Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 30, 2008
By: Hilzoy

Ripple Effects

From the NYT:

"Cities, states and other local governments have been effectively shut out of the bond markets for the last two weeks, raising the cost of day-to-day operations, threatening longer-term projects and dampening a broad source of jobs and stability at a time when other parts of the economy are weakening.

The sudden loss of credit, one of the ripple effects of the current financial turmoil, is affecting local governments in all parts of the country, rich and poor alike. Washington has shelved a planned bond offering to pay for terminal expansion and parking garages already under construction at Dulles and Reagan National Airports. Billings, Mont., is struggling to come up with $70 million more for a new emergency room. And Maine has been unable to raise $50 million for highway repairs.

“We really are in terra incognita here,” said Robert O. Lenna, executive director of the Maine Municipal Bond Bank, which helps that state’s towns and school districts raise money. He said he had worked in public finance for 34 years and had never before seen credit evaporate so completely.

Maine had already begun some of its road work when the bond markets stopped functioning, so now it is scrambling for bank loans to keep the dump trucks rolling. If money does not start flowing soon, Mr. Lenna said, Maine will have to cancel some of its road and bridge projects."

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts:

"The most immediate need is $1.3 billion in quarterly payments that are scheduled to go out to cities and towns next week. Municipalities use the money to fund everything from teachers to trash collections.

Cahill said it appears likely that cities and towns will get their local aid payments - preventing layoffs and cutbacks in municipal budgets - but he said he has had to jump through a complex set of financial hoops to make it work. Cahill and other state officials characterize the borrowing maneuvers as common ways to make payments before all of the tax revenue comes in. But the state usually is not this strapped this early and facing interest payments this high.

The state yesterday borrowed $51 million in a short-term loan from investors, at an interest rate of 6 percent for a practice that normally charges 2 percent interest. In order to make local aid payments, the state still needs to borrow up to $349 million in similar loans before next week. State officials fear a similarly high interest rate.

"This stuff is unheard of," Cahill said. "It's like going to the loan shark for money.""

Heading into a recession is the worst time to cut back on projects like these, which provide people with good jobs, and can work to keep the economy going. The Federal Government can run a deficit, but most states cannot. So just at the time when people need these jobs the most, they end up having to cut back. It makes problems with the economy worse, when keeping these projects going would help to make it better.

Hilzoy 10:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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By: Hilzoy

When Politics Fails

Ezra is absolutely right to say that our failure to respond in any coherent way to the economic crisis is a deep political failure:

"This is a failure of politics. Like with global warming, with health care, with the national debt, with immigration. It is further proof that we have a calcified political system incapable of responding to either long-term threats or short-term crises. The electoral and partisan incentives have made actual action too dangerous and rendered obstruction everyone's easy second choice. And in politics, you just about never get your first choice. And so the Republicans killed this bill. Without their cover, the Democrats couldn't save it, because politically, they couldn't take ownership of it.

It's easy enough to imagine a society running atop a stable economy even when it has an unhealthy politics. And it's simple enough to see how an unstable economy can be calmed through concerted action by an effective political structure. But an economy in chaos and a political system in paralysis? What happens then?"

Good question. Our dysfunctional politics places some good options off the table, makes others much more difficult to implement than they would be otherwise, and prevents us from adopting those decent options that remain to us. Consider, for instance, Brad DeLong's suggestion that we "go for the Swedish plan." I think that if we can't get a bill passed this week, we should do exactly that. But it would be a lot harder to implement here than it would there, and not just because our problems are much larger, and in certain ways more complicated.

More below the fold.

Here's a brief description of what Sweden did:

"As in the US, the Swedish financial crisis was also preceded by a property bubble, which was pricked by a rise in real interest rates. Severe stress in the financial system and the economy were to follow. In each of the three years 1991, 1992 and 1993 Swedish gross domestic product fell in real terms, at an accumulated rate of about 5 per cent.

In response, the Swedish government set up an agency to recapitalise the financial sector. Bank shareholders were not compensated. But the Swedish government did not bail out all banks, only a subset. They used a microeconomic model to determine which of the banks had a chance to survive, and which did not. Those that did not were liquidated or merged. And those that were bailed out had to write off their bad debts first. All depositors were covered by an explicit government promise of compensation. The goal was to minimise the cost to the taxpayer, and it succeeded. It turned out as one of history's most successful financial system bail-outs."

Leave aside the difficulty of getting something like this through a Congress significant numbers of whose members think that any intervention by the government would be the first step on the Road to Serfdom, and many more of whom, including some Democrats, would get very nervous about intervention on this scale. Just focus on one piece of this plan: "They used a microeconomic model to determine which of the banks had a chance to survive, and which did not. Those that did not were liquidated or merged."

The Swedes, that is, entrusted to their government the task of deciding which banks should be saved and which should be allowed to go under. Imagine what would happen if we tried that here. Hordes of lobbyists would appear, begging for special favors for their banks. The temptation for various officials to intervene in the process would be enormous. Even if they resisted that temptation, all sorts of people would probably assume that various decisions about which banks to let fail and which to bail out had been made on political grounds. Some commentators who made this case would be bought and paid for, but others would be either political opponents of whoever was in charge, or people who just assume that government officials are corrupt by definition.

Things would be all the more difficult because we would be very unlikely to get the kind of bipartisan cooperation that the Swedes had. Carl Bildt, who was Prime Minister at the time, believes that this was crucial:

"What is clear in both cases is that a rescue plan is not possible without achieving bipartisan consensus, which is indispensable for regaining confidence in the markets.

We were able to achieve this in Sweden. Consensus lasted throughout the whole process of restructuring the banking system. We never faced demands for going back to the heavy regulated markets of the past or for permanent state involvement in managing the financial sector. On the contrary, due to an organized and well-managed restructuring, it was possible to preserve the advantages of the deregulation of the 1980s, and, when the market conditions made it possible, privatize the banks as well as the credit stocks."

Note that the reason Bildt mentions demands for heavily regulated markets, etc., is that the opposition in this case was the Social Democrats, who would have made just those sorts of demands had they tried to use all their bargaining power to extract concessions. Compare that to House Republicans' attempts to use the present crisis to force further cuts in the capital gains tax, and ask yourselves just how likely it is that they would conduct themselves like grown-ups if we tried to do what Sweden did.

Stefan Ingves, now a Director of Sweden's Central Bank, and Director General of the Swedish Bank Support Authority during the crisis, adds:

"A very basic issue for the success of any systemic bank restructuring is the ability to get political decision makers to recognize that there is a problem, that the problem is severe, that it requires quick and resolute actions, and that the problems largely are technical rather than political in nature. How lucky we were in the Nordic countries to have governments able to make tough decisions and leaving most of the implementation to a group of civil servants (statstjansteman) and technical experts. In other countries, vested bank owner and borrower interests sabotage such actions through political interference, corruption and intimidation of courts and officials, etc. Necessary political decisions such as loss sharing and the allocation of public support funds are hard to come by, even in cases where the governments have the financial capacity to provide the resources. It is much easier to do nothing and wish the problems away."

How lucky they were, indeed.

It is not impossible to get political decision-makers who can come together in crises, evaluate their options clearly, and act. It just takes a citizenry who insist on being represented by adults, media who actually inform them, and politicians who do not drive them to cynicism by abusing their trust.

Until then, though, a lot of good options will be much, much harder to implement than they would be otherwise. The Swedish model is one of them.

Hilzoy 8:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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

* Wall Street rebounded today: "The Dow Jones industrial average added 485 points, according to early tallies, recovering some of the record 777 points lost the day before. If the gains hold, it would be the third-biggest one-day point advance for the indicator in its history. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 5% and the Nasdaq composite gained about 5.3%."

* The news was not all good, however, as credit markets remain frozen.

* A long-term security agreement is still pending between the Maliki government and the Bush administration. The sticking point? Civil jurisdiction over U.S. troops.

* New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is in his second term, and the city has a two-term limit. He is, apparently, going to seek a third term anyway.

* Did Gingrich screw over Boehner on the bailout vote?

* The television audience for the first presidential debate was big, but not nearly as big as expected.

* McCain certainly made it sound like he thinks Venezuela is in the Middle East.

* MoveOn.org vs. Tom Brokaw.

* Gwen Ifill broke her ankle today, but she'll still moderate Thursday's debate.

* And on Oct. 16, in support of the Obama campaign, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel will play their first concert together.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

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

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DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE.... As a rule, there's no point in going after every inane McCain campaign web ad -- there's too many of them, and they're generally not worth the bother -- but as Greg Sargent and Eric Kleefeld noted, the new one is "so comically misleading that it really is a must-see."

It's too ridiculous to post the video, but the "ad" responds to the heat McCain took for insisting that the "fundamentals of our economy are strong," just as the Wall Street crisis was underway. Here's the script:

Voiceover: Who's Barack Obama? First, Obama attacked McCain.

Then said: "We've got the long term fundamentals that will really make sure this economy grows."

Voiceover: Strong fundamentals? Is Obama saying McCain's right? Or is Obama saying his own attacks are shameless? Either way, Obama's a hypocrite.

Actually, he's not. The "ad" quotes Obama saying, "We've got the long term fundamentals that will really make sure this economy grows." But the McCain campaign conveniently shaved off all of the context that changes -- indeed, reverses -- the meaning of the quote. Here's what Obama actually said:

"[We need] a plan that would extend expiring unemployment benefits. For those Americans who have lost their jobs and have been working hard to find a new one, but haven't found one yet. That's part of the change we need. And then after this immediate problem, we've got the long-term fundamentals that will really make sure this economy grows. Change means tax code that doesn't reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses that deserve it. As President I am going to eliminate capital gains taxes for small businesses and start-ups."

Obama was talking about the "long-term fundamentals" as part of his economic plan, not of today's economy. Either McCain campaign officials have the listening comprehension skills of a toddler, or they're lying, again, to the public, and cynically counting on voters being too stupid to see through their nonsense.

Let's also not lose sight of the big picture. When candidates on the Republican ticket tell voters something provocative, it doesn't count because it's "gotcha journalism." When candidates on the Democratic ticket say something unremarkable, but it's wrenched from context to change its meaning, it's legitimate public discourse.

I suppose it's possible for the McCain campaign to be more pathetic, but it's hard to see how.

Steve Benen 4:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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THE POPULARITY OF THE BAILOUT (OR LACK THEREOF).... Most of the players in the political arena seemed to realize, and openly acknowledge, that the bailout package was pretty unpopular with voters. Principals admitted that this was a bill that wouldn't go over well at home, but argued, with varying degrees of persuasion, that it was necessary anyway.

Indeed, after the dust settled yesterday, more than a few lawmakers told reporters that they were swayed, at least in part, by constituent complaints about the legislation. Very few people were calling their representative's office to urge him/her to vote for the bill.

But then I noticed the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, and I'm not sure what to think of public opinion on this.

Most Americans see the current financial situation as a "crisis," and there is overwhelming concern that the failure of the House of Representatives to pass the economic recovery package will deepen the problem, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

But the poll also revealed significant public concern with the bill Congress rejected yesterday, as few voters said the package did enough to protect "ordinary Americans," and nearly half said it did not go far enough to shore up the nation's economy.

As is often the case discerning public opinion, reading these results was a little confusing. The public was largely split on whether the bill has merit -- 47% opposed the package, 45% supported it.

But the same poll found that nearly nine in 10 Americans said Congress' failure to pass the measure "could lead to a more severe economic decline."

What's more, Isaac Chotiner noted that voters are inclined to hold Republicans responsible for the bill's failure, but given the other results, it's hard to know which party, if any, benefits from this perception.

So, what are we left with? A fair number of Americans think Congress should have passed a bill they're opposed to? They "blame" Republicans for scuttling the deal, but no one knows whether that helps the GOP or hurts it?

Nate Silver has more on polling and the bailout (or "rescue"). It's fair to say there's deep public skepticism about the plan, but it's far from clear exactly how Americans want policy makers to proceed.

Steve Benen 4:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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CAN BOEHNER LEAD?.... House Minority Leader John Boehner was part of the recent bailout negotiations, representing the interests and priorities of House Republicans. The word "leader" is, after all, right there in his title. He signed onto an agreement and took it to his caucus for their blessing.

It was, of course, a test of his credibility, not to mention his leadership skills. Obviously, given the result, we know things didn't go well for Boehner, as two-thirds of his caucus ignored his wishes and made him look foolish (so foolish that he had to insist Republicans voted against the bill because Speaker Pelosi hurt their feelings).

So, can Boehner keep his job?

The bruising tally -- coming on the heels of a weeklong revolt -- had some GOP members asking privately whether Boehner can hold on to his leadership post. Boehner said he's confident of his job, but the vote clearly took its toll.

The leader lost the support of some of his closest allies in the House -- including Iowa Rep. Tom Latham and California Rep. Devin Nunes, two drinking buddies who helped lay the foundation for Boehner's political comeback in 2006.

Another Boehner ally, Rep. Thaddeus G. McCotter of Michigan, physically turned his back on the leader during a tense closed-door GOP conference meeting Sunday night.

People who were in the room said McCotter left abruptly after Boehner told members not to attack one another. Boehner tried to reach out to McCotter as he left. McCotter kept walking.

"I have some members who would do anything for me, and I talked to them, and it just killed them, absolutely killed them, when they told me they couldn't vote yes," Boehner told a small group of reporters after Monday's stunning floor defeat.

Actually, those Republicans who opposed the package yesterday didn't seem especially troubled at all. "Absolutely killed them"? They looked perfectly content to me.

Stepping back, though, something doesn't add up here. House Republicans chose Boehner to lead and represent them, but on the year's biggest vote, they blew him off. Boehner told the White House and congressional Dems he could deliver, but when push came to shove, he couldn't -- Boehner and his caucus were in two very different places.

Moving forward, then, why even put Boehner at the negotiating table? Either he speaks for his caucus or he doesn't, and as of yesterday, he doesn't. Doesn't that necessarily suggest House Republicans should send someone else to speak on their behalf? And that this person, not Boehner, should be the party leader?

Steve Benen 3:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

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EXPERIENCE VS. NEW IDEAS.... At a campaign event in Columbus, Ohio yesterday, Sarah Palin told a crowd she's looking forward to meeting Joe Biden on Thursday. "I've never met him before," Palin said. "But I've been hearing about his senate speeches since I was in like 2nd grade." The Republican crowd seemed to think this was hilarious.

Immediately after the speech, CBS's Katie Couric met up with Palin and asked about her comments. CBS just sent over the transcript of what we'll see this evening:

Couric: You made a funny comment, you've said you have been listening to Joe Biden's speeches since you were in second grade.

Palin: It's been since like '72, yah.

Couric: You have a 72-year-old running mate, is that kind of a risky thing to say, insinuating that Joe Biden's been around awhile?

Palin: Oh no, it's nothing negative at all. He's got a lot of experience and just stating the fact there, that we've been hearing his speeches for all these years. So he's got a tremendous amount of experience and, you know, I'm the new energy, the new face, the new ideas and he's got the experience based on many many years in the Senate and voters are gonna have a choice there of what it is that they want in these next four years.

I see. New energy and new ideas vs. many years in the Senate. Voters, Palin said, are going to have to choose between the two.

She is aware of the dynamic surrounding the two presidential candidates, isn't she?

Update: An emailer reminds me of something important that I neglected to mention -- Palin doesn't have any "new ideas." The last time she unveiled a "new idea," it turned out to be one of Barack Obama's old ideas.

Steve Benen 3:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

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WOULD MCCAIN 'SUSPEND' AGAIN?.... John McCain appeared on "Fox & Friends" this morning, where he appeared open to the idea of "suspending" his presidential campaign (it's tempting to say "again," but we know McCain never actually suspended anything).

Steve Doocy got the ball rolling with some odd commentary, crediting McCain personally for focusing Americans' attention on the Wall Street crisis, and improving the bill for Republicans. He seemed to urge McCain to stop campaigning, so he can "emerge the leader."

"I'll do whatever I can do to make this thing work," McCain responded, adding, "I will put my presidential campaign on the back burner if necessary and do anything."

When confronted with the fact that the crisis has worsened since McCain's initial so-called "suspension," McCain responded, "I'll do whatever is necessary and whatever my Republican colleagues in the administration and others ask me to do to help." He then bashed Barack Obama for a while on issues unrelated to the Wall Street crisis.

McCain also mentioned at least twice that Congress isn't doing anything today because of a religious holiday. This, of course, led me to wonder why McCain wouldn't want to take advantage of this break to help work towards an agreement.

To be sure, I realize there's no genuine reason for McCain to suspend his campaign. If he did, it wouldn't make any substantive difference. That McCain would even entertain the idea of putting his campaign "on the back burner" only helps reinforce the notion that he's pretty far gone.

For that matter, last week's gimmick did nothing to help his campaign, and most voters saw through the transparency of McCain's craven tactics.

That said, it is kind of interesting to see McCain struggle with a basic question: if it was necessary to "suspend" last week, why is it unnecessary this week? The longer it takes for McCain to come up with a compelling answer to that question, the worse his judgment appears.

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

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By: Hilzoy

Good Times

Ezra points to this article on the credit markets:

"If you only watch the stock market, where the Dow was recently up more than 250 points, you might get the mistaken impression all is well with the world on the Tuesday after the latest Black Monday.

But, as has often been the case during this crisis, credit markets are singing a different tune. Overnight dollar Libor rates more than doubled to 6.875%, as banks hoarded cash for the quarter end amid signs the financial crisis was spreading. It's more than a little ironic that while investors are buying banks' stocks -- shares were up sharply across the sector -- banks themselves were unwilling to buy each others' shortest term debt. Banks are so desperate for funds that they paid 11% for $30 billion in overnight funds from the European Central Bank, up from 3% just Monday.

Sure, a second round of dollars from the ECB and a 28-day injection of funds from the Fed helped calm the worst panic (indeed, the ECB's $50 billion offer drew just a bit more than $30 billion in bids, and the rate fell back to 0.50%; while fed funds are now trading at 3.0% rather than the 7.0% high we saw them at earlier), but we're a long way from normal. Lena Komileva, economist at broker Tullet Prebon, notes the premium for overnight liquidity is "out of control," making it hard for central banks to instill confidence in the future.

In short, credit is frozen, in part because institutions are hoarding liquidity for the end of the quarter. Monday's Epic Fail on Capitol Hill would seem to be hurting too -- except credit was worsening even before the $700 billion bailout bill died, notes Brian Reynolds, chief market strategist at WJB Capital."

I would imagine that a lot of stores would normally be preparing for the Christmas shopping season by laying in inventory round about now. And I would imagine that that will be a lot harder to do if they can't get credit.

Good times.

Here's Dan Riehl's take on it all:

"While no one should want a major meltdown of the American and world economies, there is a common sense rationale for simply allowing it to burn. I see people going on about a trillion dollars in value lost. But in any real sense, that value wasn't really there. (...)

Some of the alarmists out there might want to take a moment to consider all the ramifications here. It may sound harsh, but the Great Depression produced many things - one of them was called the Greatest Generation.

The great economic boom of the last few decades propped up by dubious credit has produced a generation or two that thinks enough is never enough and if one can't earn it, than you either borrow it, or the government in the form of hard working taxpayers should make sure you get yours in the end.

I'm no financial expert. I realize that without some plan there will be serious pain. But I also know pain is unavoidable in life. And any government that would have its citizenry believe that isn't the case simply isn't telling them the truth."

Personally, I've always preferred the idea of trying to make myself as decent as possible, rather than waiting for catastrophe to do it for me. But if people's lives have to be destroyed in order to produce a new "Greatest Generation", I hope that people like Dan Riehl, who think that this sort of character-building through national catastrophe is a good thing, are disproportionately represented among them. After all, as he and his family settle in for the night in their minivan, Dan Riehl would be able to console himself with the thought that it's all for the sake of the greater good. Most of us, not having had this callous and idiotic idea in the first place, would not have that comfort available to us.

Hilzoy 1:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

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PALIN AND THE SUPREME COURT.... Howard Kurtz generated some interest yesterday when he reported that as bad as Sarah Palin's interview(s) with Katie Couric were, the "worst may be yet to come for Palin; sources say CBS has two more responses on tape that will likely prove embarrassing."

How much worse could it be? Apparently, one of the problematic responses has to do with the Supreme Court.

The Palin aide, after first noting how "infuriating" it was for CBS to purportedly leak word about the gaffe, revealed that it came in response to a question about Supreme Court decisions.

After noting Roe vs. Wade, Palin was apparently unable to discuss any major court cases.

There was no verbal fumbling with this particular question as there was with some others, the aide said, but rather silence.

Now, as far as I can tell, this portion of the interview hasn't been aired yet, so it's hard to know whether it's excruciating or not. Responding to a legitimate question with pure silence certainly sounds awkward, but it's hard to say how awful it is until it's aired.

Putting that aside, though, how embarrassing is it for Palin not to be able to identify Supreme Court rulings other than Roe?

Atrios raised a fair point: "I have some sympathy for Palin. Plenty of members of Congress don't actually know a damn thing about Supreme Court history or details about particular decisions, but what they do know (usually) is just enough to satisfy the Tom Brokaws of the world and move on to the next topic. They're trained in the trivia important to the locals, but they don't actually know anything."

Quite right. Palin didn't go to law school, never took an interest in constitutional law, but still probably knows about as much as plenty of lawmakers on the Hill.

But it's a reminder that Palin is struggling on two parallel levels: she's painfully ignorant and she hasn't learned how to hide her painful ignorance. Even if she couldn't remember the names of specific cases, Palin would have likely sounded fine if she spoke in vague terms about court rulings on religious liberty, or terrorism, or civil rights, or the economy, or anything.

Or perhaps even the reverse -- she could throw out the names of a few famous cases, even if she's shaky on the details. Off the top of one's head, anyone in a high-ranking government office could probably mention Brown vs. Board of Education, Bush vs. Gore, Plessy vs. Ferguson, and Dred Scott, whether one could discuss them in any depth or not.

But Palin couldn't name the cases and couldn't talk her way out of it.

Don't feel too sorry for her -- she volunteered for this gig.

Steve Benen 1:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

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SOMETIMES, A DIG IS JUST A DIG.... There was a point a couple of months ago in which campaign reporters, at the McCain campaign's urging, began to see the word "confused" as an ageist attack. So, if someone were to point out that John McCain is confused about whether the U.S. can maintain a long-term troop presence in Iraq, this was necessarily insulting, whether he's confused or not.

The argument was premised on the notion that those of us who aren't senior citizens, apparently, don't get confused. In reality, the McCain campaign was so concerned about the age issue, it pressed reporters into hair-trigger sensitivity on the issue.

We're seeing it again today. Robert Gibbs, the Obama campaign's communications director, appeared on MSNBC this morning, talking about the crisis on Wall Street. Time's Mark Halperin asked about the political implications and recent polling trends, and Gibbs responded, "What I do think in the last two and a half to three weeks -- including that last debate -- that people got a sense of who is steady in a crisis and quite frankly who's erratic in a crisis."

The "Morning Joe" panel pressed Gibbs on the "erratic" claim, and he responded, "Just yesterday, John McCain said we shouldn't fix blame. He took a breath and then fixed blame. He said the fundamentals of our economy are strong, and he flip-flopped. He opposed the bail-out of AIG, and then he supported it. This guy zig-zags. Look, if he's driving a car, get off the sidewalk."

People chuckled, and the show went on.

But in response, some observers are crying "foul." The Politico's Jonathan Martin said Gibbs took an "age swipe" at McCain, and his comments were intended to remind voters of "images of elderly drivers who have plowed into pedestrians in recent years." Similarly, Time's Michael Scherer blasted Gibbs for deliberately, and foolishly, offending older voters.

Gibbs is a very sharp communications director, and I suppose it's possible that his comments had an underlying meaning, but I kind of doubt it. The message he wanted to emphasize was the "erratic" line, not the driving metaphor, which was an obvious afterthought.

Besides, aren't there dangerous young drivers, too? Maybe the political world is being a little overly sensitive on this?

Steve Benen 12:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (90)

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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:

* The Obama campaign unveiled another two-minute ad this morning, emphasizing Obama's message on the economy. It did not specifically address the crisis on Wall Street.

* The AFL-CIO is hitting McCain on healthcare with a new direct mail piece.

* By a wide margin, voters blame Republican lawmakers for yesterday's developments.

* In North Carolina, Public Policy Polling shows Obama leading McCain by two, 47% to 45%.

* In Florida, Rasmussen shows Obama and McCain tied at 47% each.

* In Colorado, Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain by one, 49% to 48%.

* In Pennsylvania, Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain by eight, 50% to 42%.

* Early voting is underway in Ohio.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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THE RNC VS. THE MCCAIN CAMPAIGN.... John McCain not only supported the bailout package rejected by the House, he bragged about his role in getting the bill to the floor yesterday. His running mate suggested the bill was necessary to avert a depression. His campaign credited McCain personally for the bill's very existence.

So it was a little odd to see the Republican National Committee come out with a new ad this morning blasting Barack Obama for the bailout package.

The Republican Party's independent expenditure arm is up with an ad that hints at opposing the bailout, and links Obama's spending plans, in a vague but ominous way, to it.

The ad was expected to air in Indiana and Virginia, along with more traditional battlegrounds of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Let me get this straight. The Republican president supported the bill. The Republican Senate leadership supported the bill. The Republican House leadership supported the bill. The Republican presidential nominee supported the bill. And the Republican National Committee runs an ad insisting that Obama's bailout package "will make the problem worse."

Indeed, the RNC unveiled its breathtaking ad literally within minutes of John McCain telling Fox News that in order to get increased support for the bill, "We're going to have to change enough Republican and Democrats' minds.""

So, simultaneously, the Republican Party is campaigning against the bill, and Republican presidential candidate is campaigning in support of the bill. Brilliant.

The Obama campaign responded, "For John McCain's party to demagogue a rescue plan that he supports in order to score cheap political points is not only dishonest and dishonorable, it is the height of irresponsibility on a day when we urgently need to pass that plan to prevent an economic catastrophe. So much for country first."

Here's a question for reporters to ask McCain today: should the RNC pull its ad and apologize?

Steve Benen 11:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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WHEN THE GOP LOSES DAVID BROOKS.... Yesterday, in the aftermath of the fiasco on the House floor, my friend Kevin Drum explained, "The Republican Party is now officially hostage to a band of primitive conservative ideologues whose knowledge of economics was already outdated when Christians were being fed to lions. They are simply beyond belief."

It appears that the New York Times' David Brooks, in a pleasant surprise, has come to largely the same conclusion, specifically about the House GOP caucus.

It has been interesting to watch them on their single-minded mission to destroy the Republican Party. Not long ago, they led an anti-immigration crusade that drove away Hispanic support. Then, too, they listened to the loudest and angriest voices in their party, oblivious to the complicated anxieties that lurk in most American minds.

Now they have once again confused talk radio with reality. If this economy slides, they will go down in history as the Smoot-Hawleys of the 21st century. With this vote, they've taken responsibility for this economy, and they will be held accountable. The short-term blows will fall on John McCain, the long-term stress on the existence of the G.O.P. as we know it.

I've spoken with several House Republicans over the past few days and most admirably believe in free-market principles. What's sad is that they still think it's 1984. They still think the biggest threat comes from socialism and Walter Mondale liberalism. They seem not to have noticed how global capital flows have transformed our political economy.

It's nice of Brooks to notice. Better late than never.

On a related note, Brad DeLong added yesterday, "This Republican Party needs to be burned, razed to the ground, and the furrows sown with salt..."

Given recent events, it's hardly an unreasonable prescription.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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IS THIS THING ON?.... A pattern seems to be emerging -- every day the crisis on Wall Street grows in severity, every day the president makes a public statement calling for congressional action, and every day the president's remarks are largely ignored.

This morning kept the trend alive, with a four-minute Bush speech from the White House.

"Producing legislation is complicated, and it can be contentious. It matters little what a path a bill takes to become law. What matters is that we get a law. We're at a critical moment for our economy, and we need legislation that decisively address [sic] the troubled assets now clogging the financial system, helps lenders resume the flow of credit to consumers and businesses, and allows the American economy to get moving again.

"I recognize this is a difficult vote for members of Congress. Many of them don't like the fact that our economy has reached this point, and I understand that. But the reality is that we are in an urgent situation, and the consequences will grow worse each day if we do not act. The dramatic drop in the stock market that we saw yesterday will have a direct impact on the retirement accounts, pension funds, and personal savings of millions of our citizens. And if our nation continues on this course, the economic damage will be painful and lasting. [...]

"As much as we might wish the situation were different, our country is not facing a choice between government action and the smooth functioning of the free market. We're facing a choice between action and the real prospect of economic hardship for millions of Americans. And for the financial security of every American, Congress must act."

As a practical matter, I'm not sure who Bush's target audience is. Voters don't like him, and lawmakers don't trust him. The president has spent a fair amount of time in recent days trying to lobby Republican members of Congress. Yesterday, we saw just how much sway he still has on the Hill.

After the president's remarks this morning, New York Magazine's John Heilemann told MSNBC, "I don't think that comforts anybody. I don't think that moves a single vote. With due respect and sympathy for the man, that was the picture of a beaten dog. That was the picture of presidential impotence right there."

Ouch.

Steve Benen 9:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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MULLING OVER COMPETING OPTIONS.... No one seems to have any idea what's going to happen next with regards to congressional action on the Wall Street crisis, but ABC News reported last night on the competing approaches moving forward after yesterday's debacle.

# 1 -- Muscle Bailout Bill Through House: Some leaders suggest those House Republicans on the fence will be swayed by seeing what the markets do tomorrow, which could be more bad news. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped over 700 points today as the administration's bailout bill failed in Congress This option would see House leaders try again to muscle through the votes they need to get the $700 billion bailout bill passed.

#2 -- Pass Bailout in Senate First: Some Senate and House leaders have been talking about letting the Senate go first and pass the bailout package, ABC News has learned. There appears to be broader support in the Senate for the bailout package. This option would see the Senate vote first which would increase the pressure on the House to pass the Bush administration's bailout bill.

#3 -- Make Small Tweaks to the Bill: Congressional leaders wonder if perhaps there are a couple of small tweaks they can make to the package that would bring along the 12 votes they lost the vote by. Option A, sources say, could be adding a line that some economists have said is absolutely necessary for the FDIC to guarantee all deposits in transaction accounts, not just up to $100,000. That would deal with the credit crunch and it would be quite popular, some on Capitol Hill argue. Option B would be eliminating the mark-to-market rule that many Republicans and conservatives complain about, which ensures financial decision-makers must show their losses in real time.

#4 -- Get More Democrats On Board: Finally, one other unlikely option talked about on Capitol Hill is to try to pass the bill almost entirely with the Democratic majority in the House. That would require adding a major stimulus package favored by Democrats, infrastructure spending, unemployment insurance spending, and heating and food stamp assistance for low-income Americans.

Right about now, that fourth option looks awfully appealing. The House Republican caucus has proven itself to be ... what's the phrase I'm looking for ... stark raving mad. So why bother working to make radicals happy? The Democratic leadership could scrap yesterday's bill, put together a truly progressive package, and pass it with or without Republican support. The Senate might be trickier, but if Dems could overcome a filibuster, the president might, under these circumstances, not want to risk a veto. (Robert Kuttner even has a few ideas about what a new-and-improved Democratic package might look like.)

But this is, at this point, unlikely. The Democratic leadership has said, repeatedly, that it's committed to finding a bipartisan solution, even if the GOP caucus has lost its collective mind.

Steve Benen 9:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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CRY BABIES.... When the Wall Street Journal's editorial page mocks House Republicans, you know the GOP has stepped in it.

"Their immediate response was to say that many of their Members turned against the bill at the last minute because Ms. Pelosi gave her nasty speech," the Journal's explained. "So they are saying that Republicans chose to oppose something they think is in the national interest merely because of a partisan slight. Thank heaven these guys weren't at Valley Forge."

To be sure, the House Republican leadership was in a bind yesterday -- they'd failed miserably, with the eyes of the world upon them, and accepting responsibility apparently wasn't an option. They needed to blame someone, and time was of the essence. "How do we blame Speaker Pelosi for Republicans rejecting a rescue plan?" a GOP member no doubt asked. "I know! We'll say her speech was mean and left us no choice!" another probably added.

And that's exactly what they did. The top three leaders of the House Republican caucus -- all of whom supported the legislation -- held a press conference to say, earnestly and sincerely, that a "partisan" speech led at least a dozen House Republican lawmakers to vote against a package they would have otherwise supported. Seriously.

It never seemed to occur to them that a) they were implicitly accepting responsibility for the debacle; and b) they were effectively admitting that they were screwing over the country because Nancy Pelosi hurt their feelings.

Barney Frank was in rare form: "Frankly, that's an accusation against my Republican colleagues I would have never thought of making. Here's the story: there's a terrible crisis affecting the American economy. We have come together on a bill to alleviate the crisis. And because somebody hurt their feelings, they decide to punish the country. I mean, I would not have imputed that degree of pettiness and hypersensitivity.... [T]hink about this. 'Somebody hurt my feelings, so I will punish the country.' That's hardly plausible. And there are 12 Republican members who were ready to stand up for the economic interest of America, but not if anybody insulted them. I'll make an offer. Give me those 12 people's names and I will go talk uncharacteristically nicely to them and tell them what wonderful people they are and maybe they'll now think about the country."

If there were any justice, the House Republican caucus would never live this one down.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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ALL QUESTIONS ARE 'GOTCHA' QUESTIONS.... Campaigning in Philadelphia on Saturday night, Sarah Palin fielded a few questions from local voters. A grad student asked Palin if she believed U.S. forces should be prepared to cross the Afghan border into Pakistan, and Palin responded, "If that's what we have to do stop the terrorists from coming any further in, absolutely, we should."

That, of course, is Barack Obama's position, which John McCain has repeatedly denounced. It even garnered a stern lecture at Friday's debate.

On Sunday, McCain said Palin's answer didn't count because it wasn't "a definitive policy statement." Last night, McCain and Palin sat down together with CBS's Katie Couric -- yes, again -- and came up with a new excuse.

"[L]ook, I understand this day and age 'gotcha' journalism," McCain said. "Is that a pizza place? In a conversation with someone who you didn't hear -- the question very well, you don't know the context of the conversation. Grab a phrase. Governor Palin and agree that you don't announce that you're going to attack another country."

When Couric asked if Palin was sorry she had made the statement, McCain again jumped in before Palin could answer. "Wait a minute," he said. "Before you say, 'is she sorry she said it,' this was a 'gotcha' sound bite that, look, no, she was in a conversation with a group of people and talking back and forth. And, I'll let Governor Palin speak for herself."

Palin added, "In the context, this was a voter, a constituent, hollering out a question from across an area asking, 'What are you gonna do about Pakistan? You better have an answer to Pakistan.' I said we're gonna do what we have to do to protect the United States of America." She added, "That this is all about 'gotcha' journalism."

All of this is completely absurd. First, Palin did more than just recommit to protecting the country -- she specifically said we should "absolutely" cross the border to stop terrorists from moving into Pakistan.

Second, what are these bizarre rules McCain is coming up with? When a voter asks a topical, pertinent question, it's "gotcha journalism." When a candidate gives an answer while talking "back and forth" with a "group of people," it doesn't count.

This is insane. Palin isn't a victim here -- a voter asked a question, and she answered it. Palin, in other words, said something in public and the media reported it. Indeed, she said something important about a pressing national security issue, so the media is supposed to report it.

The Republican ticket is actually getting worse. I didn't think that was possible.

Steve Benen 8:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (73)

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September 29, 2008

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

* The Dow fell nearly 778 points today, or almost 7%. It was the worst single-day point loss in American history. The S&P 500 dropped 8.7% and the Nasdaq fell 9.1%.

* As of today, the Dow Jones is lower now than it was the day Bush took office in 2001.

* This afternoon, responding to the economic crisis, the Obama campaign issued a statement calling for calm, encouraging lawmakers to keep working, and urging investors not to panic. The McCain campaign attacked Obama. It's a reminder that one can tell a lot about a person's character by how they respond to adversity.

* No one has any idea what's going to happen next.

* The climate crisis continues to grow increasingly scary.

* The New York Sun is closing up tomorrow.

* This attack on a mosque in Dayton, Ohio, is the height of insanity.

* Maureen Dowd is apparently no longer welcome aboard the McCain campaign plane.

* Have I mentioned lately how fantastic it is to see that Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show is off to such an amazing start? Her ratings last week showed her biggest audiences to date.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (92)

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ISN'T ANOTHER 'SUSPENSION' NECESSARY?.... This will probably come across as a little snarky because, well, it is. But I have to ask: isn't it incumbent on John McCain to at least pretend to "suspend" his campaign again?

I was just looking back at what McCain said on Thursday, when he insisted that the crisis on Wall Street was so serious, he had no choice but to drop everything, return to Washington, and help play a role in striking a deal.

"I cannot carry on a campaign as though this dangerous situation had not occurred, or as though a solution were at hand, which it clearly is not.... With so much on the line, for America and the world, the debate that matters most right now is taking place in the United States Capitol -- and I intend to join it.

"It has become clear that no consensus has developed to support the Administration's proposal to meet the crisis. I do not believe that the plan on the table will pass as it currently stands, and we are running out of time. So I am returning to Washington...."

As we now know, McCain really didn't "suspend" anything, and he didn't play a constructive role in the process. But putting that aside, if McCain keeps campaigning now, as he seems poised to do, wouldn't he necessarily be carrying on "as though this dangerous situation had not occurred"?

In other words, McCain set a standard for himself -- in the midst of a crisis, with little hope of a solution, and with time running out, heading to the campaign trail is not only a mistake, it's selfish. Indeed, it's failing to put "country first." That's the standard he created, and publicly articulated just a few days ago. Now, not so much.

As Noam Scheiber explained:

So the bailout deal collapses and McCain is headed to ... Iowa?

I'm confused. I assumed the "country-first" move would be to suspend his campaign all over again and hunker down in Washington till we worked things out.

It wouldn't even be that hard. McCain can find more than half the votes we need among his home-state colleagues in the House, all of whom voted against the deal.

The bottom line is straightforward enough: McCain "left" the campaign trail on Thursday because of the crisis. As of this afternoon, the crisis is much, much worse.

So, what does McCain plan to do now? Phone it in?

Steve Benen 4:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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WHEN THE GAMBLER ROLLS SNAKE EYES.... Just yesterday, Lindsey Graham told Fox News, "Thank God John [McCain] came back" to work on the bailout package. Around the same time, McCain's chief campaign strategist was on NBC, bragging that it was John McCain who brought House Republicans to the negotiating table, making a deal likely.

And it was McCain himself, just this morning, who was taking credit for "building a winning bailout coalition -- hours before the vote failed and stocks tanked." McCain assumed victory was at hand, and he was rushing to position himself as the hero who saved the day.

As of this afternoon, John McCain looks pretty foolish.

After bragging today about his role in shaping the economic bailout package, Sen. John McCain made no statement to the press after the defeat of the bill, in part at the hands of House Republicans.

Instead, McCain boarded his Straight Talk Air charter plane, where he sat in front, separated from reporters by a brown curtain, without making a comment on the bill's defeat.

The McCain campaign's senior policy adviser, Doug Holtz-Eakin, issued a statement blaming Democrats and Barack Obama for the Republican failure, but it was so laughably pathetic, no one took it seriously. Holtz-Eakin, demonstrating a degree of hackery that should effectively ruin his reputation forever, insisted, "This bill failed because Barack Obama and the Democrats put politics ahead of country."

Um, Doug? Most Democrats backed the bill that McCain supported, while House Republicans -- you know, the ones McCain brought to the table as part of his triumph -- rejected it, on a nearly 2-to-1 margin. Who put politics ahead of country?

A lot of people lost quite a bit today, but in a purely political context, few look as ridiculous right now as John McCain. MSNBC's Chris Matthews offered some on-air analysis this afternoon, and highlighted the fact that McCain positioned himself as the head of the Republican Party, but couldn't get his party to follow him. "He's like a cavalry commander who said 'Charge!' and the Republicans went into retreat," Matthews said.

Now, it's worth noting that there's a possible flip-side to all of this. The deal looked pretty solid last week, and then McCain showed up and scuttled the whole thing. This morning, McCain was already dancing in the end zone, so confident in what would happen. But if you're one of the many Americans who hated this bill, might not this help McCain? If he's responsible for the debacle, and you hoped for a debacle, maybe McCain's abject failure looks pretty good?

I don't think so. McCain, his campaign, and his surrogates have invested too much over the last several days in trying to give McCain credit for the bill they just knew would pass. It's simply too late for McCain to turn around now and say, "Guess what? I hated that bill all along!"

McCain "suspended" his campaign to get this bill to the floor -- and then it failed because his friends didn't like it. It's a fiasco that's going to be hard to live down.

Steve Benen 4:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

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THE WRONG FRAME AT THE WRONG TIME.... I can appreciate how ridiculous House Minority Leader John Boehner looks right now. I can even appreciate the fact that the Republican Party is looking desperately for someone to blame. But the GOP really hasn't thought this one through.

Several Republican aides said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had torpedoed any spirit of bipartisanship that surrounded the bill with her scathing speech near the close of the debate that blamed Bush's policies for the economic turmoil.

Without mentioning her by name, Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., No. 3 Republican, said: "The partisan tone at the end of the debate today I think did impact the votes on our side."

Putnam said lawmakers were working "to garner the necessary votes to avoid a financial collapse."

But the defeat was already causing a brutal round of finger-pointing. "We could have gotten there today had it not been for the partisan speech that the speaker gave on the floor of the House," House Minority Leader John Boehner said. Pelosi's words, the Ohio Republican said, "poisoned our conference, caused a number of members that we thought we could get, to go south."

Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the whip, estimated that Pelosi's speech changed the minds of a dozen Republicans who might otherwise have supported the plan.

On its face, this is comically stupid. House Republicans wanted to vote to prevent a financial collapse, the pitch goes, but the Big Bad House Speaker made them mad with a speech. You can read Pelosi's remarks yourself -- if it strikes you as the kind of speech that's worth risking the economy over, let me know.

But more important than that is the truly ridiculous frame Republicans are establishing for themselves by using Pelosi's speech as an excuse for their own failure. The House GOP, for reasons that defy comprehension, has decided to characterize itself as a caucus of cry babies. Worse, they're irresponsible cry babies who, according to their own argument, are more concerned with their precious hurt feelings than the nation's economic stability.

It's a great slogan for the election season, isn't it? "Vote Republican -- We're More Concerned With Our Feelings Than Your Future."

Make no mistake -- this is a failure of the Republican Party of historic proportions. When push came to shove, the Democratic leadership delivered the votes on the rescue plan, while Republicans voted, 2-to-1, against it.

If they're going to rationalize their failure, they're going to have to do better than rejecting the proposal because of Pelosi's harmless speech.

Steve Benen 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (85)

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HOUSE REJECTS BAILOUT BILL, MARKETS TUMBLE.... Everyone knew the vote on the bailout package would be close, and it was. Everyone did not know it would come up short.

In a moment of historic drama in the Capitol and on Wall Street, the House of Representatives voted on Monday to reject a $700 billion rescue of the financial industry.

The vote against the measure was 228 to 205. Supporters vowed to try to bring the rescue package up for consideration against as soon as possible.

Stock markets plunged sharply at midday as it appeared that the measure was go down.

House leaders pushing for the package kept the voting period open for some 40 minutes past the allotted time, trying to convert "no" votes by pointing to damage being done to the markets, but to no avail.

Here's the final roll call on the vote. A total of 140 Democrats voted for it, 95 against it, while 65 Republicans voted for it, 133 against it.

It was, of course, Republican opposition that scuttled the deal. Rumor has it that Boehner & Co. had promised to deliver between 80 and 90 Republican votes, and that clearly didn't happen. With so many GOP lawmakers balking, fewer Dems had a reason to stick out their necks in support of the package.

Apparently, the new line from the right -- repeated by Boehner, Gingrich, and some conservative bloggers -- is that House Republicans ended up rejecting the bill because they didn't like Nancy Pelosi's speech on the subject. Seriously, that's the excuse for the Republican leadership's humiliating failure.

