want to say "mispronounce-iation" (which would make sense).)

I've never heard anyone pronounce mispronunciation that way. Have you? Is this really very common?

Anyway, I've had grammar and usage threads here every once in a while, but I've never had a pronunciation thread before. So go to it. This is your chance to vent about your favorite common errors.

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THE AMAZING RISE OF HIGH SCHOOL MATH....Over at EPI, Joydeep Roy reports that high school girls are now taking as many math classes as high school boys. Plus there's this:

In another interesting development, the study found that girls are now slightly more likely than boys to take advanced math courses. In 1982, fewer than 10% of girls had completed pre-calculus or calculus, compared to about 12% of boys. By 2004, 34% of girls were completing pre-calculus or calculus, compared to 32% of boys.

That's really pretty amazing, isn't it? I mean, forget the gender gap thing for the moment. I'd guess that in the 50s, roughly 0% of high school students took pre-calculus or calculus classes. Today it's about a third. What accounts for this?

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OLD ENOUGH TO FIGHT, OLD ENOUGH TO DRINK?....Since I don't like the taste of alcohol and therefore hardly drink at all, the question of whether the legal drinking age should be 18 or 21 has always seemed a little academic to me. Naturally, then, I'm attracted to the academic approach of public policy dude Mark Kleiman, who says that although a drinking age of 21 really does reduce the level of youthful drunk driving, it also encourages disrespect for the law and encourages young adults to acquire and use false ID. So what to do?

To address the specific problem of youthful drinking and driving, we could — as some states have already — change the drunk-driving laws so as to forbid drivers under 21 to drive with any detectable level of alcohol. (These are called "ZT" [for "zero tolerance"] laws.)....To address the more general problem of excessive drinking by teenagers (not to mention the still more general problem of excessive drinking, period) we could raise alcohol taxes.

....The combination of a lowered drinking age with ZT laws and a modest tax increase could give us less drunk driving and less false ID than the current policy mix. What's not to like?

Yes, of course you could have even lower youthful drunk driving rates by doing ZT plus a tax increase and leaving the drinking age where it is. But at what cost in disrespect for the law and loss of liberty? Not one, I think, that we should want to pay.

Sounds good to me. But what do all the former youthful binge drinkers in the blogosphere think?

UPDATE: Darren Grant, a professor of economics at Sam Houston State University, emails to recommend a new paper he's written on ZT laws. It's not for the faint of heart, but basically he says that a detailed look at the data shows that in places were ZT laws seem to reduce alcohol-related fatalities, those fatalities are also reduced in control groups. This suggests that ZT laws don't, in fact, actually have any effect. (Though note that the particular ZT laws he studies are ones that mandate only extremely low blood alcohol levels, not quite zero.) The paper is here for anyone interested in the gritty details.

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BACKING DOWN....Ezra on George Soros:

The Right's success in making "Soros-funded" an epithet has been startling, and the effects depressing. Soros himself is now cautious about who he funds, refusing to act as lead donor in controversial initiatives where his presence could endanger the project's credibility. Similarly, various programs and groups are now more cautious about taking Soros's money because they're worried about the association. Thus, these projects don't get funded, and good work doesn't get done.

The left, of course, has tried its best to demonize "Scaife-funded," "Coors-funded," etc., but it's never really worked. They kept giving their money away with no problems. But why? Is it because (a) the right is better at demonizing than we are (with help from their fellow travelers, of course), or (b) we get scared and back down a lot faster than they do? Or both?

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BIDEN FOR VEEP?....Even Bayh is yesterday's news. All the buzz today is about Joe Biden being Obama's running mate. Would this be a bad choice?

For the prosecution we have Jeralyn Merritt, who says he's bad on crime issues. Matt Yglesias thinks his initial support for the Iraq war is a problem. Everyone despises his vote for the 2005 bankruptcy bill. And, not to be too indelicate about this, he has a reputation for being both a camera hog and a bit of a dick.

For the defense, I'll say this. (1) Crime is not going to be a big issue for the next four years. (2) Biden's support for the war might have been an issue in the Democratic primary, but I don't see it being an albatross in the general election. He's done his penance, and in any case, who's going to raise it as an issue? McCain? (3) The bankruptcy bill was a bad deal, but it passed by a big margin and everyone votes for home state interests now and then. (4) And finally, since I don't personally have to work for the guy, I don't really mind if he can be a little dickish at times.

On the plus side, he's genuinely knowledgable about foreign affairs and doesn't let himself get bullied around by the likes of Tim Russert. He's mostly gotten his mouth under control and is a pretty good speaker and a pretty good debater. His working class roots are a plus. He's comfortable in the attack dog role. Obama could probably use someone with experience on the ticket, and Biden has it. He presents a fairly moderate image thanks to a few high-profile breaks with liberal orthodoxy (electorally an asset), but his overall voting record is pretty good (10th most liberal in Keith Poole's rankings, one notch ahead of Obama). And — big plus here — the press likes him, motormouth or not. More here from Ezra Klein and Jon Cohn.

I think he'd be a good choice. Plus there's this: a friend of mine has taken a major Biden position on InTrade and stands to make out like a bandit if he gets the nod. So I'm rooting for him.

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ANNEXING OSSETIA?....So far Russia hasn't said what it plans to do about the long term status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. However:

This may change soon, as the Russian parliament is set to meet Aug. 26 to discuss the South Ossetian and Abkhaz recognition requests. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who publicly met with South Ossetian and Abkhaz leaders last week, pledged after the encounter, "Russia will back any decisions about the status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia that will be made by the peoples of these republics."

South Ossetian officials say that, following a Russian recognition of their independence from Georgia, they would seek to be incorporated within Russia proper, reuniting with their Ossetian kin living in the Russian republic of North Ossetia just across the border. "We are already citizens of Russia. The 5% who weren't ran away. They made their choice," South Ossetian Vice Premier Taimuraz Chotchiev said Tuesday, standing on the steps of the shell-scarred presidential palace in Tskhinvali.

Hmmm. A week ago I thought Russia would be smart enough to formally recognize "independence" for the two breakaway regions and be content with de facto control. But I'm not so sure anymore. Western reaction to the Russian invasion has been pretty anemic, and they may now feel there's no reason not to simply annex them and be done with it.

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August 19, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

DOOMED....This is a post without a sharp point to make. And maybe it's just prompted by the fact that I read The Corner too much and I've gotten infected by their often hyperbolic tone. But I'm curious to know if anyone else has been picking up on a sense that conservatives are genuinely starting to panic over the possibility of a Barack Obama presidency?

I don't mean just the normal faux outrage-of-the-day that both sides engage in during campaigns. And I don't mean just the normal distaste for the other side's candidate. That's obvious and inevitable. Rather, it's a sense — a deep and genuine sense — that they believe an Obama presidency would be so weak and so feckless that it might lead to the eventual destruction of the country. A regular correspondent put it this way last night: "I've always felt that the R's are simply in a state of apocalyptic aggrievement and that the presidency is the last best way to hold-off the downfall of civilization."

Alternatively, Matt Yglesias takes a look at John McCain's record on foreign threats and describes it this way:

In short, not only is Russia on the march beyond Tbilisi to Ukraine, Finland, and substantial swathes of Poland but that's not even the transcendent issue of our time. And North Korea's nuclear program is "the greatest challenge to U.S. security and world stability today" but that's not the transcendent issue of our time. And Islamism is the transcendent issue of our time, but not a serious international crisis or an especially great challenge to U.S. security and world stability. Now of course there's no way to make sense of that, because it's not supposed to make any kind of sense. McCain just thinks that overreacting is the right reaction to everything. It's a hysteria-based foreign policy.

I know I'm not making an original point here. Conservatives, and neoconservatives in particular, have always thrived on a sense of being surrounded by manifest, civilization-threatening dangers. But somehow, even compared to their usual hysteria level, they seem to have turned their internal threat-o-meters up to 11 for this campaign. They're convinced that Russia is on the march, China is on the rise, Islam is a transcendent threat, we live on the cusp of world historical times, and if Barack Obama becomes president we're all probably doomed. And that's one reason the campaign has gotten so nasty. If you think the survival of the nation is at stake, you're certainly not going to be worried about a bit of freelance political smearing, are you?

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MOVING TIME....I have some news to share: on Friday, after four wonderful years at the Washington Monthly, I'll be picking up my keyboard and moving to a new blog at Mother Jones magazine. Here's the new URL:

http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum

There nothing there yet except for a welcome message, but starting on Friday, that's where I'll be blogging full time. This blog will be taken over by the tireless Steve Benen, who has guest blogged for me many times before, along with the always insightful Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings.

I'm not, as you all know, a maudlin type, but this is something of a bittersweet moment for me. The Monthly has been a terrific home, and in particular, Paul Glastris has been as good an editor, and as good a friend, as any blogger could hope for. Naturally I hope that all my readers add my new home to their bookmark list, but I also hope that you stick around and continue reading Steve and Hilzoy right here. Two blogs are better than one, right?

And before anyone asks: yes, there will be catblogging at the new site. Inkblot and Domino demanded that it be part of the contract. Hope to see you all there on Friday.

UPDATE: I'm hesitant to trumpet the glories of my new employer while I'm still here at the Monthly, but judging from some of the comments to this post I really recommend you take a fresh look at MoJo if you haven't seen it since the 70s. Yes, it's leftier than the Monthly, but the current issue, for example, features Jamie Galbraith on speculators, Jack Hitt on habeas corpus, Chris Mooney on how to regain control of science policy, Stephanie Mencimer on the Bush administration's marriage policy, and lots more. Plus, on a few previous occasions, pieces by, um, me. So check it out.

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HARRY AND LOUISE....This is sort of fascinating. Apparently Harry and Louise, the infamous kitchen table couple who helped torpedo Bill Clinton's healthcare plan in 1993, are back. Just like last time, they endorse healthcare "reform," and just like last time it's not clear just what kind of reform they endorse. Ezra has the video and a few comments at his place, but the bottom line is that the whole enterprise is a bit murky. However, it turns out that not only is there a new H&L ad, there's also a short "making of" video:

When the actors who play Harry and Louise talk about why they signed on to remake the commercial, you can hear a familiar exhaustion. "The circumstances are much worse nowadays," says the actor who plays Harry. "Things are much more expensive than they were then." The camera pans to Louise. "This wasn't acting because this isn't an abstract issue for either one of us. Both of us know people who are having problems because they don't have adequate coverage, or coverage at all. And we both know more people now than 15 years ago." This statement, quiet and simple and tired, is worlds away from the press releases of NFIB or the AHA.

Indeed. There's no telling what the H&L sponsors are going to do politically if and when healthcare reform actually picks up steam — though Louise's closing thought that the next president needs to "bring everyone to the table" is fairly standard code for including insurance companies, business lobbyists, hospital managers, and other interest groups who aren't generally very friendly to genuine reform. Still, the ad itself is carefully neutral, and a picture is worth a thousand words. And the picture this time basically says, "Harry and Louise are older and wiser and they've changed their minds." Regardless of what happens down the road, that's not a bad picture to have hitting the airwaves right now.

POSTSCRIPT: The obvious question, of course, is what the next H&L ad will look like. Will H&L first get built up as a credible, trustworthy voice of Middle American common sense on healthcare, and then later deployed in favor a specific agenda? Hard to say, because even the groups that virulently opposed Clinton's plan in 1993 have, to some extent, genuinely changed their tunes since then. Best advice: trust, but verify.

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McCAIN'S CHOICE....David Brooks writes today that John McCain tried to run an honorable campaign, but it just didn't work:

McCain and his advisers have been compelled to adjust to the hostile environment around them. They have been compelled, at least in their telling, to abandon the campaign they had hoped to run. Now they are running a much more conventional race, the kind McCain himself used to ridicule.

The man who lampooned the Message of the Week is now relentlessly on message (as observers of his fine performance at Saddleback Church can attest). The man who hopes to inspire a new generation of Americans now attacks Obama daily. It is the only way he can get the networks to pay attention.

The problem? Too many bloggers. A bored press. A stuffy conservative establishment. McCain tried to take on the system, and the system won.

Brooks is a conservative who admires McCain, so I suppose even this level of criticism is sort of admirable. Still, the passive-voice construction of the entire column really grates. Bloggers are somehow responsible for McCain running juvenile ads comparing Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears? A bored press is responsible for McCain claiming that Obama puts personal interest ahead of country? The conservative establishment prevented McCain from calling out Jerome Corsi's book for the vile trash that it is? The system forced McCain to hire one of Karl Rove's disciples as his campaign manager?

Enough. Just enough. There are plenty of ways of getting attention, and McCain made his own choices. No one forced them on him, not the system, not bloggers, not the press. If McCain is running a campaign based on personal destruction, he's doing it because that's the choice he made. Less passive voice, please.

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AL-QAEDA'S FUTURE....I saw this chart on a bunch of blogs yesterday and it left me puzzled. It comes from a poll of foreign policy experts, and it made me wonder what the other 49% thought. After all, isn't Pakistan already the next al-Qaeda stronghold?

Today the Center for American Progress posted the full poll results, and I have my answer. Afghanistan gets a few votes, of course, but the other big winners are Somalia, Sudan, and the Palestinian Territories, which collectively get about a quarter of the votes. There's sort of an odd liberal/conservative split, too, with liberals voting mostly for Afghanistan and Somalia and conservatives voting in large numbers for Sudan and the Palestinian Territories. The sample size of the poll is small, so maybe this is just a fluke, but it seems a little weird. Why are liberals afraid of Somalia while conservative are afraid of Sudan?

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GEORGIA UPDATE....Monday has come and gone, so how's that promised Russian withdrawal from Georgia going? Not so well, apparently:

Journalists and diplomats viewing various Russian positions around the country Monday reported no sign of a general pullout. About the only possible evidence of a wind-down was a convoy of Russian trucks that a Reuters news agency photographer in South Ossetia saw moving toward the Russian border.

Georgian officials said that rather than pull back, the Russians broadened their presence Monday in some places, sending armored columns for the first time toward Borjomi city, southwest of Gori, and Sachkhere, to the northwest.

Every other news report says roughly the same thing: despite Russian claims that they're pulling out, there's no sign on the ground that they're going anywhere at the moment. In fact, after blowing up a key railroad bridge over the weekend, they took the time Monday to blow up an airfield in western Georgia too.

Why? Another example of "extra security measures"? Perhaps, but I wonder if there's more going on. Somebody should correct me if I'm mistaken about this, but blowing up airstrips is generally pretty pointless as a security measure since they're extremely easy to rebuild as soon as the occupying army is gone. So why bother?

Just random violence, maybe. Or maybe the Russians are hoping to provoke the Georgians into fighting back so that they have an excuse to stay? This quote from a senior officer seems to suggest it:

[Col. Gen. Anatoly] Nogovitsyn noted that "the situation in the Russian peacekeepers' responsibility zones is under their full control, providing favorable conditions for the disengagement of the troops to the designated areas." But he immediately hedged his statement. "We are fully aware that the Georgian side is capable of carrying out provocations toward our troops and civilians at any moment."

Indeed. It sounds like Nogovitsyn is just waiting for a "provocation." Hopefully the Georgians won't be dumb enough to provide him with one.

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August 18, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

A POSSIBLY OBTUSE ECONOMIC QUESTION....In Stephen Mihm's profile of bearish economist Nouriel Roubini this weekend, we first get a rundown of the various global economic crises of the 90s:

Roubini began studying these countries and soon identified what he saw as their common weaknesses. On the eve of the crises that befell them, he noticed, most had huge current-account deficits (meaning, basically, that they spent far more than they made), and they typically financed these deficits by borrowing from abroad in ways that exposed them to the national equivalent of bank runs....After analyzing the markets that collapsed in the '90s, Roubini set out to determine which country's economy would be the next to succumb to the same pressures. His surprising answer: the United States'.

The United States does indeed have an enormous and growing current account deficit that plainly can't last forever. Something needs to be done. However, later on we get a few paragraphs about the current subprime-induced credit crisis:

Roubini has counseled various policy makers, including Federal Reserve governors and senior Treasury Department officials, to mount an aggressive response to the crisis. He applauded when the Federal Reserve cut interest rates to 2 percent from 5.25 percent beginning last summer. He also supported the Fed's willingness to engineer a takeover of Bear Stearns.

So here's the part where I get confused. The only way to balance our current account is to stop importing more than we export. In other words, we need to reduce our net consumption of foreign goods and services, which almost certainly means an overall reduction in our consumption of goods and services too.

On the other hand, a credit-induced recession demands that we stimulate consumption. Otherwise we fall even deeper into recession.

So which is it? Increase consumption in order to keep our current recession from turning into a depression, or reduce consumption in order to avoid long-term disaster caused by a growing current-account deficit? Can we somehow do both with an export-driven boom? Is there another option I'm not taking seriously enough? Or are we just screwed?

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NEWT....I've been told a number of times that, movement conservative though he may be, Newt Gingrich is at least a serious person driven by serious ideas. Light years better than pure partisan animals like Tom DeLay and Karl Rove, for example.

Well, he might be better than DeLay and Rove (YMMV of course), but there's no way you can read this and tell me that you still think he's a serious person. I really hope nobody ever tells me this again.

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ATTACKING JOHN McCAIN....Is John McCain an unrepentant warmonger who wants to cut taxes so his beer heiress wife can take home a few more dollars per year? Beats me. But as a campaign attack tactic, it ain't gonna work. Instead, why not concentrate on character critiques that have some real grounding in reality? Just to give a few examples:

  • McCain is old and gets confused occasionally.

  • McCain is running an ugly, smear-based campaign.

  • McCain has a legendarily short fuse.

  • McCain is annoyingly self-righteous.

  • McCain's straight talk has evaporated in the face of his need to win evangelical votes.

Does this sound like commander-in-chief material? I think not. With solid repetition, these can all be made into fairly devastating attacks that have the added benefit of (a) being true, and (b) sounding true. So use them early and often. That's my campaign blogging advice for the day.

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MALIKI'S CLOUT....Juan Cole does some translation from Arabic to bring us the latest news from Iraq:

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Seniora will visit Baghdad this week, seeking petroleum at reduced prices for his country from Iraq. This visit follows on that of King Abdullah II of Jordan, which involved a similar request. The rise in oil prices (which are still high compared to only a couple of years ago) has given Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki sudden clout in the region.

Well, look, can I just say that if Maliki agrees to this, it's pretty much the same thing as simply giving Lebanon and Jordan a few billion dollars in direct foreign aid? And if Iraq is rich enough to do that, then they certainly don't need any more of our money, do they?

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RICH....What is "rich"? I'm here to give you an answer with no shilly-shallying. I believe that Americans, for better or worse, believe that rich = millionaire. That is, someone with a million dollars in net worth.

But here's the catch: that's what Americans thought a century ago. In today's money, that's about $20 million or so. So today, "rich" is anyone with a net worth of $20 million.

And below that? We have various gradiations, including upper middle class, comfortable, well off, and very well off. Then, finally, rich. I'm not saying I'm thrilled with this definition, but in the caste-driven, TV-saturated psychotaxonomy of the average American voter, I'll bet it's pretty close to the truth.

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OBAMA AT SADDLEBACK....Liberals have been in a dither for several weeks now over Barack Obama's supposedly listless campaign performance following his return from Europe, and as near as I can tell this turned into something close to panic after his performance in Saturday's Saddleback Church pseudo-debate. Obama was deliberate and thoughtful! McCain was direct and forceful! Joe and Jane Sixpack will take wrong but strong every time!

Give me a break. Of course McCain was direct and forceful. He was on his home turf and he could afford to be. Abortion? Life begins at conception. Gay marriage? Against it. Tough calls? Let me tell you about the Vietnamese prison guard who drew a cross in the dirt.

Obama, of course, had no such option. What's he going to say? That he has a 100% approval rating from NARAL? Gay marriage is a gift from God? We should nuke Tehran?

If this had been an AFL-CIO forum, the tables would have been turned. But it wasn't, and Obama played the hand he was dealt. That's life. Obama's campaign tactics will almost certainly get more aggressive after the convention, when most people finally start paying attention, but in the meantime it's worth noting that Obama's performance at Saddleback Church might have been better than all the heathens who read this blog think. McCain, to my ears, sounded almost robotic talking about his faith, not like someone who truly has a deep connection with his church — and I'll bet that came through to more than a few viewers. See recovering evangelical Stephen here for more on that. And then take a look at Rick Warren's followup sermon on Sunday:

"Don't just look at issues, look at character," Warren said to a crowd of nearly 3,000 during one of two morning sermons at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest. "Look at the candidate and say, 'Does he live with integrity, service with humility, share with generosity, or not?' "

Don't just look at the issues. That's not exactly an endorsement or anything, but it sure sounds like Warren is doing his best to tip the scales in favor of the guy who might be pro-choice, but also has a deeper, more thoughtful faith than the other guy. Just saying.

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GEORGIA UPDATE....So how's that Russian pullout from Georgia going? Jonathan Finer of the Washington Post reports:

GORI, Georgia, Aug. 17 — Russia pledged Sunday to begin removing its troops from Georgia on Monday, but the streets of this occupied city reflected a broadening, not a waning, of Russia's military incursion.....During a reporter's 24-hour stay in the city this weekend, Russian soldiers roamed the streets in armored personnel carriers and waved Kalashnikov rifles to prevent entry to a captured Georgian military base that is now the Russian headquarters. Russian soldiers dug fortified positions for tanks along highways east and west of Gori and trucked in television and radio equipment to begin broadcasting in their own language.

Italics mine. Note the dateline. Gori is in Georgia proper, not South Ossetia. And the Guardian's Luke Harding offers a similar take on Russian plans: "The Russians, with an estimated 10,000 troops and 150 tanks in Georgia, show no intention of withdrawing the entire invasion force, and plan to leave troops in Georgia proper, beyond the two pro-Russian breakaway provinces." That's some withdrawal. But in the meantime, what's happening in South Ossetia itself? Michael Gordon of the New York Times reports:

Even as Russia pledged to begin withdrawing its forces from neighboring Georgia on Monday, American officials said the Russian military had been moving launchers for short-range ballistic missiles into South Ossetia, a step that appeared intended to tighten its hold on the breakaway territory.

The Russian military deployed several SS-21 missile launchers and supply vehicles to South Ossetia on Friday, according to American officials familiar with intelligence reports. From the new launching positions north of Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, the missiles can reach much of Georgia, including Tbilisi, the capital.

Ah. More of those "extra security measures" we were promised. And speaking of security, did the Georgian army really go on a mass killing spree in South Ossetia that demanded a Russian response? Tom Lasseter of McClatchy reports:

Russian politicians and their partners in Tskhinvali, the capital of the breakaway region South Ossetia, said that when Georgian forces tried to seize control of the city and the surrounding area, the physical damage was comparable to Stalingrad and the killings similar to the Holocaust.

But a trip to the city on Sunday, without official escorts, revealed a very different picture. While it was clear there had been heavy fighting — missiles knocked holes in walls, and bombs tore away rooftops — almost all of the buildings seen in an afternoon driving around Tskhinvali were still standing.

Russian-backed leaders in South Ossetia have said that 2,100 people died in fighting in Tskhinvali and nearby villages. But a doctor at the city's main hospital, the only one open during the battles that began late on Aug. 7, said the facility recorded just 40 deaths.

On the other hand, Megan Stack of the LA Times talked to the same doctor at Tskhinvali Regional Hospital, and it was pretty clear who she blamed for the violence: "[Tina] Zakharova, the doctor, spent the days of heavy fighting in the rancid basement of the hospital, where staff set up metal cots and thin mattresses and treated patients under the glow of bare lightbulbs....Recalling the arrival of Russian troops, her blue eyes flooded with tears. 'They were our saviors,' she said." This seems to be a nearly unanimous sentiment in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which means that regardless of whose side you take in this conflict, Georgia had better get used to losing both of its breakaway provinces. Neither one wants the Georgians back, and the Russians now have the tanks in place to make their wishes stick.

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August 17, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

THE MONETARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX....Matt Yglesias just finished reading Larry Bartels' Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age, which argues (among other things) that Democrats are better for the economy than Republicans. But Matt says this is a mysterious claim:

What this book made me wish for was more economics: Bartels gives us a lot of empirical political science data that seems to indicate that partisan control of the White House is more economically important than you would think. Contrary to this, there's substantial economic theory that seems to argue that this can't possibly be the case.

This is true. The evidence suggesting that the economy performs better under Democratic presidents is surprisingly robust, but one of the reasons this evidence doesn't get taken very seriously is that there doesn't seem to be any plausible mechanism for it.

So let's take a stab at it. In general, I suspect that the mechanism is related to the fact that Republicans tend to focus their policy prescriptions heavily on tax cuts and inflation fighting, while Democrats tend to focus on employment — and employment is more crucial to economic growth than taxes and inflation. However, as longtime readers may recall, one of the things Bartels shows is that although it's true that Democrats generally outperform Republicans, in election years Republicans do better. By a lot. So this changes the question a bit. What happens in election years that makes the economy so strong under Republicans?

The answer, if you can believe a paper co-written by Jamie Galbraith last year, might be called the monetary-industrial complex. It's not so much that Republican presidents goose the economy in election years, it's that the Federal Reserve gooses the economy in election years. But only if the president is a Republican:

The hypothesis [] has two independent parts. On one side, it predicts that...monetary policy [is] more permissive in years when a Republican administration is seeking renewal, than when it is not. On the other side, the hypothesis predicts that...monetary policy [is] more restrictive, after controlling for the influences of inflation and unemployment, in years when a Democratic administration is seeking renewal.

....The results in Table 3 give striking confirmation to the most cynical historians of the 1970s. They show that, controlling for the impetus of inflation and unemployment, the Federal Reserve systematically intervened in election years [during the period 1969-1983]. Both variables are independently significant, of opposite sign, and together they suggest a habitual ceteris paribus differential in the term structure of between 200 and 300 basis points, favoring Republicans.

....Table 4 gives information on the modern period....Over the years 1984 to 2006, monetary policy moves strongly in favor of Republicans and (less strongly) against Democrats in election years.

So there you have it. When a Republican is president, the Fed eases interest rates in election years by much more than the objective economic circumstances dictate. Conversely, when a Democrat is president, the Fed tightens interest rates in election years by much more than the objective economic circumstances dictate. And for a while, anyway, the economy responds. And so do voters.

Nice little racket, eh?

Kevin Drum 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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By: Kevin Drum

GEORGIA UPDATE....The latest on the ceasefire:

Russia is to begin withdrawing its troops from neighboring Georgia on Monday, two days after it signed a revised framework for a deal to halt the fighting there, which has stirred some of the deepest divisions between world powers since the cold war.

The Kremlin announced on Sunday that the Russian president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, had spoken with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who negotiated the cease-fire, and pledged that Russian forces would be pulled back on Monday.

Well, we'll see. I guess this all depends on whether the Russians have blown up enough Georgian infrastructure by then to satisfy their promise of leaving only after implementing those mysterious "extra security measures" they insisted on inserting into the ceasefire text.

But assuming the Russians really do withdraw on Monday, what's the upshot of the Russo-Georgian war? My take, roughly, is that Putin screwed up. The West was never going to actively approve of the Russian invasion, but if Putin had limited himself to a short, sharp clash in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it would have been an almost unalloyed victory. The murky status of the provinces combined with the fact that Saakashvili sent in troops first would have kept Western reaction to a minimum, and Russia's message would still have been sent loud and clear: don't mess with us in our sphere of influence.

But then Putin got greedy — or just made a mistake — and sent Russian troops into Georgia proper. This was almost certainly militarily unnecessary, and it succeeded mainly in uniting virtually everyone in outrage against Russian aggression. Putin can pretend all he wants that he doesn't care about Western opinion, but he obviously does — and what's more, Western unity makes a difference in concrete terms too. Poland's quick turnaround on missile defense is probably just the first example of this. The U.S. has gotten lots of bad reviews for its handling of the situation, but in the end, the countries on Russia's border are more firmly in our camp now than they were even before the war.