No word on whether John McCain will "suspend" his campaign again to get into "the arena."

Steve Benen 2:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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A VERY LONG 15 MINUTES.... I'm watching developments on the House floor, where voting was supposed to have ended on the bailout package quite a while ago. As of this minute, House leaders are keeping the vote open, waiting to see how many, if any, votes can be moved before banging the gavel.

As I type, there are 207 votes for the package, and 226 against it. The surprise is the extent of the Republican opposition. More on that soon.

Also, as the floor vote continued, the markets tanked, with the Dow down as many as 700 points a short while ago. Again, as I type, the Dow is down 561.

More soon.

Update: OK, the bill failed, 228 to 205. The House has decided, oddly enough, to try a do-over. Yes, the House is taking up the same bill, again, right now fairly soon, seeing if the same lawmakers vote differently this time. The Dow's down about 500.

Steve Benen 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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HE WAS FOR PHONING IT IN BEFORE HE WAS AGAINST IT.... John McCain sure does pick the strangest talking points.

Campaigning in Columbus, Ohio, today, McCain boasted, "I put my campaign on hold for a couple of days last week to fight for a rescue plan that puts you and your economic security and working families first. I fought for a plan that protected taxpayers I went to Washington last week to make sure the taxpayers of Ohio and across this great country were not left footing the bill."

He added, "You know, remarkably some people have criticized my decision to put my country first, but I'll never be a president who sits on the sidelines when this country faces a crisis. I'll never do that. I know many of you noticed, it's not my style to simply phone it in.... [Fighters belong] in the arena."

What's odd is how easy it is to expose McCain's claims as ridiculous. He didn't put his campaign "on hold for a couple of days"; McCain never actually suspended his campaign at all. He didn't "fight for a rescue plan"; McCain never actually fought for any plan at all.

McCain may not think he likes to "simply phone in it," but when the bailout negotiations were ongoing, McCain literally phoned in it. Fighters may belong "in the arena," but when policy makers were hammering out the details of the proposal, McCain was hanging out a fancy restaurant with Joe Lieberman.

On Thursday afternoon -- ostensibly the time McCain was working on this issue for the first time -- McCain "rarely came close to the Capitol suites and committee rooms where the talks were taking place." He went to a meeting at the White House, where he proceeded to sit silently while others worked on the legislation. On late Thursday afternoon, after smiling for the cameras, McCain was back in one of his several homes by 6 p.m.

And yet, today, McCain wants Ohio voters to think he's some kind of hero, working tirelessly to craft bailout legislation. He really does think voters are fools.

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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PROSECUTOR NAMED FOR U.S. ATTORNEY SCANDAL.... Throughout the U.S. Attorney purge scandal, Republicans insisted this was just a routine personnel matter, of no real consequence. They couldn't have been more wrong.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed a prosecutor Monday to pursue possible criminal charges against Republicans who were involved in the controversial firings of U.S. attorneys.

His move follows the leading recommendation of a Justice Department investigation that harshly criticized Bush administration officials, members of Congress and their aides for the ousters, which were seen by many as politically motivated.

Results of the investigation were made public Monday. The report singled out the removal of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico -- among 9 prosecutors who were fired -- as the most troubling.

Republican political figures in New Mexico, including Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, had complained about Iglesias' handling of voter fraud and public corruption cases, and that led to his firing, the report said.

Nora Dannehy, a career federal prosecutor, is needed, according to Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine and Office of Professional Responsibility director Marshall Jarrett, because "serious allegations involving potential criminal conduct have not been fully investigated or resolved." The criminal conduct, the AP noted, may include lying to investigators, obstruction of justice and wire fraud.

Note to Domenici and Wilson: now would be a good time to put together a very good legal defense team.

Might disgraced former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales also be in trouble? Apparently not -- the IG report explained that Gonzales was largely clueless about the events going on around him, and had no real involvement with decisions regarding U.S. Attorneys. The report concluded that Gonzales, as the head of the Justice Department at the time, bears "primary responsibility" for what transpired, but he was nevertheless "remarkably unengaged."

It also appears that the prosecutor may not have been necessary had it not been for the stonewalling the Justice Department ran into. Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, William Kelley, Monica Goodling, and Pete Domenici all refused to cooperate with requests for interviews, leading to the conclusion that a special prosecutor is needed to fill in the gaps.

What's more, given the calendar, the decision to appoint a prosecutor guarantees "that the politically charged issue will extend into the next administration."

The folks at TPM Muckraker, who've been all of this story from the very beginning, have more on today's report and reactions to it on the Hill.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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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:

* A new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll taken after the debate shows Obama with a modest lead over McCain nationwide, 49% to 44%, compared with last week's three-point lead.

* In case there are lingering doubts about how the public perceived Friday night's debate, Gallup found that voters saw Obama as having done a better job, 46% to 34%.

* The Obama campaign is trying to build up expectations for Sarah Palin's debate performance. "She's very skilled and she'll be well-prepared," David Axelrod told reporters last night.

* Obama told guests at a Detroit fundraiser last night, "You couldn't have written a novel with all the crazy stuff that has happened in this election." I know the feeling.

* Interesting report: "In a development that could have a significant impact on the presidential race, the rise in registered Democrats has far outpaced Republican registration in many key swing states, giving Dems a clear registration advantage in a lot of them, while wiping away one-time GOP registration advantages in a couple others."

* Republicans are starting to worry a bit about Indiana, which hasn't backed a Democratic candidate in more than four decades.

* Mason-Dixon released two polls over the weekend, but neither are likely to be competitive in November. McCain leads by 16 in Tennessee (55% to 39%) and by 12 in Kentucky (53% to 41%).

* And the daily newspaper in Modesto Stockton Record hadn't endorsed a presidential candidate in any election in the last 72 years. Yesterday, it endorsed Obama.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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CLEARING THE CREDIBILITY HURDLE.... Most of the polls since Friday night have shown Barack Obama as the "winner" of the first presidential candidate debate. But for the Obama campaign, this perception was a secondary goal -- the principal objective was for Obama to prove himself as a credible leader prepared for the presidency. In this sense, Friday was as much about improving perceptions as it was the specific task at hand.

With that in mind, a new Gallup poll will no doubt be welcome at Obama campaign headquarters.

Although the debate was supposed to deal with foreign policy, the first portion of the questions ... focused on the economy and the financial bailout plan being negotiated by Congress. This economic focus appears to have been positive for Obama; debate watchers ended up with more confidence in Obama's ability to deal with the economic problems facing the country, rather than less confidence as a result of the debate. By contrast, 37% of debate watchers said that the debate gave them less confidence in John McCain on economic matters rather than more.

Debate watchers saw little difference between the two candidates on national defense and foreign policy as a result of the debate; both Obama and McCain appeared to have come away with slightly improved images on foreign policy.

In all, 35% (a plurality) said they now have more confidence in Obama's ability to handle national defense and foreign policy, just slightly higher than the 34% who said the same about McCain. The problem, of course, was that McCain intended to use this debate to make Americans less confident in Obama on these issues, and encourage voters to see a huge difference between the two.

As Greg Sargent noted, "McCain was under enormous pressure to jar the electorate into seeing Obama as not merely unprepared, but risky and dangerous -- hence McCain's repeated use of that last word." The evidence now suggests this didn't happen. Indeed, while Obama was gaining ground on foreign policy credibility, McCain was losing ground on the economy.

It's an analogy I've been referencing for a while, but James Fallows noted the 1960, 1980, and 1992 races after the debate, arguing, "In each of those cases, a fresh, new candidate (although chronologically older in Reagan's case) had been gathering momentum at a time of general dissatisfaction with the 'four more years' option of sticking with the incumbent party. The question was whether the challenger could stand as an equal with the more experienced, tested, and familiar figure. In each of those cases, the challenger passed the test -- not necessarily by 'winning' the debate, either on logical points or in immediate audience or polling reactions, but by subtly reassuring doubters on the basic issue of whether he was a plausible occupant of the White House and commander in chief."

If the polls are accurate, it's a hurdle Obama cleared rather easily on Friday night.

Steve Benen 11:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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KRISTOL HAS A PLAN.... Bill Kristol believes his long-time friend, John McCain, is having some trouble, but he devotes his New York Times column today to explaining that McCain still "has a chance" to "surge to victory." In fact, Kristol has a two-pronged approach to helping the Republican ticket get on track.

Step One involves Sarah Palin.

...McCain needs to liberate his running mate from the former Bush aides brought in to handle her -- aides who seem to have succeeded in importing to the Palin campaign the trademark defensive crouch of the Bush White House. McCain picked Sarah Palin in part because she's a talented politician and communicator. He needs to free her to use her political talents and to communicate in her own voice.

I'm told McCain recently expressed unhappiness with his staff's handling of Palin. On Sunday he dispatched his top aides Steve Schmidt and Rick Davis to join Palin in Philadelphia. They're supposed to liberate Palin to go on the offensive as a combative conservative in the vice-presidential debate on Thursday.

Yes, right, of course -- Palin has struggled badly as a candidate, but the blame should be directed at "former Bush aides" who've been stuck in a "defensive crouch." Silly me, I thought Palin's problems had more to do with her breathtaking dishonesty, her ongoing ethics scandal, and her inability to answer unscripted questions.

And with her favorability ratings already falling fast, the notion of "liberating" Palin to begin a series of relentless attacks seems misguided. As Joe Klein noted, "I'd wonder about the shelf-life of Palin's efficacy as an attack dog, especially now that the American people have come to see her as the incredible -- as in not credible -- vice presidential choice that she is."

Step Two involves Jeremiah Wright.

[T]he fact is the only Democrats to win the presidency in the past 40 years -- Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton -- distanced themselves from liberal orthodoxy. Obama is, by contrast, a garden-variety liberal. He also has radical associates in his past.

The most famous of these is the Rev. Jeremiah Wright....

Brilliant. In the midst of a Wall Street crisis, and with McCain getting hammered for ignoring the middle class, Kristol wants McCain to talk about the former pastor at Obama's former church. Yeah, that will win voters over.

If Democrats are very lucky, McCain will take Kristol's advice.

Steve Benen 10:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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SELF-CENSORSHIP.... As Sarah Palin continues to struggle badly as a national candidate, she's received a fair amount of criticism from media figures. But Howard Kurtz reports today that the coverage would be far worse if reporters weren't deliberately cutting her some slack.

Sarah Palin has been struggling in her own debates -- with network anchors. While the Alaska governor hardly drew rave reviews for her interview with Charlie Gibson, her sit-down with Katie Couric last week opened the floodgates of criticism, even from conservatives. [...]

It may have been a turning point for Couric, who was persistent without being overbearing, in shedding early doubts about her ability to be a commanding presence in the CBS anchor chair. And the worst may be yet to come for Palin; sources say CBS has two more responses on tape that will likely prove embarrassing.

While some journalists say privately they are censoring their comments about Palin to avoid looking like they're piling on, pundits on the right are jumping ship. [emphasis added]

Talk about burying the lede -- Kurtz knows reporters who are willing to admit that they're self-censoring their coverage, deliberately going easy on Palin? If I'm Kurtz, I might find that worth exploring in more detail.

Amanda noted that McCain campaign aides have "attacked the media for being sexist, lacking 'deference,' and trying to 'smear' Palin." If Kurtz is right, and I suspect he is, the campaign should be sending thank-you notes to news rooms for going easy on Palin.

Steve Benen 10:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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ABOUT THAT BRACELET.... In one of the less illuminating moments of Friday night's debate, John McCain and Barack Obama traded stories about bracelets. McCain talked about a mother in New Hampshire who gave him a bracelet with the name of her son, who was killed in combat outside of Baghdad. The point, apparently, was to keep the war going indefinitely, or his death would be "in vain."

Moments later, Obama noted that he, too, received a bracelet from a mother in Wisconsin that honored her fallen son. She asked Obama to "please make sure" other mothers would not have to go through what she's gone through.

By yesterday afternoon, there was a problem -- far-right blogs were apoplectic because, they insisted, the mother in Wisconsin did not want her son's name to be used in the campaign. Obama's remarks, conservatives argued, was an insult to the family of a fallen hero. Jonah Goldberg demanded, "Take Off the Bracelet, Senator."

The right's outrage, as is often the case, was misguided.

The mother of a Wisconsin soldier who died in Iraq says she was "ecstatic" when Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama mentioned during Friday's debate the bracelet she gave him in honor of her son.

Tracy Jopek of Merrill told The Associated Press on Sunday she was honored that Obama remembered Sgt. Ryan David Jopek, who was killed in 2006 by a roadside bomb.

Jopek criticized Internet reports suggesting Obama, D-Ill., exploited her son for political purposes.

"I don't understand how people can take that and turn it into some garbage on the Internet," she said.

As it turns out, Tracy Jopek had emailed the campaign through its website, asking that her son's name not be used to make an anti-war argument. The campaign receives a lot of emails, of course, and it seems top aides were not aware of her message.

However, when Obama cited Sgt. Jopek to argue that all wars need to be fought for good reasons, and that no soldier ever dies in vain, Tracy Jopek felt proud.

"His response in the debate was exactly that, a response, after John McCain put it out there first," she said. "I think it was an appropriate response -- he was just saying there's another side to the story, there's two different viewpoints."

The far-right freak-out, in other words, was mistaken. The far-right's freak-outs usually are.

Steve Benen 9:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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FAR-RIGHT GROUP EXECUTES 'PULPIT FREEDOM SUNDAY'.... Following up on an item from a few weeks ago, federal tax law, as it relates to tax-exempt religious ministries, is pretty clear -- houses of worship may not legally intervene in political campaigns, either in support of or opposition to a candidate or a party. Those who violate the law run the risk of losing their tax-exempt status.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a prominent far-right legal-advocacy group, came up with a plan -- convince conservative Christian pastors to break the law, on purpose, invite IRS punishment, and then take the whole issue to court in order to challenge the law itself.

They called the plan "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," which was held yesterday in 33 churches across the country.

Defying a federal law that prohibits U.S. clergy from endorsing political candidates from the pulpit, an evangelical Christian minister told his congregation Sunday that voting for Sen. Barack Obama would be evidence of "severe moral schizophrenia."

The Rev. Ron Johnson Jr. told worshipers that the Democratic presidential nominee's positions on abortion and gay partnerships exist "in direct opposition to God's truth as He has revealed it in the Scriptures." Johnson showed slides contrasting the candidates' views but stopped short of endorsing Obama's Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain.

Johnson and 32 other pastors across the country set out Sunday to break the rules, hoping to generate a legal battle that will prompt federal courts to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.

The ministers contend they have a constitutional right to advise their worshipers how to vote. As Johnson put it during a break between sermons, "The point that the IRS says you can't do it, I'm saying you're wrong."

At first blush, this may sound compelling. If a church wants to endorse a candidate, it's the church's business, right? If congregations don't like it, they can go to another church. If a pastor passes the collection plate for John McCain during Sunday services, church members can contribute or not contribute. This isn't, the argument goes, any of the government's business.

But this falls apart pretty quickly. Tax law doesn't stifle free speech; it applies conditions to tax exemptions.

Non-profit organizations receive a tax exemption because their work is charitable, educational or religious. But the benefit comes with conditions, most notably a requirement that tax-exempt organizations refrain from involvement in partisan politics. Since tax-exempt groups are supposed to work for the public good, not spend their time and money trying to elect or defeat candidates, it's hardly unreasonable.

If the rule were eliminated, there'd be a new loophole in campaign finance law -- people could donate to a church's partisan political efforts and the contribution would be tax deductible.

But what if some ministries believe partisan political work is absolutely necessary? They're in luck -- they have every legal right to give up their tax exemption and create an explicitly partisan organization, such as a PAC. Current law simply limits groups from being both tax-exempt ministries and engaging in partisan politics.

ADF, meanwhile, not only wants to let ministries have it both ways, it also wants these ministries to take a huge risk with no reward -- break the law, help partisan candidates, and risk IRS penalty. Why? Because the Alliance Defense Fund, a multimillion-dollar right-wing legal consortium, has a culture-war experiment it's anxious to try out.

These 33 churches -- chosen, the ADF said, in part for "strategic criteria related to litigation" -- are religious right guinea pigs. The next step will be formal complaints filed against the ministries, which I suspect will happen sometime this morning, followed by IRS investigations.

Often, the IRS backs off if church leaders apologize and promise not to do it again. Given the goal of this project, that's not going to happen. Stay tuned.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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IS IT GOING TO PASS?.... Weighing the relative merits of the bailout package headed to the House floor today is pretty tricky. As Hilzoy explained very well overnight, even respected, like-minded economists -- who many might turn to for guidance on whether the bill should pass or not -- disagree with one another.

So, let's ask a different question: what are the bill's chances in Congress?

It took quite a bit of work for lawmakers and administration officials to hammer out a compromise, but it's likely to take at least as much work to secure majorities in both chambers. The 110-page bill is expected to get a floor vote in the House today, with a Senate vote on Wednesday. If lawmakers are looking to the parties' presidential candidates, both McCain and Obama have offered grudging support for the package, though it's unclear just how many votes that'll move.

At this point, no one seems to have any idea what to expect. The AP reports, "Officials in both parties expected the vote to be a nail-biter." The Wall Street Journal seems more confident, reporting, "Both parties have already started the process of pressuring and cajoling members to vote for the bill. Passage is seen as likely, despite the measure's unpopularity." The LA Times, meanwhile, is far less sure, explaining that the bailout "faces strong opposition, and it remained unclear Sunday whether it would have enough votes to pass."

Perhaps one of the only reliable predictions to make is that the vote will not fall along party lines -- both caucuses appear divided.

"Nobody wants to have to support this bill," said Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the House minority leader. But he said he was urging "every member whose conscience will allow them to support this" to do so. Officials in both parties expected the vote to be a nail-biter. [...]

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, an opponent, estimated that half of the House's 199 Republicans are "truly undecided."

Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said he was inclined to oppose the bill. But he added: "A lot of people are going to hold their nose and vote for it, because they've been put in a bad position and they don't have any other option."

For his part, the president seemed to think he could move some of the undecided votes by publicly endorsing the bill this morning, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that few lawmakers actually care about Bush's arm-twisting right now.

So, any predictions?

Steve Benen 7:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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By: Hilzoy

Bailout: The Final Bill

I don't think our Congress has faced a more important decision than whether or not to pass the bailout bill in decades, perhaps longer. (Summary here; CBO analysis here.) To state what is beyond obvious: it is incredibly important to set aside our preconceptions, whatever they may be, and really think hard about whether to support this bill or not. If you're easily alarmed by predictions of disaster, think long and hard about how long it will take to pay this off. If you're inclined to think that experts telling you that you need to fork over large sums of money are necessarily wrong, go back and listen to the audio clips near the end of my last post. Look at the graphs and the pictures. Think hard.

The costs of being wrong, in either direction, are staggering. This is not a time to leap to conclusions.

It is also, in my judgment, not a time for those of us who are not professional economists to imagine that we can sort things out without expert advice. I have read some bloggers who have no background in economics or finance, who are nonetheless sure that there is/is not a crisis, or that the bill under discussion obviously is/is not necessary. We're lucky enough to live at a time when experts provide good analysis very quickly. We should use it.

(Note: of course I'm not suggesting that anyone mindlessly defer to experts. I just think that questions like: what is likely to happen if we don't pass this? are more likely to be answered correctly by people who knew what the TED spread was before a few months ago. It's a judgment call, and one that requires a fair amount of sophisticated knowledge. I am of course trying to understand it as best I can. But I am not under the illusion that I could arrive at a view I feel real confidence in on my own. I feel sort of the way I might if I had to decide between two courses of action, each of which might turn out horribly, and which was right depended on the solution to some completely novel problem in theoretical physics. I might end up solving that problem all by myself, despite the fact that I last took physics in high school, but I'd be a fool to count on it, and an even bigger fool if I simply assumed that the totally awesome solution I just thought of was necessarily right.)

In considering the opinions of experts, it is of course important to restrict oneself to their opinions on the present bill. Thus, the Chicago economists' letter is not relevant at present: it concerned the plan Paulson proposed, which is now dead.

The problem, of course, is that the experts are divided. For instance: Paul Krugman (and again), Brad DeLong (as of Saturday, but the outlines were clear then, and he has not taken it back), Lawrence Summers (ditto), and Mark Thoma think it should be passed, though none of them seems particularly enthusiastic. Nouriel Roubini is against it, and while Dean Baker hasn't expressed an opinion on this particular draft, if his earlier comments are any guide, I imagine he'll oppose it.

For my part, I support it. There are a lot of people who I respect who are genuinely worried that we might be on the brink of a serious depression, and who think this would help avert or mitigate it. But I hate this.

It also seems to me to be really important to keep my anger focussed where it should be: partly on the people whose deals got us into this mess, but much more importantly, on the legislators who failed to do their jobs, or who allowed themselves to be seduced by idiotic economic theories which were, as it happened, in the interests of powerful lobbies.

We're obviously going to have to pass some serious regulation to prevent this from happening again. I'm happy to postpone that: I think the next Congress is likely to do a better job in any case. They are also likely to pass some real assistance to homeowners; again, while I'd rather this happen now, since people need help now, I think the next Congress is likely to do a better job.

We will also have to have some serious deficit spending. Regulation might prevent the next disaster, but it will not help with this one. I'm normally a deficit hawk, but I have absolutely no problem with the idea of rebuilding a whole lot of infrastructure if it helps us head off the problems that are surely coming.

Which is all to say: I support the bailout, but I do not imagine for a moment that it will do more than mitigate the damage, or that we will work our way out of it without a whole lot more work, and a whole lot more pain.

Hilzoy 1:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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September 28, 2008
By: Hilzoy

Waiting For The Bailout Bill

While I wait for more details about the bailout bill, a few general points.

First: some people write as though we're being asked to trust the Bush administration about the existence of a crisis. This isn't true. It's not like the runup to the war in Iraq, where a lot of the crucial information was classified and we had to take the government's word for it. In this case, a lot of information is out in the open, and lots of people, many of them not otherwise sympathetic to the administration, are very scared. Barry Eichengreen notes that "we are not going to see 25 per cent unemployment rates like those of the Great Depression", but he thinks over 10% of the workforce could well end up unemployed. That's a world of hurt; and it's not counting the trillions in vanished assets, etc.

Second: if I were Henry Paulson, I would have spent at least the last year working out the best possible solution to the problems we now face. But I am not Henry Paulson; I'm a citizen wondering how I should ask my representatives to vote. I therefore have to face a very different question, namely: which of the alternatives that can be enacted in the time available to us would help most? The best alternative we can get might not be the best alternative there is. But it matters more to figure out which of the options we actually have is best than to figure out which we would enact if we were benevolent tyrants and could do whatever we wanted.

Third: we also need to bear in mind that whatever plan we end up with, it will be executed by the Treasury and Fed we now have. This matters because it's not obvious how (for instance) Paulson would implement a plan he fundamentally disagreed with. I assume that there are some differences (e.g., reporting requirements) that he would implement without question, and others (e.g. nationalizing the banking and mortgage industries) that he might have a harder time with. (The problem need not be that he would not be trying in good faith to implement what Congress passed. Anything Congress passes will leave some room for people to exercise their judgment, and people who think that Congress' entire approach is fundamentally misguided will be unlikely to do the best possible job of implementing it.)

Fourth: I have precisely no interest in bailing out investment bankers and hedge fund managers, per se. It's not that I have anything against them; I just don't think that spending a ton of money to rescue very wealthy people from the consequences of stupid choices that have put us all at risk is a worthwhile goal for government. By the same token, though, I am not interested in punishing them per se either. I am interested in making sure that ordinary people have as much protection as possible from the economic troubles that lie ahead. If getting them this protection requires that I let the head of WaMu waft off into the sunset in his golden parachute, then so be it. I care much, much less about what happens to him than about what happens to small business owners, construction workers, families whose home values are dropping just when their paychecks are cut, kids whose parents lose their jobs, and seniors whose retirement plans go up in smoke.

Fifth: That said, I think there are very good reasons to include serious cuts on executive compensation in any deal that gets made. Matt Yglesias has noted one of them:

"If we limited executive pay for bailed out institutions -- say by forcing executives to work on government pay scale -- then firms' managers would have a strong incentive to avoid taking taxpayer money unless it was genuinely necessary. Banks that would mere prefer to get bailed out because it would enhance their profits won't do it if taking the bailout means a big cut in executive pay. But institutions that would actually collapse absent a bailout will take the deal because they have no choice."

Relatedly, imposing limits on the compensation of executives whose firms are bailed out would help to lessen the problem of moral hazard. The firms that are bailed out might not have to face the full consequences of their employees' stupid decisions, but if their executives did, that might be enough.

But there's another reason to include serious limits on executive compensation in any bailout we pass. It's always a good idea to try to ensure that people are behind what the government does. But there are some times when it's absolutely crucial. Going to war is one; this is another. One thing our representatives should do is to explain, as clearly as possible, why letting the financial system collapse would be in no one's interest. But another is putting serious limits on executive compensation in place. People simply will not support this package as long as they get to read headlines about executives at firms that we have had to bail out getting seven- or eight-figure bonuses; nor can I think of any reason why we should be expected to.

Finally, while we're considering the possibility that we might be facing an economic depression, it might be a good idea to recall the last one. Mark Thoma has posted some audio links to interviews with people who lived through it; this one and this one are particularly good. I've put a few graphs and pictures below the fold.

Industrial Production:

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Stock Market:

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At a job bureau (more photos at same link):

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Hooverville:

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Family:

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Here's a good timeline on the Great Depression from PBS, and a good economic history by Brad DeLong.

Food for thought.

Hilzoy 3:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (87)

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PALIN DOESN'T SPEAK FOR CAMPAIGN.... Over the summer, there were a series of instances in which John McCain would say something, and McCain aides would walk it back by saying the candidate doesn't actually speak for the candidate's campaign. At one point, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, one of McCain's top advisors, said that just because McCain says something publicly about a policy, "that doesn't mean it's official."

This morning, McCain took a similar tack with Sarah Palin.

Sen. John McCain retracted Sarah Palin's stance on Pakistan Sunday morning, after the Alaska governor appeared to back Sen. Barack Obama's support for unilateral strikes inside Pakistan against terrorists

"She would not...she understands and has stated repeatedly that we're not going to do anything except in America's national security interest," McCain told ABC's George Stephanopoulos of Palin. "In all due respect, people going around and... sticking a microphone while conversations are being held, and then all of a sudden that's -- that's a person's position... This is a free country, but I don't think most Americans think that that's a definitive policy statement made by Governor Palin."

I see. So, just because Sarah Palin says something in public doesn't mean Palin actually believes what she's saying. And for goodness sakes, no one should think that Palin's comments are a reflection of the campaign's position on an issue.

This is getting pretty silly. First, what Palin said was actually fairly sensible, and consistent with the policy favored by both the Bush administration and the Obama campaign.

Second, how are voters to know the difference between the things Palin says that are "definitive policy statements," and the things she says that should be ignored? How is the public to know when Republican candidates mean what they're saying and when they don't?

Steve Benen 1:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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THE LAST HAIL MARY PASS?.... We talked the other day about what kind of wacky stunt the McCain campaign will come up with next. John Dickerson argued that it's only a matter of time before McCain's reckless, erratic behavior produces the need for "another adrenaline injection," and Slate explored some possibilities, including the notion that McCain might challenge Obama to suspend both campaigns "so they both can go and personally drill for oil offshore."

In considering the Hail Mary options, we may have overlooked an obvious one.

In an election campaign notable for its surprises, Sarah Palin, the Republican vice- presidential candidate, may be about to spring a new one -- the wedding of her pregnant teenage daughter to her ice-hockey-playing fiancé before the November 4 election.

Inside John McCain's campaign the expectation is growing that there will be a popularity boosting pre-election wedding in Alaska between Bristol Palin, 17, and Levi Johnston, 18, her schoolmate and father of her baby. "It would be fantastic," said a McCain insider. "You would have every TV camera there. The entire country would be watching. It would shut down the race for a week."

In general, it's wise to be very skeptical about how the British press reports on U.S. political strategies, especially within a presidential campaign. And if you're thinking this falls somewhere in the "too good to check" category, we're on the same page.

But as Josh Marshall concluded, "[Given] what we've seen so far, I can't say I'd be surprised if the moral jalopy that is the McCain-Palin Straight Talk Express sunk us even further into farce with something like this."

Steve Benen 1:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (68)

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PHONING IT IN.... Lindsey Graham has no idea what he's talking about.

This morning on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) praised Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for returning to Washington to help the bailout negotiations, saying his presence was vital to the negotiations:

"John didn't phone this one in.... You can't phone something like this in. Thank God John came back."

I can appreciate Graham's sycophantic support for McCain. I can even appreciate Graham's willingness to try to make it seem as if McCain has been some kind of "savior" in this bailout process.

But his remarks are completely detached from reality. "You can't phone something like this in"? McCain spent yesterday in his campaign office, literally phoning it in.

For that matter, when McCain did show up on Thursday, it was a debacle, and any progress that had been made as part of the ongoing negotiations quickly evaporated after McCain got involved. It's worth noting, of course, that McCain didn't even have anything productive to add to the discussions anyway, remained silent at the White House discussion, and was largely unfamiliar with the competing proposals while attempting to "help."

And last night, while policy makers were trying to work out the final details, the McCains and the Liebermans had a pleasant night out at a swanky D.C. restaurant.

"Thank God John came back"? There's partisan hackery and then there's this kind of partisan hackery.

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

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DOES THE GOP ENDORSE THE BOGUS CRA ARGUMENT?.... By mid-week, a wide variety of far-right voices -- the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Krauthammer, the National Review, Fox News, and others -- simultaneously argued that the Wall Street crisis could be blamed on the Community Reinvestment Act. For the right-wing, the argument was a two-fer -- it blamed liberals and lower-income minorities for the mess.

As a factual matter, Robert Gordon explained very well this week that the conservative argument on the CRA is completely baseless. But as a political matter, the issue took on a new dimension when Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), one of the loonier members of the House, used an Investor's Business Daily article during a congressional hearing to blame the crisis on Bill Clinton, "blacks," and "other minorities."

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus asked a reasonable question this week: does the House Republican caucus agree with Bachmann's analysis? In a letter to House Minority Leader John Boehner, CBC members asked:

It is clear from Rep. Bachmann's comments that she believes that the bipartisan laws enacted over the past decade ensuring that minority communities have equal access to banking and other financial services are the cause of this financial situation. [...]

There is no evidence to support Rep. Bachmann's assertion that "minorities" caused the current financial crisis. Laws designed to open opportunities for equal access to credit do not require banks or thrifts to make loans that are unsafe or unprofitable. In fact, laws like the CRA mandate exactly the opposite. [...] Additionally, research clearly shows that the majority of the predatory loans that have led us to this financial mess were originated by non-bank financial institutions and other entities that did NOT have a CRA obligation and lacked strong federal regulatory oversight. Shifting the blame for the current economic crisis to laws that allow equal access and opportunities to communities of color is ridiculous.

As members of the CBC, we simply ask if Rep. Bachmann's position that it was lending to minority communities that caused the current financial crisis, represent the position of Republican Caucus?

I suspect Boehner will ignore the letter, but under the circumstances, there's every reason to believe the question deserves an answer.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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THE MCCAIN CAMPAIGN'S PAKISTAN PROBLEM.... In Friday night's debate, John McCain identified the new president of Pakistan as "Qadari." His name is actually Asif Ali Zardari. McCain also insisted that Barack Obama doesn't "understand" that "there was a failed state in Pakistan when Musharraf came to power." It was McCain who didn't understand that Pakistan wasn't a "failed state" in 1999.

But the campaign's Pakistan problem seemed to get even worse last night, when McCain's running mate fielded a couple of questions in south Philadelphia last night. A local student asked about foreign policy.

"How about the Pakistan situation?," asked Rovito, who said he was not a Palin supporter. "What's your thoughts about that?"

"In Pakistan?," she asked, looking surprised.

"What's going on over there, like Waziristan?"

"It's working with [Pakistani president] Zardari to make sure that we're all working together to stop the guys from coming in over the border," she told him. "And we'll go from there."

Rovito wasn't finished. "Waziristan is blowing up!," he said.

"Yeah it is," Palin said, "and the economy there is blowing up too."

"So we do cross border, like from Afghanistan to Pakistan you think?," Rovito asked.

"If that's what we have to do stop the terrorists from coming any further in, absolutely, we should," Palin responded, before moving on to greet other voters.

Didn't McCain just say Obama was wrong for endorsing this policy? Didn't he spend part of the debate lecturing Obama, saying, "You don't say that out loud"?

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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NO PARODY REQUIRED.... If you missed it, Tina Fey returned to "Saturday Night Live" last night to reprise her Sarah Palin role. It was more than a little devastating.

Here's the truly hysterical part: the bit used actual quotes from Palin's interview this week with Sarah Palin. As the Huffington Post noted, "no parody was required."

When a comedy show can make you look ridiculous by actually quoting you, verbatim, that's a problem.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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THE GAMBLER.... We talked the other day about John McCain's affinity for gambling -- literally with games of chance, and figuratively with taking enormous risks -- to the point that even some Republicans concede that McCain is "on the borderline of what is acceptable."

But in a striking and well-researched piece, the New York Times' Jo Becker and Don Van Natta report today on the extent of McCain's gambling interests and gambling ties.

Senator John McCain was on a roll. In a room reserved for high-stakes gamblers at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, he tossed $100 chips around a hot craps table. When the marathon session ended around 2:30 a.m., the Arizona senator and his entourage emerged with thousands of dollars in winnings.

A lifelong gambler, Mr. McCain takes risks, both on and off the craps table. He was throwing dice that night not long after his failed 2000 presidential bid, in which he was skewered by the Republican Party's evangelical base, opponents of gambling. Mr. McCain was betting at a casino he oversaw as a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and he was doing so with the lobbyist who represents that casino, according to three associates of Mr. McCain.

The visit had been arranged by the lobbyist, Scott Reed, who works for the Mashantucket Pequot, a tribe that has contributed heavily to Mr. McCain's campaigns and built Foxwoods into the world's second-largest casino. Joining them was Rick Davis, Mr. McCain's current campaign manager. Their night of good fortune epitomized not just Mr. McCain's affection for gambling, but also the close relationship he has built with the gambling industry and its lobbyists during his 25-year career in Congress.

That appears to be an understatement. McCain has more than 40 top advisers and fundraisers who have lobbied or worked for gambling interests. Several of McCain's closest personal friends are casino executives. He receives more money from the gambling industry than almost any member of Congress, especially those outside Nevada and New Jersey. And he loves heading to casinos, traveling to Las Vegas regularly for "weekend betting marathons," overruling aides who've asked him to consider the appearances -- not only of a man who gambles too much, but also of a senator who has enormous oversight responsibilities of the gaming industry.

For that matter, McCain was willing to help lead an investigation of Jack Abramoff, the disgraced Republican lobbyist who represented Indian gambling interests, but the details of McCain's involvement sound far from noble.

[I]nterviews and records show that lobbyists and political operatives in Mr. McCain's inner circle played a behind-the-scenes role in bringing Mr. Abramoff's misdeeds to Mr. McCain's attention -- and then cashed in on the resulting investigation. The senator's longtime chief political strategist, for example, was paid $100,000 over four months as a consultant to one tribe caught up in the inquiry, records show. [...]

For McCain-connected lobbyists who were rivals of Mr. Abramoff, the scandal presented a chance to crush a competitor. For senior McCain advisers, the inquiry allowed them to collect fees from the very Indians that Mr. Abramoff had ripped off. And the investigation enabled Mr. McCain to confront political enemies who helped defeat him in his 2000 presidential run while polishing his maverick image.

It's quite a story. Read the whole thing.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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By: Hilzoy

Rick Davis, Yet Again

Remember the Rick Davis story? The one about how Davis, John McCain's campaign manager, was hired by Freddie Mac to do virtually nothing? The one that McCain's decision to pretend to suspend his campaign crowded out of the news? It's back (h/t TPM):

"Last week, though, McCain's trust in Davis was tested again amid disclosures that Freddie Mac, the troubled mortgage giant that was recently placed under federal conservatorship, paid his campaign manager's firm $15,000 a month between 2006 and August 2008. As the mortgage crisis has escalated, almost any association with Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae has become politically toxic. But the payments to Davis's firm, Davis Manafort, are especially problematic because he requested the consulting retainer in 2006 -- and then did barely any work for the fees, according to two sources familiar with the arrangement who asked not to be identified discussing Freddie Mac business. Aside from attending a few breakfasts and a political-action-committee meeting with Democratic strategist Paul Begala (another Freddie consultant), Davis did "zero" for the housing firm, one of the sources said. Freddie Mac also had no dealings with the lobbying firm beyond paying monthly invoices -- but it agreed to the arrangement because of Davis's close relationship with McCain, the source said, which led top executives to conclude "you couldn't say no.""

Savor that last bit, as you recall McCain railing against the culture of corruption in Washington. I don't know whether shaking Freddie Mac down for a $15,000 a month to do nothing violates any laws, but it's certainly not the way straightforward people do business. It's also not a way it's possible to do business if you don't have pretty serious connections, and the willingness to abuse them. Asking someone to pay your firm $180,000 a year for nothing, when you know, or should know, that they will feel that they "can't say no", is exactly the kind of corruption that John McCain spends his days pledging to fight. It's rather peculiar that he does not begin that fight by sacking his campaign manager.

Moving right along:

"The McCain campaign told reporters the fees were irrelevant because Davis "separated from his consulting firm ... in 2006", according to the campaign's Web site, and he stopped drawing a salary from it. In fact, however, when Davis joined the campaign in January 2007, he asked that his $20,000-a-month salary be paid directly to Davis Manafort, two sources who asked not to be identified discussing internal campaign business told NEWSWEEK. Federal campaign records show the McCain campaign paid Davis Manafort $90,000 through July 2007, when a cash crunch prompted Davis and other top campaign officials to forgo their salaries and work as volunteers. Separately, another entity created and partly owned by Davis -- an Internet firm called 3eDC, whose address was the same office building as Davis Manafort's -- received payments from the McCain campaign for Web services, collecting $971,860 through March 2008.

In an e-mail to NEWSWEEK, a senior McCain official said that when the campaign began last year, it signed a contract with Davis Manafort "in which we purchased all of [Davis's] time, and he agreed not to work for any other clients." The official also said that though Davis was an "investor" in 3eDC, Davis has received no salary from it. As to why Davis permitted the Freddie Mac payments to continue, the official referred NEWSWEEK to Davis Manafort, which did not respond to repeated phone calls. One senior McCain adviser said the entire flap could have been avoided if the campaign had resisted attacking Barack Obama for his ties to two former Fannie Mae executives, which prompted the media to take a second look at Davis. "It was stupid," the adviser said. "A serious miscalculation and an amateurish move." Still, this adviser said, McCain's faith in his campaign manager remains unswerving."

Josh Marshall has more on 3eDC.

Remember the McCain campaign's response to the last round of Davis stories?

"As has been previously reported, Mr. Davis separated from his consulting firm, Davis Manafort, in 2006. As has been previously reported, Mr. Davis has seen no income from Davis Manafort since 2006. Zero. Mr. Davis has received no salary or compensation since 2006. Mr. Davis has received no profit or partner distributions from that firm on any basis -- weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, semi-annual or annual -- since 2006. Again, zero."

I suppose it's possible that his salary, which has been paid to Davis Manafort, has been distributed entirely to its other partners, while Rick Davis subsists on air and dewdrops and curls up each night in a flower petal, like a fairy. Somehow, however, I doubt it.

Here's a question: did Rick Davis tell John McCain about his arrangement with Freddie Mac before last week? If not, then I would expect Davis to be fired within days: you just don't keep information like that from your boss and expect to keep your job. But if Davis did tell McCain, then when McCain approved his ad slamming Obama for supposedly having an advisor who had been the chairman of Fannie Mae -- though both he and the Obama campaign deny that he advised them, and his connection to Obama would have been tenuous in any case -- McCain knew that his own campaign manager had been retained by Freddie Mac until it was taken over by the government. That would be dishonorable, though not, unfortunately, surprising.

Hilzoy 1:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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September 27, 2008

WORKING THE PHONES.... Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail this afternoon, and held what appeared to be a pretty big rally in Greensboro, North Carolina. And how did John McCain spend his afternoon?

Even though his campaign is no longer suspended, John McCain is staying in Washington this weekend to keep working on the bailout legislation. He will not be visiting Capitol Hill, however, preferring to work out of his campaign office.

"He can effectively do what he needs to do by phone," said senior adviser Mark Salter.

Is that so. According to the McCain campaign, the senator doesn't really have to get directly involved in discussions about a possible Wall Street bailout; he can "do what he needs to do by phone." If that's the case, why "suspend" the presidential campaign at all?

For that matter, what is it, exactly, that McCain "needs to do"? There's ample evidence he doesn't understand the substantive details; there's even evidence he doesn't understand the nature of the crisis. So what kind of role does McCain hope to play in the negotiations he's monitoring from one of his several homes?

For what it's worth, Obama campaign spokesperson Bill Burton told reporters today that Obama spoke to more than 20,000 voters in North Carolina and found time to coordinate with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Sen. Harry Reid, and Rep. Barney Frank about the ongoing negotiations. Walking and chewing gum at the same time isn't that hard after all....

Steve Benen 7:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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BETTER TO REMAIN SILENT AND BE THOUGHT A FOOL.... Amanda catches this interesting tidbit from a Washington Post report on Thursday's meeting at the White House between the president and top members of Congress. We talked yesterday about John McCain's reluctance to step up and take the lead at the meeting -- indeed, he was reportedly reluctant to contribute anything of substance at all -- but this piece adds some remarkable details.

Bush turned to McCain, who joked, "The longer I am around here, the more I respect seniority." McCain then turned to Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to speak first.

Boehner was blunt. The plan Paulson laid out would not win the support of the vast majority of House Republicans. It had been improved on the edges, with an oversight board and caps on the compensation of participating executives. But it had to be changed at the core. He did not mention the insurance alternative, but Democrats did. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, pressed Boehner hard, asking him if he really intended to scrap the deal and start again.

No, Boehner replied, he just wanted his members to have a voice. Obama then jumped in to turn the question on his rival: "What do you think of the [insurance] plan, John?" he asked repeatedly. McCain did not answer.

It seems to me there are two possible explanations for McCain's silence. One possibility is that this was an extension of what we saw last night -- he believes his rivals are beneath him, and he has nothing but contempt for those who question him, so he refused to engage in a policy discussion.

The other is that McCain had no idea what the grown-ups were talking about, didn't understand what the insurance alternative was, and knew he'd humiliate himself he tried to engage in a substantive dialog with a room full of people who knew vastly more than he did. As recently as Tuesday, he hadn't even read Paulson's three-page proposal, and within hours of the White House meeting, McCain was in Boehner's office, unfamiliar with the details of the House Republican proposal, so this could be part of a pattern.

So, McCain refused to talk at the White House meeting because he has contempt for his colleagues or because he's spectacularly ignorant.

I suppose it could be both.

Steve Benen 4:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (62)

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FUNDING THE TROOPS.... The McCain campaign probably has a pretty good reason to feel a little panicky this afternoon. The debate didn't deliver the big win McCain needed, and the campaign is running out of time.

So, McCain, unconcerned about decency or honesty, is doubling down on accusing Barack Obama of not supporting U.S. troops. In a new ad, unveiled this afternoon, the McCain campaign insists, "In the midst of war, Senator Obama voted to cut off funding for our troops." It concludes that Obama supports "risking lives."

McCain desperately has to hope voters are fools. Indeed, this came up last night, and Obama explained reality fairly well:

"Senator McCain opposed funding for troops in legislation that had a timetable, because he didn't believe in a timetable. I opposed funding a mission that had no timetable, and was open-ended, giving a blank check to George Bush. We had a difference on the timetable. We didn't have a difference on whether or not we were going to be funding troops. We had a legitimate difference."