Even militarily, Putin's overreach might have been a mistake. Sure, the Russian Army is in better condition than it was ten years ago, but it's clear now that its performance in Georgia was still only so-so, despite the fact that Georgia is a minuscule country and the Russians have had this operation planned and ready to go at a moments notice for weeks (maybe months). In the end, Russia is still basically Mexico with nukes, and their ability to project power even along their own borders is limited. After Georgia, it's going to be even harder. Putin has a reputation for shrewdness, but he should have quit while he was ahead.

Kevin Drum 1:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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August 16, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

SADDLEBACK POSTMORTEM....I only saw the tail end of Barack Obama's half of the great Saddleback Church semi-debate tonight, but I caught most of the highlights afterward and I saw all of John McCain's performance. The CNN talking heads all thought the big difference between the two was that McCain came across as direct and forceful while Obama came across as thoughtful and nuanced, but that's not quite how it struck me.

For better or worse, Obama seems to have chosen to treat this event as sort of an intimate evening with Rick Warren — that just happened to be nationally televised. McCain, by contrast, treated it as a straight campaign event: he had his stump speech talking points ready, and he was eager to cram as many of them into his 50 minutes as possible.

I don't know if this was a good decision on Obama's part, but I don't have any doubt that he'll choose a much more direct speaking style at his three face-to-face debates with McCain. This is why I think comments about how Obama will need to "lift his game" this fall are off base. This wasn't a preview of his debate style, it was just a look at his style in a different setting.

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By: Kevin Drum

McCAIN'S BIG THREE....Did John McCain really just say that Meg Whitman was one of the three wisest advisors he could think of? I mean, nothing against Whitman, but seriously?

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By: Kevin Drum

CHEAT SHEET....Since the Russo-Georgian war is complicated, I thought everyone might appreciate a quick primer:

  • Shorter liberal view: "This isn't to condone Russia's conduct, but...."

  • Shorter conservative view: "Yes, Saakashvili acted recklessly by sending in troops first, but...."

See? It's easier than you thought! You may now return to your regularly scheduled Olympics watching.

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By: Kevin Drum

QUESTION....So is Jamaica's Usain Bolt now the fastest mon alive?

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By: Kevin Drum

A REPORT FROM BAGHDAD....Three CNAS analysts recently returned from Iraq. Their observations range from the ridiculous....

"The Dora market in Baghdad, once a war zone, is now a recovering war zone with a thriving gym decorated somewhat surreally with Arnold Schwarzenegger posters — Arnold from the old days, not from the new ones," [John] Nagl said.

....to the horrifying:

Maliki has been "slow-rolling" the integration of the Sunni Sons of Iraq into the Iraqi army and police, according to [Colin] Kahl. Kahl offered some startling statistics about the lack of progress on this front: Of the more than 100,000 Sunni militiamen that were much of the reason for American success over the last year in combating Al-Qaeda in Iraq, 16,000 are "in the pipeline" for integration into the Iraqi Army and police. Of these 16,000, the Iraqi government has only approved 600.

...."Maliki has no interest in integrating these guys — none," Kahl said. "He thinks they're thugs; he thinks they're hooligans. . . . In fact, there's some evidence that he's trying to pick fights with them, hoping that they will start a fight that he can then turn around and finish them."

Kahl apparently thinks that Maliki has become supremely overconfident, to the point where he thinks he really doesn't need American help anymore and can crush the Sunni opposition anytime he wants. This is, to say the least, not encouraging news on the political reconciliation front.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE SCOURGE OF THE WEB....Just curious: Am I the only one who wishes that newspaper websites would refrain from putting sports results on the front page when they know that the TV coverage is tape delayed? It would sure be nice to be able to scan the news normally without simultaneously ruining my ability to watch Olympics coverage an hour or two later.

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By: Kevin Drum

SKILLS vs. APTITUDE....Via McMegan, Yves Smith writes:

Unless you have personal connections that are willing to give you a chance at something where your skills might be distantly relevant [...] most employers, especially large companies, want to hire someone who is already doing precisely what the job calls for. I've seen enormously talented senior people (and I don't mean from Wall Street) unable to land jobs because employers write the job specifications so narrowly.

This is apropos of nothing in particular, but I spent a big chunk of my (previous) career being surprised about this precise thing: senior managers who are unwilling to hire, say, a salesman unless he's worked in the exact industry he'll be selling into; unwilling to hire an IT person unless she has experience with the precise software packages the company uses; unwilling to hire product managers unless their background includes products nearly identical to what the company currently sells.

Obviously, background matters. But you know what? If you hire talented people, they can learn a related industry, a new software package, or a different product set pretty quickly. And within a year they'll be great. Hire people with precise skills but who are otherwise mediocre, and a year later they'll be.....mediocre. I know which ones I'd choose.

Kevin Drum 1:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND SAAKASHVILI....Josh Marshall on the Russo-Georgian war:

The truth is that the US screwed up here in a big way. This isn't to excuse the Russians. But we pumped the Georgians up as our big Iraq allies, got them revved up about coming into NATO, playing all this pipeline politics, all of which led them to have a much more aggressive posture toward the Russians than we were willing, in the final analysis, to back up. So now they've gotten badly mauled.

I've read variations on this theme about a hundred times now, and I really feel like some pushback is in order. The idea that we somehow prompted Mikheil Saakashvili to undertake his invasion of South Ossetia last week just doesn't bear scrutiny.

Look: Saakashvili came to power on a Georgian nationalist platform of recovering Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He's been jonesing for an excuse to send troops in for years, regardless of anything the U.S. did or didn't do. Likewise, Putin has been eagerly waiting for an excuse to pound the crap out of him in return — again, regardless of anything the U.S. did or didn't do. (You don't think Russia was able to mount a highly precise counterattack within 24 hours just by coincidence, do you?)

Now sure, in general, Kosovo + missile shield + NATO enlargement + resurgent Russian nationalism formed the background for this war, and maybe the U.S. has played a bad hand on this score. But Bush administration officials have said for months (i.e., before the war started, meaning this isn't just post hoc ass covering) that they've urged Saakashvili to stay cool. And I believe them. What else would they do, after all? There was never any chance that we were going to provide Georgia with military help in case of a Russian invasion, and it's improbable in the extreme that anyone on our side said anything to suggest otherwise. When Saakashvili says, just hours before sending troops into South Ossetia, that he understands this means war with Russia but he "cannot imagine the West not coming to Georgia's aid," he's being delusional.

The U.S. should have played a smarter, longer-term game here. But that said, supporting Georgia's future entry into NATO and helping to modernize their military really isn't the same thing as encouraging Saakashvili to start a war with Russia. It just isn't.

Kevin Drum 1:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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AEI TRADES LEDEEN FOR DRAFT PICK TO BE NAMED LATER....Michael "Faster, Please" Ledeen, a man who lobbies for war incessantly but just as incessantly claims he's doing no such thing, has departed from his longtime perch at the neoconservative AEI think tank. Why? He always seemed like such a good fit. No explanation yet, though.

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By: Kevin Drum

NO COMMENT....Tim Rutten sums up the argument of Jerome Corsi's revolting new book, The Obama Nation:

The Democratic candidate is a deceitful jihadist drug addict who, if elected, plans to impose a black supremacist, socialist regime.

Charming. Naturally Corsi is now the darling of conservative talk radio, spreading his filth over the course of (so far) more than a hundred interviews. So what does John McCain think of this?

With the rest of the political universe buzzing about a controversial new book on Sen. Barack Obama, one person is staying quiet: Sen. John McCain....Approached by a curious reporter at an event on Friday and asked about the book, McCain replied: "Gotta keep your sense of humor."

Charming squared. McCain's handlers, of course, later rushed to say that he had just misheard the question. No doubt. He gets confused about stuff like this a lot. So what's his reaction now that he knows for sure what the question was?

Brian Rogers, a McCain spokesman, declined to comment on the book. Aides said the Republican campaign has no intention of coming to Obama's defense on every attack they have no control over.

Charming cubed. If that isn't a green light to McCain's supporters to say whatever needs to be said to smear Obama back into the stone age, I don't know what is.

Kevin Drum 12:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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August 15, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....Last week someone commented on the undeniable beautyosity of Domino's thick white whiskers, so this week is whisker week for everyone. Obviously Inkblot has trouble with this photographic category since his whiskers sort of blend into his face, but they're still perfectly respectable specimens. Domino, however, is clearly the star of the show.

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VEEP-OLOGY....The latest in Kremlinology: trying to figure out who Obama's VP pick will be by systematically eliminating everyone who already has an announced speaking slot at the Democratic convention. This assumes that (a) the Obama campaign isn't playing deliberate games with the announcements and (b) no one is speaking twice. If you accept those postulates, however, it looks like Sebelius, Bayh, Richardson, and Biden are out. Complete list here. Most likely remaining candidates: Dodd, Clark, and Kaine.

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By: Kevin Drum

TRAVEL TIPS....Via Tyler Cowen, six tips for vacation bliss here. I agree with numbers 5 and 6. Number 4 varies from person to person. The others have never given me much grief.

However, an addendum: #5 is a good idea, but don't tell anybody. That way you not only have a free day after you get back, but you don't have everyone in the world bugging you the moment you return. This is an especially handy trip for business travelers. I used it for years and no one ever caught on.

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MIRROR, MIRROR....When is a tax increase not a tax increase? Do you have to ask? When it's a Republican tax increase, of course.

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THE CASE FOR NATO....Robert Farley investigates the case for admitting Georgia and Ukraine to NATO:

Even before the war, the practical cases for admitting Ukraine and Georgia to NATO were very weak, weaker even than for the Baltic states. Neither Georgia nor Ukraine have stable, pro-Western democratic governments. The Saakashvili regime has made strides beyond previous Georgian governments but has been reluctant to allow full freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. Moreover, Georgian control over its own territory (including areas not part of Abkhazia and South Ossetia) is often suspect.

In Ukraine, the presence of a substantial Russia population means that a shift in geopolitical orientation (away from NATO and toward Russia) is easily conceivable through democratic means. It hardly makes sense to allow Ukraine to join NATO in order to defend it from Russia, then watch Ukraine adopt a pro-Russian stance after the next election.

The Baltic republics represent the weakest cases for entry into NATO, but their applications were nevertheless much better than Georgia's. Each was more democratic than Georgia when negotiations for entry began, and each had maintained that democracy for over a decade prior to entry. Georgia shares a border with Turkey (a longtime NATO member), but the Baltic states are geographically much closer to the NATO core. While all three have substantial Russia minorities, none were likely to see the rise of a pro-Russian government, and none had outstanding territorial conflicts with Russia.

Overall, the admission of the various Eastern European states to NATO has been a positive development, regardless of whether or not Russia objected at the time. But there are diminishing returns to expansion of any organization, and I've long thought that NATO has pretty much hit its limit. It isn't just a neat club to join, after all, it's a mutual defense pact — and that's something worth taking seriously. We should make mutual defense commitments only to countries that are democratic, stable, likely to remain that way, and genuinely critical enough to Western interests that every member of the alliance — not just the U.S. — is willing to go to war on behalf of any of the others. Expand the alliance too much, and it loses its credibility. Just because Georgia and Ukraine are friends and allies doesn't automatically mean we should bring them into NATO.

Kevin Drum 2:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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By: David Moore

David Moore, author of The Opinion Makers: An Insider Reveals the Truth Behind the Polls, is a former Vice President of the Gallup Organization and Managing Editor of the Gallup Poll. He has been guest blogging here all week.


PREDICTING THE ELECTORAL VOTE....As we all know, the national polls don't predict the presidential winner. George W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 but won the electoral vote. So, while the national polls are interesting, in a close race we know that it's the electoral vote predictions that give us the better insight.

I've looked over the web, going to places I know, but also googling "electoral map 2008 president" to find sites I wasn't so familiar with. I've chosen a few for comparison, mostly the media sites, though two others that appear to be quite popular.

As one who regularly blogs on pollster.com, naturally I looked there first, but I found many others I do not regularly visit with very useful information. Here are the ones whose data are included in the table below (they are listed in order of the "overall Obama lead" — with Pollster showing the largest overall lead and NPR showing the smallest):

Here is a comparison of the projections of Barack Obama's and John McCain's electoral vote:

The top three results favoring Obama were all produced by sites that make projections based on statewide polls. (The Los Angeles Times notes that there is no polling for Washington, D.C., but that its three electoral votes are counted for Obama.)

The other four media sites showing the smaller overall leads apparently base their projections on their in-house experts. NPR is explicit about that, while the NYT, CNN and NBC sites imply it (unless, of course, I've missed some important detail). It would appear that the media experts are especially cautious, suggesting a closer race than the more empirically-oriented sites.

Some of the most interesting differences and similarities among Pollster.com, the Los Angeles Times, and RealClearPolitics.com:

Minnesota — Pollster and LAT say this is a solid Obama state, while RCP says it's a toss-up.

Ohio and Michigan — seen as toss-ups by RCP, while Pollster has both leaning toward Obama, and LAT has Michigan for Obama, with Ohio as a toss-up.

New Mexico — leaning Obama say LAT and Pollster; a toss-up says RCP

Florida, Missouri, Virginia and Colorado — all three sites say these states are toss-ups.

There are, of course, other differences worth examining. It's worthwhile to visit the sites.

One of the most interesting charts I've seen is provided by LAT, which shows the electoral vote calculations over time. Through most of the primary season, while Obama and Hillary Clinton were still contesting the nomination, McCain was consistently ahead in the electoral vote total. Toward the end of May, Obama caught up, and in mid-July surged to his highest LAT lead, before falling back somewhat.

The fluctuation in the electoral vote totals — from a 65 vote lead by McCain up to a 108 vote lead by Obama, down to the current Obama lead of 77 votes — should warn us that many voters have yet to make up their minds. Let's not take these results too seriously at this point in the campaign. (Two other sites that seem to provide empirically-based projections are 270towin.com, and electoral-vote.com, showing Obama with overall leads of 54 and 85 votes respectively.)

David Moore 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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By: Kevin Drum

EQUAL TIME....Should this blog be required to offer equal time to conservatives? According to a recent Rasmussen poll, nearly a third of Americans think so:

Fifty-seven percent (57%) say the government should not require websites and blog sites that offer political commentary to present opposing viewpoints. But 31% believe the Internet sites should be forced to balance their commentary.

....Democrats oppose government-mandated balance on the Internet by a 48% to 37% margin. Sixty-one percent (61%) of Republicans reject government involvement in Internet content along with 67% of unaffiliated voters.

This doesn't happen often here, but I declare Republicans the winner of this round. Independents too. Now that's fair 'n balanced.

Via James Joyner.

Kevin Drum 12:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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By: Kevin Drum

THAT WORD "CRISIS" DOES NOT MEAN WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS, SENATOR.... Apparently John McCain thinks the Russian invasion of Georgia is "the first probably serious crisis internationally since the end of the Cold War." This is, pretty obviously, factually wrong, since you could trot out the Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo, the al-Aqsa Intifada, 9/11, Afghanistan, and Iraq at a minimum as other serious international crises since the end of the Cold War. But in a way, that doesn't matter. What this demonstrates is McCain's urgent, deep-seated desire to believe that he, John McCain, is right smack in the middle of world historical events, a desire remarkably similar to one we've seen from George Bush since he took office. That temperament hasn't worked out so well for the past few years, and I'm not sure the country is ready for a repeat.

On a slightly different note: I suppose this is true of lots of presidential campaigns (anyone remember Quemoy and Matsu?), but it's remarkable how this campaign is, so far, being driven by truly trivial events. Offshore drilling has been a big deal for weeks, even though it's plainly an issue of almost no long-term importance at all. Obama's "celebrity" is surely a winner in the all-time campaign trivia contest. And I'm willing to bet that a decade from now, far from being seen as the first step in reassembling Russia's old empire, the Russo-Georgian war will be virtually forgotten, a tiny, weeklong border conflict over a couple of unimportant territories that had been in limbo for 17 years and were bound to blow up sooner or later. I think President Bush has, perhaps miraculously, actually taken roughly the right attitude over the past week: warning Georgia off its invasion, denouncing the Russian response but not making more of it than it deserved, denouncing harder once the Russians crossed the South Ossetian border, quickly sending humanitarian supplies once the fighting was over — an action that's useful both symbolically and as a tripwire to deter further Russian aggression — and then hinting at longer-term problems with U.S.-Russian relations if Russia doesn't withdraw from Georgia quickly. This doesn't mean I approve of his previous actions offering NATO membership to Georgia or installing missile defense in Eastern Europe, which may have helped foster this crisis, but honestly, that's more because I wasn't keen on either of those things to begin with than because I thought they might lead to renewed Russian adventurism in the Caucasus.

In any case, once the crisis hit, he didn't do too badly — so far, anyway. I wonder if a gunslinging President McCain would have done as well?

Kevin Drum 11:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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August 14, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

DEAD ZONES....Just in case you didn't have enough to worry about, marine biologists Robert Diaz and Rutger Rosenberg have recently finished counting up all the world's dead zones, and the news isn't good:

In the latest sign of trouble in the planet's chemistry, the number of oxygen-starved "dead zones" in coastal waters around the world has roughly doubled every decade since the 1960s, killing fish, crustaceans and massive amounts of marine life at the base of the food chain, according to a study released today.

...."We're saying that hypoxia is now everywhere, it seems," said Diaz. "We can say that human activities really screwed up oxygen conditions in our coastal areas."

Douglas N. Rader, chief ocean scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the chaos in the planet's nitrogen cycle is not only creating dead zones but also inciting the spread of toxic algae, such as the pfiesteria that has appeared in recent years in the Chesapeake.

"The next big challenge, after global warming, is going to be addressing the massive upset of the world's nitrogen cycle," Rader said.

The world's biggest dead zones are in the Black Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Baltic Sea.

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By: Kevin Drum

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From James Fallows, modifying his reaction to the universally reviled Gibson/Stephanopoulos primary debate after watching all 29 Democratic debates in a row in order to write about them for The Atlantic:

When I'd seen this final debate in real time, I'd been outraged by its harsh tone and belated attention to policy matters (including Gibson's little lecture to the candidates on why capital-gains tax cuts always paid for themselves). When I saw its place in the series, I realized it was like a late episode of The Sopranos in which nearly everyone gets mowed down. It was violent and dehumanizing, but it was the culmination of a long process.

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By: David Moore

David Moore, author of The Opinion Makers: An Insider Reveals the Truth Behind the Polls, is a former Vice President of the Gallup Organization and Managing Editor of the Gallup Poll. He'll be guest blogging here all week.


THE UNCERTAIN ELECTORATE....In the latest Gallup tracking poll, Obama leads McCain by 6 percentage points, 48 percent to 42 percent, with 5 percent choosing another candidate, and just 5 percent undecided. If we could believe this poll, it's an incredible phenomenon — with 12 weeks still to go before the election, no vice presidential candidates yet selected, and the major parties' conventions still to come, 95 percent of the voters have already made up their minds whom to support!

Gallup is not alone in portraying mostly a decided electorate. Most other polls show only about 8 percent to 10 percent of the electorate unsure of their vote choice, though real world experience hardly corroborates that picture. The reason for the apparent commitment of most voters is that the pollsters typically ask who respondents would vote for "if the election were held today." They know that if they asked who voters might choose in November, many would acknowledge that they haven't yet thought seriously about the contest, and don't know which candidate to support. And that, apparently, wouldn't be too interesting in a news story.

The polling industry's obsession with asking who voters would support "today" gives a misleading picture of the true state of the electorate. That fact is made clear by the the latest CBS News poll, which suggests that the size of the "uncommitted voter" group is much larger that what the Gallup tracking poll indicates.

The CBS poll also asks the standard polling industry's forced-choice question, who would you vote for it the election were held today, and it found 13 percent undecided. But the poll followed up the standard question by asking whether voters who had selected a candidate had made up their minds, "or is it still too early to say for sure?" The results of that question show 39 percent of voters still uncommitted, three times the original number CBS found, and almost eight times what the Gallup tracking poll reports.

To be fair to Gallup and a few other polls, CBS is not alone in trying to measure the uncommitted vote by the use of a follow-up question to determine voting intensity. A Gallup poll at the end of June, for example, found 23 percent of the electorate uncommitted, almost half the size of what CBS currently measures. An ABC News poll found a somewhat larger uncommitted group, about 28 percent, but only after first reporting that 98 percent of the electorate had decided on a candidate.

Generally, it's difficult to find data about the uncommitted voters, because the media typically emphasize the initial horserace figures — based on the election being held "today." But if we want to know what voters are really thinking, we have to search deep into the news stories, or even examine the raw poll results, to see whether the poll has even tried to measure the undecided vote.

When the election is just days away, and the final pre-election polls ask who voters would support "if the election were held today," the results are usually fairly accurate. After all, the election is almost "today," and the vast majority of voters have made up their minds. But in the weeks and months leading up to the election, the standard forced-choice question does not give us an accurate picture of the electorate.

That the news media and their polls continue to play down, or ignore altogether, the true state of the electorate during the campaign is one of the enduring blights on the credibility of pre-election polls.

David Moore 2:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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By: Kevin Drum

KRISTOL ON POWELL....Why did Bill Kristol — a warmonger, sure, but a shrewd warmonger — go on Fox yesterday to insist that Colin Powell would be endorsing Barack Obama and speaking at the Democratic convention? Steve Clemons take a flier:

Since Steve Schmidt was given the operative reins of the McCain campaign, Schmidt has been pushing hard for flamboyant, dramatic showdowns to contrast McCain from Obama. He helped orchestrate the ongoing political theater on oil drilling. And Schmidt and his team have grabbed the Russia-Georgia conflict and tried to ratchet higher US-Russian tension rather than stand down, again to differentiate the McCain camp from what they hope is perceived as a more dovish Obama position.

My hunch is that Bill Kristol and friends don't want interest-calculating negotiators and balanced, sensible, pragmatic realists around McCain. They are perhaps using the Russia conflict to purge their foreign policy team of those who are not neocon or neocon-friendly — and by trying to "export Colin Powell to Obama," Kristol is really going after his close friend and ally Richard Armitage while at the same time attacking General Powell's utility to Obama.

This strikes me as roughly correct. When I watched the clip of Kristol yesterday, the first thing I noticed was that when Neil Cavuto called Powell a "Republican's Republican," Kristol immediately took pains to shoot him down. He pretty clearly doesn't want anyone thinking that Powell is a real Republican or a real conservative — because, you know, Powell is sort of cautious about going to war, and that doesn't sit well with Kristol's vision of national greatness.

Whether this was really aimed at Richard Armitage seems more of a stretch, but who knows? Somehow there always seem to be levels of deviousness to this stuff beyond anything we ordinary mortals can suss out.

Kevin Drum 1:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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By: Kevin Drum

PRIORITIES....Here's the first graf of today's LA Times story on the economy:

Consumer prices took another sharp jump last month with high energy prices fueling a 0.8% monthly increase — nearly double analysts' predictions — and chalked up a 12-month inflation rate of 5.6%, the highest since 1991, the Labor Department reported today.

ZOMG! Inflation is out of control! Now, here's the seventh (i.e., nearly last) graf of the story:

Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors said that other economic indicators released today were equally worrisome. The Labor Department also reported that workers' average weekly earnings declined by 0.8% in July and 3.1% over the last year, even after adjusted for inflation.

Yawn. People are making less money than before. Whatevs.

Question for the folks who populate our newsrooms: Why is it that a 0.8% rise in inflation, the biggest since 1991, is huge, headline news, while a 0.8% decline in wages, the biggest since 1990, is only barely worth mentioning? In a newsroom with some connection to the normal world, wouldn't it be the other way around?

But I guess I should be grateful. The Wall Street Journal put the earnings news in the 15th paragraph of their story, the Washington Post relegated it to literally the very last paragraph of theirs, and the New York Times didn't bother to mention it at all. So on second thought, good job, LA Times. Yippee.

Kevin Drum 11:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE POLITICS OF HATE....Joe Klein responds to Mary Matalin, publisher of Jerome Corsi's shiny new book alleging that Barack Obama really is a secret Muslim after all:

But hey, Mary stands to make big bucks off this scholarship, which I'm sure was submitted for peer review and otherwise held to the highest editorial standards — and I'm sure her reputation and mediagenicity won't be damaged by this poisonous crap, and we're all friends here, aren't we? And, yknow, they say politics ain't beanbag...and it's all in the game to tell innocent, well-intentioned people that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim or that John Kerry wasn't really a hero in Vietnam. Or, as George W. Bush, once told a rightly outraged John McCain — whose wife and daughter Bush's minions had smeared — "It's just politics."

Does anyone know if John McCain has repudiated Corsi's toxic swill? I did a desultory Google search last night and didn't find anything, but my heart wasn't really in it. Anybody know? Kevin Drum 12:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (128)

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August 13, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

THE AMAZING MICHAEL PHELPS....I don't have any special reason for posting this, but, you know, why not? Olympic fever and all that.

Anyway, the chart on the right shows the progression of world records since WWII in the 800m sprint and the 200m freestyle swim, both of which take roughly two minutes for world class athletes. As you can see, the swimming record has indeed progressed stupendously faster than the running record, dropping 17% since 1950 compared to 5% for the running record. Amazing!

But there's a twist. Despite all the hoohah about LZR suits, 3-meter pools and the insistent march of technology, the biggest drop by far was between 1950 and 1980, when the 200m record plummeted by 15 seconds. In the past 28 years, by contrast, it's dropped only a sluggish 6 additional seconds. Not so amazing after all! I demand swimmers with genetically engineered gills in time for the 2012 Olympics.

Kevin Drum 9:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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By: Kevin Drum

MARGIN OF ERROR....Teagan Goddard sez:

According to a new Pew Research poll, Sen. Barack Obama's national lead over Sen. John McCain has disappeared. The race is now a statistical tie, with Obama barely edging McCain, 46% to 43%.

This comes via Nick Beaudrot, who claims not only that this is wrong, but that you can go ask Kevin Drum if you don't believe him. And it's true. I don't think the "statistical tie" trope is ever going to go away, but that still doesn't make it right.

I originally wrote about this back in 2004, but here it is again. The idea of a "statistical tie" is based on the theory that (a) statistical results are credible only if they are at least 95% certain to be accurate, and (b) any lead less than the MOE is less than 95% certain.

There are two problems with this: first, 95% is not some kind of magic cutoff point, and second, the idea that the MOE represents 95% certainty is wrong anyway. A poll's MOE does represent a 95% confidence interval for each individual's percentage, but it doesn't represent a 95% confidence for the difference between the two, and that's what we're really interested in.

In fact, what we're really interested in is the probability that the difference is greater than zero — in other words, that one candidate is genuinely ahead of the other. But this probability isn't a cutoff, it's a continuum: the bigger the lead, the more likely that someone is ahead and that the result isn't just a polling fluke. So instead of lazily reporting any result within the MOE as a "tie," which is statistically wrong anyway, it would be more informative to just go ahead and tell us how probable it is that a candidate is really ahead. Here's a table that gives you the answer to within a point or two:

So in the poll quoted above, how probable is it that Obama is really ahead? Pew contacted 2414 registered voters, which means the MOE of the poll is about 2%, and they report that Obama's lead is 3 percentage points. So go to the top row and then read the number from the 3% column. Answer: there's a 93% probability that Obama is genuinely ahead of McCain (i.e., that his lead in the poll isn't just due to sampling error).

Generally speaking, national polls use sample sizes of about 1,100, which translates to an MOE of 3%. State polls often use a sample of 600, which produces an MOE of 4%. Subsets of polls sometimes have MOEs of 5% or higher.