What's really idiotic about McCain's attack is that, by his own logic, McCain voted to cut off funding for our troops in the midst of a war. That's an inescapable conclusion -- McCain supported troop funding when he liked the conditions of the spending bill, and opposed troop funding when he didn't. As it happens, Obama did the exact same thing, only in support of different conditions.

If Obama voted to undermine the troops and "risked lives," then McCain voted to undermine the troops and "risked lives." It's as simple as that.

But McCain is counting on voters not knowing the difference between misleading smears and the facts. It's been the basis for most of the McCain campaign rhetoric all year -- treat voters like idiots, and pray they see the ad without seeing the fact-check of the ad.

Maybe this is why McCain wouldn't look at Obama last night -- McCain is ashamed of the hack he's become.

Steve Benen 4:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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MR. FREEZE.... I'd like to think this might draw some additional attention in the aftermath of last night's debate, but there was an exchange that deserves a closer look.

Jim Lehrer noted that the cost of the response to the financial crisis is still undetermined, but it's likely to be enormous. He pressed McCain on how it would affect his presidency. McCain responded, "How about a spending freeze on everything but defense, veteran affairs and entitlement programs." Asked if he was really proposing a spending freeze, McCain added, "I think we ought to seriously consider with the exceptions the caring of veterans national defense and several other vital issues."

Now, as far as I can tell, a spending freeze has never been part of McCain's policy agenda. In all likelihood, he came up with it on the spot and will never repeat this again.

But he nevertheless made this pronouncement in front of the whole country. And a spending freeze of this magnitude goes well beyond getting rid of a few earmarks. Mark Schmitt explained:

A spending freeze ... is a very specific thing -- some programs will be in the freeze, some out. In a recession, programs that would normally cost more automatically -- like Food Stamps or Unemployment Insurance -- will be unable to respond.

Over the next few weeks, Obama (as well as the press, if it's not too much to ask) should pound relentlessly on the spending freeze: What's frozen, and what's "several other vital issues"? In a recession, are Food Stamps frozen? Student loans? Unemployment benefits? Pell Grants? S-CHIP? Low-Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP)? The list is long, and different states and constituencies naturally have their own programs that they would like to know whether McCain would freeze them or not.

And wherever McCain's answer is yes, that program would be part of the freeze, numbers can usually be put to it quickly. For example, freezing LIHEAP would leave X million seniors without heat this winter. Freezing Pell Grants would mean X million students couldn't go to college.

At the end, McCain will be in one of two boxes: Either he's a guy who is willing to slash every domestic program, leave seniors in the dark and kids blocked from college, while dumping hundreds of billions of dollars into Wall Street and Baghdad, plus his tax cuts. Or his "spending freeze" is just another vacuous gimmick.

It's probably considered passe for the media to care about a policy pronouncement made during a debate, but this is a fairly big deal -- which, in theory, could be devastating to McCain. As Yglesias noted, his proposed spending freeze would, in real terms, mean "less money for your local police department. Less money for the FBI. Less money for Head Start. Less money for Pell Grants. Less money for infrastructure. Less money for everything except failed banks and endless wars."

If McCain really believes this is a wise approach to the budget, voters ought to know about it.

Steve Benen 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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By: Hilzoy

"John Was Right"

Last night, the fact that Obama said that McCain was right on several occasions caused consternation among some liberals, and great rejoicing on the right. I didn't agree. It would have been one thing had Obama not also been willing to say, forcefully, that he thought McCain was wrong. But he was, and usually his acknowledgement that McCain was right on some point was the preface to an explanation of why he was wrong on another.

In that context, the fact that Obama was willing to acknowledge those points where he agreed with McCain struck me as gracious, not weak. As Pat Lang said: "

"There will be those, like the oaf Chris Matthews, who will think that McCain's attitude shows him to be a leader. I think it shows that he was not raised well. His refusal to look at Obama throughout the debate, his dismissive tone of voice when continually speaking of Obama in the third person as though he were not there, his inability to say anything good about his opponent, all showed him to be a natural bully or someone who has been taught to be a bully."

I wasn't sure whether McCain would come off this way to anyone other than myself, but he seems to have.

Nonetheless, the McCain campaign seems to think that pointing out the occasions when Obama said that McCain was right is a winning strategy. I think this is wrong, not only for the reasons I mentioned, but because it undercuts one of McCain's main lines of argument: that he is willing to reach across the aisle and work for bipartisan solutions, whereas Obama is not.

Think about it: McCain couldn't even bring himself to look at Obama. He was consistently contemptuous and dismissive. And now he has released an ad that takes Obama's willingness to acknowledge that his opponents are right to be the sort of thing that's worth attacking him for.

McCain claims that he can truly reach out to his opponents and work with them, while Obama cannot. It's hard for me to think that his performance in this debate didn't seriously undermine that claim.

Hilzoy 12:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (77)

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A TALE OF TWO ADS.... Given that the McCain and Obama campaigns release new ads -- the line between video press releases and actual advertising has been blurred -- on a nearly daily basis, it stood to reason that both camps would seize on the debate to hammer home some kind of argument.

What the campaigns chose, however, tells us something about what the two sides thought about last night's event.

The McCain campaign unveiled an insta-ad last night, highlighting instances from the debate in which Obama said he agreed with McCain.

It's a very odd message. As Ezra noted, "Obama comes off as gracious, not as a mimic." I'd just add that for a lot of viewers at home, the fact that Obama was willing to be gracious, and not pick unnecessary fights, reinforced the notion that Obama is beyond partisan sniping. In this sense, the McCain campaign's message with this is shallow and largely meaningless. What's the underlying point McCain is trying to drive home with this? That Obama and McCain agree on some areas of foreign policy? So what?

On the other hand, the Obama campaign released its new ad this morning. It's called, "Zero" -- referring to the number of times John McCain used the words "middle class" last night.

"Number of minutes in debate: 90," the voice-over says. "Number of times John McCain mentioned the middle class: Zero. McCain doesn't get it. Barack Obama does." From there, we see Obama during the debate, explain, "The fundamentals of the economy have to be measured by whether or not the middle class is getting a fair shake... And when you look at your tax policies...you are neglecting people who are really struggling right now. I think that is a continuation of the last eight years, and we can't afford another four."

One of these ads actually works. I'll give you a hint: it's not McCain's.

Steve Benen 11:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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CONTEMPT.... After the initial dust settles on a presidential candidate debate, Phase II begins -- the media moves beyond who said what, and starts looking for some overlooked trend to obsess over.

The quintessential example was, of course, Al Gore "sighing" during the first of the three debates in 2000. A few people noticed Gore's breathing the night of the debate, but a day or two later, it became the story. To a lesser extent, Bush's bizarre facial features, and the apparent bump under his suit jacket, became fodder for discussion four years ago.

So, what's the stylistic story from last night? It may be John McCain's willingness to be ... what's the word I'm looking for ... something of a jerk.

As Josh Marshall noted, "McCain's unwillingness to make eye contact with Obama through the debate seems to be getting picked up by a lot of observers." It does, indeed. The specific and unusual rules of last night's debate were intended to generate more interaction between the two candidates. Jim Lehrer seemed intent, at least early on, to get the two to engage each other directly. Obama mostly spoke to the camera last night, but he didn't hesitate to speak directly to McCain.

McCain, on the other hand, went out of his way, it seemed, to not even look in Obama's direction. Chris Matthews described this as a sign of "contempt," which struck me as the right description.

Others noticed the same trend. The Washington Post's Tom Shales noted, for example, that McCain "seemed determined to avoid even looking at Obama as the debate went on."

I seriously doubt this takes on the significance of the media's insane fascination with Gore's "sighs," but as the second phase begins, don't be surprised if we hear more about this.

Steve Benen 10:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

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By: Hilzoy

Crises Fiscal And Financial

Felix Salmon makes a point about the debate that I missed:

"The number of undecided voters who understand the difference between financial and fiscal is minuscule, and the number of those who think that the difference actually matters is probably zero. But from a technocratic standpoint, the fact that McCain twice referred to the financial crisis as a "fiscal crisis" is telling. It means (a) that he doesn't really understand it, and (b) that insofar as he does, he thinks that government is at least as much part of the problem as it is part of the solution."

He's right: I just checked the transcript. Possiby McCain just misspoke, although the fact that he said it twice argues against that. Possibly he just doesn't understand what "fiscal" means. But if he thinks this is a fiscal crisis, then he really, really doesn't understand it at all.

If McCain thinks we're in a fiscal crisis, that would explain why he keeps insisting that the solution involves cutting government spending. For instance:

"Lehrer: Are there fundamental differences between your approach and Senator Obama's approach to what you would do as president to lead this country out of the financial crisis?

McCain: Well, the first thing we have to do is get spending under control in Washington. It's completely out of control."

But that's really, deeply, totally wrong. When you're going into a recession, let alone a depression, you want to get more money into the hands of people who will spend it, lend it, or in some other way help the economy get back on its feet. It's the last time to be wondering how to cut spending.

I don't mean to say that there aren't programs that should be cut because (say) they are ineffective or counterproductive, or that we won't have to cut anything to compensate for the additional debt we seem to be about to take on. I do mean to say that cutting spending, per se, is not a solution to the problems we face; under the circumstances, it is at best an unfortunate necessity. That McCain thinks it is a solution is really worrisome.

Hilzoy 9:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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RUNNING MATES AS SURROGATES.... After a debate, campaigns generally want high-profile figures telling the media how great their candidate did. And as a rule, it's hard to top the running mates as high-profile figures.

It was pretty interesting, then, that the Obama campaign was anxious to get Joe Biden in front of the cameras -- while Sarah Palin was nowhere to be found.

Indeed, as this CNN clip shows, Biden was not only out there, he was excellent, offering a forceful and on-message denunciation of McCain, and explaining how right Obama was. (Biden delivered the same critique on CBS and NBC.)

Some viewers at home seemed to think it was unfair that CNN interviewed Biden as part of the post-debate coverage, but didn't have Palin on. Eventually, Wolf Blitzer had to explain to the audience that the network wasn't slighting anyone.

"We've been getting some emails from views out there wondering why we spent some time interviewing Joe Biden, the Democratic vice presidential nominee and not Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee," Blitzer said. "We would have loved to interview -- we'd still love to interview Sarah Palin. Unfortunately we asked, we didn't get that interview.... We're hoping that Sarah Palin will join us at some point down the road."

As Michael Crowley concluded, "It's pretty strange when a candidate can't trust his own running mate to be out there spinning on his behalf. And it's funny that a lot of McCain supporters seem to think that's about media bias and not the fact that Palin is in lockdown somewhere."

Steve Benen 9:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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WHY AN OBAMA WINS MATTERS.... Depending on your perspective and scorecard, most observers seem to think either Obama won a narrow victory in the debate, or McCain won a narrow victory. It's worth remembering, though, that the larger political context suggests neither result gave McCain what he needed.

Remember, McCain went into the debate moving in the wrong direction. Recent polls show him falling behind, the "suspend the campaign" gimmick was largely a flop, and as voters' attention moved to the economy, the race quickly shifted to McCain's weakest area.

Given this, last night was a genuine opportunity for McCain. The debate was focused largely on foreign policy and national security, issues perceived as McCain's strength by voters, the media, and McCain himself. It was, in this sense, an event that McCain could use to turn the whole campaign around.

Except, that clearly didn't happen. Whether it was a tie or a slight win for either candidate isn't especially important -- McCain needed a clear, dominating victory. He didn't get one. Not even close.

For Obama, the dynamic is reversed. He's benefitted as the race has shifted to the economy, but he needed to demonstrate last night that he's a credible, knowledgeable figure on foreign policy, ready to go toe to toe with a candidate with a more extensive background in international affairs. And, he did.

Usually, describing someone as having "held his own" sounds like underwhelming, or possibly even a mild insult. But in this case, saying Obama "held his own" against McCain on foreign policy and national security isn't such a bad thing at all. For a lot of people, at home and in the media, McCain was the only candidate in the race who could speak with any authority on these issues. Obama proved them wrong.

(For the record, I thought Obama more than "held his own" on foreign policy. Like Fred Kaplan, I actually saw Obama as being far stronger on the issue. I mention the "held his own" meme, because it seems to have quickly become part of the conventional wisdom.)

McCain needed a big night to turn things around, and he didn't get it. In this context, no matter how close viewers perceived the debate, it was a missed opportunity for a candidate who won't get too many more chances to change the race.

Steve Benen 8:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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THE POLLS AND FOCUS GROUPS.... The insta-reactions in the polls are not always the most reliable measurements. The sample sizes are modest, and the public is often swayed after the fact by media analysis. That said, the initial data after last night's debate certainly looks favorable for Obama.

Isaac Chotiner noted the focus group results, for example: "For what it's worth: The Frank Luntz and Stanley Greenberg focus groups went overwhelmingly for Obama."

The CBS poll, which focused exclusively on undecided voters, found that a plurality, 39% to 25%, believed Obama "won" the debate, though over a third, 36%, saw it as a "draw."

CNN appears to have released the longest and most detailed of the debate-related polls. TPM reported:

Regardless of which candidate you happen to support, who do you think did the best job in the debate -- Barack Obama or John McCain? Obama 51% McCain 38%

Did _______ do a better or worse job than you expected?
Obama: Better 57%, Worse 20%, Same 23%
McCain: Better 60%, Worse 20%, Same 18%

Next, regardless of which presidential candidate you support, please tell me if you think Barack Obama or John McCain would better handle each of the following issues:
* The war in Iraq: Obama 52%, McCain 47%
* Terrorism: McCain 49%, Obama 45%
* The economy: Obama 58%, McCain 37%
* The current financial crisis: Obama 54%, McCain 36%

The respondents to the CNN poll also found Obama to be "more intelligent," more eloquent, more sincere, more likable, more in touch with the needs of regular people, and someone who seems like a "strong leader." McCain had a huge edge when it came to which candidate "spent more time attacking his opponent."

Asked about the candidates' readiness to handle the job of president, 69% expressed confidence in Obama, and 68% said the same about McCain.

Nate Silver has some solid analysis of the data, which is worth checking out.

I'd just add that these polls matter, not just in offering a glimpse at the public's response, but also because the results help shape the conventional wisdom.

Steve Benen 7:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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September 26, 2008

INITIAL REACTION: OBAMA WINS ON POINTS.... I'll have a more thought out reaction to the debate in the morning, but my insta-reaction was that Obama had the edge, on points.

I think a lot of observers go into a debate like this waiting for a knock-out blow, along the lines of a "You're no Jack Kennedy" moment. That almost never happens, and tonight certainly didn't have any lasting, humiliating moments.

I was a little surprised at the contempt McCain showed for Obama, refusing to even look at Obama during the debate. It was the height of arrogance -- McCain's not-so-subtle message was that he didn't even want to be on the same stage with his rival. I lost count of how many times he said Obama "doesn't understand" an issue, even when it was obvious that it was McCain who was confused.

As for Obama, I continue to think about the 1980 analogy -- Obama playing the role of Reagan, taking advantage of an electorate desperate for change, and clearing the credibility hurdle. Obama's principal goal, I suspect, was to demonstrate his readiness, reassure skeptics, and prove that he belongs there. Reagan did it in '80, and Obama did it tonight. As I watched, I kept thinking, "This guy is ready to lead."

I never have any idea how "typical voters" will react to these events, but from where I sat, Obama looked very strong, demonstrating considerable foreign policy knowledge, an even temperament, and a striking intellect. McCain seemed defensive, angry, and even by his standards, he rambled quite a bit.

We'll have more numbers soon enough, but Ambinder has this data from CBS News:

40% of uncommitted voters who watched the debate tonight thought Barack Obama was the winner. 22% thought John McCain won. 38% saw it as a draw.

68% of these voters think Obama would make the right decision about the economy. 41% think McCain would.

49% of these voters think Obama would make the right decisions about Iraq. 55% think McCain would.

Like I said, I'll have more in the morning, but if I were giving letter grades, I'd say Obama deserves an A-, while McCain might get a generous B. How about you?

Steve Benen 11:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (102)

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By: Hilzoy

Debate: Liveblogging

I will try to liveblog this, even though I have no idea whether I'll be any good at it.

9:03: Where do they stand on recovery plans?

9:06: Obama: I think he looks good: collected, forceful. States principles; ties current problems to Republican philosophy.

9:07: Though on reflection, he didn't say where he stands on the specific packages; just principles.

9:08: McCain seems to me more rambling, but folksy. I don't like this, but some people seem to. And why was it McCain who mentioned Kennedy first?

9:10: McCain apparently commits to voting for the plan.

9:12: McCain talks about Eisenhower, and the need to hold people accountable. Obama agrees. But says: not just when there's a crisis.

9:14: Lehrer: are there fundamental differences about what McCain would do vs. what Obama would do to get us out of this crisis?

9:15: McCain: his answer goes on about earmarks and pork-barrel spending. I have no idea what this has to do with the present crisis.

9:17: Obama: earmarks are a pretty small part of domestic spending. McCain's tax cuts for the rich are much, much bigger. His own tax cuts, for the middle class, would do more for economic growth.

9:20: McCain goes on and on about Obama's earmarks, and the corruption of the system. Obama: eliminating earmarks alone will not get the economy back on track. It's a continuation of the past eight years.

9:21: McCain: Business taxes: too high. Now he's back on earmarks. Again.

9:22: Obama: I will cut taxes on everyone making $250,000. Business taxes: low on paper, but there are so many loopholes that it's actually lower. McCain doesn't want to eliminate these loopholes; just shovel more tax cuts to people.

9:24: McCain: Obama has voted for bills that have earmarks. Plus, he has voted to raise taxes on people making $42,000/year. Sigh.

9:26: New question: what will you have to give up because of financial rescue plan?

9:28: I'm going to stop summarizing for a moment. I think Obama is being basically clear; if he has a weakness, it's moving through too many points. It's as though he's reading a very crisp outline, very quickly.

McCain, by contrast, is rambling, but in an aggrieved sort of way.

9:30: McCain, unlike Obama, promises an actual cut: ethanol subsidies. Also, reforming defense spending. He's in his element there, although I have no idea how his use of defense spending jargon will go over with people.

9:34: McCain: a spending freeze on everything but veterans, defense, and -- darn, I missed it. Obama: no, some programs are underfunded. Somehow or other, McCain has gotten onto nuclear power. How is a mystery.

9:36: Out of nowhere, McCain says that Obama's plans will hand control of health care over to the federal government. (Huh?) Talks about cutting spending.

9:38: McCain has been consistently saying: look at our records. Obama: look, all this spending has occurred under a President you agreed with 90% of the time. You have voted for his budgets. McCain: people know me.

9:39: Question: what are the lessons of Iraq? McCain: the war was mishandled; now we are succeeding. Had we lost, the consequences would have been dire.

9:42: Obama: the question is whether we should have gone in there at all. I said no, for various reasons, including the fact that we had not finished the job in Afghanistan. Now, things are bad. We took our eye off the ball. Lesson: we should not hesitate to use military force to keep us safe, but we should use it wisely.

9:44: McCain: The surge has worked. And "incredibly -- incredibly -- ", Obama did not go to Iraq.

9:44: Obama: "John likes to pretend the war started in 2007." Cites McCain's mistakes. I think this was quite effective.

9:46: McCain: Obama doesn't know the difference between strategy and tactics. Also: he will not acknowledge the success of the surge.

9:47: McCain says Obama voted to cut funding for troops. Obama says: we both voted against funding bills that had things we disagreed with.

9:48: I think McCain came close to losing his temper.

9:50: New question: more troops to Afghanistan? Obama: yes.

9:51: Obama brings up Pakistan.

9:53: McCain says he will not repeat mistake of abandoning Afghanistan. (Me: I thought he did that. In 2003.)

9:56: Back and forth about what Obama said about Pakistan. Obama brings up various threats McCain has made.

9:57: Obama talks Pakistan. In my judgment, he's quite astute.

9:59: McCain says Obama doesn't understand Pakistan. Them for some reason, he goes over his entire history of war votes. He sounds earnest and sober. I have no idea what the point is.

Telling story of bracelet of dead soldier. She promised his mother her son's death would not be in vain.

10:01: Obama: President must make strategic judgments, and make them wisely. We took our eyes off the ball in Afghanistan. You have not consistently been concerned with Afghanistan.

10:02: I think Obama has gotten under McCain's skin.

10:04: Question: Iran?

McCain: Threat to Israel, to the region. "League of Democracies". It would help us to impose new sanctions. (How?)

10:06: Obama: The single thing that has strengthened Iran most recently is the war in Iraq. (Good.)

10:08: Obama says he doesn't think we can do sanctions without engaging countries who are not democracies. Also, we need negotiations.

10:09: McCain: Obama wants to negotiate with Ahmedinejad, whose name he has trouble with. This somehow legitimizes them, and even implies that they're doing the right thing.

10:10: Obama has a nice, sharp response. Brings up Kissinger's call for negotiations without preconditions. Explains what preconditions are. Pointed.

10:12: Obama brings up Spain. (*giggles*)

10:13: I am clearly, undeniably biassed. So I cannot assess how McCain's repeated "what Senator Obama doesn't understand" stuff would go over with an undecided voter.

10:15: Testy, testy...

10:17: New question: Russia. Obama: Russia's actions in Georgia are unacceptable. We should make that clear. But no return to the Cold War. We need to cooperate on e.g. loose nukes.

10:19: McCain harps on Obama's naivete again. Energy. Pipelines. Places "where I have spent significant amounts of time."

10:20: McCain really is a lot more coherent on foreign policy than on other topics. I really disagree with him, but he's pretty clear.

10:24: Obama brings it round to energy, and says that you have to "walk the walk, not just talk the talk" on alternative energy.

10:26: Question: what are the odds of another 9/11?

McCain: much less. 9/11 commission, and his role in creating it. (Bipartisan, reaching across the aisle...)

We have to have trained interrogators, so that we never torture a prisoner ever again.

Good for McCain.

10:28: Obama: we have done some things, but not enough on hardening chemical plants, on ports, etc.

Obama said we need missile defense. Ugh.

We need to focus on al Qaeda, not Iraq.

Also: how we are perceived matters for fight against terrorism. He wants to restore our image abroad. Gives McCain credit on torture.

10:31: Obama, who has (I think) been needling McCain, was just quite gracious. McCain responded with another 'Senator Obama doesn't get it.'

10:33: Obama: we are still too focussed on Iraq, and it was weakened us. Plus, it costs money we need elsewhere.

10:34: McCain, somewhat out of the blue, says that Obama lacks the experience and judgment he needs. "We have seen this stubbornness before, in this administration."

10:35: Obama: his father, who thought of America as a beacon when he was in Kenya. He wants to restore that.

10:37: McCain: when he came back from Vietnam, he worked to get POWs back. He knows how to heal the wounds of war.

McCain had a stronger close, I think.

***

I thought it was close. A lot, I think, will depend on how McCain struck people: to me, he was annoying and dismissive. Will it work? It didn't on me, but I'm not, um, normal.

Chris Matthews just made the same point, which makes me want to rethink it: "will his obvious contempt" turn voters off?

Signing off...

***

Actually, not quite signing off: on reflection, I think that the "story" out of this (and I haven't read around yet) is likely to be McCain's saying that Obama doesn't have the experience or the judgment to be President. I suspect that was a mistake, not just because it was (imho) over the line into incivility, but also because it just begs for commentary about McCain's having voted for the war in Iraq in the first place.

I also think that McCain's calling Obama inflexible was a mistake: I don't think Obama comes off that way, and it seemed like enough of a stretch that it might have undermined McCain's credibility more generally.

Obama, I thought, missed a few opportunities. The most important, I thought, was when McCain said he would never repeat the mistake of abandoning Afghanistan. The response "But John, you did: back in 2003, when you voted to take our focus away from Afghanistan in order to wage a war of choice against a country that had not attacked us" was just begging and pleading to be made. He was also, I thought, a bit tense.

As I said, close. But this was supposed to be McCain's strong debate, remember.

Hilzoy 8:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (255)

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By: Hilzoy

Passports

Most of Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric just made me alternately laugh and wince. One bit, however, really bothered me:

"I'm not one of those who maybe came from a background of, you know, kids who perhaps graduate from college. Their parents get them a passport and give them a backpack and say, "go off and travel the world." No, I've worked all my life. In fact I've had two jobs all my life until I had kids. I was not a part of, I guess, that culture."

I didn't write about it, largely because I wanted to stick up for the people I know who are from small towns, but I thought my own background might interfere. (I was a part of, I guess, that culture.) Luckily, Charles Brown at Undiplomatic did, and better than I would have. He starts by going over his own background:

"I'm not that different from Sarah Palin. Except for one small thing. I was curious about the world. I really really wanted to see it. I was dying to learn what it had to offer. But even after I started working, I remained too poor to travel. That didn't stop me from dreaming. (...)

So I don't object to the fact that Sarah Palin didn't have a passport until last year. Maybe, as she said, she didn't have the money. She was a mother of four (Trig was not yet born), and had a family to raise. What bothers me about her answer is that she thinks only rich people want to travel, that only elites are interested in the rest of the world.

I'm reminded of that scene in Breaking Away where Dave (the main character) has seen his dreams shattered when a visiting Italian cycling team sabotages his bike. His mother, while consoling him, goes to her purse and pulls out a passport. Dave, surprised, asks why she has it. And his mother says something like, well, I always wanted to see the world, and who knows -- I might. Every once in a while, when they ask me for i.d. when I write a check at the grocery store, I pull it out and remind myself of my dream. It's a lovely moment, one that captures the dreams of many folks.

But apparently not those of Sarah Palin. She never talks about wanting to see the Pyramids, or the Taj Mahal, or the Great Wall of China, or the Wailing Wall, or the Sydney Opera House, or Big Ben, or Rio de Janiero, or the Eiffel Tower, or even the parts of Russia she can see from her house. Such desires aren't a sign of elitism, but rather curiosity. (...)

Remember "Wherethehellis" Matt, the guy who had himself filmed dancing all around the world and then put it online? He never went to college. Before he found a corporate sponsor (which occurred only after his first online video was a hit), he paid his own way, doing odd jobs.

Is he an elitist? What about all the fine young men and women in the Peace Corps? Mormon (and other) missionaries? Doctors and nurses who travel to help in crises and operate on children with cleft palates? Volunteers for MercyCorps, Christian Children's Fund, Catholic Charities, Lutheran World Relief, American Jewish World Service and other faith-based charities? Little old ladies who go on group tours to Europe?

To paraphrase John McCain, I guess we're all elitists now.

I'm no saint. I don't claim to be one. But I know I have one quality that Sarah Palin never will: curiosity about what exists beyond my corner of the planet.

And I know that when it comes to the rest of the world, Sarah Palin is one thing I'll never be: a snob."

Read the rest: it's worth it.

What I mind about Sarah Palin is not, and has never been, her small town. It's her small and incurious mind.

Hilzoy 6:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (72)

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

* Biggest bank failure ever: "As the debate over a $700 billion bank bailout rages on in Washington, one of the nation's largest banks -- Washington Mutual Inc. -- has collapsed under the weight of its enormous bad bets on the mortgage market."

* Despite what you may have heard, WaMu's collapse cannot be blamed on black people.

* This seems like a pretty important development: "Pakistani and American ground troops exchanged fire along the border with Afghanistan on Thursday after the Pakistanis shot at two American helicopters, ratcheting up tensions as the United States increases its attacks against Qaeda and Taliban militants sheltering in Pakistan’s restive tribal areas."

* The McCain campaign has already declared McCain the winner of tonight's debate. (If Obama had pulled the same stunt, how many times do you think we would have heard the word "presumptuous"?)

* Any progress on the bailout package? Maybe a little.

* On the air yesterday, Paul Begala told CNN's audience that lawmakers from both parties consider the president "a high-functioning moron."

* Did Bush dispatch Alberto Gonzales to John Ashcroft's hospital bed? It certainly looks like it.

* On a related note, the latest DOJ IG report on the U.S. Attorney purge scandal is due on Monday. It should be fascinating.

* "House Republicans are a different breed."

* If I were to rank the most ridiculous members of the U.S. House, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) would have to be in the top five. Easy.

* I'm beginning to think McCain doesn't know what an "earmark" is.

* The chairman of the Republican Party in New Mexico's most populous county resigned this week, after telling a reporter, "Hispanics consider themselves above blacks."

* On a scheduling note, we'll be offering some debate-night coverage here at Political Animal, though I'm not entirely sure what that's going to include. See you in a few hours.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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By: Charles Homans

MCCAINISTAN, PT 2... But guess who's doing pretty well in Alaska right now? McCain's old nemesis, Ted Stevens! You may recall that Uncle Ted, who is defending the Senate seat he has held since the Johnson Administration, got into some legal trouble over unreported gifts from Veco Corp, the political wrecking ball that has wiped out a large swath of Alaska's Republican establishment over the past two years. Stevens's trial began this week in Washington--the U.S. District Court bumped a civil suit alleging mistreatment of elephants by the Ringling Bros. Circus in order to get to Stevens before the election--but a funny thing is happening to his campaign back in Alaska: In the two months since Stevens's indictment, his poll numbers have actually improved.

As of earlier this week, he had gained back most of the 17 points he lost to Democratic challenger Mark Begich since his indictment. "Stevens has closed the race since he got indicted," Ivan Moore, the Anchorage pollster, told me yesterday. "How does that happen? Only in Alaska, I guess--I'm tempted to believe that even if he gets convicted, he'll get 45 percent."

Moore argues that the initial shock of the indictment produced a convention-style bounce for Begich, but has since worn off. My totally unscientific, purely speculative explanation for this as a two-year (now ex-)resident of Stevens's home state is that (a) as more details have come out about the actually relatively low-stakes corruption Stevens is accused of, Alaskans have decided it's not a big deal; (b) there is so much residual good will towards Stevens in Alaska that he regains popularity pretty easily; and (c) Alaskans so dislike the federal government that seeing Stevens in front of a judge in Washington is enough to rouse a kind of rebel sympathy for him. This passage from Philip Gourevitch's recent New Yorker piece about Stevens and Palin rings true:

If Stevens loses, it will be as an Alaska patriot to the end, whereas if Sarah Palin finds herself on the winning ticket it will require her to have shifted her loyalty away from Alaska first.
Charles Homans 5:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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RACE VS. PARTY AFFILIATION.... Roll Call's Stuart Rothenberg has a column this week that's drawn some attention, and for good reason. He makes one of the less persuasive arguments I've seen in a while.

I recently met a terrific African-American Congressional candidate from Louisiana, state Sen. Don Cravins Jr. (D), who is one of my favorite candidates this cycle. He's personable, understands politics and, I expect, is going to lose.

You see, Cravins is black. He is a Democrat. He attended an Obama event during the Democratic primary. So, even though Cravins says he's pro-life and pro-gun and describes himself as a conservative Democrat, I believe that most white voters in Louisiana's 7th district, who are currently quite content to be represented by Republican Rep. Charles Boustany, will see him as just another black Democrat, and they'll read a lot into that.

Because Cravins isn't likely to be able to introduce himself well enough during the campaign to overcome stereotypes, many conservative white voters will look at him and think of Obama or embattled Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson (D) -- or even the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Unfair, you say? Voters shouldn't judge a candidate by his skin color. Maybe, but is it any more unfair than, for example, saying that because McCain and President Bush are both Republicans that a McCain administration would produce a third Bush term? No, it isn't.

I have a hunch Rothenberg didn't quite think this one though before submitting it for publication.

Cravins, he says, isn't getting a fair shot because of racism is southwest Louisiana. This is comparable to labeling a John McCain presidency as Bush's third term because, well, Rothenberg just thinks so.

First, part of the problem with Rothenberg's argument is that he's debating a strawman. No one is saying McCain would be a third Bush term because of their shared party affiliation -- people are saying McCain would be a third Bush term because McCain agrees with Bush on every substantive policy issue on the national (and international) landscape. Indeed, that's why we've seen and heard all the ads about McCain voting with Bush 95% of the time -- it's about record, not partisanship.

Second, Rothenberg's comparison is largely backwards. If voters were to give Cravins more of a chance, and look at the substantive policy details, they might like what they see. On the other hand, if voters were to give McCain a closer look, and look at the substantive policy details, they'd see his agenda is, for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from Bush's. In other words, upon closer scrutiny, Cravins would dispel preconceived ideas about him being the same as other African-American Democrats. Meanwhile, upon closer scrutiny, McCain would reinforce preconceived ideas about his similarities to conservative Republicans. These are disparate, not comparable, observations.

And third, the analogy really struggles when we consider an unavoidable truth: people choose their party affiliation, but not their skin color. When voters judge a candidate based on race, they're weighing a personal characteristic that tells them nothing about what the candidate would do if election. When voters judge a candidate based on party affiliation, they're weighing a freely-made association about that candidate's values and policy perspective.

Steve Benen 5:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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By: Charles Homans

MCCAINISTAN, PT 1... In a piece I wrote about Alaskan politics this summer, before McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, I mentioned Palin's Troopergate flap briefly and dismissively. At the time, it looked like a relatively trifling matter--whether or not the Alaska legislature found her guilty, the whole thing paled in comparison to the truly spectacular scandals fouling the propellers of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young.

Needless to say, I was completely wrong. I still think that if Palin had come clean on the commissioner firing early on, it would've blown over pretty fast. Of course, that wasn't what happened. Palin's position on the investigation of her conduct has gone from cooperation to run-of-the-mill stonewalling to media intimidation to something far creepier: an apparent attempt by the McCain campaign to run Alaska's executive branch.

The key figure here is Edward O'Callaghan, the former co-chief of the New York U.S. attorney's office terrorism and national security unit, who left that post to join the McCain campaign in July. Newsweek's Michael Isikoff got into the details earlier this month, but essentially what happened is that O'Callaghan was brought in to advise Thomas Van Flein, a lawyer who is now employed directly by Palin but was previously on the state payroll. O'Callaghan, working via Van Flein, was the author of the plan to take the investigation into Palin's conduct out of the legislature's hands--where Palin had initially agreed to put it--and into those of the Alaska Personnel Board, which answers to the governor. (Weirdly, Isikoff observes, to make this happen Palin had to file an ethics complaint against herself.) In other words, a McCain staffer was possibly advising Alaska's Department of Law and co-opting the state legislature. While this was happening, the state attorney general took a protracted vacation.

The Anchorage Press's Brendan Joel Kelley sums up the current state of affairs:

Whether or not the Republican presidential ticket wins in November, Alaskans are already living in McCainistan. It seems Governor Palin and Attorney General Talis Colberg have simply abdicated their positions, leaving operatives from the McCain campaign in charge of the executive branch (including the Department of Law) while attempting to undermine the authority of the legislative branch.

Alaskans are mostly conservative, but of the libertarian variety. The thing they abhor above all else is meddling in their affairs by anyone from the Lower 48--usually referred to there as Down South or, more revealingly, Outside. So this hasn't gone over well. Palin's approval has dropped to 68 percent. Most governors would kill for those numbers, of course, but they're still 20 points below her 2007 peak.

Some of the newly disenchanted are Democrats who are less than thrilled about the post-convention transformation of their once pragmatic and relatively non-partisan governor. But an ominous (for Palin) chunk is made up of unaffiliated voters. Anchorage pollster and strategist Ivan Moore, who conducted the poll, credits the McCainistan factor.

Charles Homans 4:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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THE EXPECTATIONS GAME.... On route to Mississippi, a reporter asked McCain campaign advisor Mark Salter what John McCain hopes to accomplish in tonight's debate. Salter said, "To do well against a guy who's a pretty good debater, show presidential leadership, and be able to speak directly to the American people about what he believes."

Wait, Salter described Obama as merely a "pretty good debater"? No, no, no. That's not how the Expectations Game is played at all. Four years ago, the chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney campaign said John Kerry is "probably the best debater ever to run for president." He added, "I'm not joking. I think he's better than Cicero," the ancient Roman orator.

That's how you play the Expectations Game.

To that end, the Obama campaign understands the rules so well, it released a memo this afternoon blasting Obama for being a lousy debater.

"According to the pundits, McCain's debating skills are unparalleled," the memo says, "and the expectations for him tonight are sky-high."

Now, I promise, there are not many Obama staffers who think that McCain's skills are unparalleled. But what they just did is make you think that McCain is Cicero. And if for some reason, he is merely good, not but not historic, it would somehow be disappointing.

This is normal from campaigns; set the bar high for your opponent. What I never remember seeing is a campaign going out of its way to slam its own candidate. In this same Obama campaign memo are a number of clips quite critical of Obama, including this humdinger from an Associated Press article: "For a man known as a powerful speaker, Obama has rarely wowed people in political debates. He can come across as lifeless, aloof and windy."

It's the one time all year when the campaign is going to go out of its way to trash the skills of its own candidate.

The Obama campaign memo added:

Already declaring victory before the debate has even started, in ads running on the Wall Street Journal website, John McCain meets Barack Obama tonight to debate foreign policy -- McCain's professed area of expertise.

The centerpiece of John McCain's campaign has been his more than a quarter century of experience in Washington learning about and debating foreign policy. If he slips up, makes a mistake, or fails to deliver a game-changing performance, it will be a serious blow to his campaign. Given his unsteady performance this week, he desperately needs to win this debate in a big way in order to change the topic and get back to his home turf.

I have no idea if Obama aides actually believe any of this, but at least they're playing the game correctly.

Steve Benen 4:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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ABOUT THOSE TAX RETURNS.... Remember, she's on the ticket because she's a "reformer."

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has made a crackdown on gift-giving to state officials a centerpiece of her ethics reform agenda, has accepted gifts valued at $25,367 from industry executives, municipalities and a cultural center whose board includes officials from some of the largest mining interests in the state, a review of state records shows.

The 41 gifts Palin accepted during her 20 months as governor include honorific tributes, expensive artwork and free travel for a family member. They also include more than $2,500 in personal items from Calista, a large Alaska native corporation with a variety of pending state regulatory and budgetary issues, and a gold-nugget pin valued at $1,200 from the city of Nome, which lobbies on municipal, local and capital budget matters, documents show.

It prompted Mark Kleiman to ask a good question: "When are we going to see Sarah Palin's tax returns?"

Obama and Biden have released their tax returns, and McCain kinda sorta did the same. So, when will Palin -- who recently emphasized the importance of transparency and accountability in government -- follow suit?

Steve Benen 3:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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WHAT'S NEXT?.... John Dickerson argued this week that John McCain's reckless, erratic behavior will almost certainly continue. "The beneficial effects of the Palin Hail Mary lasted only a few weeks, and another adrenaline injection was needed," Dickerson said. "If this one doesn't work, that's OK -- in due time they can try another razzle-dazzle play. And if it does work, that's great -- in due time they can still try another razzle-dazzle play."

OK, but what might the next Hail Mary pass look like? Today, Slate considers a few options.

1. Returns to Vietnam and jails himself.

2. Offers the post of "vice vice president" to Warren Buffett.

3. Challenges Obama to suspend campaign so they both can go and personally drill for oil offshore.

4. Learns to use computer.

5. Does bombing run over Taliban-controlled tribal areas of Pakistan.

6. Offers to forgo salary, sell one house.

7. Sex-change operation.

8. Suspends campaign until Nov. 4, offers to start being president right now.

9. Sells Alaska to Russia for $700 billion.

10. Pledges to serve only one term. OK, half a term.

How about you? Any guesses on what stunt Senator Hothead might pull next?

Steve Benen 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (125)

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NO METHOD, JUST MADNESS.... According to a pool report, John McCain boarded his plane earlier this afternoon with his wife, top aides, and Rudy and Judith Giuliani, all headed for Mississippi. What was the atmosphere like on McCain's plane? According to the report: "utter confusion."

Republican consultant Craig Shirley, who advised McCain's presidential campaign earlier in the cycle, noted the bizarre developments. "It just proves his campaign is governed by tactics and not ideology," Shirley said. "In the end, he blinked and Obama did not. The 'steady hand in a storm' argument looks now to more favor Obama, not McCain."

Shirley added, "My guess is that plasma units are rushing to the McCain campaign as we speak to replace the blood flowing there from the fights among the staff."

Utter confusion among squabbling aides. I can't wait for this finely-tuned machine to start running the executive branch of government. It's going to be awesome.

Jonathan Chait, who's been arguing that McCain must have some kind of clever plan guiding a seemingly erratic strategy, finally gave up today.

McCain seems to have made no effort whatsoever to bring the bailout legislation to closure. Indeed, he may possibly have sunk the whole thing. On the radio this morning, I heard David Corn of Mother Jones speculate that McCain may be setting himself up to rail against the bailout on populist grounds. But McCain and his running mate have already stated publicly that a bailout is needed to avoid a depression!

And now, after insisting it would be unpatriotic to campaign and debate before bailout legislation had been completed, is debating anyway, even though a deal is further away than it was when he suspended his campaign.

So I'm abandoning my assumption that McCain had some grand method behind his campaign suspension gambit. I don't see any method at all.

In my heart of hearts, I suspect every decision made by McCain and his campaign staff is driven by short-term thinking and immediate gratification. It guided their thinking on picking a running mate (despite the fact that Sarah Palin is a bad joke), on attacking Obama on Fannie Mae (despite Rick Davis and the rest of the lobbyists on staff), on "suspending" the campaign, skipping the debate, etc.

A friend of mine emailed me the other day, summarizing the entire McCain campaign in three words: "Ready, Fire, Aim." Just the kind of approach we need in the White House, right?

Steve Benen 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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MCCAIN'S 'SURREAL' CONFUSION.... Yesterday, John McCain swung by Capitol Hill, not to advance the negotiations on the bailout proposal, but to coordinate strategy with House Republicans. Faiz highlights this gem from the Washington Post's coverage:

Boehner and McCain discussed the bailout plan, but Republican leadership aides described the conversation as somewhat surreal. Neither man was familiar with the details of the proposal being pressed by House conservatives, and up to the moment they departed for the White House yesterday afternoon, neither had seen any description beyond news reports.

At 1:25 p.m., McCain left Boehner's office through a back door, walking across the Capitol's rotunda to the applause of tourists. Graham conceded the group knew little about the plan the nominee had come to Washington to try to shape.

So, this week, McCain talked about a bailout proposal he hadn't read, and a few days later, had a meeting with lawmakers about a competing proposal he knew nothing about.

No wonder McCain sat silently while the grown-ups talked about fiscal policy at the White House yesterday; he couldn't think of anything substantive to contribute.

I sometimes get the sense that McCain is a con man, perpetrating an enormous fraud, hoping desperately that he can get through the next 38 days without anyone noticing he doesn't know what he's doing.

Steve Benen 1:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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MCCAIN'S DEBATE DEBACLE.... For reasons that defy logic, John McCain had put himself in quite a box. He "suspended" (but not really) his presidential campaign, and vowed to skip the first presidential debate unless Congress and the Bush administration reached a deal on a Wall Street bailout. Indeed, McCain gave his word -- no deal, no debate.

By late yesterday, that put McCain in a very awkward position. Obama said he was headed to Mississippi, whether McCain was prepared to show up or not. The likelihood of a deal all but vanished, because McCain had torpedoed negotiations. McCain could break his word, and look like a fool, or keep his word, and look like a coward.

In a statement released this morning, McCain chose the prior.

Senator McCain has spent the morning talking to members of the Administration, members of the Senate, and members of the House. He is optimistic that there has been significant progress toward a bipartisan agreement now that there is a framework for all parties to be represented in negotiations, including Representative Blunt as a designated negotiator for House Republicans. The McCain campaign is resuming all activities and the Senator will travel to the debate this afternoon. Following the debate, he will return to Washington to ensure that all voices and interests are represented in the final agreement, especially those of taxpayers and homeowners.

In other words, the campaign "suspension" -- which had never actually started -- has now ended, and the debate is on. In perhaps the single most unintentionally hilarious line of the entire campaign, McCain's statement added, "The difference between Barack Obama and John McCain was apparent during the White House meeting yesterday where Barack Obama's priority was political posturing." Seriously. The campaign actually said that.

But more importantly, this entire scheme has turned into quite a debacle. McCain's statement justifies his decision to break his word by insisting that there's been "significant progress." In our reality, there was "significant progress" on Wednesday and Thursday morning -- progress that vanished after McCain started screwing things up.