Now, there are plenty of reasons other than sampling error to take polls with a grain of salt: they're just snapshots in time, the results are often sensitive to question wording or question ordering, it's increasingly hard to get representative samples these days, etc. etc. But from a pure statistical standpoint, a lead is a lead and it's always better to be ahead than behind.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Thanks to Nancy Carter and Neil Schwertman, Professors of Mathematics and Statistics at California State University, Chico, for providing me with the formulas used to generate the table and the spreadsheet.

Kevin Drum 6:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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By: Kevin Drum

WHEN DID LIBERAL ECONOMISTS BECOME SUCH WIMPS?....Another good essay from Jamie Galbraith today over at TPMCafe. Definitely worth reading. After I finish up The Dark Side, I think I might have to read The Predator State next, if only to enjoy a bit more of his bracingly vigorous prose.

Kevin Drum 5:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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By: David Moore

David Moore, author of The Opinion Makers: An Insider Reveals the Truth Behind the Polls, is a former Vice President of the Gallup Organization and Managing Editor of the Gallup Poll. He'll be guest blogging here all week.


THE PUBLIC AND "GITMO"....In yesterday's post, The Myth of War Support, I suggested one way to differentiate superficial opinion from opinion that is more deeply held: using a follow-up question to see whether respondents would be "upset" if their opinions were ignored by political leaders. I characterized people who would not be upset as "not caring," which several people criticized.

It's important not to be distracted by this word. The key point is that there is a distinction between "permissive" and "directive" public opinion. When people say they would not be upset if the government did the opposite of what they just said they preferred, I interpret that to mean they "permit" their leaders to do what the leaders deem most appropriate (not that the people don't "care" about the issue, per se).

People who say they would be upset if their opinions are contradicted by the government have what I call a "directive" opinion — they have a view about the situation which they want to see prevail. If the government does the opposite of what these people want, I assume that they would be upset enough to try to change the objectionable policy, even if only by eventually voting against political leaders who supported it.

Once this concept of directive vs. permissive public opinion is understood, it provides considerable insight into understanding poll results. Most polls simply don't make the effort to discover how many people hold permissive opinions. Instead, the polls pressure people to make a choice, however flimsy it might be, and pollsters then report all results as though they were equally important. Often such "public opinion" appears to give majority support to controversial policies, when in fact such is not the case.

A good example is found in the public's reaction to closing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, where the United States is holding many terrorist suspects. Numerous political leaders have called for closing the base, including John McCain, Barack Obama, and five former secretaries of state, who served under Presidents Nixon, Ford, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton. But what does the public think?

In July 2007, Gallup asked an objective (but "forced-choice") question: "Do you think the United States should — or should not — close the prison at the Guantanamo Bay military base in Cuba?" By a 20-point margin, 53 percent to 33 percent, Americans said the prison should not be closed. Just 13 percent were unsure.

The follow-up question found 39 percent of respondents, who had just expressed an opinion, immediately acknowledging they would not be upset if the opposite happened of what they had just said — including 25 percent objecting to closing the prison, but not upset if it were closed; and 14 percent favoring closing the prison, but not upset if it were to remain open. If the 39 percent is added to the 13 percent who initially indicated they had no opinion at all, that shows a majority of Americans, 52 percent, with a "permissive" opinion.

These results demonstrate how misleading the standard approach to measuring public opinion can be. Instead of a strong public consensus in favor of the prison, a majority of Americans hold a "permissive" opinion — willing to let the government do what it feels is best. And the margin of opposition is a more modest 9 points, rather than the 20-point margin found by the standard question.

Also missing from this analysis is how much anybody knew about the prison and the controversy surrounding it. For people not paying attention, all they might know is that Gitmo was a "prison," information provided in the question itself. And they might be hard pressed to figure out why anyone would want to close a prison. Usually pollsters refuse to find out how much people know, because widespread ignorance of the issue could undermine the rationale for the poll itself.

The implication of the directive vs. permissive dichotomy is that political leadership is a crucial element in American democracy — a fact that seems to get lost in the flurry of superficial polls.

David Moore 2:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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By: Kevin Drum

SECURITIZATION....The New York Times reports that the market for private securitization of mortgages and other debt has "become sclerotic and almost totally dependent on government support." The raw numbers are pretty startling: $1 trillion in the first half of 2007, dropping to $400 billion in the second half, and then cratering to about $100 billion in the first half of 2008:

Bond investors first stopped buying private home mortgage deals, then shunned commercial mortgages. Now, they are becoming wary of credit card debts and auto loans.....Some analysts say investors are acting like the "bond vigilantes" of the 1980s and early 1990s. Those traders drove a surge in interest rates because they feared inflation and a mounting federal budget deficit.

"The bond vigilantes took law and order in their own hands and pushed yields up, which would slow down the economy and bring down inflation," said Edward E. Yardeni, an investment strategist who is credited with coining the term. "This time the bond credit vigilantes are refusing to go into the saloon and start drinking what Wall Street's financial engineers are mixing."

Wall Street's rocket scientists screwed up badly when they started concocting ever more complicated SIVs and CDOs that became ever more abstracted from reality, but this is a remarkable price to pay. The basic idea behind securitization is perfectly sound provided that the securitizers are playing by known rules, and as the Times notes, securitization is fundamental to the smooth working of modern debt markets. If it takes some additional government regulation to restore confidence in those known rules, then bring it on.

Kevin Drum 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE BEST OF TIMES....John McCain may think it's 1938, but in reality it's 1928:

Average pre-tax incomes in 2006 jumped by about $60,000 (5.8 percent) for the top 1 percent of households, but just $430 (1.4 percent) for the bottom 90 percent, after adjusting for inflation, according to a new update in the groundbreaking series on income inequality by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. Their analysis of newly released IRS data shows that in 2006, the shares of the nation's income flowing to the top 1 percent and top 0.1 percent of households were higher than in any year since 1928.

It is indeed a grand and glorious time to be rich in the United States. And why shouldn't it be? They've certainly done a fine job of shepherding the economy for the other 90% of us, haven't they?

Kevin Drum 1:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (88)

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By: Kevin Drum

POWER POLITICS....In a short op-ed in the LA Times today, Thomas Meaney and Harris Mylonas get at the heart of the problem with great powers and ethnic self-determination:

Beyond Kosovo and South Ossetia, why do we encourage the independence of the southern Sudanese but condemn the uprisings of the Kurds in eastern Turkey? Why do we speak up for the Tibetans in China but tune out the Basques in Spain?

Like every great power, the U.S. favors self-determination movements that destabilize its competitors — Russia, China, Iran — and opposes (or ignores) ones that might upset our allies. That's the code of realism in foreign policy. But it's also a Pandora's box. If America opts not to respect the principle of national sovereignty, it discourages other world powers from doing so and undermines state sovereignty the world over.

In order to prolong its global influence and enhance the legitimacy of international institutions, the United States should send a clear message that partition is rarely an answer. We must encourage world leaders to make their ethnic minorities equal partners in government, rather than backing rebels who would carve out states within states like a succession of Russian dolls.

To this, let me add a resounding....maybe. In general, I think Meaney and Mylonas's Russian doll analogy is exactly right. All map boundaries are, to some extent, arbitrary, and all countries, no matter how delicately carved up, are going to contain ethnic minorities. The United States should be on the side not of endless carveups — which are, in essence, an admission that people of different ethnicities shouldn't really be expected to live together — but on the side of insisting that national governments can and should treat ethnic minorities with respect and fair-mindedness.

Unfortunately, this makes for a better inscription on a heroic statue than it does a workable foreign policy. The question, as always, is: what are the exceptions? And that's harder. I supported the independence of Kosovo, for example, and I'd argue that circumstances there fully justified it. No liberation movement is ever pristine, the KLA among them, but Milosevic's treatment of Kosovo's Albanian population was simply bloodcurdling. There's just no comparison with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which may have chafed under Georgian rule but suffered nothing in the way of Kosovoan levels of violence and ethnic cleansing. Russia's persistent provocations in the Caucasus may have been partly inspired by anger at Western support for Kosovo's independence, but it's implausible to argue that the cases are really parallel.

None of which is to say that Mikheil Saakashvili was smart to let the Russians to goad him into giving them an excuse to invade. He wasn't. But that still doesn't mean that we have to blindly follow identical policies in every region. Maybe independence for Kosovo could have been handled more smoothly, but it was nonetheless pretty strongly justified by events on the ground. Russia's tit-for-tat demands for South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence aren't.

Kevin Drum 1:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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By: Kevin Drum

ALWAYS 1938....Andrew Sullivan wonders what John McCain is thinking:

What interests me about McCain's position is not so much the content as the tone. Check out the video above. McCain clearly believes that a nasty spat in the Caucasus is somehow the defining struggle of the next generation. He speaks in ominous tones about Russia, a state he obviously regards as some dark menace on the verge of dominating the planet. He speaks of faraway countries about which we know nothing in the manner of some Wilderness Years Churchill worrying about Hitler.

There is, of course, one sense in which this is just business as usual. Nationalism sells in political campaigns, and it always has. Candidates are forever insisting that we need to "get tough" with someone or another, fully aware that they can afford to say stuff like this because they aren't in office and don't have to back it up. Just as routinely, though, their actual foreign policy tends to become more realistic if they win. (Remember how disappointed the hawks were with Bush when he declined to go to war with China over that downed EP-3 a couple of months after taking office?)

But McCain is different. Sure, a bit of this is campaign season posturing, but only a bit: he's dead serious about most of it. McCain's instincts have always been almost entirely martial and combative, and his focus is nearly always on playing global games of chicken — deliberately looking for ways of increasing tensions instead of easing them. After all, he's been shooting from the hip about the glories of a punitive Russia policy for years (a fact of which he keeps reminding us), and while French president Nicolas Sarkozy was busy trying to ratchet things down in Georgia, McCain was busy trying to ratchet things up — and pretty clearly reveling in it. That's a dangerous temperament for a president to have.

Kevin Drum 11:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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By: Kevin Drum

I BLAME BUSH....Yes, you read right: our latest national tragedy is a desperate shortage of Nordic semen. A forelorn nation cries out: At long last, when will it all end? When?

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By: Kevin Drum

OBAMA vs. McCAIN....I've been remiss in checking out the RCP poll averages, so here's today's chart. Basically, it shows Obama ahead of McCain by 5 points, the same as usual, but that seemed kind of boring to me. So, since they say a picture is worth a thousand words, I thought I'd embellish the picture a bit. Enjoy!


Kevin Drum 1:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE CEASEFIRE....Peter Finn of the Washington Post seems to think that the ceasefire agreement announced earlier today in Georgia was something of a setback for the Russians:

[Russian President Dmitry] Medvedev appeared to be taking a significant step toward accommodating Western demands that Russia not translate its military superiority on the ground into annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another Georgian breakaway region, or the overthrow of the government of Georgia, which is a close U.S. ally. The injection of an international element into resolving the conflict, which carries the possibility of international peacekeepers in the two disputed regions, is a significant departure from previous Russian policy.

....In Georgia's capital, which Monday night was rife with fears that Russian tanks would advance into the city, citizens celebrated what they took to be a major Russian step-down. Tens of thousands of people came together in the mood of a victory rally to hear President Mikheil Saakashvili, who spoke proudly of a David-against-Goliath confrontation.

However, this isn't the consensus view. Borzou Daragahi of the LA Times suggests that Russia got everything it wanted:

One Western expert on the Caucasus said the proposal, backed by France and the European Union, "is just not in the Georgian interest at all."....Medvedev proposed a six-part peace deal that called for Georgia to return its troops to their positions before the outbreak of hostilities over control of the breakaway pro-Russian enclave of South Ossetia, sign a "legally binding document" vowing not to use force and to agree to talks about the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a second secessionist region, in northwestern Georgia. Those moves essentially would mean that Georgia would give up claims to the two Russian-backed separatist regions within Georgia's internationally recognized border, analysts said.

....One Georgian analyst called the conditions humiliating because, among other things, they did not mention maintaining the territorial integrity of the country.

The Guardian agrees, putting it this way: "The Kremlin last night dictated humiliating peace terms to Georgia as the price for halting the Russian invasion of the small Black Sea country and its four-day rout of Georgian forces."

Hard to say who's right here, especially since the BBC reports that the harshest clause of Russia's ceasefire terms, the one that committed Georgia to talks about the status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, was withdrawn before the announcement was made. Still, my guess stays about the same as before: Russia never had any intention of occupying Georgia itself, and the status of the two breakaway provinces, regardless of what the ceasefire terms do or don't say, is that they're now effectively under Russian control.

In other words, Russia basically got what it wanted: control of the two disputed provinces, a military humiliation for Georgia, and a successfully executed shot across the bow that proves they can still play in the big leagues. It wasn't cost free — Europe has been pretty consistent in its condemnation of the invasion, and all the former Soviet satellites are now even more united in their loathing of Russia than before — but it was close. From Russia's point of view, it was a nice, surgical operation that pretty much accomplished everything it was supposed to.

Kevin Drum 12:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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August 12, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

THE BURBS....Matt points us today to a discussion on the Freakonomics blog about the future of suburbia in the face of increasing gasoline prices. The consensus view is fairly grim, but it reminds me of a few random points about urban land use that have been on my mind for a while. There's no big overarching point here, and nothing especially original, just a few thoughts that don't seem to get much attention in blogospheric discussions of the burbs.

First: Will rising gas prices inevitably push people into the cities as they become desperate to cut down their commutes? Maybe, but it's worth keeping in mind that commutes go in both directions these days. There are plenty of jobs in the exurbs (Joel Garreau's "edge cities"), and although individual circumstances vary widely, this means that an awful lot of commutes today are entirely voluntary. As gas prices go up, workers will start taking jobs closer to home (wherever that may be) or will move to be closer to work (wherever that may be), and commuting will be reduced substantially without any change in infrastructure or land use planning at all.

Second: A focus on increased density is going to mean a funny political switcheroo for a lot of liberals. We're mostly accustomed to fighting evil corporations on behalf of the little guy, but it turns out that most suburban (and many urban) zoning regulations have been put in place by exactly the little guys we're used to teaming up with. Developers, on the other hand, would happily build out every last acre to the maximum possible density and maximum possible profit if only they were allowed to. So if we're in favor of higher density, we're frequently going to find ourselves siding with big developers and very much against local public opinion — and believe me, you haven't really taken on the task of changing public opinion until you've sat through a planning commission meeting trying to out-talk an angry mob of homeowners who are dead set against a proposed zoning change that might affect their property values by 1%. Strange bedfellows indeed, but those are the bedfellows we're going to have to get used to.

Third: What will higher gas prices really do to the burbs? Well, let's suppose that over the next couple of decades the price of oil (adjusted for inflation) goes up to $400 a barrel. No — screw that. Let's say $800, with gas at 25 bucks a gallon. Are suburbs doomed?

Well, aside from prompting development of lots of alternative energy sources, sky-high prices like that will cause us to use less gasoline. At a very conservative estimate, prices like that are likely to reduce driving by 40% (about to the level of suburb-friendly Australia right now) and increase average fuel efficiency by 40% (about to the level of Europe right now). Taken together, this means we'd use about two-thirds less gasoline per person than we do now.

Today, the average American spends about $2,000 per year on gasoline. So, if the price of gas goes up to $25, but consumption of gasoline goes down by two-thirds, that means the average person will be spending about $4,000 per year on gasoline. That's a difference of $2,000 — not pocket change by any means, but certainly something that most suburbs can live through. They may be suburbs with more light rail and better bus service — as well as more apartment blocks and taller office buildings — but they'll still fundamentally be suburbs.

Anyway, that's it. Like I said, just some random thoughts. And pretty much in tune with sensible stuff like this. As Robert Bruegmann has pointed out, suburbs aren't just some unnatural American invention of the high-flying 50s: they've been around for a very long time, in pretty much every region of the world. Cities and suburbs will both see changes over the next few decades, but my guess is that those changes will be less dramatic than a lot of people think.

Kevin Drum 7:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (70)

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By: Kevin Drum

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Attorney General Michael Mukasey, defending his decision not to pursue criminal charges against former employees who politicized the hiring of career lawyers in the Justice Department:

"Not every wrong, or even every violation of the law, is a crime."

I imagine a lot of people are relieved to hear this.

UPDATE: This quote is really too good to take down, but several commenters have suggested that even the deliberate and repeated violation of civil service hiring rules is not, in fact, a crime. It's a tort. So Monica Goodling & Co. might be open to civil suits, but not to criminal prosecution.

Maybe so. I guess we need some expert opinion on this. Still, it's kind of funny to take the Fifth Amendment if you don't think you've committed any crimes, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 6:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (83)

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By: Kevin Drum

THOSE LOVABLE NEOCONS....Reihan Salam thinks that neocons have gotten a bad rap:

What people misunderstand about neoconservatives is that they're not reflexive unilateralists, like Rumsfeld or Bolton; rather, they believe the United States has the power to provide global public goods. The idea of a "League of Democracies," unwise though it may be, is about constraining the unilateral exercise of force, and building consensus among liberal market democracies....I tend to think [neoconservatives] want American power constrained by the need to maintain and ideally extend the "security oxygen" the affluent world has enjoyed for so long.

It's this kind of thing that makes me despair of ever understanding my interlocuters on the right. Reihan is not some kind of Bill Kristol-ish nutbag, but even so it's as if we live on different planets. Does he really think that the neocon community envisions their mooted League of Democracies as a check on American power? Hell, the Iraq war was opposed by at least half the states that would make up even the most narrowly construed League of Democracies, and that opposition didn't even make the neocons blink. They just tarred the opposition as a bunch of weak-kneed appeasers and carried on as if they didn't exist.

In theory, yes, neocons possess an idealistic streak of democracy promotion that motivates their policy preferences. In practice, however, unfettered projection of U.S. military power — not NATO power, not UN power, not "League of Democracies" power — has always fundamentally informed their view of how to carry out these policies. Pax Americana is an elemental part of the neocon temperament, not just an unfortunate side effect of an otherwise benevolent movement, and constraints on American power have been anathema to them since before there was even a word to describe neoconservatism.

At least, that's sure how it looks to me from my own little perch here in the Alpha Quadrant, watching what neocons actually do, not just what they say. More importantly, I imagine it's also how things look to the rest of the world — democracies and tyrannies alike. Words may matter, but actions matter even more.

Kevin Drum 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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By: Kevin Drum

REPUBLICANS FOR OBAMA....The New York Times reports on a new group of high-profile "Republicans for Obama":

Rita Hauser, a New York philanthropist who raised money for both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, is helping to organize the push to draw Republicans away from Mr. McCain and will serve as a spokeswoman for the group, alongside former U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee, of Rhode Island, who was one of the most moderate Republicans in the Senate and became an independent after he lost his seat in 2006.

....About 20 current and former Republicans make up the group's leadership committee, including Douglas Kmiec, a Republican who served in the Justice Department under President Ronald Reagan and was a supporter of Mitt Romney during the Republican primary, and Dorothy Danforth Burlin, a Washington lawyer who is the daughter of former U.S. Senator John Danforth, another moderate Republican.

Meanwhile, Peter Wallsten of the LA Times, reporting from the exurbs of Florida, tells us about a somewhat lower-profile bunch of Republican apostates:

Listen to Anna Rodriguez and her neighbors who gather nightly on lawn chairs to unwind, and a change comes into focus that could shift the national political landscape in 2008 and beyond.

...."This is the first election I ever actually looked at someone else other than the Republican candidate," said Rodriguez, 33, who is studying to be a teacher and is a fixture at the lawn chair hobnob here on Greely Court, a quiet cul-de-sac in a Pasco County subdivision called Wrencrest.

"I've had enough with the Republican economics," she added, as her husband, Danny, who had just driven from his banking job in Tampa, piped in: "No more Bush."

This sure feels an awful lot like 1980 in reverse, doesn't it? How long will it be before the new conservative motto becomes "I didn't leave the Republican Party, the party left me"? The big question left is whether Obama can use this discontent to not only get elected, but to create as many converts to liberal principles as Reagan did to conservative ones.

Kevin Drum 1:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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By: David Moore

David Moore, author of The Opinion Makers: An Insider Reveals the Truth Behind the Polls, is a former Vice President of the Gallup Organization and Managing Editor of the Gallup Poll. He'll be guest blogging here all week.


THE MYTH OF WAR SUPPORT....Numerous excellent comments followed my post yesterday, in which I argued that polls don't give us an accurate picture of public opinion — and that current poll results about oil drilling were just the most recent examples of this inaccuracy. Among many comments worth discussing in more detail is the one that suggested the problem appeared not to be with the polls themselves, but with the reporting of poll results.

I agree that news reports are often to blame for the misrepresentation of public opinion, but I can't let us pollsters off the hook. Media pollsters themselves rarely attempt to measure other than superficial responses, in part because pollsters are integrated into the news process itself. Either the polls are owned and run by the news organizations, or the hired pollsters work hand in glove with the news editors and reporters to produce results deemed useful for news stories.

A prime example of the problem occurred in 2003, just before the United States launched the invasion of Iraq. All the major media polls at the time found widespread support for the war, typically by margins of two-to-one or greater. The questions included on those polls asked some version of "Do you favor or oppose sending American ground troops to the Persian Gulf in an attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq?"

In a February 2003 poll, Gallup asked a standard version of the question that all the other pollsters asked, and like the other polls, found a substantial majority in favor of the war — 59 percent to 38 percent, a 21-point margin. Only 3 percent said they did not have an opinion. However, as part of a special experiment which I helped design (as a senior editor of the Gallup Poll), the standard question was followed up with another, which essentially asked if people really cared that their opinions might prevail. And the results here revealed a very different public from the one that has come to dominate conventional wisdom.

To people who said they favored the war, we asked if they would be upset if the government did not send troops to Iraq. And to people who opposed the war, we asked if they would be upset if the government did send troops. Just over half of the supposed supporters and a fifth of the opponents said they would not be upset if their opinions were ignored.

The net result: Only 29 percent of Americans supported the war and said they would be upset if it didn't come about, while 30 percent were opposed to the war and said they would be upset if it did occur. Another 38 percent, who had just expressed an opinion either for or against the proposed invasion, said they would not be upset if the government did the opposite of what they had just opined. Add to this number the 3 percent who initially expressed no opinion, and that makes 41 percent who didn't care one way or the other.

What this experiment revealed was that instead of a war-hungry public, Americans were evenly divided over whether to go to war — three in ten in favor, three in ten opposed, with a plurality willing to do whatever the political leaders thought best.

These results from the experimental follow-up question reveal the absurdity of much public opinion polling. A democracy is supposed to represent, or at least take into account, the "will" of the people, not the uncaring, unreflective, top-of-mind responses many people give to pollsters.

If people don't care that the views they tell pollsters are ignored by their political leaders, then it hardly makes sense that pollsters should treat such top-of-mind responses as a Holy Grail. Yet, typically pollsters and the media do treat those superficial results as though they represent what Americans are really thinking, with pollsters making no distinction between those who express deeply held views and those who have hardly, if at all, thought about an issue.

David Moore 1:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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By: Kevin Drum

ENDANGERED....The latest parting shot from the soon-to-be-departed Bushies:

The Bush administration Monday proposed a regulatory overhaul of the Endangered Species Act to allow federal agencies to decide whether protected species would be imperiled by agency projects, eliminating the independent scientific reviews that have been required for more than three decades.

....Afterward, in a telephone call with reporters, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne described the rules as a "narrow regulatory change" that "will provide clarity and certainty to the consultation process under the Endangered Species Act."

I swear, sometimes all you can do is sit back and admire the chutzpah. This executive order would basically allow, say, the Army Corps of Engineers, to decide for itself if their projects were endangering any species — a process that would likely take them no more than about five minutes per species — and Kempthorne describes it as a "narrow" regulatory change. In other news, Vladimir Putin described his recent military adventures in South Ossetia as a "narrow" redeployment of Russian Army border troops.

Needless to say, independent review is the only thing that gives the Endangered Species Act any actual value. Without it, it might as well not exist, and Kempthorne knows this perfectly well. Republicans have wanted to gut the Act forever, and since they've never gotten Congress to go along, this is their latest attempt.

The only good news here is that this is an executive order, and my guess is that it would have only the slimmest chance of surviving a court challenge. In the meantime, though, it's the prefect way for George Bush to tell his corporate buddies, in the only language they truly understand, that he really does love them. Any guesses on whether John McCain will blow them a wet kiss too?

UPDATE: Interesting note from Halle in comments: "It's not an executive order — it's a rulemaking, meaning the new rules will be codified in the code of federal regulations. I'm sure enviro groups will challenge the new rules as arbitrary and capricious, and contrary to law, which will box up the new rules long enough for a new administration to take over, but still, harder to undo than an executive order."

Kevin Drum 12:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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By: Kevin Drum

GEORGIA WAR WINDING DOWN?....The Russo-Georgian war appears to be pretty much over:

Russia's president today said his country was ready to begin peace talks with Georgia to end a five-day conflict over pro-Russian separatist-minded enclaves along the two nations' Caucasus region border.

....[Dmitri] Medvedev, speaking after a closed-door meeting in Moscow with French President Nicholas Sarkozy, said peace talks could commence provided Georgia return its troops to their original positions before the outbreak of hostilities five days ago over control of the breakaway pro-Russian enclave of South Ossetia and sign a "legally binding document" vowing not to use force.

....Securing a lasting peace may prove difficult. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters today that Moscow rejects the U.S.-educated Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili as a partner in peace discussions.

This is an unsurprising end to the conflict. Russia doesn't want to annex Georgia, which would be a festering sore forever, and certainly their conventional forces don't have the wherewithal to "reassemble the Russian empire," as some of the more breathless commentators on the right have suggested. Rather, this was a demonstration war. In the same way that Thomas Friedman suggested that the real reason for the Iraq war was to send a message ("Suck. On. This."), that was pretty much the reason for this war too. Russia may not want to occupy Georgia or Ukraine or any of the rest of its Near Abroad, but Georgia is going to pay a heavy price for messing with Vladimir Putin — thousands dead, two provinces gone, their military smashed, all capped off by a humiliating peace agreement — and that's mission accomplished as far as he's concerned.

Kevin Drum 11:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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By: Kevin Drum

"WE THOUGHT WE HAD AN UNDERSTANDING WITH THE RUSSIANS"....Jonathan Landay has a pretty fascinating piece about the war in Georgia posted tonight at the McClatchy site. I'll take note of two particular fascinations. First, Landay's sources insist that even though the Bush administration had "fretted for months" over Russian provocations in Georgia, they did nothing to encourage Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to believe the United States would back him if he started a war:

The Russian actions against Georgia "seemed designed to provoke a Georgian over-reaction," said a senior U.S. official. "We have always counseled restraint to the Georgians."

....A "parade" of U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, visited Tbilisi to urge Saakashvili to avoid giving the Kremlin [an excuse] to act, a State Department officials said.

Second, it turns out we had a sort of tacit agreement with the Russians about how the fighting would go:

U.S. officials said that they believed they had an understanding with Russia that any response to Georgian military action would be limited to South Ossetia.

"We knew they were going to go crack heads. We told them again and again not to do this," the State Department official said. "We thought we had an understanding with the Russians that any response would be South Ossetia-focused. Clearly it's not."

"We knew they were going to go crack heads"? And we had an "understanding" that they wouldn't go any further than South Ossetia? That sure doesn't make it sound as if we warned the Russians off in very strong terms.

To summarize: (1) We strongly counseled our good friend Saakashvili not to do anything stupid, and he did it anyway. Which we sort of expected. This is a potential NATO ally? (2) We as much as invited the Russians into Georgia by telling them we wouldn't mind them slapping down Saakashvili too much as long as they confined themselves to South Ossetia.