McCain needed a principled reason to go back on his promise, but he apparently couldn't come up with one. Things got tough, McCain panicked (again), and when push came to shove, he blinked.

It'd be amusing if it weren't so absurd.

Steve Benen 12:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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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:

* Tonight's debate is on. More on that very soon.

* Mike Huckabee argued that John McCain made a "huge mistake" by even raising the possibility of skipping tonight's presidential candidate debate.

* McCain campaign ads are still on the air today. That's not a suspension we can believe in.

* A new national poll from CBS News/New York Times shows Obama leading McCain by five, 47% to 42%. (Among likely voters, the margin is the same, 48% to 43%.)

* In Florida, Rasmussen shows McCain leading Obama by one, 48% to 47%.

* In Ohio, Rasmussen shows McCain leading Obama by one, 47% to 46%.

* In New Hampshire, Research 2000 shows Obama leading McCain by four, 48% to 44%.

* In Missouri, Research 2000 shows McCain leading Obama by one, 47% to 46%, while SurveyUSA shows McCain leading by two, 48% to 46%.

* In Arkansas, Rasmussen shows McCain leading Obama by nine, 51% to 42%.

* In New York, Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain by 19, 57% to 38%.

* In Massachusetts, Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain by 20, 58% to 38%.

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

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PUSHING FOR A GRACEFUL EXIT.... Kathleen Parker, a columnist syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group, is not exactly a moderate. In May, she wrote one of the more offensive columns of the entire presidential campaign, defending the notion of judging candidates' patriotism based on whether they have "blood equity" and "heritage." Obama's "bloodlines" were deemed unworthy, because they are not traced "back through generations of sacrifice." It was like reading a Know-Nothing Party tract 160 years later.

I mention this background to provide some context about Parker's ideology, before noting her latest column on Sarah Palin.

Palin's recent interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity, and now Katie Couric have all revealed an attractive, earnest, confident candidate. Who Is Clearly Out Of Her League.

No one hates saying that more than I do. Like so many women, I've been pulling for Palin, wishing her the best, hoping she will perform brilliantly. I've also noticed that I watch her interviews with the held breath of an anxious parent, my finger poised over the mute button in case it gets too painful. Unfortunately, it often does. My cringe reflex is exhausted.... If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself. [...]

McCain can't repudiate his choice for running mate. He not only risks the wrath of the GOP's unforgiving base, but he invites others to second-guess his executive decision-making ability. Barack Obama faces the same problem with Biden.

Only Palin can save McCain, her party, and the country she loves. She can bow out for personal reasons, perhaps because she wants to spend more time with her newborn. No one would criticize a mother who puts her family first.

Do it for your country.

This, of course, seems like a highly unlikely scenario. But the fact that a fairly high-profile conservative columnist is even broaching the subject -- in print -- strikes me as fairly remarkable.

Steve Benen 11:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (95)

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MCCAIN'S WALL STREET CONCESSION.... Before he secured the Republican presidential nomination, John McCain was surprisingly candid about his own shortcomings. In November 2005, McCain acknowledged, "I'm going to be honest; I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated." In December 2007, in the heat of the Republican primary race, McCain conceded, "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should."

And as it turns out, he also made a surprising concession about his understanding of Wall Street, or in this case, the lack thereof.

This video, also from December 2007, shows McCain telling a group of voters, "Now, I am not an expert on Wall Street. I am not an expert on some of this stuff. I have studied carefully this latest proposal by the Secretary of the Treasury, and all I can tell you is, one, I am glad he's there. Everybody thinks that Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury is respected in world markets...."

This strikes me as interesting for a couple of reasons. First, McCain really isn't an expert on Wall Street "stuff," which makes it all the more curious he's pretending to know what he's talking about now.

And second, if McCain is such an enthusiastic fan of Henry Paulson, it's curious that McCain felt compelled to undermine not only Paulson's original bailout plan, but also the compromise Paulson reached with policy makers on the Hill.

Regardless, be expected to hear this quote again. As voters' attention focuses even more on economic matters, the Republican nominee has publicly acknowledged that he doesn't understand economics as well as he should, and doesn't understand some of this Wall Street "stuff."

Steve Benen 10:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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THE 'REAL' MCCAIN.... It's been unnerving for quite a while to see apologists for John McCain rationalize his descent into a shameless partisan hack. To hear them tell it, there's a real John McCain, and the one we're watching isn't really him.

For these observers, there are effectively two options: they were fooled into thinking McCain is a man of integrity and character, or the pathetic candidate has somehow been led astray by way of bad advice. Since the prior makes the observers look foolish, they tend to prefer the latter.

David Brooks has been leading the way for the "this isn't really McCain" camp. He floated the argument in mid-August, and he returns to the issue today, insisting McCain is really a great guy with his head on straight, despite the way he's conducted himself on the campaign trail. Indeed, to Brooks, it's not even McCain's fault -- the "media-circus environment" pushed McCain into the realm of nonsense; he did not go willingly.

"[W]hen people try to tell me that the McCain on the campaign trail is the real McCain and the one who came before was fake, I just say, baloney," Brooks insists. If only we'd elect him, and overlook the campaign, Brooks argues, McCain will be great. Really. Honest. Trust him.

In response, TNR's John Judis, who tends to write with an unrivaled sobriety, concedes that he used to perceive McCain largely the way Brooks does. Indeed, Judis explains that he's questioned McCain's judgment, but never his motives.

That is, until recently, when Judis noticed that McCain "has shown a willingness to put the success of his campaign ahead of the country's welfare."

[I]t is simply unpatriotic -- it's an insult to flag, country, and all the things that McCain claims to hold dear -- for McCain to hold this financial crisis hostage to his political ambitions. McCain doesn't know a thing about finance and is no position to help work out an agreement. If we do suffer a serious bank run, or a run on the dollar, it can be laid directly at his feet. As I said to friends last night, if McCain had been president at this point, I would have wanted to impeach him.

That brings me back to David Brooks' column. David thinks that beneath the surface of McCain the craven campaigner, that the man who nominated an ill-prepared Sarah Palin as his possible successor and has lent his energies to blocking a financial bailout, there still sits a "real McCain" who could govern fairly and effectively as president. I doubt it. I really doubt it. Whether because of age or overreaching ambition, McCain has become the kind of man he earlier railed against. He has become the Bush of 2000 against whom he campaigned or the Senate and House Republicans whom he despised. His defeat is now imperative.

Those who put country last, as McCain clearly does, have no business even trying to lead. The sooner his apologists realize this, the better off we'll all be.

Steve Benen 10:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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LIFE IMITATES ART.... Sometimes, you just have to laugh.

Just 10 days ago, John McCain argued he'd like to see a commission created to explain the crisis on Wall Street. I wrote at the time:

There was a great episode of "The Simpsons" a few years ago, in which the city of Springfield was looking to local officials to address a crisis. Mayor Joe Quimby, anxious to give the appearance of action without actually doing anything, announced the creation of a "blue-ribbon commission." Lenny responds earnestly, "Did he say a blue-ribbon commission?" -- prompting Carl to say, "Well, you can't do any better than that!"

This morning, Quiddity reminded me of one of the proposals being floated by House Republicans in response to the crisis:

Create a blue ribbon panel with representatives of Treasury, SEC, and the Fed to make recommendations to Congress for reforms of the financial sector by January 1, 2009.

Did House Republicans say a blue-ribbon panel?

Steve Benen 9:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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MCCAIN HASN'T 'SUSPENDED' ANYTHING.... In case you missed it, yesterday was a very good example of why Jeffrey Toobin makes CNN watchable.

On "The Situation Room," Wolf Blitzer directed the discussion to analysis of John McCain's decision to "suspend" his presidential campaign. Toobin, far more in touch with reality than most of his CNN colleagues, bravely set the record straight: "[C]an I just quarrel with the premise of this? Who says he suspended his campaign? He didn't suspend his campaign. He's been campaigning all day. He gave a speech in New York. He's giving interviews all night. He's raising money. His surrogates are attacking Barack Obama. I think this is posturing of being apolitical. And, frankly, I think we're being kind of gullible in falling for it. He didn't stop his campaign. He's campaigning."

Stephen Hayes from The Weekly Standard, leapt to McCain's defense, noting that the campaign had "pulled his ads down." So, Toobin interjected again: "No, he didn't pull his ads down. His ads have been on. And he's done exactly what Obama has done all day. And Obama admits that he's campaigning. It's the middle of the campaign. I don't see why we should treat what he's doing as anything different from what Obama is doing."

Thank you, Jeffrey Toobin.

On a related note, the McCain campaign has reportedly instructed television stations to begin re-airing its ads starting tomorrow, regardless of whether a bailout plan has been completed or not.

In this sense, the difference between an active campaign and a "suspended" campaign is ... well, there is no difference.

Steve Benen 9:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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AN OPEN SECRET.... Watching the second part of Sarah Palin's interview on CBS last night, I kept trying to imagine the perspective of an earnest Republican observer, who cares about the country, and who takes policy issues seriously.

This may sound like some kind of rude joke, but I'm genuinely curious. Go ahead, watch the full interview. Hear Palin ramble incoherently about the bailout. Listen to Palin struggle to rehash talking points about the Middle East. Watch her explain why Alaska's proximity to Russia really does offer her foreign policy experience. Consider the way she rejects diplomacy with Iran as "beyond naive" and "beyond bad judgment," despite the opposite conclusion from Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Warren Christopher, James Baker, and Henry Kissinger. Listen to her stumble trying to explain why the U.S. must never "second guess" Israel's "security efforts."

Reasonable people can disagree about the nature of Palin's difficulties. Some will argue that Palin just hasn't had time to learn about government and policy issues. Others will argue she isn't very bright. Others still may make the case that she's just cracking under the pressure. But the cause isn't especially important -- reasonable people should agree that the Republican vice presidential nominee is way out of her depth, and has no business seeking national office.

At the risk of sounding impolite, Sarah Palin is embarrassing herself, her party, her ticket, and her supporters. The notion that she could be the leader of the free world sometime fairly soon isn't just ridiculous, it's terrifying.

Really, what is it the earnest Republican is thinking watching an interview like this? Does it give him or her pause? Does he or she cringe, but suppress the fear for the good of the party? Does he or she simply buckle in, get into a crash position, and hope the Republican ticket doesn't screw the nation too badly?

I'm obviously not an entirely objective observer here, but I like to think that if the Democratic Party nominated individuals who were demonstrably unsuited and unprepared for national office, I could acknowledge this and say so. Are there such people in the Republican Party now? And if so, what more will it take for them to come forward and say, "Enough"?

Kevin's take is spot on: "Look, this is just getting scary.... I don't even feel right making snarky jokes about this stuff anymore. This campaign has gone seriously off the rails. I've never seen anything like it, but everyone is still nattering on as if this is business as usual. If it is, though, we've already entered the world of Idiocracy and we might as well all just give up and enjoy our super-size Slurpees while we can."

Steve Benen 8:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (99)

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WHAT ON EARTH IS JOHN MCCAIN DOING?.... Let me get this straight -- John McCain left the campaign trail to "help" wrap up a bailout deal in response to the crisis on Wall Street. When a compromise was reached that included everything McCain said he wanted, he decided not to take "yes" for an answer, and sided with far-right House Republicans, who have their own ridiculous plan, and who've never liked McCain anyway.

A few phrases come to mind to describe this madness, but "country first" isn't one of them.

There's no shortage of angles to this, of course, but the one thing I've been trying to wrap my head around is what McCain is doing in D.C. in the first place. Before he arrived, negotiators were making progress. After he arrived, talks broke down. Before he arrived, McCain and his campaign indicated that the bailout was a necessary evil. After he arrived, no one seems clear on exactly what McCain wants.

There was one participant at the White House who took on the role of "the old hand at consensus building, and as the real face of bipartisan politics," but his name was Barack Obama.

For his part, McCain "rarely came close to the Capitol suites and committee rooms where the talks were taking place." He showed up for a meeting at the White House -- which, according to the Bush gang, was McCain's idea -- but while Obama pressed Henry Paulson on policy details, McCain sat silently. At one point, McCain briefly touted the House GOP "plan," which Bush immediately rejected. After the meeting, McCain did some interviews, and was back in one of his homes by 6 p.m.

His day of destructive grandstanding and substance-free work was complete. For McCain, who obviously couldn't care less about the economy or the nation, it was "mission accomplished" -- nothing got done, it was at least partially his fault, and there's now a chance he can pick up the pieces of a process he helped break and pat himself on the back.

E. J. Dionne Jr. concluded, "McCain's boisterous intervention -- and particularly his grandstanding on the debate -- was less a presidential act than the tactical ploy of a man worried that his chances of becoming president might be slipping away."

You don't say.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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By: Hilzoy

"Let The Markets Crash"

Politico:

"According to one GOP lawmaker, some House Republicans are saying privately that they'd rather "let the markets crash" than sign on to a massive bailout.

"For the sake of the altar of the free market system, do you accept a Great Depression?" the member asked."

Think about that statement, and the callousness, lack of imagination, and sheer lack of concern for their country that it shows.

It staggers me.

Hilzoy 1:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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By: Hilzoy

If Only They Were Kidding...

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the House Republican plan:

"* Rather than providing taxpayer funded purchases of frozen mortgage assets, we should adopt a mortgage insurance approach to solve the problem.

* Currently the federal government insures approximately half of all mortgage backed securities. (MBS) We can insure the rest of current outstanding MBS; however, rather than taxpayers funding insurance, the holders of these assets should pay for it. Treasury Department can design a system to charge premiums to the holders of MBS to fully finance this insurance."

-- Bear in mind: this still leaves taxpayers on the hook for all the MBS that default. It just sounds nicer without that $700 billion price tag attached to it. Moreover, how much would we insure the MBS for? Is it at all obvious that insuring them at face value would be cheaper than buying them at a serious mark-down? Doesn't insuring really bad MBS at face value just increase moral hazard?

"* Have Private Capital Injection to the Financial Markets, Not Tax Dollars. Instead of injecting taxpayer capital into the market to produce liquidity, private capital can be drawn into the market by removing regulatory and tax barriers that are currently blocking private capital formation. Too much private capital is sitting on the sidelines during this crisis."

-- Sorry; that bit is just too funny. "Private capital", I can hear the market saying to itself: "What a great idea! And so novel, too! Those Republicans sure are brilliant!" Aha, you might say: capital gains taxes have scared people off. But, as Justin Fox notes, the assets that people are having trouble selling have lost value; why anyone would be deterred from selling them by the prospect of being able to write off the loss is a mystery.

"* Temporary tax relief provisions can help companies free up capital to maintain operations, create jobs, and lend to one another. In addition, we should allow for a temporary suspension of dividend payments by financial institutions and other regulatory measures to address the problems surrounding private capital liquidity.

*Immediate Transparency, Oversight, and Market Reform. Require participating firms to disclose to Treasury the value of their mortgage assets on their books, the value of any private bids within the last year for such assets, and their last audit report.

* Wall Street Executives should not benefit from taxpayer funding. Call on the SEC to review the performance of the Credit Rating Agencies and their ability to accurately reflect the risks of these failed investment securities."

-- I thought no one was going to get any taxpayer money. Color me confused.

"*Create a blue ribbon panel with representatives of Treasury, SEC, and the Fed to make recommendations to Congress for reforms of the financial sector by January 1, 2009."

A Blue Ribbon Panel: brilliant!

This is an idiotic set of proposals. Republican politicians have spent several decades convincing themselves that any economic problem on earth can be solved by cutting taxes and deregulation. We now face a problem which is caused by deregulation and to which taxes are largely irrelevant. Do they rethink their views -- the views that got us into this mess to start with? Do they wonder whether the same old exhausted ideas can possibly be stretched to fit our current crisis?

Of course not.

It would be funny if it weren't tragic.

Hilzoy 12:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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September 25, 2008
By: Hilzoy

The Deal Dissolves

NYT:

"The day began with an agreement that Washington hoped would end the financial crisis that has gripped the nation. It dissolved into a verbal brawl in the Cabinet Room of the White House, urgent warnings from the president and pleas from a Treasury secretary who knelt before the House speaker and appealed for her support.

"If money isn't loosened up, this sucker could go down," President Bush declared Thursday as he watched the $700 billion bailout package fall apart before his eyes, according to one person in the room.

It was an implosion that spilled out from behind closed doors into public view in a way rarely seen in Washington.

By 10:30 p.m., after another round of talks, Congressional negotiators gave up for the night and said they would try again on Friday. Left uncertain was the fate of the bailout, which the White House says is urgently needed to fix broken financial and credit markets, as well as whether the first presidential debate would go forward as planned Friday night in Mississippi. (...)

"We're in a serious economic crisis," Mr. Bush told reporters as the meeting began shortly before 4 p.m. in the Cabinet Room, adding, "My hope is we can reach an agreement very shortly."

But once the doors closed, the smooth-talking House Republican leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, surprised many in the room by declaring that his caucus could not support the plan to allow the government to buy distressed mortgage assets from ailing financial companies.

Mr. Boehner pressed an alternative that involved a smaller role for the government, and Mr. McCain, whose support of the deal is critical if fellow Republicans are to sign on, declined to take a stand.

The talks broke up in angry recriminations, according to accounts provided by a participant and others who were briefed on the session, and were followed by dueling press conferences and interviews rife with partisan finger-pointing.

In the Roosevelt Room after the session, the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr. literally bent down on one knee as he pleaded with Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, not to "blow it up" by withdrawing her party's support for the package over what Ms. Pelosi derided as a Republican betrayal.

"I didn't know you were Catholic," Ms. Pelosi said, a wry reference to Mr. Paulson's kneeling, according to someone who observed the exchange. She went on: 'It's not me blowing this up, it's the Republicans."

Mr. Paulson sighed. "I know. I know.""

David Kurtz notes that McCain had spoken to the House Republicans before they staged their revolt, and that a number of them reported that he seemed sympathetic to their ideas. McCain's campaign, however, issued a statement saying that he "did not attack any proposal, or endorse any plan."

That's what I call real leadership: parachute in after other people have been in complicated negotiations for days, trailing the entire national press corps behind you, on the grounds that you are urgently needed, in person -- and then undermine the deal behind the scenes without being willing to publicly take any position at all.

John Cole writes:

"If this is not a big enough crisis that McCain and the GOP can play games with it, it is not a crisis at all."

Why he thinks the Republicans would not be willing to play political games if it were a real crisis, I have no idea. I think a lot of them are more than capable of bringing the country down around them to score political points. Until this year, I did not count John McCain among them: the Republicans without a shred of honor or decency, unwilling to put their own interests aside when their country required it.

I was wrong.

Hilzoy 11:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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

* Is there a bailout deal? That depends on which faction you're listening to.

* Job numbers, home sales, and factory orders are all quickly going in the wrong direction.

* John McCain may not have time for a debate tomorrow night, but he has time to talk to ABC, NBC, and CBS tonight.

* Sarah Palin appeared to be campaigning at Ground Zero in New York today, but afterwards, was willing to field a couple of questions from reporters. That's a first.

* In general, the pundits were thoroughly unimpressed with the McCain campaign's "suspension" gimmick.

* Alaskans seem to believe Joe Biden is better qualified for the vice presidency than Sarah Palin. That's obviously the case, but I kind of thought Palin's home-state supporters would come to a different conclusion.

* Bernie Sanders 1, Larry Kudlow 0.

* How did the administration settle on $700 billion for the bailout? A Treasury spokesperson said, "We just wanted to choose a really large number."

* Looking at history, presidential candidates have campaigned during plenty of crises.

* Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, commenting on the Wall Street crisis, said he doesn't think the president "understands or knows much about any of this and it shows." O'Neill did, however, express his confidence in Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (95)

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IS THE DEBATE ON OR OFF?.... For reasons that were never entirely clear, John McCain announced yesterday that he couldn't spare 90 minutes to attend the agreed-upon presidential debate in Mississippi, scheduled for Friday night. He had to be in D.C. working for the first time in months, doing ... whatever it is McCain does.

But that was 24 hours ago, and a breakthrough in Hill negotiations now seems likely. So, McCain can head down to Oxford, Miss., for the debate, right? At this point, that's still not clear.

John McCain's campaign expressed cautious optimism Thursday as congressional Republicans and Democrats agreed in principle on a $700 billion bailout of the financial industry hours before the two presidential candidates were to meet with President Bush on the crisis.

Even so, the action didn't appear to be strong enough to convince McCain to attend Friday's scheduled presidential debate. His campaign has said he wouldn't participate unless there was consensus between Congress and the administration, and a spokesman said the afternoon developments had not changed his plans.

"There's no deal until there's a deal. We're optimistic but we want to get this thing done," McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said.

I'm not sure who "we" refers to, since McCain has had no meaningful role in the negotiations.

Nevertheless, if McCain doesn't show up, the Obama team apparently plans to host a public event anyway, either fielding questions from PBS's Jim Lehrer, turning the debate into a town-hall meeting with those in attendance, or some combination of the two.

And that's precisely why I'm fairly certain McCain will show up for the debate, whether a bailout deal is finalized by tomorrow night or not. Would McCain risk giving Obama this kind of opportunity? I seriously doubt it.

Steve Benen 4:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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WHAT DOES A 'SUSPENDED' CAMPAIGN LOOK LIKE?.... Just this morning, in New York, John McCain was pretty straightforward about his perspective on the campaign: "I cannot carry on a campaign as though this dangerous situation had not occurred, or as though a solution were at hand, which it clearly is not. As of this morning I suspended my political campaign."

Got it. So, what does a "suspended" campaign look like? As it turns out, it's eerily similar to a regular ol' campaign.

What have we learned since McCain suspended his presidential campaign?

* McCain campaign offices in battleground states are open and operating, just like yesterday.

* McCain's television ads are on the air, just like yesterday.

* McCain media flacks are all over the news networks, just like yesterday.

* McCain's campaign staffers are working, just like yesterday.

* McCain's campaign website is up, soliciting contributions and promoting McCain's message, just like yesterday.

* For the big White House meeting today, Barack Obama was told not to bring any campaign aides, so he's bringing a legislative assistant from his Senate staff. John McCain is bringing a campaign advisor.

I don't want to alarm anyone, but I get the sinking feeling that maybe, just maybe, the "suspension" announcement was some kind of (gasp!) gimmick, and that nothing has actually changed at McCain Campaign HQ.

Steve Benen 3:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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PALIN KNOWS RUSSIA.... Earlier, I suggested Sarah Palin's response to Kate Couric's question on the bailout was a low point in Palin's brief career as a candidate for national office. I spoke too soon.

As regular readers know, almost immediately after Palin was added to the Republican ticket, a number of conservatives, including McCain himself, argued Alaska's proximity to Russia necessarily amounts to foreign policy experience. I've been having some fun with this, because, well, it's the dumbest argument I've ever heard.

In the second part of the CBS interview with Palin, which will air tonight on the "CBS Evening News," Couric, to her enormous credit, asks Palin to explain what this talking point means.

COURIC: You've cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?

PALIN: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and on our other side, the land -- boundary that we have with -- Canada. [...]

COURIC: Explain to me why that enhances your foreign policy credentials.

PALIN: Well, it certainly does because our -- our next door neighbors are foreign countries. They're in the state that I am the executive of. And there in Russia --

COURIC: Have you ever been involved with any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?

PALIN: We have trade missions back and forth. We -- we do -- it's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where -- where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is -- from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to -- to our state.

Usually, candidates for national office get better as time goes on. Palin is clearly getting worse.

I mean, really, think about Palin's argument here. She has foreign policy experience because Putin flies over Alaskan air space. Seriously, that's what Palin told a national television audience.

First, it's probably not true. Moscow is in Western Russia, and if a Russian leader were flying to the U.S., he or she would probably fly over the Atlantic. But geography aside, what does this have to do with foreign policy experience? If a head of state flies over you, you necessarily gain a background in international affairs?

I'm afraid Sarah Palin is not only embarrassing herself, she's quickly become a national joke. That John McCain continues to allow her to serve on the Republican ticket suggests his judgment is comically lacking.

Steve Benen 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (101)

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PALIN'S UNIQUE SPIN ON THE BAILOUT.... When Sarah Palin sat down with ABC's Charlie Gibson a couple of weeks ago, it was a fairly dominant story. Palin's interview yesterday with CBS's Katie Couric is drawing significantly less attention, obviously because it's facing tougher competition from other news developments.

And the McCain campaign has to be thrilled, because the truth is, Palin is getting worse at answering questions, not better. This one has to be seen to be believed.

The question was provocative, but hardly unexpected given recent events. Couric asked Palin, "Why isn't it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families who are struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries? Allow them to spend more, and put more money into the economy, instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?"

Palin, in a rambling and largely incoherent response, responded, "That's why I say I, like every American I'm speaking with, were ill about this position that we have been put in. Where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy. Um, helping, oh, it's got to be about job creation, too. Shoring up our economy, and getting it back on the right track. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions, and tax relief for Americans, and trade -- we have got to see trade as opportunity, not as, uh, competitive, um, scary thing, but one in five jobs created in the trade sector today. We've got to look at that as more opportunity. All of those things under the umbrella of job creation."

I'm sorry, what? Did she even hear the question?

Worse, if you watch the clip, you might notice that Palin was intermittently referring to notes. In other words, this is the kind of response she offers on a question about the Wall Street bailout with help.

I just want to reiterate a point from last week. First-time candidates for national office often struggle to get over the learning curve. Governors and senators will visit a coffee shop in Iowa City eight months before the caucuses, get confused about a policy detail, but improve as the campaign rolls on. They take their time, go through extensive briefings, and learn to get good. By the time the conventions are done, these candidates are supposed to be on the top of their game.

Palin, however, is in a situation where failure is almost impossible to avoid. She's never expressed any knowledge of national or international issues, she's never expressed any interest in national or international issues, and she's making humiliating mistakes under the glare of the national spotlight, with just six weeks until Election Day.

With some time in government, Palin might become a less embarrassing candidate. But at this point, it's almost unfair for McCain to set her up for this kind of fiasco.

Steve Benen 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (106)

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By: Hilzoy

Meanwhile, In Other News ...

McClatchy:

"The deepest freeze in U.S.-Russia relations since the Cold War has brought diplomatic efforts to halt Iran's nuclear ambitions to a halt just as Western governments and U.N. inspectors are warning that Tehran could be gaining the ability to build a nuclear weapon.

Russia this week pulled out of a six-nation meeting scheduled for Thursday to discuss further sanctions against Iran, freezing for the time being a 3 1/2-year old diplomatic campaign to persuade Tehran to abandon uranium enrichment.

Neither the United States nor Israel has ruled out attacking Iran's nuclear facilities, although there are no overt signs that planning for a military strike has intensified.

The Bush administration's other major effort to curb the spread of nuclear weapons suffered a significant setback Wednesday, when North Korea, which has tested a crude nuclear device, told the International Atomic Energy Agency that it plans to restart a reprocessing plant that produces plutonium for nuclear weapons."

Great. Another rogue nuclear power. Just what we need right now.

Obviously, both North Korea and Iran are responsible for their own decisions about whether or not to pursue nuclear programs. Equally obviously, though, their success to date is largely due to this administration's ineptitude. In the case of North Korea, we called off a deal that had frozen the most rapid form of nuclear development because of we thought they might have had a program that would have taken much, much longer to produce any actual nuclear weapons. In the case of Iran, we rebuffed Iran's feelers about a comprehensive deal that would have involved 'full cooperation on nuclear weapons', rejected the very idea of negotiating with them, and needlessly alienated a lot of the countries whose help we needed to actually make progress on this issue, most recently Russia.

As far as I can tell, besides invading two countries on their borders and making noises about how they might be next, our Iran strategy has involved trying to keep them from developing nuclear weapons by scrunching up our faces and sending really bad thoughts in their general direction. Possibly we also have people from Other Government Agencies sticking pins into Ahmedinejad dolls in some Top Secret bunker somewhere.

What we don't have is a policy that makes sense. That's a pity. The stakes are very high.

Hilzoy 2:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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LEGISLATIVE PASSIVITY.... Borrowing a page from Hilzoy's playbook, The Hill's Bob Cusack had an interesting idea -- check to see how many housing- and banking-related bills John McCain and Barack Obama have introduced over the last couple of years.

Apparently, it's a shutout.

Republican presidential nominee John McCain has not introduced any banking or housing bills in the 110th Congress, while Democratic rival Barack Obama has proposed five. [...]

McCain is the lead sponsor of 38 pieces of legislation during the 110th Congress, none of which have been referred to the Banking panel, according to a review of Thomas, a congressional website.

Obama has introduced 130 measures during this Congress. Five of Obama's standalone bills fall within the Banking Committee's jurisdiction.

Obama's legislation calls for bolstering housing assistance for veterans, amending the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 to provide shareholders with an advisory vote on executive compensation, halting mortgage transactions that promote fraud, authorizing local and state governments to crack down on companies that invest in Iran's energy sector and authorizing a pilot program to prevent at-risk veterans from becoming homeless.

McCain has said repeatedly of late that he's been warning about a looming crisis. If so, why hasn't he offered any legislative remedies on housing or banking?

Steve Benen 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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WHAT KIND OF GAME IS MCCAIN PLAYING?.... Last night, Barack Obama and John McCain issued a joint statement that didn't say much. The two agreed that this is a time to "rise above politics for the good of the country," adding that we "cannot risk an economic catastrophe," but the statement avoided any policy details.

Well, at least the joint statement did. While the McCain campaign distributed the statement as it was written, the Obama campaign included an appendage, explaining that it reflected only Obama's thinking, and outlining a series of principles that he'd hoped both sides could endorse. It included a now-predictable list: oversight, a path for taxpayers to recover their money, a mechanism to prevent Wall Street executives from profiting from taxpayer funds, foreclosure protections, and a ban on earmarks in the bill.

Here's the odd part: John McCain had said, as recently as Tuesday, that these are the exact same principles he wants to see included in any bailout package. On these points, McCain and Obama are on the same page. So why not say so in the joint statement?

Marc Ambinder reports that the McCain campaign "did not want to include them."

That does seem odd, doesn't it? On Tuesday, McCain publicly articulates five principles he wants to see in the package. On Wednesday, the Obama campaign asks McCain to endorse those exact same principles in a public statement, but the McCain campaign balks. Taegan Goddard considered the context:

Interestingly, when President Bush addressed the nation just minutes later, he essentially agreed to the exact same set of principles in his own speech. So the question is: Why wouldn't McCain agree to a fairly innocuous, Mom and apple pie set of conditions for a bill?

Democrats fear this morning that McCain is setting up a scenario in which he will vote against the bill, rally conservatives to his side and, most importantly, distance himself from both President Bush and Congress before the election.

Kevin added, "[W]hy would Democrats be so suspicious that they're about to be double crossed? John McCain is too honorable a man to do that, isn't he?"

Steve Benen 1:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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MCCAIN BEHIND ON HIS READING.... On Sunday, Sept. 14, the news was downright frightening -- Lehman Bros. would file for bankruptcy, Merrill Lynch would be bought on deep discount, and AIG was in very deep trouble. On Monday, Sept. 15, the markets tanked and the crisis gripped Wall Street. On Friday, Sept. 19, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson unveiled a $700 billion bailout proposal.

And on Tuesday, Sept. 22, John McCain couldn't commit to the proposal, because he hadn't read it. Seriously.

I'd heard something about this yesterday, but watching the video helps drive the point home. Asked by the NBC affiliate in Cleveland about whether he was prepared to support Paulson's plan, McCain said, "I have not had a chance to see it in writing. I have to examine it."

We are, just to clarify, talking about a three-page document. It would have taken McCain a few minutes to read. But despite the seriousness of the situation, McCain hadn't bothered.

Taking this one step further, on Tuesday, Sept. 22, McCain hadn't read the Paulson plan, but on Thursday, Sept. 24, McCain announced that he's dropping everything to work on a bailout plan on the Hill.

I initially thought McCain's comment may have been in reference to the Dodd plan -- which was released Tuesday, and which McCain might have reasonably missed -- but the campaign told the Politico that McCain was actually talking about the text of the Paulson plan.

It's almost as if McCain doesn't want to be taken seriously.

Steve Benen 12:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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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:

* McCain blew off David Letterman last night, but made time for Katie Couric. Letterman wasn't happy about this, and questioned the McCain campaign's new tactics. "This just doesn't smell right. This is not the way a tested hero behaves," Letterman told his audience. "Somebody's putting something in his Metamucil."

* Republican candidates in Washington State are trying to avoid listing their party affiliation on the November ballot as "Republican." Yesterday, the state Democratic Party filed a lawsuit on the matter.

* In two new national polls, NBC/WSJ shows Obama up by two, 48% to 46%, while Bloomberg/LAT shows Obama up by four, 49% to 45%.

* In Michigan, Time/CNN shows Obama leading McCain by five, 51% to 46%, while NBC News shows the two tied at 46% each.

* In Colorado, Time/CNN shows Obama leading McCain by four, 51% to 47%, and Rasmussen shows Obama up by three, 50% to 47%.

* In Pennsylvania, Time/CNN shows Obama leading McCain by nine, 53% to 44%.

* In North Carolina, Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain by two, 49% to 47%.

* In New Hampshire, Rasmussen shows McCain leading Obama by two, 49% to 47%.

* In Wisconsin, Research 2000 shows Obama leading McCain by six, 49% to 43%.

* In West Virginia, Time/CNN shows McCain leading Obama by four, 50% to 46%.

* In Montana, Time/CNN shows McCain leading Obama by 11, 54% to 43%.

* In Alabama, Rasmussen shows McCain leading Obama by 21, 60% to 39%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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PALIN'S PENTECOSTAL WITCH HUNTER.... A few weeks ago, the McCain campaign told CNN that Sarah Palin "doesn't consider herself Pentecostal." That seems a little hard to believe right now.

This rather striking video resurfaced yesterday of Palin at her former church, where her witch-obsessed pastor laid hands on her. "In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus, every form of witchcraft is what we rebuke in the name of Jesus," the pastor says in the video from 2005.

Just to clarify, the pastor's interest in witches and witch hunts is not metaphorical -- he means it literally.

Last night, reporting on the video, Keith Olbermann posed this question: "If you had a story, with videotape, of a pastor from Kenya, who got his start in witch-hunting, laying his hands on a candidate, and the candidate's last name was, just to pick one at random, 'Obama,' what would be happening right now?"

Andrew Sullivan, who tends to be more comfortable with religion in politics than I am, added, "Even I am a little shocked by this video from Palin's church. Asking God to protect her from witchcraft?"

Stepping back, people will, of course, draw their own conclusions about a national candidate who is (or was) a practicing Pentecostal, attending a church where people speak in tongues, where the pastor seems preoccupied with witches. Voters' comfort levels will vary, and I'm still inclined to think politicians' spiritual beliefs, whether part of the mainstream or not, are a personal matter.

I do, however, have two unresolved questions. First, does she believe in the separation of church and state, and is she comfortable with a government that remains entirely neutral on matters of faith? And second, does she believe public officials should use religious beliefs to shape public policy? Palin recently said those fighting the war in Iraq are "out on a task that is from God," and added, in the same remarks, that "God's will" was responsible for a national gas pipeline project in Alaska.

Might she be willing to elaborate on what this means?

Update: Sullivan also notes that Palin's pastor had some interesting things to say about "the Israelites."

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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ALL OF THIS SOUNDS KIND OF FAMILIAR.... If the scuttlebutt is right, policy makers are about this close to striking some kind of bailout deal, making John McCain's latest round of inexplicable tactics entirely unnecessary. But McCain apparently wants to come riding onto Capitol Hill -- probably on a white horse, if he can find one -- where he can take credit for a package he had nothing to do with.

And if all of this sounds kind of familiar, it's because we saw a very similar situation about a year ago.

During a meeting [in May 2007] on immigration legislation, McCain and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) got into a shouting match when Cornyn started voicing concerns about the number of judicial appeals that illegal immigrants could receive, according to multiple sources -- both Democrats and Republicans -- who heard firsthand accounts of the exchange from lawmakers who were in the room.

At a bipartisan gathering in an ornate meeting room just off the Senate floor, McCain complained that Cornyn was raising petty objections to a compromise plan being worked out between Senate Republicans and Democrats and the White House. He used a curse word associated with chickens and accused Cornyn of raising the issue just to torpedo a deal.

Things got really heated when Cornyn accused McCain of being too busy campaigning for president to take part in the negotiations, which have gone on for months behind closed doors. "Wait a second here," Cornyn said to McCain. "I've been sitting in here for all of these negotiations and you just parachute in here on the last day. You're out of line."

McCain, a former Navy pilot, then used language more accustomed to sailors.... "[Expletive] you! I know more about this than anyone else in the room," shouted McCain at Cornyn.

So, lawmakers and administration officials negotiated behind closed doors for quite a while, trying to hammer out a deal. McCain, on the campaign trail, was detached and uninvolved. In the 11th hour, McCain swoops in, hoping to take credit for work he didn't do, and when challenged, Senator Hothead erupted, demanding deference.

Soon after, a deal was announced, McCain smiled for the cameras as if he'd been integral to the process, and then left to go back to the campaign trail, not sticking around long enough to help the compromise package become law.

He may be lacking in temperament, character, and honesty, but at least McCain has a consistent m.o.

Steve Benen 10:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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GRACIOUS TO A FAULT.... It did seem a little jarring to see John McCain deliver such a high-profile speech at the Clinton Global Initiative this morning. One might think the former president would be more cognizant of the larger political dynamic.

But as Matt Yglesias noted, Bill Clinton seems to be driven by other considerations.

It sure was nice of Bill Clinton to put important national concerns above petty partisanship by agreeing to host a John McCain campaign speech and help the GOP nominee burnish his bipartisan credentials. You might think a former President would be so committed to an axe-grinding agenda that he couldn't see the big picture. But not Bill -- he puts country first, not some personal agenda.

Oh what's that you say? His wife ran for the Democratic nomination and lost? Think that might be relevant?

I'd just add that McCain voted -- twice -- to remove Clinton from office during the impeachment fiasco; McCain has publicly mocked Clinton's daughter for cheap laughs; and McCain repeatedly trashed Clinton's wife when he thought she would be the Democratic nominee.

But never mind all of that. This morning, McCain wanted to score a few points, grab a few headlines, and bolster his bipartisan bona fides, and Bill Clinton was anxious to give the Republican nominee a hand.

The former president is gracious to a fault, isn't he?

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (89)

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MCCAIN VISITS THE CGI.... I'm afraid I must be a little fuzzy on what it means to "suspend" one's presidential campaign. As John McCain sees it, the crisis on Wall Street is so serious, he couldn't possibly recommend a proposal and seek the presidency at the same time, and the idea of taking 90 minutes to debate Barack Obama is just wrong.

McCain can, however, stop by New York to address the Clinton Global Initiative, in part to talk about why he can't make any political appearances during the economic crisis.

"I cannot carry on a campaign as though this dangerous situation had not occurred, or as though a solution were at hand, which it clearly is not. As of this morning I suspended my political campaign. With so much on the line, for America and the world, the debate that matters most right now is taking place in the United States Capitol -- and I intend to join it. Senator Obama is doing the same. America should be proud of the bipartisanship we are seeing.

"It has become clear that no consensus has developed to support the Administration's proposal to meet the crisis. I do not believe that the plan on the table will pass as it currently stands, and we are running out of time. So I am returning to Washington...."

As for the part about Obama, the Democratic nominee said yesterday he would return to D.C. if needed. Soon after, the president called him directly, and asked him to join him, McCain, and congressional leaders at the White House. Obama, of course, agreed.

As for McCain's CGI pitch, I'm having trouble seeing the point. The dangerous situation began in earnest 11 days ago, and McCain has continued to campaign, just as other candidates for national office have done during previous election-year crises. There's a debate underway on the Hill, but McCain doesn't have anything constructive to offer. He insists we're "running out of time," but he can't say why.

And the crisis is so overwhelming, McCain has time to stop by New York to give yet another political speech.

I'm also very interested to know how McCain defines "suspended." His website is still up, collecting money, and promoting tomorrow night's debate. His surrogates are still on television this morning. As far as I can tell, none of his aides has been sent home, told to come back after the campaign "suspension" is over.

Strange days.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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A CANDIDATE WITH AN IMPULSE PROBLEM.... Watching the McCain campaign's latest lunacy unfold yesterday afternoon, I thought about a piece Michael Scherer and Michael Weisskopf wrote in Time back in July about the two candidates' gambling styles.

They relayed an anecdote about John McCain, in the heat of the primary fight last year, wanting to head to a casino floor while campaigning in Las Vegas. His staff stopped him. McCain, undeterred, wanted the casino to bring a craps table to his private hotel room, but his staff, again, refused to allow it.

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

As has become clear, McCain seeks the presidency and gambles in largely the same way -- taking ridiculous risks without regard for consequence. Yesterday's bizarre announcement about "suspending" the campaign obviously didn't make any sense -- McCain isn't on the Banking Committee, doesn't have any constructive role to play, and has no reason to leave the campaign trail -- but irresponsible risk-takers don't much care about good judgment. They just want to go all in and let it ride.

We saw this dangerous impulse problem last month when McCain made the ridiculous decision to add Sarah Palin to the Republican ticket, and we clearly saw it again yesterday.

And as Slate's John Dickerson explained, we'll probably continue to see similar behavior from McCain for quite a while.

Whether McCain's crazy gambit is seen as desperate or brilliant, it doesn't matter. Either way, it's probably not the last. The beneficial effects of the Palin Hail Mary lasted only a few weeks, and another adrenaline injection was needed. If this one doesn't work, that's OK -- in due time they can try another razzle-dazzle play. And if it does work, that's great -- in due time they can still try another razzle-dazzle play. It all makes the prospect of a McCain White House very exciting. So exciting, he might want to schedule periodic suspensions of his presidency to get anything done.

With extraordinary challenges at home and abroad, McCain has apparently decided that the very last thing the nation needs is a steady, unflappable leader with a cool head and reliable temperament. What we really need is someone who acts, then thinks. Or, in McCain's case, acts, then blasts those who do think as some kind of elitists.

I suppose there are worse qualities in a president. I'm just not sure what those qualities might be.

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

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STILL NOT READY FOR PRIMETIME.... At first blush, the notion that the McCain campaign would go to extraordinary lengths just to draw attention away from Sarah Palin's interview with Katic Couric sounds pretty farfetched. But actually watching the five-and-a-half minute clip from CBS, it's actually fairly reasonable to think campaign aides saw the interview, panicked, and thought, "We need to do something drastic."

Hilzoy tackled the highlights (or the lowlights, depending on one's perspective) last night, but I just wanted to reiterate just how great a train wreck Palin's interview really was. The governor seemed hopelessly lost, offering answers that varied between odd and nonsensical.

After noting just how disastrous some of Palin's answers were -- most notably about the bailout package preventing another Great Depression -- Anonymous Liberal presents a very compelling case that the McCain campaign felt compelled to do something drastic.

"I think the McCain campaign knew the Couric interview would be a disaster as soon as it was done taping and spent much of the day frantically trying to think of a way to push it out of the headlines," A.L. explained. "The clincher for me is the fact that McCain cancelled his Letterman appearance at the last second and instead sat down for an impromptu interview with, of all people, Katie Couric. The hope was to bump the Palin interview even on the CBS Evening News, which otherwise would have hyped and teased the Palin interview all afternoon and used it to lead the broadcast. Instead, CBS devoted most of its coverage to McCain and played segments of the Palin interview almost as an afterthought. Mission accomplished."

I'd just add that the McCain campaign has just about run out of time in rationalizing Palin's inability to ... what's the phrase I'm looking for ... be a candidate for national office. The political world seemed willing to allow for a certain learning curve, giving Palin a moment to get acquainted with the rigors of her chosen task. But she's been a national candidate now for nearly a month, and she doesn't appear to have the foggiest idea what she's doing. Worse, Palin is yet to demonstrate any working knowledge of any subject.

The Couric interview reinforced what many already feared -- the notion that Palin is ready for primetime is ridiculous, and the idea that she's prepared to be one heartbeat from the presidency in four months is literally laughable.

There's a very good reason the McCain campaign wants to delay the Palin-Biden debate, and it has nothing to do with Wall Street.

Steve Benen 7:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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September 24, 2008
By: Hilzoy

Quick! Hide Sarah Palin!

CNN:

"McCain supporter Sen. Lindsey Graham tells CNN the McCain campaign is proposing to the Presidential Debate Commission and the Obama camp that if there's no bailout deal by Friday, the first presidential debate should take the place of the VP debate, currently scheduled for next Thursday, October 2 in St. Louis.

In this scenario, the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin would be rescheduled for a date yet to be determined, and take place in Oxford, Mississippi, currently slated to be the site of the first presidential faceoff this Friday."

Like Kevin Drum, I had been saying "ha ha, I suppose they'll try to reschedule the first Presidential debate for October 2nd", as a joke. Silly me, and silly Kevin, to think that the McCain campaign would manage not to make that ludicrous unforced error. I think I know why, though: after her interview with Katie Couric, they surely cannot want Sarah Palin to have one more moment of unscripted TV time than is absolutely necessary.

For the most part, people have focussed on the part where Sarah Palin cannot come up with specific examples of McCain favoring regulation. (Note to Sarah Palin: boxing. I'd mention McCain's attempt to regulate tobacco, but since he's flip-flopped on that one, best not to bring it up.) But I was also struck by this bit from the interview:

"COURIC: Would you support a moratorium on foreclosures to help average Americans keep their homes?

PALIN: That's something that John McCain and I have both been discussing whether that is part of the solution or not ... you know, it's going to be a multifaceted solution that has to be found here.

COURIC: So you haven't decided whether you'll support it or not?

PALIN: I have not.

COURIC: What are the pros and cons of it, do you think?

[Translation: OK, you don't want to commit. But do you have the slightest idea what the salient considerations are?]

"PALIN: Well, some decisions that have been made poorly should not be rewarded, of course.

COURIC: By consumers, you're saying?

PALIN: Consumers and those who were predator lenders also. That's, you know, that has to be considered also. But again, it's got to be a comprehensive long-term solution found for this problem that America is facing today. As I say, we are getting into crisis mode here."

[Translation: Not a clue. But whatever the solution is, it ought to be comprehensive and long-term. Such a relief to know she doesn't actually favor temporary solutions that do not address the entire problem. Had she had more time, no doubt she would have come out for solutions that are judicious, well-designed, effective and (of course) bipartisan. And I'll bet she doesn't think people should play politics with this issue either. Call me psychic.]

Sarah Palin has been described as a quick study. But she has been surrounded by briefers for nearly three weeks, and she's still completely unable to string together an intelligent thought on the mortgage crisis. Would a moratorium on foreclosures keep people in their homes, or would it make banks even less likely to make mortgage loans, while driving them closer to insolvency? Is this sort of heavy-handed government interference in the market a desperate measure called for by desperate times, or is it more like Robert Mugabe's efforts to stop inflation by banning price increases? (I probably shouldn't wonder whether Sarah Palin knows who Mugabe is...) It would be nice if the running mate of one of the oldest candidates for President ever had some ideas about these issues. Since she's been prepping constantly, it's pretty alarming that she doesn't.

I served with quick studies. I knew quick studies. Quick studies were a friend of mine. Sarah Palin: you're no quick study.

Hilzoy 8:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (81)

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By: Hilzoy

Say What?

So I return from a day of teaching and discover that John McCain has decided to suspend his campaign and return to Washington DC, the better to deal with our nation's urgent problems. Goody! It might have been even better had he bothered to show up for even a single one of the 108 Senate votes that have been taken between April 8, when he last showed up, and today. Who knows how many problems might have been averted had John McCain managed to show up before today?

Seriously, though, I agree with Steve: this is flailing desperation. It also makes no sense: he's still giving some speeches, but he has stopped airing ads. Does anyone seriously think that airing ads would seriously impair John McCain's ability to address this crisis? Does he usually wind the ad tapes himself? Does he go around to all the TV stations in order to say "I'm John McCain and I approve this message" in person? Somehow, I don't think so.

He's down in the polls. His "brilliant" VP pick is not wearing well, even in her virtual press seclusion. His responses to a genuine crisis are all over the map. So he decides that rather than scaling back his appearances and being quietly helpful behind the scenes, he will descend on Washington, cameras in tow, and posture.

Josh Marshall has it right:

"Bringing the presidential candidates and their press entourages back to Capitol Hill won't speed or improve the process of coming up with a good bailout deal. It will politicize it. That's so transparently obvious that it barely requires stating. And of course that is the point.

By going public with his 'suspension' announcement as a breaking news statement McCain intended to make any agreement between the candidate impossible. Contrast that with Obama's campaign, which apparently tried to get both campaigns to agree on a common set of principles privately before going public. There's no logical reason there can't be a presidential debate while a bailout plan is being negotiated."

Country First, indeed.

Hilzoy 5:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

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

* Obama, speaking to reporters in Florida, turned down McCain's offer to delay the debate. "Presidents are going to have to deal with more than one thing at a time," he said. "It's not necessary for us to think that we can do only one thing, and suspend everything else."

* As far as the University of Mississippi and the Commission on Presidential Debates are concerned, Friday's event is still on.

* The original Treasury plan for a $700 billion Wall Street bailout is just about dead, but congressional alternatives are looking more promising.

* Like TPM, I've heard rumors that a deal is very nearly in place. It would be a shorter-term deal, totaling around $150 billion.

* A criminal investigation has begun at the Justice Department, looking into whether fraud contributed to the collapse of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, and AIG.

* Just two hours before Georgia was set to kill Troy Davis, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay, and will decide Monday whether to grant Davis's appeal for a new trial.

* Brandon Friedman has the latest on just how deadly Afghanistan has become.

* What a surprise, healthcare premiums are still on the rise.

* It's good to see Congress take a stand to require insurance companies to treat mental ailments the same way as physical ailments.

* What did KBR know and when did they know it?

* That's quite a ghost-writing operation the McCain campaign has put together.

* Quote of the Day, in response to McCain's stunt this afternoon: "If you were wondering how bad McCain's pollster was telling him things are, there's your confirmation."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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WALKING AND CHEWING GUM AT THE SAME TIME.... We're starting to get a better sense of what the McCain campaign's "suspension" means in a practical sense. CNN, citing senior campaign adviser Mark Salter, reports that the Republican nominee "will suspend airing all ads and all campaign events pending an agreement with Obama, though Salter did not know whether John McCain will suspend fundraising activities. He added that McCain would take part in the debate as scheduled if Congress reached agreement on the measure by Friday morning."

McCain is still prepared to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative tomorrow -- it's not the crisis should completely cause McCain to scrap his schedule -- but then he'll be ready to do some policy work on the Hill.

And if I understand the rationale, McCain believes the crisis is so important, it's worth focusing all of his attention on it -- at least between Friday and Tuesday -- and nothing else.

This is ridiculous for any number of reasons. First, the crisis isn't new, and McCain didn't reach this conclusion until his poll numbers started falling. Would McCain have made this absurd decision if the polls showed him with momentum? Of course not.

Second, lawmakers and administration officials have been on the case for a while; it's not like McCain has anything specific to contribute to the discussion. Indeed, if two candidates, their respective teams, the Secret Service, and a media circus went to the Hill on Friday, the chances of progress on a legislative package go down, not up.

But even more importantly, McCain is subtly telling voters that he's not especially good at multitasking. As Yglesias put it, "I think walking and chewing gum at the same time is part of the president's job."

It's certainly supposed to be. We've had campaigns, debates, ads, speeches, and fundraisers during wars and natural disasters, but we've never had a candidate who didn't think he could handle campaigning during a crisis before.

McCain, in other words, apparently wants to call a time-out. I don't blame him, necessarily, but here's the thing: presidents don't get to call time-outs. They don't get to put some responsibilities on hold while they tend to other responsibilities. They need to be resilient, and put their duties ahead of the distractions and fatigue.

McCain, for lack of a better word, appears terrified this afternoon -- terrified of losing, terrified of the race slipping away, terrified of a debate, terrified of events unfolding beyond his control.

And so, scared, he panicked, and made yet another rash and cynical decision.

John McCain is fundamentally unsuited for the presidency. Why he seems so anxious to remind us of this fact is a mystery.

Steve Benen 4:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED.... When the crisis on Wall Street began, and the markets began tanking nine days ago, the very first message from John McCain was, "The fundamentals of our economy are strong." That didn't work, and McCain dropped the line.

His second message was that he wanted to see a commission investigate how and why the crisis happened. That made McCain appear confused, so he dropped that line, too.

His third message was in opposition to the AIG bailout. That didn't last, and McCain took the opposite position 24 hours later.

His fourth message was to fire Christopher Cox from the Securities and Exchange Commission. That turned out to be ridiculous, and McCain dropped the line, too.

His fifth message was to blame lobbyists, influence peddlers, and the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That became problematic given the lobbyists and former Fannie/Freddie officials on McCain's payroll.

McCain has simply gone from one ridiculous notion to another, flailing around, looking desperately for something coherent to say. Now McCain has come up with yet another stunt: suspend the campaign, delay the debate, and head back to his day job for the first time since April.

It's hard to imagine anyone being so gullible as to find McCain's gimmick credible. Candidates who take the political process seriously don't behave this way. Leaders don't behave this way.

Josh Marshall had this gem: "Isn't this the campaign equivalent of faking an injury when you're down late in the 4th quarter?"

Why, yes. Yes it is.

As for what happens next, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said there's already a process in place to continue negotiations, and it "would not be helpful at this time to have them come back during these negotiations and risk injecting presidential politics into this process or distract important talks about the future of our nation's economy. If that changes, we will call upon them. We need leadership; not a campaign photo op."

And ABC News is reporting that as far as the Obama campaign is concerned, the debate is still on.

Steve Benen 4:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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DESPERATE CANDIDATES DO DESPERATE THINGS.... As the political world continues to try to wrap its head around John McCain's decision to "suspend" his campaign, the Obama campaign issued an interesting statement.

At 8:30 this morning, Senator Obama called Senator McCain to ask him if he would join in issuing a joint statement outlining their shared principles and conditions for the Treasury proposal and urging Congress and the White House to act in a bipartisan manner to pass such a proposal. At 2:30 this afternoon, Senator McCain returned Senator Obama's call and agreed to join him in issuing such a statement. The two campaigns are currently working together on the details.

As we talked about earlier, McCain said yesterday he's looking for a variety of things in the bailout package before he makes up his mind, including "greater accountability," a "path for taxpayers to recover the money," "complete transparency," and a mechanism to prevent Wall Street executives from profiting from taxpayer money. Obama had expressed his own ideas on measures that the bailout package should include, 48 hours earlier, and the lists were nearly identical.

So, this morning, Obama called McCain with a straightforward idea: if both candidates supported similar provisions, the two sides could endorse a joint set of principles. McCain, this afternoon, agreed. Obama did this quietly, away from the media spotlight, and without leaking anything to the media. Just one candidate looking for a bipartisan solution with a rival candidate. Everyone was happy.

And almost immediately after an agreement was reached, McCain, in the middle of debate prep, decides it's time for a stunt. How very sad that McCain's desperation has become this transparent.

Details are a little sketchy at this point, but as I understand it, Obama still wants a debate on Friday, as planned, and does not plan to suspend his campaign, but we're supposed to get another statement on these developments from Obama very soon.

Stay tuned.

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

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MCCAIN 'SUSPENDS' CAMPAIGNING?.... It's not at all unreasonable to wonder if there's just something wrong with John McCain.

McCain suspends his campaign, and asks to postpone Friday's debate, to address the financial crisis.

Both candidates have been marginal players; McCain, though, seems to have the potential to make himself a major one, and his move is a mark, most of all, that he doesn't like the way this campaign is going.

But in terms of the timing of this move: The only thing that's changed in the last 48 hours is the public polling.

Apparently, as McCain sees it, 10 days after the Wall Street crisis began, now he wants to head back to Capitol Hill to do some work. Of course, lawmakers and administration officials have been working quite a bit, but McCain, who has played no direct role in the negotiations thus far, wants to swoop in and tell everyone what they need to do. This from a man who hasn't shown up for work at all in literally months.

What's more, after whining incessantly for months about the need for one-on-one debates, McCain has decided, just 48 hours before the first official debate, that everything should be postponed. And Barack Obama should go along with all of this, because McCain says so.

I've never even heard of a presidential candidate acting in such a reckless, compulsive, and ultimately haphazard fashion. McCain just decided to "suspend" campaign activities? This rivals picking Sarah Palin for the ticket on the list of desperation moves.

McCain spoke at some length yesterday about the nature of the economic crisis, and what he'd like to see happen. But at the time, it apparently never occurred to him to get actually get involved in the process. That is, until today.

The Republican nomination has apparently gone to some kind of man-child who believes stunts and gimmicks are the way to the White House. It is nothing short of breathtaking to see someone so manifestly unserious seek the highest office in the land.

The moment the winds shifted and Obama had a growing lead in the polls, it's time to suspend the campaign. Good lord, McCain really does think voters are idiots.

Steve Benen 3:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (88)

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LOUISIANA REPUBLICAN BACKS POOR STERILIZATION.... I can appreciate when elected officials try to think outside the box with creative ideas. But I'm pretty comfortable concluding that this is not only truly insane, it's painful to think anyone would articulate such an idea out loud in the 21st century. (via memorandum)

Worried that welfare costs are rising as the number of taxpayers declines, state Rep. John LaBruzzo, R-Metairie, said Tuesday he is studying a plan to pay poor women $1,000 to have their Fallopian tubes tied.

"We're on a train headed to the future and there's a bridge out," LaBruzzo said of what he suspects are dangerous demographic trends. "And nobody wants to talk about it."

LaBruzzo said he worries that people receiving government aid such as food stamps and publicly subsidized housing are reproducing at a faster rate than more affluent, better-educated people who presumably pay more tax revenue to the government. He said he is gathering statistics now.

"What I'm really studying is any and all possibilities that we can reduce the number of people that are going from generational welfare to generational welfare," he said.

LaBruzzo serves in the same legislative district that sent David Duke to the legislature in 1989. Try to contain your surprise.

"It's easy to say, 'Oh, he's a racist, ' " LaBruzzo said. "The hard part is to sit down and think of some solutions."

Hmm, can one say he's a racist and talk about solutions?

LaBruzzo acknowledges that some prefer tackling poverty through education reforms and family planning programs, but he says he's looked into this, and found these traditional approaches to be ineffective. It's led him to think the whole pay-for-poor-women's-sterilization tack might be a good idea.

The mind reels.

Steve Benen 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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ASK A SILLY QUESTION.... John McCain and Sarah Palin met with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvilli and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, and in a break from preferred campaign policy, reporters were briefly allowed into the room for the photo-op. Big mistake.

McCain then looked around the room and gestured as if to welcome questions. The AP reporter shouted a question at Gov. Palin ("Governor, what have you learned from your meetings?") but McCain aide Brooke Buchanan intervened and shepherded everybody out of the room.

Palin looked surprised, leaned over to McCain and asked him a question, to which your pooler thinks he shook his head as if to say "No."

Look, "What have you learned from your meetings?" is an easy one. It's not a trick question, or a "gotcha" question, or even a question intended to do test Palin's limited understanding of international affairs. She could have easily said something like, "I've been encouraged by how much support the United States continues to enjoy around the world." No muss, no fuss. It's not rocket science.

But, no. The McCain campaign apparently believes the Republican vice presidential nominee is some kind of child, under strict instructions not to speak. Palin has no doubt been receiving extensive briefings on a variety of subjects, and could probably handle a random question or two, but the McCain gang is so convinced of her incompetence, they're just not willing to take the risk -- even after a genuine media backlash has begun in earnest in response to the campaign's heavy-handed approach.

Greg Sargent asked, "Has anyone pointed out that McCain has placed Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency?"

It is a rather comical prospect, isn't it?

Steve Benen 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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USING THE BULLY PULPIT.... The White House really wants Congress to pass the $700 billion Paulson bailout plan -- you know, without a bunch of pesky questions and or strings attached -- and negotiations apparently haven't produced any meaningful breakthroughs.

So, the president is going to share some words of wisdom with the nation in prime time.

President Bush will address the nation from the White House at 9:01 pm ET Wednesday night in an attempt to unstick bailout talks.

Is that so. Bush will give a speech, which in turn will give lawmakers and the Treasury Department a little executive nudge. That's the plan.

At the risk of stating the obvious, I don't think the president realizes the situation he's in. His approval rating is still ridiculously low. The public holds him and his administration largely responsible for the current crisis. He's a lame-duck president who no one pays attention to anymore. He's pushing for a $700 billion bailout package that no serious person anywhere actually likes.

And he's going to use this power as leverage? What does Bush think this is, 2003?

Atrios responded to the news, saying, "I do hope that the Democrats have finally internalized the idea that he's been 30% and under the polls for 3 years now." Quite right.

I'd just add one tangential thought: I wonder how the McCain campaign feels about Bush stepping out to deliver a prime-time speech on economics?

Steve Benen 1:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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BIDEN SLAMS MCCAIN AS 'DANGEROUSLY WRONG'.... Joe Biden was swimming up-stream a bit this morning, delivering a real stemwinder in Cincinnati on national security. Much of the nation's attention is on the crisis on Wall Street, and much of the political world's attention is on yet another McCain campaign controversy, but there is a presidential debate on Friday focusing principally on foreign policy, and Biden was laying the groundwork for some very effective criticism.

On McCain's judgment:

"This week, John talked about the judgment required to be Commander in Chief. He's right: nothing is more important than judgment. But time and again, on the most critical national security issues of our time, John McCain's judgment was wrong. Right after the terrorists attacked us on 9-11, John responded by urging that we consider attacking countries other than Afghanistan, including Iraq, Iran and Syria. In the run up to the war in Iraq, John insisted that we would be greeted as liberators... that we didn't need a lot of troops... that victory was imminent. Then, he said he wasn't worried about Afghanistan... that we would 'muddle through'... and he declared Afghanistan to be 'a remarkable success.' In John's judgment, there is nothing to talk about with Tehran. And he has one idea for dealing with Russia: kick it out of the Group of Eight nations."

On Iraq and counter-terrorism:

"It is John's judgment that six years into the war in Iraq, we should keep spending $10 billion a month... indefinitely... at a time Iraq is running an $80 billion surplus. And John McCain continues to insist, against all the evidence and all the facts, that Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism... and not the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan where the people who actually attacked us on 9-11 reside and are regrouping. John is more than wrong -- he is dangerously wrong. On a question so basic, so fundamental, so critical to our nation's security, we can't afford a Commander-in Chief so divorced from reality and from America's most basic national interests."

On Spain:

"Last week, John McCain said he would not meet with the leader of Spain. Now folks, he would not meet with the leader of a NATO ally. A NATO ally who has Spanish forces in Afghanistan, who has forces fighting side by side with the U.S. Ladies and gentlemen, what kind of judgment is that? What kind of bluster is that? Ladies and gentleman, John McCain's notion about how to deal with our allies as well as adversaries is something I just don't understand. How in God's name will we deal with Russia, without a united NATO. Ladies and gentleman, John McCain has gotten it wrong on so many fundamental issues."

On Obama:

"Time and again, Barack Obama has demonstrated the judgment we need in our next president... and the vision to see over the horizon. Seven years ago, Barack Obama opposed one of the most disastrous decisions in the history of American foreign policy: the diversion of our military might, our resources and focus from Afghanistan to Iraq. He was profoundly right. Now, he is right again: Barack Obama will end the war in Iraq responsibly. He will be as careful getting out as George Bush and John McCain were careless getting in.... Barack Obama understands what John McCain does not: the next President must be more than the Commander-in-Chief for Iraq. He must be Commander-in-Chief for America's security around the world."

I can appreciate the fact that Obama picked Biden for the ticket with governing in mind, but a speech like this morning's is a reminder that Biden can be a real asset to the ticket on the campaign trail.

More of this, please.

Steve Benen 1:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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MCCAIN CAMPAIGN STRUGGLES WITH NEW DAVIS CONTROVERSY.... New revelations that Freddie Mac was paying McCain campaign manager Rick Davis' lobbying firm $15,000 a month up until last month has put the McCain gang back on its heels. The available evidence suggests pretty strongly that the information McCain gave voters about his campaign's ties to Freddie Mac was false.

Today, McCain campaign spokesperson/blogger Michael Goldfarb published a 700-word response to the news, and by any reasonable measure, the statement is a complete mess. In the very first sentence, Goldfarb says the reports charge that Davis "was paid by Freddie Mac until last month," which Goldfarb insists is false. Actually, the reports charge that Davis' lobbying firm was the one paid until last month, which is true.

Indeed, it's almost as if Goldfarb didn't read the article he was attacking. Davis lobbied against federal regulations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac through the Homeownership Alliance, and once that was done, Davis asked Freddie Mac to put his firm on retainer, for $15,000 a month, for very little work. Not only does the McCain campaign's official response not dispute this point, it doesn't even acknowledge this central revelation.

Goldfarb does make a point of emphasizing that Davis "has never -- never -- been a lobbyist for either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac." That's true. But as Jason Zengerle explained, that doesn't make the situation any better.

[T]he NYT story doesn't allege that Davis was a lobbyist for Freddie Mac. Rather, the NYT reports that he was a "consultant." And that's actually a crucial -- and, in this instance, damning -- distinction, since, by serving as a consultant rather than as a lobbyist for Freddie Mac, Davis's firm didn't have to disclose its payments from Freddie Mac in federal lobbying reports (which is why we didn't know about them until some ticked-off Fannie and Freddie folks revealed them to the Times). In other words, it looks as if Davis was almost trying to hide the fact that he was getting paid by Freddie Mac.

What's more, Goldfarb bashes the New York Times repeatedly, neglecting to acknowledge that the Times was one of three major news outlets -- Newsweek and Roll Call were the other two -- to report within a few hours of each other about the latest Rick Davis revelations.

The McCain campaign went to quite a bit of trouble this morning to offer a detailed denial that doesn't actually deny the charges at hand, and doesn't even try to answer any of the unresolved questions, including the fact that McCain's public statements now appear to contradict the public record on Davis' activities.

Obama communications director Dan Pfeiffer also issued a statement: "It is now clear that both John McCain and Rick Davis did not tell the truth about Davis's continuing financial relationship with Freddie Mac, one of the actors at the center of this financial crisis. It's troubling not only that Davis's firm -- with which he is still associated and which the McCain campaign paid directly last year -- continued to be compensated by Freddie Mac until as recently as last month, but that the firm did little work and apparently was being paid simply to provide access to the McCain campaign. The question that now needs to be answered is this: did Freddie Mac or any other special interests buy access to John McCain by compensating top officials, including Rick Davis?"

Remember, the McCain campaign walked right into this one, insisting that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were largely responsible for the Wall Street crisis, and any associations between a candidate and officials at the lending companies are necessarily scandalous.

Talk about leading with one's chin....

Steve Benen 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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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:

* John McCain was pressed a bit on Carly Fiorina's $42 million golden parachute, which is exactly the kind of deal McCain has been railing against. McCain responded, "Carly Fiorina is a role model to millions of American women.... I'm proud of her record."

* Just as most recent polling shows Obama with an edge over McCain, NPR released a new poll showing McCain with a narrow, two-point edge over Obama in "14 battleground states."

* In Virginia, a Mason-Dixon poll shows McCain leading Obama by three, 47% to 44%.

* In Iowa, a Marist Poll shows Obama leading McCain by 10, 51% to 41%.

* In New Hampshire, a Marist Poll shows Obama leading McCain by six, 51% to 45%.

* In Michigan, a Marist Poll shows Obama leading McCain by nine, 52% to 43%.

* In Ohio, a Marist Poll shows Obama leading McCain by two, 47% to 45%.

* In Pennsylvania, a Marist Poll shows Obama leading McCain by five, 49% to 44%.

* In California, Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain by 17, 56% to 39%.

* In Kansas, SurveyUSA shows McCain leading Obama by 12, 53% to 41%.

* In Washington state, SurveyUSA shows Obama leading McCain by 11, 54% to 43%.

* In Kentucky, SurveyUSA shows McCain leading Obama by 19, 57% to 38%.

* Ron Paul has snubbed Bob Barr and the Libertarian Party, throwing his support to the hyper-right-wing Constitution Party.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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MCCAIN'S BAILOUT GAMES.... When it comes to the response to the crisis on Wall Street, the McCain campaign decided a few days ago on a political strategy. McCain aides blasted Barack Obama as "indecisive," and crafted an ad describing Obama as "mum on the market crisis."

So, we can obviously expect bold leadership from John McCain then, right? Well, not so much.

If Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain doesn't vote for the Bush administration's $700 billion economic bailout plan, some Republican and Democratic congressional leaders tell ABC News the plan won't pass.

"If McCain doesn't come out for this, it's over," a Top House Republican tells ABC News. [...]

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds told ABC News' Jake Tapper that McCain has not made a decision one way or another.

Democrats see the writing on the wall here -- if they work with the Bush administration on the bailout plan, but McCain and congressional Republicans oppose the measure, it becomes a cudgel for the GOP for the rest of the campaign. Everyone is looking to see what McCain is going to do, because if he goes along, it'll open the door to bipartisan support. If he balks, Dems aren't going to go out on a limb with Bush and Paulson on their own.

And so McCain, after ironically accusing Obama of remaining "mum" and being "indecisive," has concluded he just doesn't know what he wants to do next, and doesn't want to talk about the bailout proposal for a while.

McCain did say yesterday that he's looking for a variety of things in the bailout package before he makes up his mind, including "greater accountability," a "path for taxpayers to recover the money," "complete transparency," and a mechanism to prevent Wall Street executives from profiting from taxpayer money.

That's not a bad list, but it would have sounded far more impressive if Obama hadn't already presented a nearly identical list 48 hours earlier.

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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PALIN'S TEAM LEARNS A BUSH TRICK.... It's almost comical how many unanswered questions there are surrounding Sarah Palin's "Troopergate" scandal. Why'd she fire Walt Monegan? Why has she changed her story about what prompted the decision? Why did she break her word about cooperating with the bipartisan investigation? Why are her aides and her husband refusing to honor subpoenas?

Since joining the Republican ticket, Palin hasn't made any real effort to answer questions about the controversy. As of yesterday, though, Palin has decided to stop answering scandal-related questions altogether.

Republican campaign officials indicated they are done answering questions about an investigation into Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's firing of her public safety commissioner Tuesday, citing a request by a state investigator.

"He has asked to keep things confidential, so we will respect those wishes," campaign spokeswoman Meg Stapleton told reporters.

It's the trick the Bush team perfected: "We can't comment while an investigation is underway."

Indeed, in an especially amusing twist, Palin's spokesperson told reporters yesterday that Palin "cannot wait for her story to be told," which, oddly enough, is eerily similar to what the Bush White House said when waiving off questions about outing an undercover CIA agent and the subsequent cover-up.

All of this continues not to go over well back in Alaska.

Calling herself a "raging Republican," [Alaska State Senate president Lyda Green] says, she is "absolutely disgusted, embarrassed, and ashamed" by the McCain-Palin campaign's intervention in the Troopergate probe. Green is alarmed by the McCain squad's use of hardball tactics and "the length to which they're going to impede and delay" the investigation.

Sometimes when folks act like they have something to hide, it's because they have something to hide.

Steve Benen 10:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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HONEST AND TRUSTWORTHY.... Following up on an earlier item, the new Washington Post/ABC News poll offers quite a bit of good news for Democrats, but I was thumbing through some of the internals, and noticed some additional data worth considering.

As we know, voters often look to personal characteristics, instead of issue positions, when evaluating candidates, and as it turns out, these may pose an even bigger problem for the McCain campaign than simple horse-race numbers.

Asked, for example, which candidate would do more to bring needed change to Washington, voters prefer Obama to McCain by 25 points (58% to 33%). Asked which candidate better understands the economic problems people are having, voters again prefer Obama by a wide margin (57% to 33%). Asked which candidate is the stronger leader, a question on which McCain used to excel, Obama now has a narrow lead (47% to 46%).

And in my personal favorite, the poll asked respondents which candidate is "more honest and trustworthy." Obama enjoys a healthy, double-digit lead, 47% to 36%.

Just as importantly, this is a recent development. When voters were asked this same question about candidate honesty in mid-July, Obama and McCain were about tied (Obama had a three-point lead). The same poll asked the same question in August, and again, they were about tied (Obama led by just one point). Shortly after the Republican convention, McCain was perceived as more trustworthy by six points.

And now, that trend has completely reversed, and Obama leads by 11 points on honesty and trustworthiness.

I mention this in part because there's been a noticeable trend of late of political observers expressing their disappointment in the McCain campaign's relentless lying and shameless dishonesty, and I've wondered whether voters would pick up on any of this. If the poll results are any indication, they have.

Steve Benen 9:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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SLAMMING MCCAIN FOR 'SEXIST' PALIN TREATMENT.... For a while, the McCain campaign, its allies, and its surrogates hoped to characterize any legitimate questions about Sarah Palin's readiness for national office by equating inquiries with misogyny. Last night, CNN's Campbell Brown decided to turn the tables, arguing that if anyone is demonstrating sexism in the presidential race, it's the McCain campaign. (via the Jed Report)

For those of you who can't watch clips from your work computers, Brown told viewers, "[F]rankly, I have had it, and I know a lot of other women out there are with me on this. I have had enough of the sexist treatment of Sarah Palin. It has to end. She was here in New York City today, meeting with world leaders at the U.N. And what did the McCain campaign do? They tried to ban reporters from covering those meetings. And they did ban reporters from asking Gov. Palin any questions.

"Tonight I call on the McCain campaign to stop treating Sarah Palin like she is a delicate flower that will wilt at any moment. This woman is from Alaska for crying out loud. She is strong. She is tough. She is confident. And you claim she is ready to be one heartbeat away from the presidency. If that is the case, then end this chauvinistic treatment of her now. Allow her to show her stuff. Allow her to face down those pesky reporters.... Let her have a real news conference with real questions. By treating Sarah Palin different from the other candidates in this race, you are not showing her the respect she deserves. Free Sarah Palin. Free her from the chauvinistic chains you are binding her with. Sexism in this campaign must come to an end. Sarah Palin has just as much a right to be a real candidate in this race as the men do. So let her act like one."

There are a couple of interesting angles to this. First, it's fair to say news outlets are growing increasingly outraged over the absurd efforts to shield Sarah Palin from media scrutiny. Yesterday's stunt at the U.N. seemed to push some journalists over the edge.

And second, Brown's point is a compelling one -- the McCain campaign is necessarily showing disrespect for Palin, by treating her as if she's less capable than other male candidates in the same position. McCain and his team are making it clear that they don't respect Palin, don't trust her, and don't believe she's capable enough for the rigors of, say, a press conference.

Sam Stein concluded, "Critical articles the campaign can handle.... But charges that the campaign is insulting women voters by shielding its vice presidential nominee from the press are powerful and persuasive, especially when they come from a well-known female news anchor."

I don't expect Brown's commentary to affect the McCain campaign's thinking -- they'll take the hit rather than take the risk -- but it's encouraging to see the backlash anyway.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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MCCAIN'S SUPPORT FADES, OBAMA TAKES SOLID LEAD.... All the usual caveats still apply -- a lot can happen in six weeks; national polls are primarily interesting for little more than trend lines; a presidential race is a state-by-state contest; and it's best not to invest too much energy into just one poll.

That said, Democrats who were white-knuckling the campaign a couple of weeks ago are probably feeling a little more encouraged right now.

Gallup reported earlier this month that recent history shows that the candidate leading after the second convention holds onto the national lead for at least a month, even after the convention bounces fade. "[I]f Obama regains the lead over the next month," Gallup reported on Sept. 9, "he will be bucking the historical trend."

As it turns out, that's what has happened.

Turmoil in the financial industry and growing pessimism about the economy have altered the shape of the presidential race, giving Democratic nominee Barack Obama the first clear lead of the general-election campaign over Republican John McCain, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News national poll.

Just 9 percent of those surveyed rated the economy as good or excellent, the first time that number has been in single digits since the days just before the 1992 election. Just 14 percent said the country is heading in the right direction, equaling the record low on that question in polls dating back to 1973.

More voters trust Obama to deal with the economy, and he currently has a big edge as the candidate who is more in tune with the economic problems Americans now face. He also has a double-digit advantage on handling the current problems on Wall Street, and as a result, there has been a rise in his overall support. The poll found that, among likely voters, Obama now leads McCain by 52 percent to 43 percent. Two weeks ago, in the days immediately following the Republican National Convention, the race was essentially even, with McCain at 49 percent and Obama at 47 percent.

As a point of comparison, neither of the last two Democratic nominees -- John F. Kerry in 2004 or Al Gore in 2000 -- recorded support above 50 percent in a pre-election poll by the Post and ABC News.

A couple of other angles to consider from this poll -- first, Sarah Palin's poll numbers are fading, with her unfavorable rating going up 10 points in two weeks. The percentage of independents with favorable views of Palin dropped from 60% to 48% over the same time frame, including a huge 18-point drop among independent women.

Second, the "enthusiasm gap" seems to have reemerged -- 62% of Obama supporters are "very enthusiastic," while 34% of McCain's backers said the same. Immediately after the Republican convention, about half of McCain's supporters were "very enthusiastic." What's more, the Post noted, "Among Republicans, conservatives and white evangelical Protestants, strong enthusiasm for McCain's candidacy has dropped by double digits."

And third, independents now prefer Obama by a wide margin, 53% to 39%, and Obama's advantage among independents on the economy is now a whopping 21 points.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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TIME FOR RICK DAVIS TO GO.... Hilzoy summarized the latest revelations about McCain campaign manager Rick Davis last night. The news is hard to spin away -- Davis not only lobbied to shield Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from federal regulations, but we now learn that Davis' lobbying firm was picking up $15,000 a month from Freddie Mac, right up until it was taken over by the feds.

Let's pause to fully appreciate the big picture here.

John McCain argued last week that the crisis on Wall Street "started in the Washington culture of lobbying and influence pedaling." Oops.

John McCain insisted, on national television, just a couple of days ago, that Davis had had no involvement with Freddie Mac for the last several years. He added, "I'll be glad to have his record examined by anybody who wants to look at it." (Davis adopted the same line on a conference call with reporters on Monday, arguing that he's been completely detached from the housing lending giants.)

John McCain told voters last week that Barack Obama having tenuous relationships with former officials at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is scandalous, worthy of attack ads, and enough to cast doubts on Obama's judgment.

Given all of this, it's hard to see how McCain keeps Rick Davis on as campaign manager.

Indeed, McCain might even have a credible excuse. Given that McCain went on the attack over Fannie/Freddie associations, and said Davis hasn't been connected to the companies for years, he could probably argue now, "My campaign manager misled me about the extent of his lobbying work." Indeed, that's what it largely boils down to -- either Davis led to McCain, or McCain lied to us. I suspect the campaign will prefer Door #1.

To be sure, it's left McCain in a very awkward position. If he lets Davis go, the campaign will look awful with less than six weeks until Election Day. If he keeps Davis on, he looks dishonest and borderline corrupt.

It couldn't have happened to a more appropriate campaign.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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September 23, 2008
By: Hilzoy

Square In The Middle Of It

From the NYT:

"One of the giant mortgage companies at the heart of the credit crisis paid $15,000 a month from the end of 2005 through last month to a firm owned by Senator John McCain's campaign manager, according to two people with direct knowledge of the arrangement.

The disclosure undercuts a statement by Mr. McCain on Sunday night that the campaign manager, Rick Davis, had had no involvement with the company for the last several years.

Mr. Davis's firm received the payments from the company, Freddie Mac, until it was taken over by the government this month along with Fannie Mae, the other big mortgage lender whose deteriorating finances helped precipitate the cascading problems on Wall Street, the people said.

They said they did not recall Mr. Davis's doing much substantive work for the company in return for the money, other than speak to a political action committee of high-ranking employees in October 2006 on the approaching midterm Congressional elections. They said Mr. Davis's firm, Davis & Manafort, had been kept on the payroll because of Mr. Davis's close ties to Mr. McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, who by 2006 was widely expected to run again for the White House.

Mr. Davis took a leave from Davis & Manafort for the presidential campaign, but as a partner and equity-holder continues to benefit from its income. No one at Davis & Manafort other than Mr. Davis was involved in efforts on Freddie Mac's behalf, the people familiar with the arrangement said."

A couple of points: first, the article also says that Davis was hired as a "consultant", not a lobbyist. So if he says that he didn't do any "lobbying work", this is probably true, both in a technical sense (he was a consultant), and, more broadly, in that he doesn't seem to have done much work of any kind. It isn't exactly "straight talk", though. Second, Newsweek writes:

"Davis also said he "had a severed leave of absence" from his lobbying and consulting firm, and "I've taken no compensation from my firm for 18 months." (A campaign spokesman said that Davis receives no partnership distribution under his arrangement)."

I don't know enough about how partnerships work, and what it means to have equity in one, but unless all earnings are fully distributed on an ongoing basis, and Davis' arrangement means that all the money from Freddie Mac was distributed among the other partners, I'm not sure that this matters. Certainly, if Freddie Mac made some asset of mine more valuable, the fact that I did not actually convert that added value into cash and move it into my checking account would not show that I had not profited from the deal.

Third, if the NYT and Newsweek are right to say that Davis did almost no work for Freddie Mac, that (to my mind) makes the story worse, not better. What McCain spends his time railing against on the campaign trail is "the lobbyists, politicians, and bureaucrats who succeeded in persuading Congress and the administration to ignore the festering problems at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac." Paying someone to do nothing, because of his "close ties to Mr. McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, who by 2006 was widely expected to run again for the White House", is about as clear an example of what McCain called "the Washington culture of lobbying and influence peddling" as you could ask for.

McCain is absolutely right to condemn it. He was just wrong about who was "square in the middle of it." It wasn't Barack Obama. It was his own campaign manager.

Hilzoy 11:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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

* George Stephanopoulos reports, "McCain holds key to administration's bailout passage."

* Even House Republicans aren't listening to Cheney anymore.

* Reports out of Afghanistan remain "grim."

* Limbaugh just can't help himself.

* It'll be tougher for the right to blame Dems and minority families for the mortgage crisis given Rick Davis' role in praising minority homeownership.

* And it'll be even tougher still given the Bush/Cheney '04 campaign's position on the same issue.

* "NBC Nightly News" ran a pretty good story last night on the two major parties' tax policies.

* It never ceases to amaze me what some local Republican officials are willing to say to a reporter on the record.

* The NRA lying about Obama and gun control? You don't say.

* I haven't seen a mea culpa from a congressional candidate like this in quite a while.

* The McCain campaign was for the New York Times before it was against it.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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By: T.A. Frank

A brief debate thought...Word in the press is that Obama's people are hoping that John McCain can be goaded into losing his temper during the presidential debates. We can be certain that John McCain knows this. We can also be certain that his aides know this. John McCain may make mistakes during the debate. But he will not lose his temper.

T.A. Frank 4:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

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LET'S DEFINE 'COOPERATE'.... If all you read was the headline, you might think there's been an encouraging breakthrough on Sarah Palin's ongoing "Troopergate" scandal. CNN reported, "Palin 'ready to cooperate' in firing probe, lawyer says."

Sounds great, right? Palin, after initially vowing her full cooperation with an independent investigation launched by the Alaskan legislature, has since decided to stonewall and obstruct the process. If the governor is now "ready to cooperate," that's a rather dramatic and unexpected change of heart.

Except, the headline isn't helpful. Palin isn't "ready to cooperate" with the Troopergate probe; she's "ready to cooperate" with a different Troopergate probe.

Less than a week after balking at the Alaska Legislature's investigation into her alleged abuse of power, Gov. Sarah Palin on Monday indicated she will cooperate with a separate probe run by people she can fire.

An attorney for the GOP vice presidential nominee met with an investigator for the state Personnel Board to discuss sharing documents and schedule witness interviews, McCain spokeswoman Meg Stapleton said.

So, Palin vowed to cooperate with the legislature's investigation. Then she decided she wanted to be the vice president, broke her word, and decided to stonewall. As an alternative, though, Palin is perfectly content to cooperate with a parallel investigation from the state personnel board -- every member of which just happens to serve at the will of the governor.

Palin refuses to cooperate with the actual probe, and her husband and aides have decided to blow off legislative subpoenas, but anything the state personnel board asks for, her lawyer said, the state personnel board will get.

"Ready to cooperate"? That's not quite how I would have put it.

Steve Benen 3:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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A PERFECTLY GOOD FISHING EXPEDITION GONE TO WASTE.... Just yesterday, in a conference call, John McCain's chief strategist and campaign manager, returned to the William Ayers issue. Desperate to change the subject away from the economy, Steve Schmidt and Rick Davis said Ayers, the '60's-era radical, and Barack Obama had a "greater relationship" than we've been led to believe. They didn't have any evidence, but like their boss, they insisted they are right, whether the facts support it or not.

This morning, picking up where the campaign left off, the Wall Street Journal editorial page ran a 1,100-word piece from conservative writer Stanley Kurtz about Obama's past with Ayers. The Journal gave it a provocative headline -- "Obama and Ayers Pushed Radicalism on Schools" -- and far-right blogs seem really excited about it.

So, what did Kurtz dig up? What new angles are there to explore? Have we learned anything of any consequence? I'm afraid conservatives looking for new dirt will have to look elsewhere.

First, the headline is unhelpful. After reading the article, I still don't know what "radical" ideas Obama or anyone else pushed on schools.

Second, Kurtz had access to the everything he wanted, so if there's dirt to be found, he was supposed to get it. Indeed, Kurtz demanded -- and received -- access to "the internal files" of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which he was certain would "illuminate the working relationship between Obama and Bill Ayers."

And like Jason Zengerle, I went through Kurtz's discovery looking for news. There wasn't any. Ayers helped lead the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, and Obama served on the CAC board, but evidence of this "relationship" remains elusive. Zengerle explained:

Well, lo and behold, Kurtz finally gained access to those 70 linear feet of material, and, judging by the op-ed he's produced in today's Wall Street Journal, it looks like he found less an inch worth of damning material. Not that Kurtz would admit as much. His WSJ article is titled "Obama and Ayers Pushed Radicalism on Schools," but the evidence for that consists largely of scare quotes ("leadership," "organized," "external partners," etc) and leaps of logic designed to substitute for actual evidence. [...]

So Kurtz spends days wading through 70 linear feet of material, suffers lord knows how many paper cuts, and the best he can come up with is that Ayers was part of a five-person "working group" that signed off on Obama joining CAC's board? That's pretty weak.

There's nothing to see here. Move along, move along.

Steve Benen 2:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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THEY ALWAYS COME AROUND.... In conservative circles, Paul Weyrich is a pretty major player, and has been for decades. Weyrich helped create the Heritage Foundation, helped found the Moral Majority, has been helping create and finance right-wing operations for years, and continues to contribute to conservative media outlets like Newsmax and the Washington Times.

Like most religious right leaders, Weyrich has not, however, been a fan of John McCain. "I will not vote for him," Weyrich said earlier this year. "I can't."

For that matter, McCain has always hated Weyrich right back. In one of his books, McCain wrote, "Weyrich possesses the attributes of a Dickensian villain. Corpulent and dyspeptic, his mouth set in a perpetual sneer as if life in general were an unpleasant experience, he is the embodiment of the caricature often used to unfairly malign all religious conservatives." McCain concluded that Weyrich is "a pompous, self-serving son of a bitch."

And yet, guess who has come around to supporting McCain's presidential campaign? That's right, Weyrich is now backing the man he swore he could never support.

This is what always seems to happen. James Dobson said earlier this year, in a written statement, "Speaking as a private individual, I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances." Recently, Dobson reversed course and endorsed McCain. Plenty of far-right activists and leaders have done the same thing, especially in the religious right movement McCain used to denounce.

I suppose this shouldn't come as too big a surprise, but conservatives should pause to appreciate the fact they've become a very cheap date. For leaders like Weyrich and Dobson, they opposed McCain vehemently, but ultimately threw their support to him ... in exchange for practically nothing. McCain didn't have to work to earn their backing, he just had to become the Republican nominee.