The notion that we did nothing to encourage Saakashvili in his attack on South Ossetia might just be ass covering from Landay's sources. Who knows? But the "understanding" with Russia certainly isn't, since I can't interpret this in any way that reflects well on the Bush administration. However, it certainly explains why Bush himself didn't really seem very perturbed by the whole affair until the Russians drove their tanks into Georgia proper. If they'd contented themselves with merely swallowing up South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it sounds as though he would have been happy enough to let them.

Kevin Drum 1:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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By: Kevin Drum

NEXT UP: NEW, LOW-FRICTION WATER....Hey, I heard there was a swimming event at the Olympics today where a world record wasn't set. Seems unlikely to me, though. Can anyone confirm?

Kevin Drum 12:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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August 11, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

THE PREDATOR STATE....Jamie Galbraith writes today about the difference between Reagan conservatism and Bush conservatism:

As I got to know the free-market, supply-side crowd, the hard money, low-tax, Wall Street Journal deregulate-and-privatize team, I came rather to like them. I never thought they were right. Far from it: on matters of economic policy they were in my view mostly nuts. But I did think — and do think — that they held their views in good faith. They were, by and large, willing to argue the merits of their ideas.

....The judicial coup of December 2000 that installed Bush and Cheney brought back some of Reagan's men and his most extreme policies — tax cuts for the wealthy, big increases in military spending, aggressive deregulation. But it didn't bring back the ideas. Instead, it became clear that Bush and Cheney had no real ideas, no larger public justification. They cut taxes to enrich their supporters. For the same reason, they outsourced to Blackwater and Halliburton and pursued military pipe dreams like Missile Defense. They were willing to have the government spend like a drunken sailor in 2003/4 to boost the economy before the election. They placed lobbyists in charge of the regulators, representing, in every case, the most extreme anti-regulation perspective. (Not so long ago, Bush's financial regulators showed up at a press conference with a chainsaw.) Under Bush and Cheney, oil and gas, drug companies and defense contractors, insurers and usurers control the government of the United States, and it does what they want. This is the predator state.

Now that's high quality polemic. I haven't read The Predator State, which this is based on, but it sounds bracing.

Kevin Drum 7:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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By: Kevin Drum

TALES FROM THE CRYPT....I have to admit that in the annals of bureaucratic pigheadedness, this isn't a bad story. It kinda makes me wonder if the Kingdom of Denmark ever expunged that parking ticket I got there a few years ago. I guess I'll find out if I ever go back and they toss me in jail instead of letting me through passport control.

Kevin Drum 2:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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By: Kevin Drum

SPHERES OF INFLUENCE....Earlier this morning, Matt Yglesias suggested that if there are conservatives who think we ought to go to war over Georgia, they ought to say so forthrightly. Henry Farrell counters by suggesting that if there are liberals who believe in realist "sphere of influence" geopolitics, they ought to say so forthrightly:

Russia sees the spread of democratization as a threat to its control of the 'Near Abroad.' It has been pushing quite deliberately for a redefinition of the norms of territorial integrity and intervention that would legitimate its continued presence in Georgia and elsewhere, and allow it to reconsolidate control over what it perceives as its rightful sphere of influence. What it would like to see is tacit or active recognition by other great powers of its right to intervene in countries such as Georgia, the Ukraine, Moldova etc.

....Russia had been maneuvering for a very long time before Kosovo to get the democratizers out of the Near Abroad, and to be recognized as the rightful settler of disputes/intervenor when it wants to intervene, in the various states around it. The recognition of Kosovo provides a useful rationale for Russian actions, but Russia has been playing an offensive rather than a defensive game for quite a while.

....Now it may well be that Steve [Clemons] and those who take similar positions [] do believe that it is better to formally recognize spheres of influence — there is certainly a realist case to be made for this. But if so, they should say so, and recognize that this isn't a situation where Russia has been wronged; rather it is one where the US, Europe and Russia need to come to a tacit accommodation that reflects the balance of power or whatever. This is disagreeable if stated plainly in the terms of US political discourse — but it surely is where their position is leading them.

The whole post is long but worth reading. Click here.

Kevin Drum 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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By: Kevin Drum

ATTACK ADS....Atrios isn't sure whether or not he likes Barack Obama's newest ad, but I sure am. I think it's dumb, dumb, dumb. As usual with these things, I don't know if this is a "real" ad



(i.e., one that the campaign is going to spend millions of dollars airing on actual TV) or just one that will get a tiny amount of airtime and is mainly designed to get press attention, but either way I think it's dumb.

The main reason the ad is dumb is because it's so painfully juvenile: you called us a celebrity, so we're going to call you a celebrity! Nyah nyah nyah. More generally, though, this kind of attack (McCain is a celebrity too! McCain is the real elitist! McCain wears $500 shoes!) fails because everyone knows that liberals aren't serious about it. We're just being cute.

Attack ads only work when (a) they have a grain of truth to get them started and (b) they're seen as attacks that genuinely represent what the attackers think — even if what they think is stupid, unfair, and revolting. McCain's attacks have been all of these things, but at the same time it's entirely plausible that conservatives really do think Obama is an empty suit, really do think he's a garden variety lefty tax raiser, and really do think he's a dangerous Chamberlain-esque appeaser. Conversely, nobody believes that liberals really care about McCain's shoes or his appearances on Saturday Night Live.

What makes this especially frustrating is that if the Obama campaign wants to go on the attack, there are plenty of sincere ways to do it. McCain really did abandon his famous moderation masquerade once he decided that support from the conservative base was the only way to win the Republican nomination. McCain really has run up a staggering number of politically motivated flip-flops. McCain really has covered himself in mud by accusing Obama of not caring about American security. McCain really is Bush on steroids when it comes to American military involvement abroad. And McCain really is 71 years old and stumbles a lot. If you want to take a cheap shot at him a la the Britney/Paris ad, then put together an ad that demonstrates his increasing "confusion" about foreign affairs. And don't tell me you can't do it subtly enough that it can't be defended in exactly the same way that McCain's partisans defended the Britney ad.

Or, don't do any of this stuff. Run a positive, issues-based campaign instead. But if you are going to attack, for God's sake do it right. Nobody's going to buy the celebrity/elitist/Ferragamo shoes nonsense that the liberal blogosphere has been pushing except as evidence that we're in our dotage too. It's time to pick up our game a notch.

Kevin Drum 1:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (62)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE SURGE....Col. Peter Mansoor, David Petraeus's former executive officer in Iraq, had a smart op-ed defending the surge in yesterday's Washington Post:

The surge did not create the first of the tribal "awakenings," but it was the catalyst for their expansion and eventual success. The tribal revolt took off after the arrival of reinforcements and as U.S. and Iraqi units fought to make the Iraqi people secure.

Over time, in areas where there were insufficient forces to provide security, U.S. commanders extended contracts to Sunni (and some Shiite) tribes that volunteered to stand up against al-Qaeda in Iraq.

....Improved security led to greater Iraqi confidence and lessened the need for, and acceptance of, Shiite militias that for too long held sway in many neighborhoods. When the Mahdi Army instigated a gun battle in Karbala last August that forced the cancellation of a major Shiite religious observance, the resulting public pressure compelled Moqtada al-Sadr to declare a unilateral cease-fire. Without the improved security conditions created by the surge, this cease-fire would not have been declared; nor could it have been observed, because the militia would still have been needed to protect Shiite communities from terrorist attacks.

Pro-war conservatives, when they write about the surge, too often try to defend obvious absurdities about how the surge was responsible for things like the Sunni Awakenings or the Mahdi Army ceasefire, even though both events started well before the surge. This is odd, because they've always had a much better argument to make, one that Mansoor comes close to making here.

Roughly, it goes like this: at the end of 2006, (a) the violence stemming from the bombing of the Golden Mosque had started to burn itself out, (b) the Awakening movement had begun turning Sunni tribes against al-Qaeda in Iraq, (c) ongoing sectarian cleansing, as horrible as it was, had created an opportunity for greater stability in Baghdad, and (d) Muqtada al-Sadr's ceasefire, if we could persuade him to continue it, removed a huge source of sectarian violence. In other words, the security situation in Iraq was on the cusp of something potentially dramatic, and it was possible that a small nudge might make an outsized difference. The surge was that nudge.

I'm not sure why surge supporters seem averse to making this argument directly. Perhaps because it doesn't give enough credit to the U.S. troop presence, which in this scenario had only a modest role in setting the initial conditions for success. Or maybe there's some other reason. But it sure seems like both the most plausible and the most persuasive argument in favor of the surge — one that I'm not at all sure I'd reject out of hand. This certainly wasn't the way I viewed events back in early 2007 (and I have my doubts that George Bush viewed it quite this way either), but in the end that's how things worked out. Sure, political progress has remained meager in the past 18 months, and past performance doesn't guaranteee future results etc. etc., but it's unquestionable that the security situation in Iraq today is light years better than it was a couple of years ago.

Now, it's true that conservatives can't claim utter prescience about all this since most of them weren't really making quite this argument at the time, but so what? Why not make it now anyway? It's a helluva lot more convincing than the fable that John McCain and the rest of them usually spin — and it has the valuable bonus of possibly being true. They should follow Mansoor's lead and make it more often.

Kevin Drum 12:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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By: Kevin Drum

STRATEGIC AMBIGUITY....Do events in the Caucasus demonstrate that we ought to expand NATO to include Georgia (and Ukraine)? The argument against is simple: NATO is reserved not just for friends, but for countries we're willing to go to war for. If Georgia were in NATO today, we'd be forced to commit troops to a direct conflict with Russia, and nobody wants that.

The argument in favor is equally simple: if Georgia had been part of NATO, Russia never would have invaded. The commitment itself would have prevented war in the first place.

Unfortunately, there's a wild card here: the Russians have obviously been itching for war with Georgia for a while, but in the end, it was Georgia that sent troops into South Ossetia first. Did they do this because they felt they had a tacit commitment for help from the United States? Would NATO membership have made Mikheil Saakashvili even more impetuous than he already is?

Hard to say. But one of the reasons we have no formal defense treaty with Taiwan, instead maintaining "strategic ambiguity," is that we believe it restrains Taiwan's options. If they were guaranteed American help, they might declare formal independence from China and touch off a war that no one wants. In this case, longstanding U.S. policy holds that the lack of a treaty helps keep the peace.

Obviously that didn't do the job in Georgia, but by all accounts Saakashvili felt that recent events suggested he could count on Western help if he took on Russia. If he hadn't been led to believe that, maybe he would have held off on baiting a neighbor he knew could crush him easily if it wanted to. Perhaps a bit more strategic ambiguity might have been in everyone's best interests here.

Kevin Drum 12:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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By: Kevin Drum

GEORGIA AND THE RIGHT....Matt Yglesias, blogging from his ultra-leftist new digs at the Center for American Progress, takes a shot at sensible moderate Bill Kristol over his column about the war in Georgia:

If Kristol really thinks we should go to war with Russia, he's being crazy and irresponsible. If he doesn't think that, then he has no business busting out these Munich analogies. Nowhere in his column does he propose a single concrete step with any meaningful chance of altering the situation — it's all dedicated to mocking doves, but utterly lacking in viable alternatives.

It's sort of a weird coincidence that Matt mentions this. Last night it occurred to me that the denizens of The Corner had said virtually nothing about the war, and a quick check confirmed this. Why? Basically, I figured they were in something of a bind: their instinctive reaction was probably pretty simple (Russia = bad), and as the war unfolded, that reaction became more and more justified. At the same time, they knew perfectly well that the only meaningful measure we could take to help Georgia was military assistance, and none of them were willing to go there. So they were left silent.

Still, it was a weekend, and maybe they'd have more to say about Georgia today. And they did. Surprisingly, though, what we get is Jonathan Foreman telling us directly that "We don't have to go to war for her" and James Robbins telling us that "There is not enough at stake to risk direct conflict with Russia." And over at The Corner, in practically the only comment so far today, Andrew Stuttaford actually offers some "wider context," which, under more normal circumstances, would be a code word for mocking leftist appeasement. Today, though, he's serious.

To add to the confusion, both Foreman and Robbins appear to think that one way of showing solidarity with Georgia would be to fast-track their application to join NATO. So they don't think we should go to war on Georgia's behalf now, but they do think we should commit to going to war on her behalf sometime in the nebulous future. Very strange.

In a sense, I don't blame conservatives for their mixed reaction to events. As egregious as Russia's actions have been, there really is some "wider context" that makes it hard to fully sympathize with Georgia. But as Matt points out, that just makes the bellicose rhetoric even harder to take. If you favor war and think that liberals are a bunch of neo-Chamberlains for objecting, fine. Go ahead and make your case. But if you don't think we should go to war, the implications of treachery are a little hard to take.

Kevin Drum 11:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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By: David Moore

A few days ago I wrote a post about The Opinion Makers: An Insider Reveals the Truth Behind the Polls, a new book by David Moore, a former Vice President of the Gallup Organization and Managing Editor of the Gallup Poll. We talk about polls a lot in the blogosphere, so I thought it would be interesting to invite David to guest blog about his book this week. You can read more about the book here, and of course the book itself is available via Amazon and other online booksellers. David's first post is below, and he'll be around all week writing about poll issues and answering your questions.


DRILLING FOR OIL....One reason we can't trust most media polls is that they don't differentiate between "those who express deeply held views and those who have hardly, if at all, thought about an issue." That quotation comes from the book's announcement, and it caused Kevin to write:

This is disturbing. Either Moore managed to find a publisher for a book thesis about as obvious as "college students like to drink," or else Moore's thesis actually isn't as bog obvious as I think it is. I'm not sure which is worse. Or there's a third option: his thesis really is as obvious as I think it is, but everyone keeps pretending not to know it anyway.

Like Kevin, I believe that in their heart of hearts, most political observers know that polls measure superficial opinions. Still, when the poll results are presented, it's hard to dismiss what appear to be "scientific" measures of the public will.