Future Republican candidates take note: the religious right looks an awful lot like a paper tiger.

Steve Benen 1:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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MCCAIN'S FREDDIE MAC LOBBYIST.... Honestly, I have no idea what the McCain campaign was thinking.

The lobbying firm of the man Republicans say John McCain has chosen to begin planning a presidential transition earned more than a quarter of a million dollars this year representing Freddie Mac, one of the companies McCain blames for the nation's financial crisis.

Timmons & Co., whose founder and chairman emeritus is William Timmons Sr., was registered to lobby for Freddie Mac from 2000 through this month, when the federal government took over both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

Newly available congressional records show Timmons's firm received $260,000 this year before its lobbying activities were barred under terms of the government rescue of the failed mortgage giant. Timmons, 77, is listed as a lobbyist for Freddie Mac on the company's midyear financial-disclosure form.

John McCain personally spent most of last week railing against Barack Obama's associations with former Fannie Mae officials were extremely important, worthy of attack ads and overheated speeches. At one point, about a week ago, McCain told CBS, "[T]he influence that Fannie and Freddie had in the inside-the-beltway, old-boy network, which led to this kind of corruption is unacceptable." Soon after, he told a Wisconsin audience, "At the center of the problem were the lobbyists, politicians, and bureaucrats who succeeded in persuading Congress and the administration to ignore the festering problems at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac."

This, after McCain had tapped Freddie Mac's lobbyist to head his presidential transition team? And after he tapped a former Fannie Mae lobbyist as his campaign manager? Seriously?

By this standard, McCain probably should feel compelled to vote against himself.

Or, as Josh Marshall concluded, "I expect a lot of hypocrisy of all politicians, of both parties. But John McCain is really in a class of his own."

Steve Benen 1:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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CNN WON'T PLAY BY PALIN'S RULES.... CBS News' Scott Conroy reported this morning that Sarah Palin's aides last night notified a network TV producer about her meeting with some world leaders. A pool producer would provide content for the five television networks, and would be on hand to cover the greetings between Palin and the world leaders, but wouldn't be allowed to sit in on the private meetings.

An hour before Palin's first meeting was set to begin, however, the campaign changed the rules, and the pool producer was told he would have no access. As Conroy explained, "This means that the McCain/Palin campaign would get the benefit of free pictures of Palin's meeting with world leaders without having to face the possibility that the candidate might have to answer a question from the media."

To its credit, CNN decided it didn't care for Palin's rules.

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who has not held a press conference in nearly four weeks of campaigning, on Tuesday banned reporters from her first meetings with world leaders, allowing access only to photographers and a television crew.

CNN, which was providing the television coverage for news organizations, decided to pull its TV crew, effectively denying Palin the high visibility she had sought.

Good call. The McCain campaign's overbearing handlers are panicked at the notion of a candidate for national office hearing an unscripted question for which she has not been prepped. As a result, they want the benefit of the images, without the risk of embarrassment.

As it turns out, presidential campaigns in a democracy don't work this way. Palin is set to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe -- the first world leaders she's ever come in contact with -- and she wanted voters to see her in this setting, bolstering her non-existent record on international affairs.

If only she and her team had the confidence to endure a question or two, the media coverage would have worked to the campaign's advantage. But, no. McCain's team doesn't trust Palin, and can't take the risk of another embarrassment.

What a farce.

Update: It looks like the McCain campaign realizes it was pushing its luck. Michael Calderone reports, "I've now heard that as a result of protests from the press, a TV producer was eventually permitted into the first meeting, but no print reporter. At the two subsequent meetings, there will be both TV and print pool reporters on hand."

Steve Benen 12:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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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:

* Bill Clinton made his first appearance on "The View" yesterday, and sounded very much like a neutral political analyst when describing his take(s) on the presidential campaign.

* Joe Biden told Katie Couric he didn't like the recent campaign ad mocking John McCain for his lack of familiarity with modern technology, calling it "terrible." Biden has since walked back his criticism a bit.

* In Colorado, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Obama leading McCain by four, 49% to 45%.

* In Michigan, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Obama leading McCain by four, 48% to 44%, while Rasmussen shows Obama up by seven, 51% to 44%.

* In Minnesota, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Obama leading McCain by two, 47% to 45%.

* In Wisconsin, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Obama leading McCain by seven, 49% to 42%.

* In New Hampshire, a University of New Hampshire poll shows McCain leading Obama by two, 47% to 45%.

* In New Mexico, Public Policy Polling shows Obama with a surprising 11-point lead, 53% to 42%.

* In Florida, a new NBC News poll shows Obama leading McCain by two, 47% to 45%, but Rasmussen shows McCain leading Obama by five, 51% to 46%.

* In Virginia, the Washington Post shows Obama up by three (49% to 46%), SurveyUSA shows Obama up by six (51% to 45%), and Rasmussen shows McCain up by two (50% to 48%).

* In Pennsylvania, Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain by three, 48% to 45%.

* In Ohio, Rasmussen shows McCain leading Obama by four, 50% to 46%.

* In Iowa, a Research 2000 poll shows Obama leading McCain by 14, 53% to 39%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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LOSING GEORGE WILL.... On ABC's "This Week" a couple of days ago, conservative columnist George Will was surprisingly candid in his critique of the presidential campaign, describing Barack Obama as "presidential, calm, and unflustered," and slamming John McCain for "substituting vehemence for coherence," and engaging in "unpresidential behavior." Will added, "John McCain showed his personality this week, and it made some of us fearful."

Today, Will expounded on this point in his Washington Post column, blasting McCain for "behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high."

Conservatives who insist that electing McCain is crucial usually start, and increasingly end, by saying he would make excellent judicial selections. But the more one sees of his impulsive, intensely personal reactions to people and events, the less confidence one has that he would select judges by calm reflection and clear principles, having neither patience nor aptitude for either.

It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?

We've talked quite a bit lately about the Kevin Drum-labeled "'Enough' Club," used to describe high-profile political observers who held McCain in high regard, but grew disgusted after watching his sleazy and dishonest campaign tactics. George Will's disappointment with McCain is far different -- he's not talking about McCain being dishonest; he's talking about McCain being unprincipled and immature.

Indeed, Will described McCain as "childish," "shallow," and suffering from a "Manichaean worldview."

It's hard to say how big a voting constituency Will represents. It's worth noting, though, that he's one of the most widely syndicated columnists in the nation, and helps shape the political establishment's conventional wisdom.

To that end, having Will describe McCain as "unsuited" for the presidency is a fairly striking development.

Steve Benen 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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LIMBAUGH'S LATEST SMEAR.... I don't want to alarm anyone, but it appears that Rush Limbaugh is blisteringly stupid when it comes to race and ethnicity.

Rush Limbaugh baselessly asserted of Sen. Barack Obama: "Do you know he has not one shred of African-American blood?" Limbaugh continued: "He's Arab. You know, he's from Africa. He's from Arab parts of Africa.... [H]e's not African-American. The last thing that he is is African-American."

Limbaugh concluded his little rant by telling his audience, "Everything seems upside-down today in this country."

The irony was rich.

As Media Matters reported, this "Obama is actually Arab" line has been making the rounds in right-wing circles, and has been featured in a variety of conservative settings. It's also demonstrably ridiculous.

First, it's probably worth noting that Obama is not "Arab" "from Africa," he's American from Hawaii. (You know, the place Cokie Roberts mocks for being "exotic.") Second, his father is from Kenya, and Kenya isn't an Arab part of Africa. Third, "African American" generally refers to black people in the United States of African lineage. "The last thing that he is is African American"? Please.

But let's not overlook the point here -- far-right hacks aren't quite done with the smear. The efforts to label Obama "Arab" is just the latest twist in a larger effort launched by those motivated by fear and bigotry.

"Everything seems upside-down today in this country." Especially for those who listen to right-wing radio.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

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LIES, DAMNED LIES, AND MCCAIN'S BUDGET.... If elected, John McCain would inherit a budget deficit of about a half-trillion dollars. He would also take office in the midst of a Wall Street bailout that would cost in upwards of another trillion dollars. McCain then wants to cut hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes, and keep up the war in Iraq indefinitely.

John Harwood asked McCain on CNBC the other day, "Would you concede, then, that you could not achieve your goal of balancing the budget in your first term with this huge bailout added?" McCain responded, "I believe we can still balance the budget."

This is, of course, madness. McCain "believing" he can balance this budget in four years is no different than "believing" in magical ponies that McCain can ride to Sanityville.

Contessa Brewer asked Tucker Bounds, McCain's chief spokesperson to explain how the campaign's numbers could possibly add up. Bounds couldn't even begin to answer, so he refused to respond, preferring to attack Barack Obama. (via Yglesias)

It's a classic of the genre. How can McCain balance the books when his plan clearly intends to do the opposite? Obama wants to increase spending. Why don't McCain's numbers add up? McCain has never requested an earmark (a claim that's an obvious lie, by the way). It's as if the poor guy can't do arithmetic and has trouble with English.

Tucker Bounds may be going for some kind of sympathy vote here, hoping the public will feel sorry for him having to go on national television to repeat humiliating talking points.

Either way, that McCain and his campaign are still prepared to tell voters that they can balance the budget in four years tells us all we need to know about the seriousness of the Republican ticket.

Steve Benen 9:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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CATAPULTING THE PROPAGANDA.... On "60 Minutes" the other day, John McCain was asked why Sarah Palin has largely ignored journalists covering the campaign, and refuses to hold press conferences the way other candidates for national office have done for years. McCain responded, "The American people are vetting her."

The answer didn't exactly make sense. Hand-picked crowds get to hear Palin read from a teleprompter, but that's not "vetting." Voters get to read articles about Palin, but that's the media vetting Palin, not the "American people."

Regardless, the McCain campaign has made up its mind: if they're going to win this thing, they're going to do it without answering questions. The Washington Post's Michael Shear reported:

As of this writing, it has been 39 days and 22 hours since Sen. John McCain last held a news conference (despite having promised to hold weekly Q&A sessions with the press if he's elected). According to the Democrats, it's been 24 days and 11 hours since his running mate, Sarah Palin, held one.

Not the most important issue of the day, perhaps. But maybe the most ironic, given where McCain and Palin were Monday: In Media, Pa.

Where they didn't take questions.

Also yesterday, Jonathan Martin noted, "Palin has yet to hold a single press conference or take questions from any group of reporters."

Let's also not lose sight of the context here. 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.

What reporters may not have appreciated at the time is that they were being played. When it suited McCain's interests to be accessible, he was accessible. When it suits his interests to shut of access, he shuts off access. It's about winning news cycles, not promoting discourse.

Whether McCain pays a price for these tactics now is up to the reporters who are being snubbed.

Steve Benen 9:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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THE SCANDAL NO ONE IS SUPPOSED TO MENTION.... It seems reasonable to think that if a politician is involved in a major scandal, gets admonished by the Senate Ethics Committee, and then runs for president on a "reform" platform, there'd be some scrutiny of the politicians role in the controversy. And yet, the words "Keating Five" seem to off limits in most political/media circles.

Yesterday, after an odd conference call in which the McCain campaign tried to pick a fight with the New York Times, the Obama campaign noted that the Times had published dozens of items about Obama, his life, his religion, his childhood, his politics, his time in the state senate, his time in the U.S. Senate, his family, his religion, his friends, his fundraising, and all other manner of associations. The campaign also noted that the Times has run exactly zero items about "the last major financial regulatory crisis, resulting in a huge bailout, and which John McCain was centrally involved in with his political godfather Charles Keating."

Newsweek's Jonathan Alter explained this very well last night on MSNBC's "Countdown."

"[Y]ou remember the Keating Five scandal that he was a part of, which, by the way, it's crazy but there's been very little about it in the press in the last few weeks," Alter said. "And McCain thinks he's getting a hard time, he's really getting a free ride on the fact that he was in the middle of the last great financial scandal in our country. But his reaction to that, you would have thought, would have been more regulation of the financial services industry. Instead he moved forward on campaign finance reform after being caught in that scandal, but did nothing -- nothing -- to try to prevent another savings and loan crisis from happening down the road. He was missing in action when it came to even learning the basic lessons of a scandal that he said taught him all kinds of things that he would never forget."

I suspect editors at the major news outlets would say they're blowing off McCain's role in the Keating Five scandal because it's a 20-year-old story. It's a fair, but incomplete, point.

The story may be old, but it's recently become surprisingly relevant to current events -- we are, after all, talking about a scandal involving major bank failures, financial fraud and greed, and political ineptitude. Sound familiar? For that matter, McCain is running with a message about his ability to "reform" both DC and Wall Street, so it's hardly unreasonable for reporters to compare McCain's platform to McCain's record.

As Josh Marshall concluded, "Let's face it. On major economy-imperiling financial scandals brought about by lax regulation and help from lobbyist-encrusted politicians, McCain really is the candidate of experience."

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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IN THE TANK.... John McCain and Sarah Palin have decided they no longer want to talk to campaign reporters, so yesterday's conference call with Steve Schmidt and Rick Davis -- the top two officials in the Republican campaign -- was a chance for the media to hear what's on the McCain campaign's mind at this phase of the race, and clear the air about the increasingly obvious affinity the campaign has for lying.

The Politico's Ben Smith explained last night that it didn't go well. Apparently, he wasn't supposed to notice.

Sen. John McCain's top campaign aides convened a conference call today to complain of being called "liars." They pressed the media to scrutinize specific elements of Sen. Barack Obama's record.

But the call was so rife with simple, often inexplicable misstatements of fact that it may have had the opposite effect: to deepen the perception, dangerous to McCain, that he and his aides have little regard for factual accuracy.

The errors in McCain strategist Steve Schmidt's charges against Obama and Sen. Joe Biden were particularly notable because they seemed unnecessary.

It's been a consistent pattern with the McCain campaign -- these guys lie, even when the truth is just as good. In this case, Schmidt and Davis took relatively legitimate areas of inquiry -- the Biden family's ties to the credit card industry; Obama's relationship with William Ayers, etc. -- and twisted already-embarrassing truths into new and creative lies. Part of the point of the call was to push back against charges that the McCain campaign is lying, and during the call, the McCain campaign kept lying.

When Smith asked about the conference call's errors, McCain campaign spokesperson told him, "You are in the tank."

Perfect. The McCain campaign worldview summarized in just five words -- if you care about reality, you're necessarily biased. You are either with McCain or against him, and if you notice McCain's campaign straying from the truth, you're obviously the enemy.

As Marc Ambinder put it, "As in -- no, we don't have to justify what we say, and the fact that you would question our assertions is proof-positive that you've absorbed the Obama campaign's worldview. Not only is that Addington-esque in its logic -- the spokesperson is PAID by one tank, so how can he possibly make that accusation credibly -- it's also immature (like throwing reporters off planes) and counterproductive."

Of course, if you agree with any of this, you must be in the tank, too.

Steve Benen 7:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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September 22, 2008

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

* I'm scheduled to be a guest on MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show" this evening. The show starts at 9 p.m. eastern, and I hope readers will tune in.

* Another rough day on Wall Street: "Stocks slumped Monday, with the Dow losing 373 points, as investors worried about the specifics of the government's $700 billion bailout plan and rocketing oil prices - which saw the biggest one-day dollar gain ever."

* If you missed it over the weekend, 53 were killed in Islamabad on Saturday, when a huge suicide truck bomb struck a Marriott Hotel. An additional 266 were wounded in the attack, believed to be one of the largest terrorist attacks ever in Pakistan.

* Sen. Ted Stevens' (R-Alaska) trial begins today. He'll be the first sitting senator to face a jury trial in more than 27 years.

* The Hill reports this afternoon: "House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) on Monday said 'a great deal of progress' has been made on the $700 billion Wall Street bailout bill, even though congressional Democrats have supplemented the administration's proposal with their own versions."

* Senate Republicans don't exactly love the Paulson bailout plan.

* If the New York Times is "in the tank" for Dems, why no stories about the Keating Five scandal?

* McCain wants a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants ... from Ireland.

* The McCain campaign is outraged the New York Times hasn't covered the lobbying work done by Joe Biden's son. The Times ran a story last week on the lobbying work done by Joe Biden's son.

* Stop the shredders: "A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction [Saturday] ordering Vice President Cheney and the National Archives to preserve all of his official records."

* McCain was asked last night why Sarah Palin can't be interviewed or host press conferences. McCain responded, "The American people are vetting her." I have no idea what this means.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

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NO ONE IS ATTACKING PALIN'S FAMILY.... Two weeks ago, the McCain campaign sent out a letter to supporters, ostensibly written by Sarah Palin, insisting that "the Obama/Biden Democrats have been vicious in their attacks directed toward me, my family and John McCain."

Asked to identify Democrats who've been vicious towards the candidates and Palin's family, the best the McCain campaign could do was point to an Obama spokesperson who said Palin had supported Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign. That was it; that was their support.

Today, the McCain campaign sent out a very similar letter to supporters, once again "written" by Palin, charging, "Friends, in the course of a few weeks, the Obama-Biden Democrats have launched attack after attack on me, my family and John McCain. They're desperate to win and they'll no doubt launch these attacks against other reformers on our ticket."

So, Greg Sargent followed up, asking for evidence to support the claim. The McCain campaign responded by pointing to these examples of "Obama-Biden Democrats":

1) Obama finance committee member Howard Gutman questioning Palin's parenting and her willingness to take on the Veep candidate role when her family is so consuming -- a comment he subsequently apologized for.

2) Andrew Sullivan's demand that the McCain campaign release medical records putting to rest rumors about the birth of Trig Palin.

3) A user diary on DailyKos, which is of course the site of leading Obama supporter Markos Moulitsas, raising questions about that pregnancy.

So, what do we have here? A Dem I've never heard of who said something dumb and apologized; a blog post from a writer who voted for Bush; and a Kos diary. This is evidence of "Obama-Biden Democrats" "attacking" Palin and her family.

Even by McCain campaign standards, this is just cheap and fpolish. If the Obama campaign wanted to play by similar rules, I wonder what Democrats would find if they looked for questionable attacks from prominent conservative blogs and user threads at the Free Republic, attributing all of it to "McCain/Palin Republicans"?

Either way, I'd just add one thing: there's only one candidate for national office this year who's been "vicious" in attacking a rival's family. His name is John McCain.

Steve Benen 4:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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TODD PALIN KEEPS BUSY.... I almost skipped the Washington Post's front-page profile on Sarah Palin's husband, Todd Palin, afraid it would be a dull, personality piece about the man some have labeled the "First Dude." But I'm glad I went back to take another look, because it's actually an interesting piece about an unelected official, in an unofficial, ceremonial role, taking on state responsibilities without the benefit of accountability.

Todd Palin grew up as the archetypal Alaskan -- salmon fisherman, champion snowmobiler, North Slope oil worker. But since his wife became governor 20 months ago, his portfolio has broadened: househusband, babysitter, senior adviser, legislative liaison, and -- when the occasion warrants -- enforcer and protector.

He has supervised renovations to the governor's mansion and hopscotched by plane back and forth to Juneau to juggle duties as father and "First Dude," as he has come to be known. And to a degree that has surprised many state government observers, Todd Palin also has become involved in policy, sitting in on his wife's meetings, traveling on state business and weighing in on some legislative issues.

John Harris, the Republican speaker of the Alaska House, said he had never been called by the spouse of a governor before the two calls he got from Todd Palin. One was to argue for moving the state capital to Anchorage. The other was to ask Harris to "keep an eye" on a key aide who had an affair with the wife of one of Todd's best friends.

Political hands in both parties say the Palins are often referred to as a team -- "Sarah and Todd" -- and one Democratic lawmaker said Todd Palin has become her "de facto chief of staff."

Yes, Todd Palin has been surprisingly busy as the spouse of the governor. He decided to do some informal lobbying on state fisheries issues, intervened on behalf of some local dairy farms, sat in on budget meetings with the leadership of the state legislature, and, of course, had some controversial discussions with Walt Monegan, the former state public safety commissioner.

Getting a sense of exactly how much work Todd Palin does in the Palin administration is difficult -- Sarah Palin refuses to release materials detailing Todd Palin-related communications, and the McCain campaign decided last week that he would refuse to honor a subpoena issues as part of the governor's Trooopergate scandal. (Tom Schaller added, "Sounds like a lot of parochial, self-interested politics covered with a thick layer of nondisclosure and secrecy -- just the sort of thing John McCain hates about politics!")

Michelle Cottle noted that Todd Palin sounds an awful lot like Hillary Clinton circa 1992, involving himself in his spouse's governing duties without any oversight or accountability.

"Todd sits in on high-level meetings," Cottle said. "He's copied on official emails. He offers counsel on a wide range of issues. He travels on state business (often at taxpayer expense). He even unofficially lobbies lawmakers and outside interest groups on matters of importance to him. But because all of this is done under the auspices of his personal rather than professional relationship with Governor Sarah, the good citizens of the state have no real sense what Todd is up to."

The right seemed to mind all of this a lot more when it was "Bill and Hillary" instead of "Sarah and Todd."

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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THE NEW TALKING POINTS.... For about a week now, Republicans have been looking for a way to blame the crisis on Wall Street on Democrats. The search hasn't gone well -- at one point, John McCain said Barack Obama was partially responsible, because he'd been "gaming the system." The comment didn't make a lick of sense, no one bought it, and McCain hasn't repeated it since.

But conservatives kept on trying. In fact, the right seems to have finally come up with a new line: Democrats forced banks to give mortgages to low-income minorities, those low-income minorities couldn't keep up with their mortgage payments, and the banks struggled as a result. Voila! Blame the Dems!

Fox News' Neil Cavuto helped get the ball rolling. Media Matters reported that Cavuto conflated giving home mortgages to minorities with risky lending practices, suggesting that there should have been "a clarion call that said, 'Fannie and Freddie are a disaster. Loaning to minorities and risky folks is a disaster.' "

The National Review is on board with a similar line of thinking, blaming the Community Reinvestment Act for much of the crisis: "The CRA empowers the FDIC and other banking regulators to punish those banks which do not lend to the poor and minorities at the level that Obama's fellow community organizers would like. Among other things, mergers and acquisitions can be blocked if CRA inquisitors are not satisfied that their demands -- which are political demands -- have been met. There is a name for loans made to people who do not have the credit, assets, income, or down payment to qualify for a normal mortgage: subprime."

All of this seems rather silly on its face, but thankfully, Matt Yglesias went to the trouble of setting the record straight.

For one thing, the timeline is ludicrous. The Community Reinvestment Act was passed in 1977. Are we supposed to believe that CRA was working smoothly throughout the Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton years and then only under Bush II did overzealous anti-"redlining" enforcement come into play, perhaps a result of Dubya's legendarily close relationship with ACORN? Or maybe overzealous enforcement back in the late 1970s is somehow responsible for a real estate blowout that only materialized 30 years later? It doesn't even come close to making sense.

Beyond that, the mere existence of "subprime" loans -- i.e., mortgages given to less-creditworthy individuals at higher interest rates -- isn't the problem here. The problems have to do with what was done with the loans after they were packaged, sold and used to make leveraged plays.

Sorry, conservatives, you'll have to keep looking for a way to blame Democrats for this mess. Good luck with that.

Steve Benen 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

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PINATA POLITICS.... I wrote a piece a couple of months ago comparing the McCain campaign to a blindfolded child swinging a stick at a pinata. McCain and his team seem disoriented, swinging wildly in every direction, hoping to connect (and pick up the electoral votes that come pouring out). There's no coherent thought or theme, just an angry campaign with a bat.

This morning, Rick Davis and Steve Schmidt hosted a conference call, doing what John McCain used to do before he came overly scripted: they responded to questions from reporters. And from what I can tell, Pinata Politics was very much on display.

Looking over what we learned during the call, there's one common thread:

* Davis and Schmidt attacked the New York Times;

* Davis and Schmidt attacked Joe Biden's son (and the media's coverage of Biden's son);

* Davis and Schmidt attacked Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod, suggesting he was involved in a whisper campaign against Sarah Palin;

* Davis and Schmidt attacked Obama for knowing William Ayers;

* and Davis and Schmidt attacked Obama surrogates for criticizing Sarah Palin (and reporters for not scrutinizing the criticism closely enough).

In other words, Davis and Schmidt, handed a bat, swung wildly in every direction, without any real regard for accuracy.

I have to wonder if this is the right strategy. Having these two whine about every slight, real and imagined, might work the refs, and it might make the angry conservative base feel a little more motivated, but on the whole, it just sounds kind of sad.

Steve Benen 2:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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THE DODD ALTERNATIVE.... Over the weekend, Paul Glastris had an interesting item, explaining the temptation on the part of some in Washington to line up behind the Paulson bailout plan, not necessarily because it's wise or prudent, but because it seems like the only idea on the table to prevent the complete meltdown of the financial world.

To that end, the Washington Post's Sebastian Mallaby explored some competing approaches to the Bush's administration's no-strings, no-questions, no-oversight $700 billion proposal, and this morning, Sen. Chris Dodd (D) of Connecticut, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, took a big step in the right direction with a competing plan of his own.

The legislation requires Treasury to take an equity stake equal to the purchase price of the assets being bought. If the company isn't publicly traded, the government would take senior debt instead, placing it in the front of the line of debt holders for repayment in the event of a bankruptcy.

Dodd's proposal also would create a five-member oversight board to supervise the Treasury secretary's purchase and sale of distressed mortgage debt.

It would consist of the chairmen of the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Securities and Exchange Commission as well as two members from the financial industry designated by congressional leaders.

The board would be authorized to set up a so-called credit review company consisting of Treasury employees to study the soundness of the purchases. Under the plan, the government would be required to obtain an equity stake equal to the value of the debt that is purchased from the companies, including those whose shares are not publicly traded. The Treasury secretary would also be required to issue weekly public reports on the amount of assets bought and sold by the U.S.

Dodd is proposing to penalize executives who take "inappropriate or excessive" risks. The executive compensation and severance packages could be reduced if that is "in the public interest," the proposal says. It would also force executives to give back profits they earned that were based on company accounting measures that are later found to be inaccurate.

The Politico has more on Dodd's provisions, including extending authority to bankruptcy judges to restructure mortgages for homeowners facing foreclosure.

Paul Krugman described the Dodd proposal as a "major challenge" to the Paulson plan, adding, "Treasury should now be required to explain why this isn't a much, much better way to do this rescue."

Atrios added that "no proposal matters as long as the plan is to surrender when Mr. 24% stamps his feet," which is certainly correct. Stay tuned.

Steve Benen 1:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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MCCAIN'S ZAPATERO GAFFE.... John McCain's trouble late last week with questions about Spain's Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero were, as we discussed at some length, open to a variety of interpretations. Maybe McCain didn't know who Zapatero is. Maybe McCain didn't realize that Spain isn't in Latin America. Maybe he just didn't understand the reporter's question.

But the response from the McCain campaign was the most striking: he was deliberately snubbing the leader of an allied nation and NATO partner.

Today, Barack Obama spoke to the same Miami radio station that McCain spoke to when he created a stir last week. Obama was asked the identical question: as president, would he meet with Zapatero?

"Of course. Spain is a NATO ally, and the fact that Senator McCain indicated that he might not meet with Zapatero I think indicates that he wants to continue the Cheney policies of trying to dictate American foreign policy instead of trying to build cooperation. I think that's a mistake."

I think this is the right way to handle the flap. There may be some question about McCain's understanding of who Zapatero is and where Spain is, but for the Obama campaign, accepting McCain's comments at face value, and embracing the McCain campaign's response as sincere, is damaging enough on its own.

Truth be told, I'm very much inclined to agree with Yglesias and Marshall about what transpired -- McCain just got confused, and did not intend to thumb his nose at a NATO ally. But the McCain campaign insisted this was deliberate, and McCain really was trying to insult our ally, so it makes sense for Obama to go with Scheuenemann & Co. have given him.

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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GOLDEN PARACHUTES.... The only consistent element of John McCain's recent rhetoric on economic issues is that he's just not thinking things through. In the latest example, McCain has been, in true populist style, railing against "golden parachutes" for CEOs.

The more lavish compensation packages are part of McCain's economic pitch, the more likely he'll face questions about former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina's golden parachute. And yet, as of this morning, he was apparently caught completely off guard.

On NBC's "Today," Meredith Vieira told McCain, "You have said, senator, that there are a lot of reasons for this financial crisis, but you have said, bottom line, it's those fat cats. It's the greed of Wall Street. And you said, you promised ... to crack down on CEOs who walk away with huge severance packages. And yet the person that up until recently was your public face really on your economic policies was Carly Fiorina.... She was fired in 2005. But she left with what I think was a $45 million golden parachute while 20,000 of her employees were laid off. She's an example of exactly the type of person you say is at the root of the problem."

McCain replied, "I don't think so." When pressed, he added, "I think she did a good job as CEO in many respects. I don't know the details of her compensation package."

Reminded that Fiorina received a $45 million golden parachute after being fired while 20,000 of her employees were laid off, McCain stumbled a bit before concluding, "I don't know the details of what happened."

Hewlett-Packard didn't exactly excel under Fiorina's leadership. The company's stock fell 55% during her tenure, and as Vieira emphasized, she was fired. As "punishment," she walked out the door with $45 million and, soon after, became an advisor to a leading Republican presidential campaign.

This certainly seems like the kind of greed and mismanagement the new McCain should disapprove of, doesn't it?

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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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:

* McCain campaign spokesperson Tucker Bounds was on MSNBC yesterday, and was pressed on whether McCain could rule out Phil Gramm as a possible Treasury Secretary. Bounds refused to give a straight answer.

* Hillary Clinton is launching a new outreach project called, "Hillary Sent Me." It's part of a renewed effort on Clinton's part to help the Obama campaign, both with more fundraising and more volunteers for the Obama campaign's ground game. The effort is slated to formally get underway this week in New Hampshire.

* The Obama campaign had high hopes about competing in South Dakota, but has since concluded the state is out of reach. The campaign's 50 staffers in South North Dakota will now be sent to Minnesota and Wisconsin.

* A new NBC News/Mason Dixon poll shows Obama leading in Pennsylvania by two, 46% to 44%.

* A new Miami Herald poll shows McCain leading Obama in Florida by two, 47% to 45%.

* A Suffolk University poll shows McCain with a very narrow lead over Obama in Nevada, 45.8% to 45.3%.

* Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain in Minnesota by eight, 52% to 44%.

* A Research 2000 poll shows McCain leading Obama in Missouri by four, 49% to 45%.

* EPIC-MRA shows Obama leading McCain in Michigan by one, 43% to 42%.

* In North Carolina, Rasmussen shows McCain leading Obama by three, 50% to 47%, while Public Policy Polling shows the two tied at 46% each.

* A University of Cincinnati poll shows McCain leading Obama in Ohio by six, 48% to 42%.

* A Research 2000 poll shows Obama leading McCain in Maine by 14, 52% to 38%.

* Rasmussen shows McCain leading Obama in South Carolina by six, 51% to 45%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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THESE GUYS LOOK FAMILIAR.... Early on in John McCain's presidential campaign, the senator's goal was to convince people that he and George W. Bush were on the same page. He'd boast about having voted with Bush 90% of the time, and insist, "[O]n the transcendent issues, the most important issues of our day, I've been totally in agreement and support of President Bush." More recently, of course, McCain has had to argue the exact opposite.

It's a tough sell. For one thing, McCain's policy agenda mirrors Bush's policy agenda. For another, McCain's rhetoric is an echo of Bush's rhetoric. And to help drive the point home, the Washington Post's Anne Kornblut and Juliet Eilperin noted today that McCain's team is made up of staffers from Bush's team.

When Gov. Sarah Palin flew home to Alaska for the first time since being named the Republican vice presidential nominee, she brought along at least half a dozen new advisers to conduct briefings, stage-manage her first television interview and help her prepare for a critical debate next month.

And virtually every member of the team shared a common credential: years of service to President Bush.

From Mark Wallace, a Bush appointee to the United Nations, to Tucker Eskew, who ran strategic communications for the Bush White House, to Greg Jenkins, who served as the deputy assistant to Bush in his first term and was executive director of the 2004 inauguration, Palin was surrounded on the trip home by operatives deeply rooted in the Bush administration.

The clutch of Bush veterans helping to coach Palin reflects a larger reality about Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign: Far from being a group of outsiders to the Republican Party power structure, it is now run largely by skilled operatives who learned their crafts in successive Bush campaigns and various jobs across the Bush government over the past eight years.

McCain's communications team is led by the same people who led Bush's communications team. McCain's and Palin's speeches have been written by Bush's speechwriters. McCain's top domestic policy advisor was Bush's top economic advisor. Palin's advance-man was Bush's advance-man.

Most of the team has been assembled by Steve Schmidt, best known for his work in Karl Rove's White House shop.

It's not exactly the kind of team that screams "agents of change." Indeed, it's the kind of team a candidate assembles when he wants to let folks know that he plans to keep doing exactly what Bush has been doing.

One could argue, as some McCain backers have, that Bush has been the dominant figure in Republican politics for the past decade, and most staffers who'd join a presidential campaign would have spent some time in the Bush White House in one capacity or another. There's probably some truth to this.

But that doesn't change the problematic dynamic for McCain -- a maverick comes up with an independent team that wants to shake up the status quo; a sidekick relies on the team the other guy already left in place.

Steve Benen 11:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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TRYING TO CHANGE THE SUBJECT.... In the midst of a crisis on Wall Street, with the two remaining investment banks disappearing, the debate in Congress over a $700 billion bailout package underway, and with a presidential debate on foreign policy just days away, the McCain campaign unveiled a new television ad this morning ... about Tony Rezko.

And not just Rezko, but all kinds of characters in Chicago, including Mayor Daley's brother and state Sen. Emil Jones. In a textbook case of logically-dubious guilt by association, the ad concludes, "With friends like that, Obama is not ready to lead."

Seriously. That's the new message from the McCain campaign.

Let's not forget, just a few weeks ago, McCain's campaign manager, former lobbyist Rick Davis, said, "This election is not about the issues." Over the last week or so, the election has been entirely about the issues, and McCain's lead in the polls suddenly evaporated. The goal, then, for the McCain campaign, has to be to find a way to distract voters and the political world in general from the issues that matter, and back onto nonsense that doesn't.

To that end, Jonathan Martin described the new ad as a form of "'Hey, look over here!' politics."

McCain's campaign knows they have to shift the debate away from one solely focused on the near-collapse of the economy on the watch of a Republican administration. [...]

Now, as the crisis continues to dominate the news, they're trying to resurrect stories about Obama's ties to some unsavory figures in Chicago politics.

In other words, the new McCain pitch, as of this morning, is effectively, "Does anybody want to talk about Rezko again? Please? Hello? Is this thing on?"

The message is so out of touch and politically tone deaf, I suspect there are plenty of Dems this morning hoping this isn't just another video press release, and that the McCain campaign actually starts pushing this line aggressively. It's likely to make McCain look far worse than Obama.

Steve Benen 10:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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OBAMA KEEPS HITTING MCCAIN ON HEALTHCARE.... Over the weekend, an unexpected gift landed in the Obama campaign's lap.

Contingencies, the magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries, published an article by John McCain, titled, "Better Health Care at Lower Cost for Every American" (pdf). Paul Krugman got a heads-up on this jaw-dropper from McCain's piece: "Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation."

Barack Obama pounced, incorporating the revelation into his stump speech over the weekend. Today, the campaign took this one step further, launching a new TV ad on the subject.

For readers who can't watch video clips on their work computers, the script reads, "We've seen what Bush-McCain policies have done to our economy. Now John McCain wants to do the same to our health care. McCain just published an article praising Wall Street deregulation, said he'd reduce oversight of the health insurance industry too, just 'as we have done over the last decade in banking." Increasing costs and threatening coverage. A 'prescription for disaster.' John McCain. A risk we just can't afford to take."

That last line, characterizing McCain as a serious "risk" is an interesting twist, since the Republican line on Obama over the summer was effectively the same message -- that voting for Obama was something of a risky gamble. Now, Obama wants to turn the tables.

To be fair, I should note that Douglas Holtz-Eakin, one of McCain's top policy advisors, said the quote from Contingencies is being taken out of context, and McCain was referring to cross-state purchasing of health insurance. Last night, Jonathan Cohn explained very well why that's not much of a defense.

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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MCCAIN STANDS BY DEREGULATION.... I thought I'd finally figured it out. John McCain loved deregulation -- of everything -- and now, faced with the crisis on Wall Street, he's rediscovered the benefits of economic populism. Earlier this year, McCain's position was unambiguous: "I'm always for less regulation.... I am fundamentally a deregulator." And last week, McCain's position was the opposite, but nevertheless crystal clear: "Do I believe in excess government regulation? Yes."

So, I was a little confused last night when McCain threw us a curveball on "60 Minutes."

CBS News' Scott Pelley noted, "In 1999, you were one of the senators who helped pass deregulation of Wall Street. Do you regret that now?" McCain replied, "No, I think the deregulation was probably helpful to the growth of our economy."

So, where does this leave us, exactly? McCain wants more deregulation, and less. He believes deregulating Wall Street was bad, and good.

Maybe McCain can start traveling with an interpreter, because it's getting increasingly difficult to understand him.

Steve Benen 9:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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MCCAIN'S LATEST RICK DAVIS PROBLEM.... Last week, John McCain decided Barack Obama's associations with former Fannie Mae officials were extremely important, worthy of attack ads and overheated speeches. But I might remind the Republican nominee that people who live in seven glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

Senator John McCain's campaign manager was paid more than $30,000 a month for five years as president of an advocacy group set up by the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to defend them against stricter regulations, current and former officials say.

Mr. McCain, the Republican candidate for president, has recently begun campaigning as a critic of the two companies and the lobbying army that helped them evade greater regulation as they began buying riskier mortgages with implicit federal backing. He and his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama, have donors and advisers who are tied to the companies.

But last week the McCain campaign stepped up a running battle of guilt by association when it began broadcasting commercials trying to link Mr. Obama directly to the government bailout of the mortgage giants this month by charging that he takes advice from Fannie Mae's former chief executive, Franklin Raines, an assertion both Mr. Raines and the Obama campaign dispute.

Incensed by the advertisements, several current and former executives of the companies came forward to discuss the role that Rick Davis, Mr. McCain's campaign manager and longtime adviser, played in helping Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac beat back regulatory challenges when he served as president of their advocacy group, the Homeownership Alliance, formed in the summer of 2000.

Robert McCarson, a former spokesman for Fannie Mae, told the New York Times, "The value that [Davis] brought to the relationship was the closeness to Senator McCain and the possibility that Senator McCain was going to run for president again."

In other words, Fannie and Freddie paid Davis $35,000 a month, for years, so they could get access to Senator McCain, and ultimately, President McCain. Why? Because the companies hoped to continue to avoid government regulations of their business practices.

Just last week, McCain, with unusual incoherence, went after Obama with this line: "While the leaders of Fannie and Freddie were lining the pockets of his campaign, they were sowing the seeds of the financial crisis we see today and enriching themselves with millions of dollars in payments. That's not change, that's what's broken in Washington."

Um, John? Those leaders of Fannie and Freddie were lining Rick Davis' pockets with $2 million, and you made him your campaign manager. Is that "change"?

Obama met Franklin Raines once, for about five minutes, and McCain thinks the association is scandalous. Given this, shouldn't McCain necessarily feel compelled to fire his campaign manager immediately?

Steve Benen 8:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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GRACE UNDER PRESSURE.... When it comes to the McCain campaign and the crisis on Wall Street, part of the problem is the shift towards substance and policy details, both of which McCain has been actively trying to avoid. But the rest of the problem is that voters have been looking to McCain for some sense that he knows what's going on, and he's come up short.

On ABC's "This Week" yesterday morning, George Will made an interesting observation: "I suppose the McCain campaigns hope is that when there's a big crisis, people will go for age and experience. The question is, who in this crisis looked more presidential, calm and unflustered. It wasn't John McCain who, as usual, substituting vehemence for coherence, said, 'Let's fire somebody.' And he picked one of the most experienced and conservative people in the administration, Chris Cox, and for no apparent reason, or at least none that he vouched safe, he said, 'Fire Chris Cox at the SEC.' It was unpresidential behavior by a presidential aspirant." In the same program, Will added, "John McCain showed his personality this week, and it made some of us fearful."

Welcome to the club, George.

Last week was incredibly difficult for McCain, not only because the nation's interest turned to a subject he knows little about, but because he floundered, moving from one response to another. He hates regulation, and he loves regulation. The fundamentals are strong, except when they're not. We need a commission to find out what happened, and he knows exactly what happened. Cox has to go, just don't ask him why. Usually, when looking for a leader in trying times, people want a steady, competent hand. McCain seemed to go out of his way to present himself as the opposite.

I suppose the larger question is what kind of president voters are looking for this year -- haphazard vs. deliberate, obtuse vs. cerebral. Watching the candidates on "60 Minutes" last night, it was clear that McCain wanted to appear "tough." He was out of his depth talking about policy, but as Michael Crowley noted, he came across as "someone ready to kick ass and take names."

Obama, meanwhile, was smart, knowledgeable, even-keeled. He showed judgment and sophistication. If McCain was the kid who tried to b.s. his way through the oral exam through brute force, Obama was the kid who did his homework and knew what he was talking about.

I like to think this is a good thing, but these are strange political times. Crowley concluded, "[Obama] offered more substance about his agenda. But he didn't deliver his message with quite the gut-punching oomph of McCain's populist outrage. We saw, I think, a similar contrast in the candidates' two ads about the economy this week (Obama spoke soberly to the camera for two minutes, while McCain put up a razzle-dazzle punch-throwing spot). A major unknown question right now is: Which style will more voters respond to?"

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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September 21, 2008
By: Hilzoy

Bailout

I'm sure everyone knows about this already:

"The Bush administration has proposed granting unfettered authority for the Treasury Department to buy up to $700 billion in distressed mortgage-related assets from private firms as part of a program that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said "has to work.""

Some reactions: Dean Baker, Paul Krugman (1, 2, 3), CalculatedRisk, Douglas Elmendorf, Ed Paisley, Henry Blodget, Yves Smith, Mish, Willem Buiter, Luigi Zingales, William Greider, Sebastian Mallaby, Robert Reich.

Obama has called the proposal "a concept with a staggering price tag, not a plan", and has laid out the principles that he thinks should govern a bailout here. McCain was noncommittal on the administration's proposal, but criticized Obama.

Deciding what to do about the present financial crisis is beyond anything remotely resembling my expertise. However, like Steve Benen, I've been reading around, and I can't find a single decent economist who likes the plan. That scares me, since I expect that the political dynamics will go something like this: Paulson has proposed a plan; not to accept it would deeply damage confidence in the markets and make things much worse, regardless of whether it's a good plan or not; therefore, it will be passed. I hope the Democrats try to get some decent regulation and structural reform for all that money.

In the meantime, I do have a few other reactions:

First: throughout all this, I've been torn between believing in market discipline and wanting to avoid moral hazard on the one hand, and thinking that of course that commitment flies out the window if we're seriously threatened with economic collapse, on the other. But it's worth remembering that we could have avoided having to choose between these unfortunate options. All we needed to do was have people in government who believed in good regulation.

Second: if anyone ever tells me that Republicans are the party of fiscal discipline ever again, I will either dissolve in laughter or bite their heads off. I don't know which. You have been warned.

Third: in particular, if any Republican ever tells me that a hundred million or so is just too much to pay to make sure that kids have health insurance, I will definitely bite his or her head off.

Fourth: I do not want to hear people tell me that regulation cripples the economy, unless they are willing to admit that a lack of regulation can also cripple the economy. Not ever. I don't understand why anyone is so much as tempted to think that "regulation" is good or bad, as a whole: to me, that's like being for or against "things" or "people". Some regulations are good, some are bad; obviously, we want people in government who can tell the difference, and implement regulatory systems that work well. However, altogether too many of my fellow citizens were willing to listen to ideologues, and now we all get to pay for their mistakes.

Fifth: if Obama wins, he and the Democrats will, in all probability, have to be the grownups once again. Reagan spent us blind; Clinton got us out of debt again. Now Bush has spent us even blinder, and we will be tempted, yet again, to put our ideas and aspirations on hold for the sake of the country.

I would like to hear one Republican, just once, acknowledge this fact.

I should also say: as people go, I am pretty willing to step up and be a grownup, even when other people aren't. But I am just about at the end of my rope. What that means, in practical terms, is that while early in the 90s I was willing to put various plans on hold for the sake of the country and its fiscal stability, I now think: Democrats' willingness to be sane and fiscally responsible just enables the Republicans. I am not willing to play that game. So don't count on me to think that universal health insurance is something we just can't afford any more.

Republican fiscal conservatives: if you've lost me, you've lost a whole lot of people. Because this is not a way of thinking that comes naturally to me at all. So step up to the plate and reform your party. You can't count on us to do your dirty work.

Sixth: Paulson seems to me to be one of the better members of this administration. (A low bar, I know.) But he still answers to Bush and Cheney. They have already abused our trust too often. There's a price for that: not being trusted when you really need it. It's not Paulson's fault. Too bad.

Last, and certainly least: I'm hilzoy, and I approve this message:

"I also find myself drawn to provisions that would serve no useful purpose except to insult the industry, like requiring the CEOs, CFOs and the chair of the board of any entity that sells mortgage related securities to the Treasury Department to certify that they have completed an approved course in credit counseling. That is now required of consumers filing bankruptcy to make sure they feel properly humiliated for being head over heels in debt, although most lost control of their finances because of a serious illness in the family. That would just be petty and childish, and completely in character for me."

I've always been partial to the idea of using the stocks for special occasions, when both exemplary punishment and the opportunity for ordinary citizens to tell lawbreakers what they think of them seem appropriate. Now seems like a pretty good time.

Hilzoy 5:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (112)

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By: Hilzoy

Reformers, Take 2

Having gone over McCain and Obama's legislation on banking and mortgage reform, I thought I'd continue my search for John McCain, Scourge Of Wall Street by looking at his website to see what new regulations he proposes for financial institutions. As far as I can tell, though, not only is there nothing in his issues section that spells that out, there's nothing that so much as mentions any aspect of the present crisis other than the need to help homeowners in foreclosure. As far as his position papers are concerned, the financial crisis, like foreign policy, simply doesn't exist.

So I decided to check out the various speeches McCain has given on the economy during this campaign, to see how his career as a financial reformer might have manifested itself in them. On March 25, he gave a speech on the housing crisis. Given his recent claims to be a champion of tighter regulation on Wall Street, you might expect that he would have called for new regulations back in March. Au contraire: while he did call for more transparency in lending, here's what he said about regulating financial institutions:

"In financial institutions, there is no substitute for adequate capital to serve as a buffer against losses. Our financial market approach should include encouraging increased capital in financial institutions by removing regulatory, accounting and tax impediments to raising capital."

That's right: we need fewer regulations on financial institutions. How prescient!

McCain gave a speech on the economy on April 10: he did not mention any reforms of financial institutions, though he did call for "an immediate DOJ task force to aggressively investigate potential criminal wrongdoing in the mortgage lending and securitization industry." On April 15, he gave a speech on the economy. For the most part, he focussed on tax cuts, restraining spending, and trade deals. Here's the sum total of his remarks on reforming financial institutions:

"It's important as well to remember that the foolish risk-taking of lenders, investment banks, and others that led to these troubles don't reflect our free market as it should be working. In a free market, there must be transparency, accountability, and personal and corporate responsibility. The housing crisis came about because these standards collapsed -- and, as president, I intend to restore them."

On April 22, McCain actually mentioned the need to reform Wall Street. Unfortunately, he didn't say much about it: "Reckless conduct and the abuse of power must be called to account -- on Wall Street, in Washington, or any place else. And I have a few ideas about Washington in particular. (...)" On May 15, McCain gave a speech on his vision for America four years from now. The section on the economy focussed entirely on tax cuts, eliminating earmarks, trade agreements, and employee retraining. As he imagined himself looking back over four years of his Presidency, the housing crisis and the reform of financial institutions didn't even rate a mention.

On May 19th he gave another economic address in which the housing and financial crisis is not mentioned. One paragraph starts out promisingly enough, but doesn't follow through:

"Serious reform is also needed to help American companies compete in the world economy. I have proposed a reduction in the corporate tax rate (...)"

On June 10, McCain actually mentioned the need for corporate reform. Unfortunately, the only specifics he gave concerned executive compensation and the need for vigorous prosecution of existing laws:

"In times of hardship and distress, we should be more vigilant than ever in holding corporate abuses to account, as in the case of the housing market. Americans are right to be offended when the extravagant salaries and severance deals of CEO's -- in some cases, the very same CEO's who helped to bring on these market troubles -- bear no relation to the success of the company or the wishes of shareholders. Something is seriously wrong when the American people are left to bear the consequences of reckless corporate conduct, while the offenders themselves are packed off with another forty - or fifty million for the road.

If I am elected president, I intend to see that wrongdoing of this kind is called to account by federal prosecutors. And under my reforms, all aspects of a CEO's pay, including any severance arrangements, must be approved by shareholders"

McCain's July 7 speech on job creation didn't mention the subprime crisis or the need to reform Wall Street. Likewise, in a speech on July 9 that was largely devoted to the economy, McCain didn't mention the subprime crisis at all.

Last Friday, McCain finally got around to giving a speech about the need to reform financial institutions, and offered some actual specifics. I encourage you to read it.

I'd also encourage you to read several speeches by Barack Obama, for the sake of comparison. First, there's his NASDAQ speech from September 2007, in which he addresses the subprime crisis, and explains, a full year before McCain got around to it, what happened, why we need reforms not just in the mortgage industry but in financial institution, and what they should be. A prescient bit from that speech:

"Markets can't thrive without the trust of investors and the public. At a most basic level, capital markets work by steering capital to the place where it is most productive. Without transparency, that cannot happen. If the information is flawed, if there is fraud, or if the risks facing financial institutions are not fully disclosed, people stop investing because they fear they're being had. When the public trust is abused badly enough, it can bring financial markets to their knees."

Second, there's Obama's speech from March 27, 2008, in which, at a time when John McCain was still calling for financial deregulation, he was not only proposing new regulations to prevent the abuses that led to the present crisis, but laying out six guiding principles that he would follow in creating them. (I've put them below the fold.) To this day, John McCain has not gotten nearly that specific.

Obama has many more speeches on the economy. I haven't bothered to go through them all, as I did with McCain's, since the two I've mentioned are more specific, and much earlier, than anything McCain has offered.

Why do I bother? Because lies annoy me. And the idea that John McCain is some kind of Wall Street reformer is a lie.

Obama's principles for regulatory reform, from his March 27, 2008 speech on the economy:

"Our capital markets have helped us build the strongest economy in the world. They are a source of competitive advantage for our country. But they cannot succeed without the public's trust. The details of regulatory reform should be developed through sound analysis and public debate. But there are several core principles for reform that I will pursue as President.

First, if you can borrow from the government, you should be subject to government oversight and supervision. Secretary Paulson admitted this in his remarks yesterday. The Federal Reserve should have basic supervisory authority over any institution to which it may make credit available as a lender of last resort. When the Fed steps in, it is providing lenders an insurance policy underwritten by the American taxpayer. In return, taxpayers have every right to expect that these institutions are not taking excessive risks. The nature of regulation should depend on the degree and extent of the Fed's exposure. But at the very least, these new regulations should include liquidity and capital requirements.

Second, there needs to be general reform of the requirements to which all regulated financial institutions are subjected. Capital requirements should be strengthened, particularly for complex financial instruments like some of the mortgage securities that led to our current crisis. We must develop and rigorously manage liquidity risk. We must investigate rating agencies and potential conflicts of interest with the people they are rating. And transparency requirements must demand full disclosure by financial institutions to shareholders and counterparties.

As we reform our regulatory system at home, we must work with international arrangements like the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, the International Accounting Standards Board, and the Financial Stability Forum to address the same problems abroad. The goal must be ensuring that financial institutions around the world are subject to similar rules of the road - both to make the system stable, and to keep our financial institutions competitive.

Third, we need to streamline a framework of overlapping and competing regulatory agencies. Reshuffling bureaucracies should not be an end in itself. But the large, complex institutions that dominate the financial landscape do not fit into categories created decades ago. Different institutions compete in multiple markets - our regulatory system should not pretend otherwise. A streamlined system will provide better oversight, and be less costly for regulated institutions.

Fourth, we need to regulate institutions for what they do, not what they are. Over the last few years, commercial banks and thrift institutions were subject to guidelines on subprime mortgages that did not apply to mortgage brokers and companies. It makes no sense for the Fed to tighten mortgage guidelines for banks when two-thirds of subprime mortgages don't originate from banks. This regulatory framework has failed to protect homeowners, and it is now clear that it made no sense for our financial system. When it comes to protecting the American people, it should make no difference what kind of institution they are dealing with.

Fifth, we must remain vigilant and crack down on trading activity that crosses the line to market manipulation. Reports have circulated in recent days that some traders may have intentionally spread rumors that Bear Stearns was in financial distress while making market bets against the company. The SEC should investigate and punish this kind of market manipulation, and report its conclusions to Congress.

Sixth, we need a process that identifies systemic risks to the financial system. Too often, we deal with threats to the financial system that weren't anticipated by regulators. That's why we should create a financial market oversight commission, which would meet regularly and provide advice to the President, Congress, and regulators on the state of our financial markets and the risks that face them. These expert views could help anticipate risks before they erupt into a crisis. "

Hilzoy 2:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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LUCKY 13.... That's a lot of cars.

When you have seven homes, that's a lot of garages to fill. After the fuss over the number of residences owned by the two presidential nominees, NEWSWEEK looked into the candidates' cars. And based on public vehicle-registration records, here's the score. John and Cindy McCain: 13. Barack and Michelle Obama: one.

One vehicle in the McCain fleet has caused a small flap. United Auto Workers president Ron Gettelfinger, an Obama backer, accused McCain this month of "flip-flopping" on who bought daughter Meghan's foreign-made Toyota Prius. McCain said last year that he bought it, but then told a Detroit TV station on Sept. 7 that Meghan "bought it, I believe, herself." (The McCain campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

A month ago, the McCain campaign launched a television ad that told voters, "Life in the spotlight must be grand, but for the rest of us times are tough." And the obvious response to McCain continues to be, "What do you mean, 'us'?"

Truth be told, I really don't much care about McCain's lavish wealth. His second wife is part of a very rich family, and it stands to reason that the couple, in addition to owning a lot of homes, is going to own a lot of cars. I guess that's what extraordinarily wealthy people do.

The problem, though, is that McCain is offering a policy agenda that presupposes everyone is doing as well as the McCains. He wants more tax breaks for the very wealthy. He's opposed increases to the minimum wage -- 19 times. He's insisted that we've experienced "great progress" economically under the Bush administration's policies. In the face of a crisis, McCain wants everyone to believe the "fundamentals of the economy are strong."

With 13 cars and more homes than he can count, McCain's credibility on these issues could be better.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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A PIG WITHOUT LIPSTICK.... I've been trying to find a credible voice on fiscal matters that believes the Bush administration's bailout is a good idea, and should be approved by Congress without alteration. I can't find one.

The plan seems to suffer more as the scrutiny grows more intense, but I'd go with the accountability/oversight problem as the most glaring.

The Bush administration sought unchecked power from Congress to buy $700 billion in bad mortgage investments from financial companies in what would be an unprecedented government intrusion into the markets.

Through his plan, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson aims to avert a credit freeze that would bring the financial system and the world's largest economy to a standstill. The bill would prevent courts from reviewing actions taken under its authority.

"He's asking for a huge amount of power," said Nouriel Roubini, an economist at New York University. "He's saying, 'Trust me, I'm going to do it right if you give me absolute control.' This is not a monarchy."

Atrios, after noting the $700 billion price tag, highlights this portion of the proposal: "Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."

If we were dealing with a competent, capable administration, which had proven itself reliable in dealing with fiscal and budgetary policy, it would still be an extraordinary gamble to turn over hundreds of billions of dollars with no strings at all. But we're dealing with the Bush administration, which hasn't exactly earned the benefit of the doubt.

I can understand the underlying point here. Companies showed some spectacularly bad judgment and bought up some ugly mortgages. To keep those companies from imploding, Paulson wants to use our money to take those mortgages off their hands. If the administration had a plan to buy them up for a song, the approach need not be completely ridiculous, though Paulson has not yet so much as hinted about pricing, or how, exactly, his plan might actually work in practice.

But that's why some safeguards -- you know, checks and balances -- seems like it might be helpful in a case like this. As the plan is currently written, not only will oversight be discouraged, it'll be impossible, by design. Congress is supposed to hand over in upwards of a trillion dollars to Bush's economic team, and then voluntarily forfeit the right to oversee how the money is spent.

If there's a good reason to establish this kind of process, it's hiding well.

Steve Benen 1:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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By: Hilzoy

Reformers

John McCain, via MSNBC:

"The crisis on Wall Street, my friends, started in the Washington culture of lobbying and influence pedaling and he was right square in the middle of it," McCain said, painting Obama as a Washington insider. "My friends, this is the problem in Washington. People like Sen. Obama have been too busy gaming the system and haven't ever done a thing to actually challenge the system. That's not country first, that's Obama first."

Since I don't feel like engaging with McCain's Norma Desmond moments just now, I won't say anything about his saying "that's not country first, that's Obama first", beyond agreeing with Steve Benen: no one who puts Sarah Palin on his ticket has any right to lecture anyone about putting country before ambition. And Steve and others have already noted the absurdity of McCain, of all people, railing against "the Washington culture of lobbying and influence peddling". I do want to make on points about the rest of this, though.

The heart of McCain's argument is that he is a reformer who tried to take on the corruption in the mortgage and banking system, while Obama stood on the sidelines doing nothing. This is not true. The NYT:

"[McCain's] record on the issue, and the views of those he has always cited as his most influential advisers, suggest that he has never departed in any major way from his party's embrace of deregulation and relying more on market forces than on the government to exert discipline.

While Mr. McCain has cited the need for additional oversight when it comes to specific situations, like the mortgage problems behind the current shocks on Wall Street, he has consistently characterized himself as fundamentally a deregulator and he has no history prior to the presidential campaign of advocating steps to tighten standards on investment firms."

The Washington Post:

"A decade ago, Sen. John McCain embraced legislation to broadly deregulate the banking and insurance industries, helping to sweep aside a thicket of rules established over decades in favor of a less restricted financial marketplace that proponents said would result in greater economic growth.

Now, as the Bush administration scrambles to prevent the collapse of the American International Group (AIG), the nation's largest insurance company, and stabilize a tumultuous Wall Street, the Republican presidential nominee is scrambling to recast himself as a champion of regulation to end "reckless conduct, corruption and unbridled greed" on Wall Street. (...)

McCain has not always opposed government regulation. He supported efforts to allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco. And he pushed to strengthen the Sarbanes-Oxley Act requirements, which were put in place after the accounting scandals involving Enron and other major firms.

But he has usually reverted to the role of an unabashed deregulator. In 2007, he told a group of bloggers on a conference call that he regretted his vote on the Sarbanes-Oxley bill, which has been castigated by many executives as too heavy-handed.

In the 1990s, he backed an unsuccessful effort to create a moratorium on all new government regulation. And in 1996, he was one of only five senators to oppose a comprehensive telecommunications act, saying it did not go far enough in deregulating the industry.

As chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee for more than a decade, McCain did not have direct oversight of the financial sector. But he sat at the center of arguments between telephone, cable and satellite companies, almost always pressing for more competition.

"I'm always for less regulation," he told the Wall Street Journal in March. He added: "I'd like to see a lot of the unnecessary government regulations eliminated.""

In making his case, McCain relies on his 2005 co-sponsorship of S. 190, which would have improved oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. While I think McCain is wrong to say that "the lobbyists, politicians, and bureaucrats who succeeded in persuading Congress and the administration to ignore the festering problems at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac" were "at the center of the problem", McCain was right to try to get stronger oversight in place. However, that bill died. According to Mike Oxley, the Republican Congressman who wrote it:

"Mr Oxley reached out to Barney Frank, then the ranking Democrat on the committee and now its chairman, to secure support on the other side of the aisle. But after winning bipartisan support in the House, where the bill passed by 331 to 90 votes, the legislation lacked a champion in the Senate and faced hostility from the Bush administration." (Emphasis added.)

There's a reason McCain relies so heavily on his co-sponsorship of this bill: it's the only bill he has sponsored or co-sponsored during the last two Congresses that has anything to do with mortgage or banking reform. You can gauge the depth of his concern for this issue by the fact that in 2008, when a bill establishing tougher oversight over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac did make it to the floor of the Senate, John McCain didn't bother to show up for the vote. (Neither did Barack Obama.)

During those same four years, Obama introduced legislation to prevent mortgage fraud. He also co-sponsored a number of bills directed at abusive mortgage practices, including one that would, among a lot of other things, have required subprime lenders to document borrowers' ability to pay, thereby making "liar loans" illegal, and another that called for licensing of mortgage originators.

I've put the full list of bills related to banking and mortgage reform sponsored or co-sponsored by Obama and McCain during the last two Congresses below the fold, so that you can judge the two candidates' records for yourselves.

Obama: 110th Congress:

* Co-sponsored S. 1356: "A bill to amend the Federal Deposit Insurance Act to establish industrial bank holding company regulation, and for other purposes."

* Sponsored S.1181: A bill to amend the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to provide shareholders with an advisory vote on executive compensation. (Vote is advisory.)

* Sponsored: S.1222: A bill to stop mortgage transactions which operate to promote fraud, risk, abuse, and under-development, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Sen Obama, Barack [IL] (introduced 4/25/2007)      Cosponsors (1)
Latest Major Action: 4/25/2007 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

SUMMARY AS OF:
4/25/2007--Introduced.

Stopping Mortgage Transactions which Operate to Promote Fraud, Risk, Abuse and Underdevelopment Act, or the STOP FRAUD Act - Amends federal criminal law to make it unlawful for any mortgage professional to: (1) defraud any natural person or financial institution regarding an offer of consumer credit secured by an interest either in real property or in personal property used as a principal dwelling; or (2) falsely obtain money or property from a natural person in connection with an extension of consumer credit secured by an interest in such property.
Subjects violations of this Act to civil and criminal penalties.
Directs the Attorney General to establish: (1) a system for authorized mortgage professionals to receive updates from federal law enforcement agencies on suspicious activity trends in the mortgage industry and mortgage fraud-related convictions; (2) a Debarred or Censured Mortgage Professional Database that may be accessed to determine the federal and state bar status of mortgage professionals; and (3) grants to assist law enforcement agencies establish and improve mortgage fraud task forces.
Grants whistleblower protection to personnel of a widely accepted private certification board.
Amends the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968 to authorize the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide tenants, homeowners, and other consumers with mortgage fraud counseling.
Directs the Secretary to provide grants to state appraisal agencies to improve the monitoring and enforcement of housing appraisal regulations.
Sets forth additional rights of borrowers in foreclosure proceedings.

Co-sponsored S.2452: A bill to amend the Truth in Lending Act to provide protection to consumers with respect to certain high-cost loans, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Sen Dodd, Christopher J. [CT] (introduced 12/12/2007)      Cosponsors (19)
Related Bills: S.1299
Latest Major Action: 12/12/2007 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

SUMMARY AS OF:
12/12/2007--Introduced.

Home Ownership Preservation and Protection Act of 2007 - Amends the Truth in Lending Act to redefine high-cost mortgages and attendant lending practices. Sets forth a new formula for points and fees for open-end loans, and provides for bona fide discount points.
Prohibits: (1) prepayment penalties; (2) balloon payments; (3) yield spread premiums; (4) acceleration or debt; (5) evasions, structuring of transactions, and reciprocal arrangements; and (6) modification and deferral fees.
Prohibits creditors from financing, in connection with a high-cost mortgage, any prepayment fee or penalty, or any points or fees.
Prohibits an originator from making or arranging a high-cost mortgage loan that involves a refinancing of a prior existing home mortgage loan unless the new loan will provide a net tangible benefit to the consumer.
Sets forth prerequisites for subprime and nontraditional home loans, including: (1) an assessment of ability to pay; (2) a requirement of tax and insurance escrows; (3) prohibition of prepayment penalties and yield-spread premiums; and (4) a requirement of net tangible benefit to the consumer in the case of a subprime or nontraditional mortgage loan transaction that involves refinancing of an existing home mortgage.
Imposes a duty of care and a duty of good faith and fair dealing upon mortgage brokers and lenders, appraisers, and lenders and loan servicers.

Empowers state Attorneys General to enforce this Act.
Subjects lenders, loan servicers, creditors and mortgage brokers to civil liability for violations of this Act. Increases the amount of the penalty that may be awarded.
Amends the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974 to require a transferor of loan servicing before the transfer tonotify the borrower of the status of the account and its full payment history.
Amends the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968 to revise requirements for foreclosure prevention counseling.
Amends the Truth in Lending Act to expand from three to six years an obligor's right of rescission.
Imposes liability for monetary damages upon assignees of subprime or nontraditional loans for violations of this Act.
Sets forth a remedy in lieu of rescission for certain violations.
Prohibits mandatory arbitration.
Subjects a lender to liability for certain actions, omissions, and representations made by a mortgage broker in connection with a high-cost mortgage, a subprime mortgage, or a nontraditional mortgage.
Amends the Federal Trade Commission Act to require the federal banking agencies and the National Credit Union Administration Board each to establish a separate division of consumer affairs protection and regulations with respect to depository institutions and federal credit unions.
Authorizes appropriations to employ additional agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and additional dedicated prosecutors at the Department of Justice to coordinate prosecution of mortgage fraud efforts with the offices of the U.S. Attorneys.

* Co-sponsored S.2595: A bill to create a national licensing system for residential mortgage loan originators, to develop minimum standards of conduct to be enforced by State regulators, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Sen Feinstein, Dianne [CA] (introduced 2/6/2008)      Cosponsors (13)
Latest Major Action: 2/6/2008 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.
Note: This bill text was generally incorporated into Division A, Title V of H.R. 3221, the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008.

***

109th:
* Co-sponsored S.98: A bill to amend the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956 and the Revised Statutes of the United States to prohibit financial holding companies and national banks from engaging, directly or indirectly, in real estate brokerage or real estate management activities, and for other purposes.

* Sponsored S.2280: A bill to stop transactions which operate to promote fraud, risk, and under-development, and for other purposes. Similar to S.1222 above.

MCCAIN:

110th: None.

109th:

* Co-sponsored S.190: A bill to address the regulation of secondary mortgage market enterprises, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Sen Hagel, Chuck [NE] (introduced 1/26/2005)      Cosponsors (3)
Latest Major Action: 7/28/2005 Senate committee/subcommittee actions. Status: Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Ordered to be reported with an amendment in the nature of a substitute favorably.

SUMMARY AS OF:
1/26/2005--Introduced.

Federal Housing Enterprise Regulatory Reform Act of 2005 - Amends the Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992 to establish: (1) in lieu of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an independent Federal Housing Enterprise Regulatory Agency which shall have authority over the Federal Home Loan Bank Finance Corporation, the Federal Home Loan Banks, the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac); and (2) the Federal Housing Enterprise Board.
Sets forth operating, administrative, and regulatory provisions of the Agency, including provisions respecting: (1) assessment authority; (2) authority to limit nonmission-related assets; (3) minimum and critical capital levels; (4) risk-based capital test; (5) capital classifications and undercapitalized enterprises; (6) enforcement actions and penalties; (7) golden parachutes; and (8) reporting.
Amends the Federal Home Loan Bank Act to establish the Federal Home Loan Bank Finance Corporation. Transfers the functions of the Office of Finance of the Federal Home Loan Banks to such Corporation.
Excludes the Federal Home Loan Banks from certain securities reporting requirements.
Abolishes the Federal Housing Finance Board.

Hilzoy 12:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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'UPPITY'.... Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a far-right Georgia Republican, seemed to get the ball rolling a few weeks ago, calling Barack Obama and his wife "uppity." (He later said he had no idea the word had racial connotations.) Now, the Politico's Mike Allen has quoted a Republican insider, identified only as "one of the smartest Bushies," who has some advice for the McCain campaign:

The tactics that got them to mid-September in a tie are not going to get them to 50 percent plus one in November. They need ... an eye toward driving out the range of contrast that makes McCain different from Obama (action-oriented rhetoric v. grand prose; accessible v. uppity; humble servant of country v. arrogant).'

Seriously? "One the smartest Bushies" believes the McCain campaign should deliberately characterize Obama as "uppity"? The insider is encouraging the campaign to pursue racially-charged language to emphasize the "contrasts" between the candidates?

If this is one of the "smartest" Bushies, I shudder to think what the dumb ones are encouraging McCain to do.

Steve Benen 12:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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RANDOM CAMPAIGN OBSERVATION OF THE DAY.... Recent polling suggests there are basically only three Southern states the Obama campaign hopes to compete in, and has a reasonable shot at winning: Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina. Obama will be in the toughest of the three today, hosting a campaign rally in Charlotte.

It was largely a forgettable moment during the Republican primaries, but as long as Obama is going to contest those three Southern states, I wonder if he might want to consider some remarks John McCain made in Boston in early February.

McCain was running through something of a stand-up routine, telling lawyer jokes and an anecdote about how old his mother is. He then introduced two of his travel companions, former Sen. Phil Gramm and Sen. Lindsey Graham. McCain told his Boston audience:

"After this meeting, if you'd like to talk to senator, either senator Gramm, we will provide translators for any of you that need to, find them hard to understand. I find them hard to."

Now, almost no one took note of McCain's remark, but I've always wondered what would have happened if Barack Obama, campaigning in Massachusetts, said he couldn't understand Southerners, and suggested voters might need "translators" to help out. I suspect the story would have gotten some play.

But it wasn't Obama; it was McCain. Here's a random thought: Maybe Obama should tell voters in Charlotte today, "John McCain says he doesn't understand Southerners and wants to offer interpreters to the rest of the country to understand you. I want you to know that I hear you loud and clear."

Just a thought.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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A STUNTED VP DEBATE.... This may be an elaborate effort to manage expectations, but it seems more likely the McCain campaign is genuinely worried about Sarah Palin's ability to handle a nationally televised debate.

The Obama and McCain campaigns have agreed to an unusual free-flowing format for the three televised presidential debates, which begin Friday, but the McCain camp fought for and won a much more structured approach for the questioning at the vice-presidential debate, advisers to both campaigns said Saturday.

At the insistence of the McCain campaign, the Oct. 2 debate between the Republican nominee for vice president, Gov. Sarah Palin, and her Democratic rival, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., will have shorter question-and-answer segments than those for the presidential nominees, the advisers said. There will also be much less opportunity for free-wheeling, direct exchanges between the running mates.

McCain advisers said they had been concerned that a loose format could leave Ms. Palin, a relatively inexperienced debater, at a disadvantage and largely on the defensive. [...]

McCain advisers said they were only somewhat concerned about Ms. Palin's debating skills compared with those of Mr. Biden, who has served six terms in the Senate, or about his chances of tripping her up. Instead, they say, they wanted Ms. Palin to have opportunities to present Mr. McCain's positions, rather than spending time talking about her experience or playing defense.

The commission specifically sought a relaxed format for Biden and Palin, allowing time for "unpredictable questioning and challenges between the two vice-presidential candidates." The McCain campaign rejected the idea altogether.

The farce, in other words, continues. A campaign confident in its running mate -- you know, the one who may be one heartbeat from the presidency in about four months -- wouldn't be this afraid of questions and interaction.

Steve Benen 10:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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By: Hilzoy

Chutzpah

To expand on a point Steve made a couple of days ago: It takes a certain amount of chutzpah for McCain to produce ads about Obama's advisors having ties to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. One of the people McCain focusses on denies advising the Obama campaign; the story the McCain campaign based its ad on said only that he had "taken calls" from the Obama campaign, which is probably true of half the known universe. The other was Jim Johnson, who was asked to vet Vice Presidential candidates, but withdrew shortly afterwards, when questions arose about his ties to the financial industry.

Compare this to John McCain. He too picked a former lobbyist for Fannie and Freddie to vet his Vice Presidential candidates. In addition:

"At least 20 McCain fundraisers have lobbied on behalf of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, netting at least $12.3 million in fees over the past nine years."

Plus:

"Among the companies' past advocates are McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, a longtime lobbyist; McCain's confidant and adviser Charlie Black, whose firm worked for Freddie Mac for several years ending in 2005; and his deputy campaign finance chairman, Wayne Berman, a vice president of Ogilvy Worldwide, the advertising and marketing firm, and a former Fannie Mae lobbyist. Davis once was head of the Homeownership Alliance, a coalition of banks, mortgage lenders and other housing industry interests led by Fannie and Freddie to stave off proposed regulations or government fees."

Davis' record on this score is charming. USNews:

"McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis was hired -- after running McCain's failed 2000 presidential campaign -- to head up a group called the Homeownership Alliance, a Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac advocacy group, which the Wall Street Journal reported (in August 2000) had a website creed of being dedicated to: "exposing and defeating trends that would harm consumer access to the lowest-cost mortgage option." The group viewed as threats those who are "seeking to spread unfounded fears about risks to the housing system.""

"Unfounded fears". Gotta love it.

From the Times-Picayune (April 15, 2001, accessed via Lexis/Nexis):

"It shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone when the Homeownership Alliance announced its opposition last week to legislation by Rep. Richard Baker, R-Baton Rouge, to strengthen regulatory oversight for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two giant agencies that buy home mortgages to expand homeownership opportunities. Rick Davis, president of the Homeownership Alliance, said that "we are concerned that Rep. Baker's bill would break the first rule of any legislation related to housing -- that is, to do no harm to the greatest housing system in the world." He said the bill "presents the potential for a burdensome regulatory process that could lead to less consumer choice, reduced availability of financing and higher prices for home purchases and multi-family construction." What Davis didn't say is that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mae are both members of his alliance, which also includes the National Association of Home Builders and National Association of Real Estate Brokers. Baker, chairman of the House Capital Markets, Insurance and Government Sponsored Enterprises Subcommittee, has said that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have gotten so big, and have piled up so much debt, that more oversight is needed. If either of them failed, it could do major damage to the U.S. economy, he said."

Which helps to explain this response from "William Maloni, Fannie Mae Senior Vice President for Government and Industry Relations (1983-2004)":

"Yesterday, Senator John McCain released a television commercial attacking Barack Obama for allegedly receiving advice on the economy from former Fannie Mae CEO Franklin Raines. (...)

It is an interesting card for Senator McCain to play, given that his campaign manager, Rick Davis, was paid by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac several hundred thousand dollars early in this decade to head up an organization to lobby in their behalf called The Homeownership Alliance. ...

I worked in government relations for Fannie Mae for more than 20 years, leading the group for most of those years. When I see photographs of Sen. McCain's staff, it looks to me like the team of lobbyists who used to report to me. Senator McCain's attack on Senator Obama is a cheap shot, and hypocritical."

I do not think it ought to be a problem for a campaign to ask for advice from people who have some connection to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. A lot of those people know a lot about the mortgage industry, and having no contact whatsoever with them would probably be a bad idea. I do get concerned when a campaign has people who lobbied against better regulation in its most senior positions. There is only one campaign of which that is true, and it's not Obama's.

Hilzoy 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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By: Paul Glastris

BETTER BAILOUT IDEAS... One of the classic mistakes we all make--and this is true of political leaders and average citizens alike--is to accept unquestioningly that the choices we're being presented with are in fact the only choices we have. And so it was on Friday that Democratic leaders in Congress seemed to line up behind the Bush administration's plan to have the federal government spend half a trillion dollars or more to buy up toxic mortgage securities held by banks and other institutions. It was a radical idea, suspiciously lacking in detail, and rife with taxpayer risk with moral hazard. But if it's either that or the whole financial world melts down, the thinking went, what choice do we have?

Actually, several better ones, Sebastian Mallaby reports:

Within hours of the Treasury announcement Friday, economists had proposed preferable alternatives. Their core insight is that it is better to boost the banking system by increasing its capital than by reducing its loans. Given a fatter capital cushion, banks would have time to dispose of the bad loans in an orderly fashion. Taxpayers would be spared the experience of wandering into a bad-loan bazaar and being ripped off by every merchant.

Raghuram Rajan and Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago suggest ways to force the banks to raise capital without tapping the taxpayers. First, the government should tell banks to cancel all dividend payments. Banks don't do that on their own because it would signal weakness; if everyone knows the dividend has been canceled because of a government rule, the signaling issue would be removed. Second, the government should tell all healthy banks to issue new equity. Again, banks resist doing this because they don't want to signal weakness and they don't want to dilute existing shareholders. A government order could cut through these obstacles.

Meanwhile, Charles Calomiris of Columbia University and Douglas Elmendorf of the Brookings Institution have offered versions of another idea. The government should help not by buying banks' bad loans but by buying equity stakes in the banks themselves. Whereas it's horribly complicated to value bad loans, banks have share prices you can look up in seconds, so government could inject capital into banks quickly and at a fair level. The share prices of banks that recovered would rise, compensating taxpayers for losses on their stakes in the banks that eventually went under.

I feel better already.


Paul Glastris 8:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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FINANCE INDUSTRY LOBBYISTS GET TO WORK.... Rumor has it, the crisis on Wall Street is too important for parochial interests. Everyone has to recognize the seriousness of the situation and consider the greater good.

That is, just as soon as the financial industry's lobbyists are done protecting the work they've already done. (via TPM)

House Republican staffers met with roughly 15 lobbyists Friday afternoon, whose message to lawmakers was clear: Don't load the legislation up with provisions not directly related to the crisis, or regulatory measures the industry has long opposed.

"We're opposed to adding provisions that will affect [or] undermine the deal substantively," said Scott Talbott, senior vice president of government affairs at the Financial Services Roundtable, whose members include the nation's largest banks, securities firms and insurers.

A deal killer for the group: a proposal that would grant bankruptcy judges new powers to lower the principal, interest rate or both on a mortgage as part of a bankruptcy proceeding.

Once the industry is assured that those in bankruptcy won't get a break, then we can come together and put aside parochial interests.

How reassuring.

Steve Benen 8:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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September 20, 2008
By: Hilzoy

by hilzoy

From the AP:

"Wall Street turmoil left John McCain scrambling to explain why the fundamentals of the U.S. economy remained strong. It also left him defending his support for privately investing Social Security money in the same markets that had tanked earlier in the week.

The Republican presidential nominee says all options must be considered to stave off insolvency for the government insurance and retirement program, and top McCain advisers say that includes so-called personal retirement accounts like those President Bush pushed in 2005 but abandoned in the face of congressional opposition."

I'll bet he's scrambling. I can't imagine anyone would accept the idea of investing their Social Security pension in the stock market with equanimity right now. Even after Thursday's and Friday's rallies, with the DJIA close to its previous levels, the rate of return on the DJIA since the state of the union address in which the President proposed instituting private accounts is around 2% a year, well below the rate of inflation. A couple of days ago, it would have been well below that. And the actual rate of return on an individual account would have been lower still, given administrative costs and so forth.

This is exactly why we all went to the mattresses for Social Security back in 2005. No one's basic retirement security should be at the mercy of the stock market. We have just been reminded why that's such a stunningly bad idea. Apparently, the only people on earth who haven't figured it out are John McCain and his advisors.

I hope the Obama campaign repeats this every day from now until the elections.

Besides that, "top McCain advisors" are repeating another complete myth: that personal retirement accounts are a way to "stave off insolvency" for Social Security. If political journalists knew more about policy, McCain's "top policy advisors" might not have been able to complete the interview, because the reporters would have been laughing too hard. A statement like "all options must be considered to stave off insolvency for the government insurance and retirement program, and (...) that includes so-called personal retirement accounts" is, in fact, on a par with saying something like: "all options must be considered for making people healthier, including encouraging them to start smoking, operate chain saws while drunk, and take long, luxurious baths with their electric appliances."

It really is exactly that dumb.

Any plan that allows Social Security tax revenues to be diverted into private accounts blows a hole in the Social Security budget. How much of a hole depends on the specific provisions of the plan: how much it allows recipients to divert, whether it tries to save money by other means, like benefit reductions, etc. You can see estimates of the effects of several different plans here. They all make Social Security less solvent, not more, and by trillions of dollars. (The President's plan -- the one McCain campaigned for -- would add a cool $17.7 trillion in debt by 2050.)

Why? A few months ago, I drew up some goofy pictures to make the point as simply as possible. Since this issue has popped up again, I might as well put them up again. Here's the present system:

Photobucket

Under the present system, younger workers, on the left, pay for the benefits enjoyed by older workers, on the right. In time, the younger workers' benefits will be paid by today's toddlers.

Here's the proposal that John McCain thinks will make Social Security more solvent:

Photobucket

Here, the workers keep their own money, leaving Mr. Scream, who had paid the generation that came before him and been counting on being paid by younger workers in turn, with nothing. (Obviously, you can alter this picture in various ways. For instance, if people divert part, but not all, of their FICA taxes to private accounts, Mr. Scream can say: "Where's that part of my money?")

McCain has promised that Mr. Scream will, in fact, get his money. That money is the hole that private accounts blow in the deficit. If we don't want to leave Mr. Scream with nothing, the money has to come from somewhere, though: from the Social Security Trust Fund, higher taxes, or possibly Santa Claus.

You might wonder: since we, as a nation, have just bought a large insurance company, and are considering buying hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of toxic debt, is this really a good time to take on a project that adds trillions more to our national debt? Maybe not. But I'd be a lot happier if I thought that McCain knew that his Social Security proposal would actually cost money. The fact that he thinks it's a way of making Social Security more solvent is pretty scary.

Hilzoy 4:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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IS CONTINGENCIES A GAME-CHANGER?.... The McCain campaign probably never even saw it coming. Contingencies, the magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries, published an article by John McCain, titled, "Better Health Care at Lower Cost for Every American" (pdf). As far as the McCain campaign was concerned, few would actually see the piece, and the likelihood of it having a serious impact on the campaign was negligible.

Oops.

Paul Krugman got a heads-up on this jaw-dropper from McCain's article: "Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation."

Remember, this doesn't reflect McCain's thinking from previous years -- the article was published in the current, Sept/Oct issue of the magazine. McCain believed, very recently, that the key to "better" care at "lower" costs was to make the healthcare industry look more like the financial industry.

Barack Obama pounced, hitting McCain on this at an event in Florida earlier, and one assumes, he'll be repeating the line quite a bit from now on. Soon after, the Obama campaign organized a conference call with Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to help hammer the importance of this home.

And then, just to make this story a little sweeter, Brad DeLong dug into the rest of McCain's article and found this hilarious observation from the Republican presidential nominee:

The final important principle of reform is to rediscover our sense of personal responsibility to take better care of ourselves and our children.... Parents who don't impart to their children a sense of personal responsibility for their health, nutrition, and exercise -- vital quality-of-life information that political correctness has expelled from our schools -- have failed their responsibility.

These weren't off-the-cuff comments; this is in a written piece, submitted for publication.

The mind reels.

Steve Benen 3:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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STAYING ON THE OFFENSIVE.... This morning in Daytona Beach, Florida, Barack Obama immediately picked up on Paul Krugman's key find, and in general, gave every indication that he enjoys staying on the offensive.

On McCain's support for treating healthcare like the banking industry:

"My opponent actually wrote in the current issue of a health care magazine -- the current issue -- quote -- 'Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.' So let me get this straight -- he wants to run health care like they've been running Wall Street. Well, senator, I know some folks on Main Street who aren't going to think that's a good idea."

On McCain's attacks regarding Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac:

"The same day my opponent attacked me for being associated with a Fannie Mae guy I've talked to for maybe 5 minutes in my entire life -- the same day he did that -- the head of the lobbying shop at Fannie Mae turned around and said wait a minute -- 'When I see photographs of Senator McCain's staff, it looks to me like the team of lobbyists who used to report to me.' Folks, you can't make this stuff up. So when you hear John McCain talk about taking on the ol' boy network in Washington -- know this, on the McCain campaign, that's called a staff meeting."

And on Social Security:

"Millions would've watched as the market tumbled and their nest egg disappeared before their eyes. Millions of families would've been scrambling to figure out how to give their mothers and fathers, their grandmothers and grandfathers, the secure retirement that every American deserves. So I know Senator McCain is talking about a "casino culture" on Wall Street -- but the fact is, he's the one who wants to gamble with your life savings."

This message matters everywhere, but it's particularly significant in Florida.

[Updated with video]

Steve Benen 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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HAMMERING MCCAIN ON WOMEN'S ISSUES.... The Obama campaign is taking on John McCain on women's issues on multiple fronts. We talked the other day about Obama breaking with recent tradition and going after McCain's opposition to reproductive rights, an issue Democratic candidates have usually shied away from.

The Obama campaign is also putting pay equality front and center, launching a new ad with someone who has as much credibility on the subject as anyone: Lilly Ledbetter.

Ledbetter, of course, is an Alabama woman who worked for Goodyear and faced years of wage discrimination based on gender. The Supreme Court ultimately took Goodyear's side, saying Ledbetter should have filed her suit within 180 days of the initial discrimination. (In other words, if your employer is paying you less money for equal work, and you don't find about the discrepancy until seven months after the problem began, you can't contest this in court.) McCain inexplicably endorsed the ruling as the right call.

In the new ad, Ledbetter tells voters, "I worked at this plant for 20 years before I learned the truth. I'd been paid 40% less than men doing the same work. John McCain opposed a law to give women equal pay for equal work. And he dismissed the wage gap, saying women just need 'education and training.' I had the same skills as the men at my plant. My family needed that money. On the economy, it's John McCain who needs an education."

This is, regular readers may recall, the second Obama campaign ad targeting McCain on pay equity for women.

The "education and training" line really was one of the dumbest things McCain has said over the course of this campaign. He genuinely seems to believe that employers who discriminate against women will stop if women have better credentials. It's just a bizarre worldview, and the Obama campaign is smart to hammer this point home.

Steve Benen 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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MCCAIN CONFUSES NATIONAL GUARD AND U.S. ARMY.... Maybe John McCain's staff just isn't prepping him very well, or maybe McCain is blowing off those who are trying to help him stay on track. Either way, the hits just keep on coming.

"McCain said this near the end of the clip below, as he's talking up Palin's foreign policy/national security credentials:

'I also know, if I might remind you, that she is commander of the Alaska National Guard. In fact, you may know that on Sept. 11 a large contingent of the Alaska Guard deployed to Iraq and her son happened to be one of them. So I think she understands our national security challenges....'

"The ceremony Palin attended at Fort Wainwright last week didn't involve the Alaska National Guard. Palin's son is in the Army, and his unit -- 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division -- deployed to Iraq."

It's just one of those sloppy examples of McCain's near-constant confusion that contributes to the larger problem.

But the underlying point of this mix-up is that McCain is still struggling to convince people that Sarah Palin is a credible voice on foreign policy and national security issues. His arguments thus far have been a) Alaska is near Russia; b) Palin is the ostensible head of the Air National Guard; and c) Palin's son is a soldier.

Of course, the first is absurd to the point of being insulting; the second overlooks the fact that Palin has no national security responsibilities with the Guard and has never had to make a command decision in her brief gubernatorial tenure; and the third does not constitute knowledge or background on national security issues.

At this point, McCain just ought to stop trying. The whole pitch isn't going well.

Steve Benen 12:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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DOES MCCAIN UNDERSTAND THE FED?.... When it comes to demonstrating a working knowledge of modern economics, John McCain has had a very bad week. His comments in Wisconsin yesterday on the Federal Reserve, however, left more people than usual scratching their heads.

"[T]he Federal Reserve should get back to its core business of responsibly managing our money supply and inflation. It needs to get out of the business of bailouts. The Fed needs to return to protecting the purchasing power of the dollar. A strong dollar will reduce energy and food prices. It will stimulate sustainable economic growth and get this economy moving again."

This is odd for a variety of reasons. The first problem that came to my mind is the odd disconnect between McCain railing against Fed bailouts now, after spending a whole lot of time endorsing a series of Fed bailouts. (In this case, McCain was against the bailouts, before he was for them, before he was against them. That's quite a feat.)