Last week, for example, Paul Krugman cited with dismay a CNN poll showing 69 percent of Americans in favor of expanded offshore oil drilling. An article in The New Yorker cited similar poll results, as did pundits on several television news shows.

CNN was not alone. CBS, Fox, and the Los Angeles Times all showed similar or greater support for offshore oil drilling. It appears that this general consensus about public opinion has even persuaded Barack Obama to modify his opposition to offshore oil drilling.

But does the public really support more offshore oil drilling? Clearly the public wants the government to do something about the energy problem, and when presented with an isolated proposal — with no mention made of either possible environmental trade-offs or of the long time it might take for expanded oil drilling to actually produce more oil — the proposal sounds good. But that doesn't mean people are not willing to consider trade-offs or other approaches.

Most of the polls frame the issue as though it were a problem of "energy independence" or of dealing with the "rising cost of gasoline." But the energy problem is much more complicated.

A couple of polls addressed the energy issue a bit differently, and they found a more ambivalent public. Pew Research, for example, asked which of two approaches should receive higher priority: "expanding exploration, mining and drilling and the construction of new power plants, OR, more energy conservation and regulation on energy use and prices?" Instead of overwhelming support for more oil drilling, the public was evenly divided between that approach and conservation (47 percent to 45 percent respectively).

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll offered five different approaches to dealing with the energy problems. Almost half (46 percent) opted for energy conservation and more emphasis on wind and solar, while 40 percent chose offshore oil drilling and drilling in protected areas in Alaska, while 10 percent preferred nuclear power.

And the CNN poll actually measured intensity of opinion, by asking if people "strongly" or "mildly" favored, or "strongly" or "mildly" opposed increased offshore oil drilling. The results found 46 percent "strongly" in favor, with 18 percent "strongly" opposed. More than a third, 35 percent, held only "mild" opinions. (In all discussions of the CNN results, however, there was no mention of the "mild" and "strong" opinions. The two groups were combined according to favor and oppose, which is typical of the way poll results are treated.)

Despite conventional wisdom these days that the public overwhelmingly supports expanded offshore oil drilling, some careful poll results reveal a more complicated public opinion. If all the pollsters were willing to explore the uncertainty of public opinion, they would find a large segment of the public that genuinely doesn't know the best strategy for the energy problems this country faces. Instead, the polls give the erroneous impression that the vast majority of Americans have a clear opinion — with zero percent undecided, according to CNN, and no more than 10 percent according to other polls. And that opinion favors expanded offshore oil drilling.

Do you believe them? I don't.

David Moore 1:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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August 10, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

BOOKS....For reasons I can't really explain, a couple of days ago I picked up Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind and started reading it. Ugh. What a whiny, petulant little book it turned out to be. Did people really take it seriously when it was first published? Am I not giving it a proper chance by giving up after a hundred pages? Did it seem more relevant in 1987 than in 2008? Or what?

Anyway, time to put it down and read Jane Mayer's The Dark Side instead. I've been putting it off because I know it's going to be wildly depressing, but hey — I'm a professional, right? This is what you guys pay me for. So I guess I better buckle down and read it.

And as long as I'm on the subject of books, a few days ago I finished Brendan Koerner's Now The Hell Will Start, a pretty good book that suffers from a bad title (though, of course, YMMV on whether the title grabs you). Once you get past the title and a clunky first few pages, though, it's a helluva good read about how black soldiers were treated during WWII and what one of them did about it. Recommended.

Kevin Drum 9:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

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By: Kevin Drum

HEADLINE OF THE DAY....From McClatchy's Washington bureau:

11,000 couples later, gay marriage largely a nonevent in Mass.

Good.

Kevin Drum 5:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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By: Kevin Drum

I AM AMERICA AND SO AREN'T YOU....Here's the latest leak from Josh Green's upcoming tell-all on the Hillary Clinton campaign:

Mark Penn, the top campaign strategist for Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign, advised her to portray Barack Obama as having a "limited" connection "to basic American values and culture," according to a forthcoming article in The Atlantic.

....The Penn memo suggesting that the campaign target Obama's "lack of American roots" said in part: "All of these articles about his boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii are geared towards showing his background is diverse, multicultural and putting that in a new light.

"Save it for 2050. ... Every speech should contain the line you were born in the middle of America American to the middle class in the middle of the last century....Let's explicitly own 'American' in our programs, the speeches and the values. He doesn't. Make this a new American Century, the American Strategic Energy Fund. Let's use our logo to make some flags we can give out. Let's add flag symbols to the backgrounds."

What a sweetheart. My guess is that Penn's career as a A-list political consultant was probably over anyway, but hopefully this drives a final nail into his coffin. What a sleaze.

Kevin Drum 2:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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By: Kevin Drum

BLUFFING....When it's convenient to their own purposes, great powers can always be counted on to "assist" ethnic minorities in their desire to secede from their parent state. The Russians are currently doing this in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and regardless of whether you think Russia or Georgia was primarily responsible for starting the current conflict, one thing is clear:

Mr. Putin made clear that Russia now viewed Georgian claims over the breakaway regions to be invalid, and that Russia had no intention of withdrawing. "There is almost no way we can imagine a return to the status quo," he said in remarks on Russian state television.

Sure, Putin just barely left the door open to some kind of face-saving pseudo-compromise with that word "almost," but does anyone seriously think that Russia is ever going to withdraw its forces from either region? Georgia forced the issue on Thursday, possibly working under the delusion that they could win a lightning victory before Russia had time to respond, Russia called their bluff and won, and there's now essentially no chance of Russia ever leaving the two disputed territories.

Now, it's true that, having made his point — namely that the West should have negotiated more seriously on Kosovo, more seriously on missile defense systems in Russia's backyard, and more seriously on NATO enlargement into former Soviet regions — Putin might be persuaded to allow Abkhazia and South Ossetia to remain soi disant autonomous regions. By the same token, however, if Putin is made to feel that he hasn't yet made his point, he might decide to annex them outright. And despite George Bush's enthusiasm earlier this year for granting Georgia entry into NATO — an enthusiasm shared by both John McCain and Barack Obama, by the way — it's pretty plain that U.S. military assistance to Tbilisi is, in reality, not even a remote possibility. In effect, the Russians have called our bluff too.

And won. But that's the problem with bluffs, isn't it? Sometimes they're a little too obvious.

Kevin Drum 2:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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By: Kevin Drum

A NOTE FROM THE REAL WORLD....Hawaii is an elitist vacation spot? Seriously? Just for the record, folks, Hawaii is about the least elitist vacation spot on the planet. It ranks right in between Disneyland and the Grand Canyon on the elitism meter, and probably a couple of notches below a visit to Yosemite. If you're this hard up for column material, it's time to find a different job.

Kevin Drum 12:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (109)

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August 9, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

GEORGIA....James Traub has a good backgrounder on the source of the hostilities between Russia and Georgia in the New York Times today. Very much worth reading if you want to catch up on the past decade of history in the Caucasus.

Kevin Drum 12:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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August 8, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....We have indoor pictures in the morning light this week. On the left, Inkblot peers down at the world from underneath a piece of Marian's handiwork draped over the upstairs railing. On the right, Domino peers balefully out at me for interrupting her morning nap. Sometimes you just have to put the catblogging paparazzi in their place, don't you?

And now, this news from the recent Ducati Superbike Concorso in Lexington, Ohio:

The overall win and the trip for two to the Ducati factory went to Alan Wilzig, for his pristine 1974 750 Sport. Alan may have won the competition, but story of the weekend went to Ducatisti Kevin Drum and Amy Chraston; whose surprise wedding proposal (and immediate acceptance) in the middle of the Superbike Concorso display on Saturday brought cheers from the delighted crowd.

Best wishes from the California Drums to the happy couple.

Kevin Drum 3:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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By: Kevin Drum

JOHN EDWARDS LOVE CHILD UPDATE....John Edwards tells Bob Woodruff of ABC News that:

  • He did have an affair with Rielle Hunter, despite his loud and repeated denials during the primary campaign.

  • He did visit Hunter at the Beverly Hills Hilton last month, as reported in the National Enquirer.

  • Elizabeth Edwards "became aware" of the affair in 2006, but did not know about the July meeting with Hunter at the Hilton.

  • However, he is not the father of Hunter's baby. He hasn't taken a paternity test, he says, but he claims that the affair ended too soon for him to have been the father.

Mainstream media, you may now begin covering this story.

Kevin Drum 3:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (161)

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By: Kevin Drum

HITTING BACK....Jon Chait is getting pissed:

Thinking more about this McCain tire gauge lie, I'm wondering why Barack Obama doesn't just outright call McCain a liar. All politicians spin, some more agresssively than others, but McCain's claim that Obama's energy policy consists of urging people to inflate their tires is way beyond spin. Can't Obama flat-out say, "John McCain is lying. He'll obviously say anything to get elected president. American can't afford another president who has no regard for truth or the facts."

McCain is only hanging in close in the polls because he's seen as a straight-talking maverick. But he's just lying about Obama's energy plan every single day. He did it again today. Doesn't this say something important about McCain's character? Don't the last eight years show us what happens when you campaign in the Rove style and then try to govern? It seems to me that Obama can do something that's both politically valuable and extremely salient to the choice voters face.

Sure, Obama could say this. And considering both the depth and reach of Obama's energy plan, which has been available for months, McCain's lie is an especially egregious one. But would the press report it that way? Or would McCain claim that, come on, my friends, he was just joshing, and can't that Obama guy ever take a joke? Perhaps, given the realities of today's media environment, Obama's choice of a more tempered response is the better approach after all. Somerby makes the case here.

Kevin Drum 3:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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By: Kevin Drum

HAMDAN....Apologies for not having said anything about the Hamdan verdict, but Andrew Sullivan rounds up a couple of reactions here. His conclusion about the Bush administration's handling of the whole thing: "Could they have ballsed this up any more thoroughly?"

Kevin Drum 2:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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By: Kevin Drum

JOHN McCAIN AND THE LOW ROAD....This is an old story, but sometimes the old ones are the best, aren't they? It starts in 1988, following the impeachment of the loathsome governor of Arizona, Ev Mecham — a man whom John McCain had publicly called on to resign a few months earlier. In Arizona, an impeached governor is replaced by the Secretary of State, which in this case turned out to be a Democrat, Rose Mofford, a woman with a bright white beehive hairdo who had quietly overseen Arizona's elections for decades and had no ambition for higher office.

A few days after she was sworn in Mofford headed to Washington for a largely ceremonial visit but, to her surprise, was ambushed at a congressional hearing by Idaho's James McClure, who ran her around in circles with a series of complex questions she plainly wasn't yet able to answer about CAP, Arizona's main water project. Why embarrass her this way? Longtime Arizona reporter Amy Silverman tells the story:

Coincidentally, that very same day, Pat Murphy, then publisher of the Arizona Republic, was also in Washington to meet with the delegation. He and his wife had lunch plans with McCain, and as Murphy recalls, they went to the hearing room where Mofford was testifying, to meet up with him. Murphy had written glowingly of McCain and considered him a personal friend.

As Murphy recounted in an e-mail recently (he left the Republic many years ago, and now lives in Idaho), the incident crushed him. He says it was the beginning of the end of his respect for and friendship with McCain.

...."During lunch, McCain said, almost with mischievous glee, that he had slipped some highly technical questions to [James McClure] to ask Mofford — questions she wouldn't be prepared to answer or expected to answer.

"Flabbergasted, I asked McCain why would he want to sabotage Mofford's testimony, when in fact the CAP was the nonpartisan pet of Republicans and Democrats — such as far-left Udall and far-right Goldwater — since its inception.

"His reply, as near as I remember, was, 'I'll embarrass a Democrat any time I get the chance.'

"The lunch continued in strained chit-chat. We then walked back to McCain's office, where a few reporters, all of them from Arizona papers, as I recall, were waiting. One said there was a rumor McCain had tried to sabotage Mofford's testimony, to which he said something like, 'I'd never do anything like that.'"

Just good clean fun! McCain was hoping to recall Mofford for no special reason — he just didn't want a Democrat serving out Mecham's term — and videotaping the ambush was all part of the plan. Needless to say, denying his involvement was all part of the plan too.

Like they say, politics ain't beanbag, and McCain didn't do anything illegal here. (Mofford served out the rest of Mecham's term when Arizona's Supreme Court scotched McCain's recall plans.) But you might want to keep this story in mind when you read all those furrowed-browed accounts about how straight talkin' John McCain is so plainly uncomfortable with the negative direction that his advisors have taken his presidential campaign. Turns out McCain might be enjoying the low road a little more than he'd like you to think.

Much more here. Mark Kleiman's clip-n-save version is here.

Kevin Drum 2:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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By: Kevin Drum

iPHONE PROBLEM REPORT #3,847....NOT THAT ANYONE'S COUNTING....John Gordon, along with (it seems) everyone else on the planet, has complaints about his new iPhone:

My iPhone Address book, with about 400 entries, is pretty darned slow....Time to select an address on the Palm? Maybe 1-2 sec. On the iPhone? Maybe 6-7 seconds.

This kind of thing is just weird. Searching a database of several hundred items should take about — oh, a millisecond or so. Searching even a flat text file of that size shouldn't take more than a few milliseconds. Hell, searching a flat text file of that size even without any kind of search algorithm — that is, just starting at the top and working your way through the file character-by-character until you find the search target — shouldn't take more than 10 or 20 milliseconds. I've occasionally done this in the past when I was feeling lazy, and even an old 486 box could creak its way through a 100K file in a tenth of a second or so.

So what is going on here? How does stuff like this happen? Overall, the iPhone 2.0 really seems to be a piece of junk, but luckily for Apple, its owners are cutting them a remarkable amount of slack over it. I guess everyone is allowed a klunker now and again.

Via Brad DeLong.

Kevin Drum 12:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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By: Kevin Drum

MEMOS!....Ah. I see that yet another slashing expose of the chaotic Hillary Clinton campaign is coming our way, and apparently people are worried:

Of particular concern are nearly 200 internal memos that the author, Josh Green, obtained — 130 or so of which he plans to scan in and post o