But let's also not forget the approach to economics McCain took is also completely bizarre. As Brad DeLong explained, "Since before 1844 central banks have been in the business of managing financial crises. That's what they do. Milton Friedman is spinning in his grave. The prevention of large-scale bank failures -- 'bailouts,' in McCain's terms -- is an essential part of responsibly managing the money supply. John McCain does not know that."

Mark Thoma added, "And Brad didn't even note that McCain misunderstands the Fed's legal mandate. If he did, he wouldn't say that their job is to protect the dollar."

Keep in mind, McCain's odd remarks weren't just some off-the-cuff gaffe made by a confused candidate, they were in a prepared set of remarks, written by McCain's staff.

We are, in other words, dealing with a team that simply doesn't know what it's doing, and wants to take its knowledge and expertise to the White House.

Steve Benen 11:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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STILL MORE HOUSING POLICY CONFUSION.... About two weeks ago, at a campaign event in Colorado, Sarah Palin claimed that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had become "too expensive to the taxpayers." The criticism didn't make any sense -- the lending companies have operated as private companies without taxpayer funds. In the midst of a housing crisis, it's the kind of detail a candidate for national office ought to know, especially before talking about the issue.

McCain broached the subject in a similar way yesterday.

McCain has aired and prepared, respectively, two ads that link Obama to former Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae chief executives Jim Johnson and Franklin D. Raines. McCain told a large, loud audience in Blaine, Minn., that Johnson had walked away from the mortgage giants with $21 million "of your money" in severance pay, while Raines received $25 million.

"Let's tell them to give it back," McCain said, and the crowd obliged, chanting "Give it back. Give it back."

First, if we're going to start talking about executives with excessive golden parachutes, perhaps McCain might consider addressing Carly Fiorina's $42 million going-away package.

Second, and more to the point, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae execs were not given taxpayer-financed severance packages. Again, we're talking about private companies, not taxpayer-financed agencies. As the Washington Post reported today, "[T]he severance packages were paid by company shareholders, not taxpayers."

So, here's the question. Is John McCain still confused, even now, about how Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae operated, or was he just trying to energize voters with talking points he knew to be false?

Oddly enough, given the last several months, it's genuinely hard to tell when McCain is being dishonest and when he's being incompetent.

Steve Benen 10:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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THE RIGHT HAND AND THE FAR-RIGHT HAND.... Sometimes, Republicans are so quick to go on the attack, they manage to trip over themselves.

Republicans denounced an e-mail message that Senator Barack Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, sent to supporters on Friday that used the fiscal crisis as fodder for a fund-raising appeal and accused Senator John McCain of lying.

"With Wall Street in crisis and families struggling, Barack offered a solid plan to strengthen the middle class, including tax cuts for nearly all Americans," Mr. Plouffe wrote in the message. "John McCain continued the same old politics -- lying about Barack's plan and offering more of the same George Bush policies, including more tax breaks for Big Oil and no solutions for working families."

Alex Conant, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, called the fund-raising plea "the definition of political opportunism."

That's not completely unreasonable criticism; fundraising off of a crisis does come across as a little tacky. But this is a case in which the right hand didn't know what the far-right hand was doing.

At the exact same time the RNC was slamming the Obama campaign for using the Wall Street crisis to raise money, the McCain campaign was using the Wall Street crisis to raise money. In emails sent to McCain donors, the campaign explained, "The American economy is in a crisis. It is in a crisis," and promoted headlines such as, "McCain Promises to 'Clean Up Wall Street.'" The McCain campaign email also connected the solicitation to a recent TV ad, which begins, "When our economy's in crisis, a big government casts a big shadow on us all. Obama and his liberal Congressional allies want a massive government, billions in spending increases, wasteful pork."

What was that line about "the definition of political opportunism"?

Steve Benen 10:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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IF THE MCCAIN CAMPAIGN IS AFRAID OF MADDOW.... Especially at this point in the campaign cycle, Team McCain seems pretty anxious to get on television on repeat its carefully crafted talking points.

But there's one highly-rated show the McCain campaign apparently afraid of: MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show." ThinkProgress reports:

Discussing the lack of impact Gov. Sarah Palin's (R-AK) inclusion on the McCain ticket has had with women voters (according to the latest CBS-New York Times poll), Maddow last night noted that McCain surrogates have repeatedly declined invitations to appear on the show. [...]

A long list then ran on the screen of McCain surrogates who have turned Maddow down, including senior campaign advisers Carly Fiorina, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Meg Whitman, Ed O'Callaghan and others.

Maddow told viewers, "[W]e hope to have someone from the McCain campaign or another Republican guest on the show tonight to talk about this issue as we have contacted them about other issues on other nights. But no matter the topics, thus far at least, they have repeatedly said no one is available."

I'm reminded of last fall, when most of the Democratic presidential candidates decided not to participate in a debate hosted/co-sponsored by Fox News. A variety of mainstream news outlets and major figures were indignant about the decision, with many publicly asking whether Democrats could trusted to stand up to al Qaeda if they were "afraid" to answer questions from Fox News.

We can assume, of course, that similar questions will be asked of the McCain campaign now, right? After all, if McCain and his team are ready to take on a world of serious challenges, why are they afraid of a smart, highly-rated talk-show host?

Steve Benen 9:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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MARKET-BASED HEALTHCARE.... There have been plenty of comments John McCain has made over the course of the campaign, which he now regrets. Admitting he doesn't understand the economy certainly ranks right up there; calling Social Security a "disgrace" has to be in the top five; and his dismissal of those who seek national office after a short time as a governor certainly looks embarrassing.

But this is a real doozy. Here's McCain, very recently, on the benefits of market-based health reform:

"Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation."

As Paul Krugman explained, "McCain, who now poses as the scourge of Wall Street, was praising financial deregulation like 10 seconds ago -- and promising that if we marketize health care, it will perform as well as the financial industry!"

Josh Marshall added, "If the Obama folks are smart -- and they are -- they'll ride this one all the way to the election. But among ourselves let's admit that you could only be surprised by this statement if you were willfully ignorant to what McCain and his key advisors believe. Remember, his top economics advisor is former Sen. Phil Gramm, the legislative architect of the banking and financial services deregulation that led to the current crisis. And his health care proposals are all off-the-rack Heritage Foundation-style initiatives based on the premise that people have too much, not too little insurance."

Also note the very clever approach from Anonymous Liberal: "[I]f we bring the same approach to health care that we brought to the banking industry, maybe in eight years or so, our health care system will completely collapse and the government will have to step in and take over. Voila! A national health care system. Brilliant."

We'll be hearing more about this. McCain will have trouble living this one down.

Steve Benen 8:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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September 19, 2008

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

* The Treasury Department unveiled a sketch of the administration's plan to resolve the crisis on Wall Street. Henry Paulson told reporters, "We're talking hundreds of billions. It needs to be big enough to make a difference and get at the heart of the problem." I've seen some estimates that said the price tag might be much higher.

* Investors were delighted by the news, and the Dow jumped 369 points.

* There are at least a couple of lawmakers who are worried about what this might do to the federal budget, which is already a mess.

* It looks like the investigation into Sarah Palin's "troopergate" scandal will be completed by Oct. 10, notwithstanding the Palin administration's refusal to cooperate.

* House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers is all over alleged Republican voter-suppression tactics.

* The last 10 days have been less than kind to Palin's favorability ratings.

* Remember the war in Iraq? Political progress remains elusive.

* It looks like disgraced former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) won't face criminal charges.

* How much is Palin willing to stray from the truth? She's even given a misleading account of how she accepted McCain's invitation to join the Republican ticket.

* It wasn't too long ago that the right loved SEC Chairman Christopher Cox.

* Time's Michael Scherer ran into a little trouble trying to defend McCain on Social Security.

* Scherer ran into some more trouble defending McCain's record on alternative energy.

* The right, worked into a frenzy by a New York Post article, believes Obama privately urged Iraqi leaders to delay a security agreement with the Bush administration. Republicans in the room with Obama in Iraq have come forward to say the report and the attacks are completely wrong.

* By a narrow margin, Americans would rather watch football with Obama than McCain. Is this anything like the have-a-beer-with voting standard?

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (70)

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COUNTRY FIRST.... Over the summer, the McCain campaign, after experimenting with a series of poll-tested mottos, starting emphasizing, "Country First." It was a relatively subtle test of patriotism -- McCain, the argument went, puts country first, while that other guy doesn't really love his country.

In his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, Barack Obama took on the motto directly:

"[L]et 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."

And almost immediately, the motto seemed to disappear.

Today, McCain tried to revive the line, telling voters at an event in Minnesota, "That's how we see this election: country first or Obama first."

I'm certainly not in the habit of giving the McCain campaign advice, but I feel compelled to point out how truly vacuous this is as a slogan. The problem isn't just that the motto is cheap and misleading -- though it is cheap and misleading -- it's that the motto isn't even persuasive.

Truth be told, McCain pretty much forfeited the whole "country first" line on Aug. 29, in Ohio, when he introduced Sarah Palin as his running mate. Conservative writer David Frum wrote at the National Review that "country first" is a "good slogan," but added, "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?"

The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson added soon after, "[W]e are reminded, if we did not realize it before, that the three things not to expect from a McCain presidency are caution, prudence and a willingness to always put the nation's interests above his own."

But moving beyond this disqualifying factor, "country first or Obama first" doesn't actually mean anything. If you're a middle-class family in Ohio, you're health insurance sucks, your wages have been stagnant for most of the decade, and you can't afford college tuition for your kids, McCain is effectively telling you, "I'm patriotic, and Obama is arrogant." It's the height of stupidity -- don't vote for Obama, not because he's wrong, and not because his ideas won't work, but because he has an ego (unlike McCain, who's running for the nation's highest office because of his inferiority complex).

McCain was smart to move away from this "country first" inanity last month. It's foolish to bring it back now.

Steve Benen 4:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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ABOUT THAT PAY CUT.... As part of the drive to create a charming, folksy narrative around Sarah Palin, the McCain campaign has come up with a variety of claims. She opposed the Bridge to Nowhere! She vetoed congressional earmarks! She sold a gubernatorial jet on eBay for a profit! She even cut her own salary!

One by one, those claims have fallen apart rather spectacularly. She supported the infamous bridge, she's sought and received hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks, and the jet sale was a bit of a debacle and lost the state money.

And then there's the pay cut. "As mayor I took a voluntary pay cut, which didn't thrill my husband; and then as governor I cut the personal chef position from the budget, and that didn't thrill my hungry kids," Palin told an audience last week, to laughter and applause.

Is that true? Well, the chef line is misleading -- she actually reassigned the chef when Palin decided to live mostly in Wasilla instead of Juneau, and the chef ended up working for the state legislature. Cut from the budget? Not really.

But what about the "voluntary pay cut"? Well, when Palin took office in 1996, she made $64,200 as Wasilla's mayor. The next year, that dropped to $61,200. In 1998, however, the salary rose to $68,000. After another modest dip in 1999, Palin enjoyed a $68,000 annual salary for her final three years in office. If one makes $64,200, and then ends up making $68,000, it's a little tough to characterize it as a "voluntary pay cut." The McCain campaign has an affinity for redefining words to suit its purposes, but this is a tough sell.

Greg Sargent did some great digging on this story, and fleshes out what happened.

As best as we can determine, the cuts were engineered by Palin herself through some sort of executive mechanism, and the raises were City Council-mandated hikes.

What's the upshot? Well, Palin's claim that she "took a pay cut" as mayor is true in a narrow sense. She came in and took a pay cut that she engineered herself.

But in a broader sense, the claim is an oversimplification that borders on misleading. The bottom line is that whatever her intentions, over the course of her mayoralty Palin's pay went up thousands of dollars and stayed higher for years, money which she presumably kept. (If any proof emerges that she donated it to charity or channeled it back into city coffers in some other way, we'll happily update.)

There may be some exculpatory details yet to emerge, but at this point, it sounds like yet another example added to the very long list of Palin claims that don't stand up well to scrutiny.

Steve Benen 4:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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OBAMA: MCCAIN 'PANICKED'.... In an odd turn, John McCain this morning blamed Barack Obama for the crisis on Wall Street, saying it was Obama's judgment that "contribut[ed] to these problems," and it was Obama who was "busy gaming the system," whatever the hell that's supposed to mean.

Soon after, Obama delivered a speech in Miami where I think he struck the right note: he accused McCain of feeling "a little panicked."

"This morning Senator McCain gave a speech in which his big solution to this worldwide economic crisis was to blame me for it," Obama said.

"This is a guy who's spent nearly three decades in Washington, and after spending the entire campaign saying I haven't been in Washington long enough, he apparently now is willing to assign me responsibility for all of Washington's failures.

"Now, I think it's a pretty clear that Senator McCain is a little panicked right now. At this point he seems to be willing to say anything or do anything or change any position or violate any principle to try and win this election, and I've got to say it's kind of sad to see. That's not the politics we need.

"It's also been disappointing to see my opponent's reaction to this economic crisis. His first reaction on Monday was to stand up and repeat the line he's said over and over again throughout this campaign -- 'the fundamentals of the economy are strong' -- the comment was so out of touch that even George Bush's White House couldn't agree with it."

As narratives go, a "panicked" McCain is a pretty good one. The more McCain campaigns on relentless lies and constant attacks, the easier it is to see McCain's tactics through the prism of a panicked candidate, desperately hoping that one more dishonest smear might be worth a point or two in the polls.

"It's kind of sad to see." Quite right -- McCain is the tragic figure, who traded his integrity for popularity, but ended up with neither.

Steve Benen 3:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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THE RAINES/JOHNSON SILVER BULLET?.... John McCain and his campaign seem to think they have a new trump card to play against Obama -- he's been associated with Franklin Raines and Jim Johnson, both of whom are former Fannie Mae executives. The connections are the subject of two new McCain campaign TV ads, and I was just watching an event in Minnesota where McCain seemed to find the subject of Obama's Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac ties utterly fascinating.

Like most of McCain's attacks, I get the sense he hasn't thought this one through.

First, McCain insists that Raines is an advisor to the Obama campaign. As we discussed earlier, McCain simply isn't telling the truth.

Second, if getting advice from officials at troubled financial institutions is a sign of bad judgment, McCain way want to explain why two of his top advisors include John Thain, from Merrill Lynch, and Martin Feldstein, who serves on AIG's board of directors.

Third, and most importantly, all McCain's attacks do is offer people like me a chance to remind folks about his own connections to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

More than Mr. Obama, Mr. McCain's circle of advisers and contributors includes current and former lobbyists or directors for the companies, although since July he has called for a ban on any lobbying by the two firms.

Among the companies' past advocates are Mr. McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, a longtime lobbyist; Mr. McCain's confidant and adviser Charlie Black, whose firm worked for Freddie Mac for several years ending in 2005, and the deputy campaign finance chairman, Wayne L. Berman, a vice president for Ogilvy Worldwide and a former Fannie Mae lobbyist.

Mr. Davis previously was head of the Homeownership Alliance, a coalition of banks and housing industry interests led by Fannie and Freddie to stave off regulations.

I just don't understand what McCain is thinking here; he seems to assume that his comments won't receive any scrutiny at all.

He is, without a hint of shame, attacking Obama for having connections with two former Fannie Mae executives. At the same time, one of McCain's top policy advisors, Charlie Black, was lobbyist for Freddie Mac for 10 years, while his campaign manager, Rick Davis, lobbied to help Fannie and Freddie steer clear of additional federal regulations (which, obviously, would have been pretty helpful in retrospect).

But wait, there's more. Tom Loeffler, who served as McCain's campaign co-chairman, also lobbied for Fannie Mae. Aquiles Suarez, a McCain economic advisor, was a Fannie Mae executive. Dan Crippen, a McCain advisor who helped craft the campaign's health-care policy, lobbied for Fannie Mae (and Merrill Lynch). Arthur B. Culvahouse, who helped lead McCain's VP search committee, also lobbied for Fannie Mae. In all, McCain has 19 people who are either advisors or fundraisers who lobbied for either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

And voters are supposed to be outraged because of Obama's connections to Franklin Raines and Jim Johnson? Why would McCain even start on this subject at all, making the argument that ties to Fannie/Freddie are scandalous, given his own associations?

It seems the underlying point to just about every McCain argument is that voters won't pay attention to the details. He may be right, but it seems like an incredibly dangerous strategy for a candidate to take.

Steve Benen 2:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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BARBOUR CAVES, FIXES BALLOT.... There's a surprisingly competitive Senate race in Mississippi this year, with appointed Sen. Roger Wicker (R) facing a credible challenge from former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D). Recent polling suggests Wicker is in the lead, but in the low to mid single-digit range.

Mississippi's Republican governor, former RNC chairman Haley Barbour, came up with an idea to help give Wicker an edge -- he decided to move the Senate race to the bottom of the state ballot, below state and local races, where he'd hoped voters might overlook it. Mississippi election law makes it clear that federal elections must go at the top of ballots, but Barbour and his Republican secretary of state, Delbert Hosemann, decided to pursue this anyway, arguing that the Wicker-Musgrove race is a special election to fill the remainder of Trent Lott's term.

The state attorney general's office explained that this is illegal, but Barbour didn't care. Yesterday, the state Supreme Court also ruled that Barbour's ballot violated the law, and soon after Barbour agreed to reverse course.

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour agreed Thursday to move a special election for Trent Lott's old Senate seat to near the top of the November ballot, ending a dispute that had threatened to delay the start of absentee voting. [...]

A majority of Supreme Court justices ruled Thursday that a 2000 state law requires all federal races to be near the top of the ballot.

I wonder what would happen if Republicans spent half the energy on governing and creating an effective policy agenda as they did on disenfranchisement and ballot games.

Steve Benen 1:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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By: Hilzoy

Two Obama Ads

Surveying a couple of recent stories about Obama's ads:

(1) Obama's "Dos Caras" ad: I don't have access to Rush Limbaugh's paid archives -- I signed up once (the sacrifices I make!), but it was incredibly difficult to un-subscribe, and I have no desire to send any of my perfectly good money to Rush Limbaugh. That means that I cannot check this story out for myself, and see whether, as Jake Tapper says, the Limbaugh quotes that Obama's ad cites are completely out of context.

I take Jonathan Zasloff's points:

"McCain has been running perhaps the most right-wing campaign since Robert Taft. He has cozied up to the GOP's Taliban wing for several months now. He has acknowledged that he would not vote for his own immigration bill if it came up for a vote. Whom do you think he will appoint to key positions that concern immigration?

We know that the one time he had to make an appointment--his running mate--he caved to the social conservative base. One might even call Palin a dittohead.

Tapper seems to acknowledge this, but nevertheless insists that all McCain is saying that the country "has to secure its borders" before embarking on a more comprehensive bill.

This is a cop-out: given the enormous push factors on immigration, to say that he will not move toward a comprehensive solution until illegal immigration is reduced to a trickle is saying that he will never do it."

But that doesn't mean the ad itself is not deceptive. If Tapper is right, then Obama should do the right thing and pull it down.

(2) Michael Scherer thinks that Obama's Social Security ad is deceptive:

"Obama says that McCain voted three times to privatize Social Security, and that he is willing to risk the nation's retirement program on the risky stock market. Now, it is true that McCain did support President Bush's effort to privatize a portion of Social Security. But it is not true that McCain is running for president on a platform of turning Social Security over to Wall Street."

There are several things wrong with what Scherer says. First, the ad does not say that McCain is "running for president on a platform of turning Social Security over to Wall Street." It just doesn't. It says that McCain voted for privatization three times, which he did, and that he told the WSJ that he campaigned for Bush's plan, which he also did.

Second: I would think that the ad were deceptive had John McCain clearly renounced the idea of privatizing Social Security. But he hasn't. Just a couple of months ago, he said (in response to a question about Social Security):

"I want young workers to be able to, if they choose, to take part of their own money, which is their taxes, and put it in an account which has their name on it."

That is what is normally referred to as partial privatization. McCain doesn't always seem to grasp this terminological point. Thus, in this speech from last June, McCain said:

"My friends, I do not and will not privatize Social Security. It is a government program, and it's necessary, but it's broken, and we got to tell the American people that we've got to fix it, and we've got to sit down together the way that Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill did back in 1983 and fix Social Security. But my friends, I will not privatize Social Security, and it's not true when I'm accused of that. But I would like for younger workers -- younger workers only -- to have an opportunity to take a few of their tax dollars -- a few of theirs -- and maybe put it into an account with their name on it."

Which is to say: I support what everyone has always referred to as "privatizing Social Security", but I either don't like that term or don't know what it means.

Scherer notes that the plan on John McCain's website does not support privatization. Last time I checked, this was true. However, while that would normally settle the matter, in McCain's case it does not. McCain has often said things that are at odds with his web site, things the campaign has had to walk back, but that he has then gone on to repeat. He has done this on a number of issues -- the AMT, taxes more generally, kicking Russia out of the G-8, and -- you guessed it -- Social Security. From the WSJ, last March:

"On Social Security, the Arizona senator says he still backs a system of private retirement accounts that President Bush pushed unsuccessfully, and disowned details of a Social Security proposal on his campaign Web site."

When a campaign's website says things that its candidate explicitly disavows, it's hard to know what the candidate actually thinks. Personally, I would go with the candidate: he knows his own mind better than his advisors do. I certainly don't think it's "dodgy" to take the candidate's word for his own beliefs over his website's.

Hilzoy 1:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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'INCURIOUS ABOUT THE MECHANISM OF GOVERNMENT'.... I find profile stories about Sarah Palin's governing style fascinating, in large part because of how strikingly similar she sounds to George W. Bush.

Today, for example, the Washington Post had a good item about Palin's strengths and weaknesses as a governor -- she's apparently very good at sensing the public's mood, and very bad at actually rolling up her sleeves and working. One anecdote, about the work on Alaska's natural gas pipeline project, was consistent with other recent reports.

...Palin struck some lawmakers as curiously detached from the process. In early March 2007, she invited the state Senate's leaders to her office for a preview of the pipeline legislation. To the astonishment of the five senators and their aides, she barely said a word for the hour. As staff members explained her signature plan, the governor was preoccupied with her two BlackBerries.

"It was so bizarre. We all talked about it afterwards," said a legislative source, one of three participants in the meeting who recounted the governor's silence. "We all said, 'What was that? Was she even paying attention?' "

[Stephen Haycox, a historian at the University of Alaska at Anchorage] summed up a common criticism of Palin: "She seems as if she is incurious about the mechanism of government."

We've been getting a lot of reports lately about how Palin gets bored and detached when it's time to get policy work done. Larry Persily, who worked for Palin's Washington office, noted that some of the governor's problems resulted from the fact that she "underestimated exponentially how much more complex state government is than the city of Wasilla." Persily said Palin is smart but has "never" been "deeply engaged."

Republican state Rep. Mike Hawker added, "[Palin's] administration had the appearance of paying absolutely no attention to any of the rest of the unglamorous side of government."

The Anchorage Daily News' Gregg Erickson had a similar assessment: "[Palin] tends to oversimplify complex issues.... It is clear that she has not paid much attention to the nitty-gritty unglamorous work of government.... She seems to be of the view that politics should be all rather simple."

She's not engaged on federal issues and not engaged on state issues. Great.

Steve Benen 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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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:

* On Wednesday, McCain was planning to slam the Bush administration's handling of the Wall Street crisis, and even circulated a draft of the attacks. Soon after, the criticism was softened.

* The AFL-CIO is taking on McCain's "fundamentals of the economy are strong" line.

* Al Gore and MoveOn.org have teamed up to help generate support for three Democratic Senate candidates -- Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mark Udall in Colorado, and Al Franken in Minnesota.

* A new Marist poll shows Obama leading McCain in Ohio by two, 47% to 45%.

* Marist shows Obama leading McCain in Michigan by nine, 52% to 43%.

* And Marist shows Obama leading McCain in Pennsylvania by five, 49% to 44%.

* The latest InsiderAdvantage poll shows Obama leading McCain in Colorado by 10, 51% to 41%. (For the record, I find this very hard to believe.)

* InsiderAdvantage poll also shows McCain leading Obama in Virginia by two, 48% to 46%.

* An Allstate/National Journal poll shows Obama leading McCain in New Mexico by seven, 49% to 42%.

* Allstate/National Journal also shows Obama and McCain tied in Florida at 44% each.

* Allstate/National Journal also shows McCain leading Obama in Ohio by one, 42% to 41%.

* Allstate/National Journal also shows McCain leading Obama in Virginia by seven, 48% to 41%.

* Allstate/National Journal also shows Obama leading McCain in Colorado by one, 45% to 44%.

* Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain in New Jersey by 13, 55% to 42%.

* Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain in Connecticut by 12, 53% to 41%.

* Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain in Vermont by 24, 60% to 36%.

* The latest poll from the Pew Research Center shows Obama leading McCain nationally by two, 46% to 44%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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THE FOURTH-BRANCH QUESTION.... Actor Matt Damon recently said he wants Sarah Palin to answer a couple of basic questions, including whether she believes dinosaurs walked the earth 4,000 years ago, and whether she tried to ban books from her local library as mayor.

Those aren't bad questions at all, but given recent history, I'd also like to know if she considers the Office of the Vice President part of the Executive Branch of the federal government.

The Hill asked both Biden and Palin aides this fairly straightforward question. The Democrat didn't hesitate to offer a direct response. The Republican? Not so much.

"Unlike Dick Cheney, Joe Biden won't have to create a full employment plan for lawyers and scholars to clear up something that was unquestioned for about 200 years. The vice president is part of the executive branch, period. End of story," said Biden spokesman David Wade.

In turn, a spokesman for the Republican presidential campaign did not answer the question. Instead, he e-mailed remarks Palin gave at a campaign rally in Golden, Colo., on Monday.

Palin did not say what branch of government she believes the vice president's office is part of in those remarks.

Look, it's not a trick question. There's no reason to be evasive. If someone wants to be the VP, it's not unreasonable to make sure the prospective VP knows which branch of government he/she will be a part of. Indeed, after Cheney, it should be a required question for the indefinite future.

If Palin weren't entirely sure on a personal level, that might be almost understandable. She did, after all, recently tell a national television audience that she didn't understand what a vice president does all day. It's likely, then, that she isn't clued in on the controversy over Cheney's "fourth branch" self-designation.

But in this case, even her campaign aides hope to avoid committing the OVP to the executive branch. Palin already seems rather Cheney-like in her handling of the abuse-of-power scandal she's avoiding back in Alaska; we didn't really need another example to reinforce the similarities.

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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WHAT FLAILING LOOKS LIKE.... Is it me, or has John McCain's message become completely incoherent this week?

Yesterday, he got things started by insisting he would fire SEC Chairman Christopher Cox if president, which was odd since a) Cox isn't really to blame; and b) the president can't fire the SEC chair. From there, McCain told an audience, "Sen. Obama's own advisers are saying that the [economic] crisis will benefit him politically." Pressed for even a shred of evidence to back that up, McCain's campaign couldn't think of anything. It was just another instance of McCain getting caught in another foolish lie.

And then McCain decided to go after Obama's association with Franklin Raines.

Republican McCain released a new spot Thursday that quotes The Washington Post as saying Democrat Obama gets advice on mortgage and housing policy from a former Fannie Mae chief executive, Franklin Raines. [...]

Obama's campaign says Raines is not an Obama adviser and that McCain's campaign knows it because Raines said so in an e-mail earlier this week to Carly Fiorina, a top McCain adviser. Obama's campaign provided The Associated Press with a copy of the e-mail.

"Carly: Is this true?" Raines asks above a forwarded note informing him that Fiorina was on television saying he was an Obama housing adviser. "I am not an adviser to the Obama campaign. Frank." [...]

Obama spokesman Bill Burton ... said Obama only met Raines once briefly at an event, and that Raines sought an introductory meeting with Obama Senate aide Mike Strautmanis. At that meeting, Burton said no advice was sought from or given by Raines, who also had served as President Clinton's budget director.

"This is another flat-out lie from a dishonorable campaign that is increasingly incapable of telling the truth," Burton said. "Frank Raines has never advised Senator Obama about anything -- ever."

I'd just add that while the attack is plainly wrong, it's foolish even if we accept the attack at face value. If getting advice from an official at a troubled financial institution is a sign of bad judgment, then why is that two of McCain's top advisors include John Thain, from Merrill Lynch, and Martin Feldstein, who serves on AIG's board of directors?

The election is just 46 days away. Just as McCain's message should be getting tighter, clearer, and more persuasive, McCain seems to be getting more reckless, more scatterbrained, and less coherent.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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THE CULTURE OF 'LOBBYING AND INFLUENCE PEDDLING'.... As the presidential race has turned towards the economy and away from nonsense, John McCain has struggled to find his footing, and his lead in the polls has slipped. This morning, he tried to get back on track with a series of odd attacks.

"We've heard a lot of words from Senator Obama over the course of this campaign. But maybe just this once he could spare us the lectures, and admit to his own poor judgment in contributing to these problems. The crisis on Wall Street started in the Washington culture of lobbying and influence peddling, and he was square in the middle of it. [...]

"My friends, this is the problem with Washington. People like Senator Obama have been too busy gaming the system and haven't ever done a thing to actually challenge the system.

"At the beginning of this campaign he promised to raise taxes on your savings and investments. He said he won't raise taxes for most people but he has voted 94 times in his short Senate career for tax increases and against tax cuts. He said he would only tax the rich, but he voted this year to raise taxes on those making just $42,000. Senator Obama has simply not given Americans good reason to trust him with your tax dollars."

The line about Obama voting to raise taxes on those making $42,000 a year is a rather transparent lie, which was debunked months ago. The line about the 94 votes is also a rather transparent lie, which was also debunked months ago. (That really is the fundamental difference between McCain and his predecessors -- most candidates stop repeating lies after they've been exposed as lies.)

But putting all of that aside, I can't help but find it genuinely hilarious to hear McCain rail against the "Washington culture of lobbying and influence peddling," blame this culture for the Wall Street crisis, and insist that Obama is "square in the middle of it."

He couldn't be serious. McCain has 177 lobbyists working for him, either as aides, policy advisers, or fundraisers. Of the 177, 83 are Wall Street lobbyists, representing the very financial industry McCain is now railing against. McCain is now condemning influence peddling, while he had a high-priced corporate lobbyist overseeing his campaign strategy and simultaneously doing lobbying work from aboard McCain's campaign bus during the GOP primaries.

Who's in the middle of the "Washington culture of lobbying and influence peddling"?

For that matter, it's downright hysterical to hear McCain say that Obama's judgment has contributed to the crisis. This would be the same McCain who's teamed up with Phil Gramm -- who McCain has suggested would make a fine Treasury Secretary -- and who really does deserve blame for the current mess.

It's surprising how often the McCain campaign operates under the assumption that voters are idiots.

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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A PRESUMPTUOUS CELEBRITY.... Yesterday, in the midst of a speech, Sarah Palin told voters about what they could expect from a "Palin and McCain administration." Seriously, there's video of it.

What's more, ABC News' Jake Tapper added that he's heard Palin refer to John McCain as her "running mate," a designation Tapper said he's never heard a "VP nominee use when discussing the guy at the top of the ticket."

And just to add insult to injury, Jonathan Martin reports that twice this week, he's noticed a fair number of people leave campaign rallies after Palin speaks, not sticking around long enough to hear what John McCain has to say. It happened on Tuesday in Ohio, and again yesterday in Iowa.

"I look up, about five minutes into McCain's address and see a steady stream of people walking out of the rally," Radio Iowa's Kay Henderson reported from a McCain-Palin event in Cedar Rapids.

Taking these developments together, the two words that come to mind are "presumptuous" and "celebrity." Now, if I could only figure out why those two words seem so familiar....

Steve Benen 9:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD.... I've never fully understood the right's penchant for Hollywood bashing. Americans seem to like the entertainment industry quite a bit, and voters who might be swayed by cheap shots at movie stars are probably already inclined to back Republicans anyway.

Regardless, there are pointless attacks, and then there are hypocritical pointless attacks.

Here, for example, is John McCain this week.

"Just a little while ago, he flew off to Hollywood with a fundraiser for Barbra Streisand and his celebrity friends," Mr. McCain said of his opponent, Senator Barack Obama, his voice sounding strained at the end of the day but still dripping with scorn. "Let me tell you, my friends: There's no place I would rather be than here with the working men and women of Ohio."

And here is John McCain last month:

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.

So, McCain is slamming Obama for flying off to a Hollywood fundraiser with celebrity friends, just a few weeks after McCain flew off to Hollywood for a fundraiser with celebrity friends.

Honestly, most of the time, I get the sense the McCain campaign just doesn't think at all.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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TODD PALIN TO IGNORE SUBPOENA IN TROOPERGATE PROBE.... If I didn't know better, I might think Sarah Palin's gubernatorial administration has something to hide.

Gov. Sarah Palin's husband has refused to testify in the investigation of his wife's alleged abuse of power, and a key lawmaker said today that uncooperative witnesses are effectively sidetracking the probe until after Election Day.

Todd Palin, who participates in state business in person or by e-mail, was among 13 people subpoenaed by the Alaska Legislature. McCain-Palin presidential campaign spokesman Ed O'Callaghan announced today that Todd Palin would not appear, because he no longer believes the Legislature's investigation is legitimate.

Sarah Palin initially welcomed the investigation of accusations that she dismissed the state's public safety commissioner because he refused to fire her ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper. "Hold me accountable," she said.

But she has increasingly opposed it since Republican presidential candidate John McCain tapped her as his running mate. The McCain campaign dispatched a legal team to Alaska including O'Callaghan, a former top U.S. terrorism prosecutor from New York to bolster Palin's local lawyer.

At the risk of belaboring the point, let's not lose sight of the extent to which Palin has broken her word here. She vowed total cooperation, and the investigation enjoyed broad, bipartisan support. Since the McCain campaign got involved, Palin has decided she won't answer questions, subpoenaed state employees won't answer questions, and Palin's subpoenaed husband won't answer questions. Five Republicans in the Alaskan legislature, who never had a problem with the probe before, have even filed a lawsuit, asking a state judge to end the probe altogether.

This didn't stop Palin from boasting to voters this week, "We're going to make everything more open, and more accountable, and more attractive to those who want to serve." (There's no word on whether she was able to say the line with a straight face.)

State lawmakers will next decide how to respond to those who've blown off their subpoenas. Stay tuned.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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September 18, 2008
By: Hilzoy

Energy Expertise

Today, the person who "knows more about energy than probably anyone else in the United States of America" let slip some pearls of wisdom:

"Of course, it's a fungible commodity and they don't flag, you know, the molecules, where it's going and where it's not. But in the sense of the Congress today, they know that there are very, very hungry domestic markets that need that oil first. So, I believe that what Congress is going to do, also, is not to allow the export bans to such a degree that it's Americans who get stuck holding the bag without the energy source that is produced here, pumped here. It's got to flow into our domestic markets first."

I'm not sure I fully grasp that, though I am relieved to know that they, whoever they are, don't have to sit around flagging individual molecules all day long. I think, despite her saying that Congress is "not going to allow the export bans", that she is actually recommending such a ban. At any rate, what she says makes a lot more sense on the assumption that either the 'not' or the 'bans' was a slip than it does on the assumption that she thought that lifting nonexistent export bans would keep our oil here at home.

It seems pretty clear to me that Sarah Palin has no idea at all what she's talking about here. But let's pretend this is a serious statement, and consider it seriously. Who do we presently export oil to? Well: in 2007, the two main recipients of our oil were Mexico and Canada, who between them received some 170,716,000 barrels of what the Energy Information Administration calls "petroleum and products." That's nearly a third of our exports. But guess what? When you look at the analogous table of imports, who turns up in first and second place? Canada and Mexico again! They sold us 1,455,280,000 barrels between them in 2007, or about eight and a half times as much as we sold them. If you check crude oil alone, it turns out that all our exports in 2007 went to Canada, which was also our number one supplier, selling us nearly seventy times as much crude oil as we sold the Canadians.

Do you think that they would keep on selling us all that oil if we unilaterally stopped selling oil to them? Maybe they would, and maybe they wouldn't. Do you think Sarah Palin knows the answer? I hope so. It would be pretty strange for the nation's foremost expert on energy to come out in favor of an embargo without knowing whether or not it would cost us nearly 1.3 billion barrels of "petroleum and products" a day year (oops), including about 19% of our total crude oil imports. Annoying our neighbors so much that they cut off our oil supplies would, I suppose, be one way of helping us achieve energy independence, but it doesn't seem like a particularly good idea.

Call me cynical, though: I don't think Sarah Palin had any idea what she was talking about, any more than I think John McCain had any idea what he was talking about when he said she "knows more about energy than probably anyone else in the United States of America". Because if she does, we're in much deeper trouble than I had imagined.

Hilzoy 9:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

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

* Talk about a roller-coaster week: "Wall Street rallied Thursday, finding momentum at the end of a tough session, on talk that the government is working on a more permanent solution to absorbing bad debt. Also helping lead the advance: reports that China will cut out taxes on stock purchases. The Dow Jones industrial average added 410 points, or 3.9%. The Standard & Poor's 500 index jumped 4.3% and the Nasdaq composite gained 4.8%."

* Things in Afghanistan really aren't going well.

* Sen. Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska Republican, pretty much trashed Sarah Palin's qualifications for national office yesterday, and described one of the McCain campaign's arguments in support of Palin as "insulting to the American people."

* CNN and the AP picked up on McCain's problem with Spain.

* McCain's odd comments notwithstanding, the White House has confidence in SEC Chairman Chris Cox.

* Have I mentioned how cool it is to see Rachel Maddow doing great in the ratings?

* Joe Klein wonders why McCain would deliberately put a "chill in the relationship with one of our NATO allies simply because McCain misheard a question." I'm wondering the same thing.

* "When Joe Biden claimed wealthy Americans have a patriotic duty to pay more in taxes, he was absolutely right."

* Remember when U.S. Supreme Court rulings were influential around the world? Those were good times.

* Bill O'Reilly sure does say "Shut up" a lot.

* Timothy Egan has a fascinating look at how government works in Sarah Palin's Alaska.

* I sincerely hope Palin's position on rape kits in Alaska had nothing to do with emergency contraception.

* The APA has voted to prohibit members from participating in the torture of detainees. Good.

* Ben Smilowitz, executive director of the Disaster Accountability Project: "It's frustrating that the government can deliver $85 billion to bail out AIG, and they can't deliver ice in Texas."

* Why does the Republican Party struggle to connect with minority audiences? It might have something to do with the party's willingness to invite George "Macaca" Allen to a rally to help the Republican Party connect with minority audiences.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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'PREEMPTIVE LYING'.... This may be my single favorite press release of the entire presidential campaign. McCain campaign spokesperson Brian Rogers issued this statement:

In his rush to score political points on economic disaster, we've heard that at his next event in New Mexico, Senator Obama is about to distort the facts and attack John McCain's call for removing the Chairman of the SEC.

Rogers' concern, obviously, is that Obama would point out that McCain told voters today he would "fire" the chairman of the SEC, when in reality, that's outside the president's authority -- a fact McCain should have realized before tackling the subject.

Regardless, it's more entertaining to realize that the McCain campaign is criticizing Obama for something he might say, before he says it, accusing Obama of "distorting" the facts, before he's even spoken. In other words, the McCain campaign line is, "Obama might point out how McCain screwed up earlier, and if he does, he's being totally unfair -- because we say so."

Even by the McCain campaign's standards, this is surprisingly foolish. I know Schmidt & Co. must be kicking themselves for failing to check first to see if the president can fire the SEC chair, but attacking a speech they haven't heard? C'mon.

Greg Sargent asks, "Are we seeing the birth of a new McCain campaign doctrine of preemptive lying?" Apparently, so.

Steve Benen 5:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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BOB DOLE '08.... About a year ago, during the Republican primaries and long before it was clear who would emerge as the party's presidential nominee, it was common to hear John McCain's conservative critics equate him with Bob Dole.

Today, the New York Times' Adam Nagourney picks up on the same tack.

Senator John McCain's campaign events were once free-wheeling journeys marked by flashes of humor, candor and arch observations from the candidate about presidential politics -- and John McCain.... Not these days.

As Mr. McCain worked his way through Florida and Ohio as the Republican Party's nominee for president this week, he was a candidate transformed. The Arizona Republican unsmilingly raced through a series of relatively brief speeches, reading often from a Teleprompter, and served up a diet of the kind of sound-bite attacks that he used to dismiss with an eye-roll. [...]

These days, he sounds less like his old self than Bob Dole, another senator who ran for president in 1996, sounded in the closing days of his campaign -- speaking louder or repeating statements that he thinks might be overlooked.

"The American economy is in a crisis! It's in a crisis!"

McCain does have a habit of communicating the exact same way, taking phrases he thinks are important, and repeating them, a few times, hoping they'll be more persuasive that way.

The McCain campaign no doubt hopes to avoid the Dole comparisons, but the parallels are pretty obvious -- both were quite old during their campaigns, both were seriously injured during service in a war, both ran for president more than once, both have well-known nasty streaks, both are long-time Washington insiders, and both launched campaigns because they thought it was "their turn" to be president. This didn't work out well for Dole; we'll learn soon enough whether McCain meets a similar fate.

Regardless, if the Dole=McCain meme catches on, it would be very unhelpful to the Republican ticket.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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OBAMA'S IDEAS ARE GOOD ENOUGH TO STEAL.... Now there's a proposal for transparency that everyone can agree with.

Sarah Palin likes to tell voters around the country about how she "put the government checkbook online" in Alaska. On Thursday, Palin suggested she would take that same proposal to Washington.

"We're going to do a few new things also," she said at a rally in Cedar Rapids. "For instance, as Alaska's governor, I put the government's checkbook online so that people can see where their money's going. We'll bring that kind of transparency, that responsibility, and accountability back. We're going to bring that back to D.C."

What a good idea. Why didn't someone think of that before?

Oh wait, someone did. His name is Barack Obama.

In 2006 and 2007, Obama teamed up with Republican Sen. Tom Coburn to pass the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, also known as "Google for Government." The act created a free, searchable web site -- USASpending.gov -- that discloses to the public all federal grants, contracts, loans and insurance payments.

In June of this year, Obama and Coburn introduced new Senate legislation to expand the information available online to include details on earmarks, competitive bidding, criminal activities, audit disputes and other government information.

According to Sarah Palin, one of Obama's ideas from 2006 qualifies as one of the "new things" she'll do in 2009.

I guess her Federal Government 101 cram sessions aren't going very well.

Steve Benen 3:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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HOUSE REPUBLICAN THROWS HIS SUPPORT TO OBAMA.... There are 434 members of the House, and none of them has broken ranks to support the other party's presidential candidate. With that in mind, I found this pretty interesting.

Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, a maverick Republican from Maryland, endorsed Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama for president in an interview Wednesday with WYPR, Baltimore's National Public Radio station.

Gilchrest, who lost a primary campaign and is retiring from Congress, has already endorsed the Democrat running for his seat, Frank Kratovil. Justifying his endorsement of Obama, Gilchrest said that "we can't use four more years of the same kind of policy that's somewhat haphazard, which leads to recklessness."

Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), "have the breadth of experience. I think they're prudent. They're knowledgeable."

I can't help but notice that Gilchrest's endorsement of Obama/Biden came the same day as Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild's endorsement of McCain/Palin. One is a sitting Republican member of Congress, one is a member of the DNC's platform committee. Why is the former treated as less significant than the latter?

Maybe the Obama campaign should have arranged for a press conference for Gilchrest. Maybe they still might.

Steve Benen 3:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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FIRE CHRISTOPHER COX?.... John McCain has apparently decided he has to say something different and/or unique about the crisis on Wall Street, so he's come up with a new line: he wants to see Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox fired.

"The chairman of the SEC serves at the appointment of the president and has betrayed the public's trust. If I were president today, I would fire him," McCain says, according to excerpts for a speech on reforming the ailing U.S. financial markets he will deliver today in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

"The primary regulator of Wall Street, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) kept in place trading rules that let speculators and hedge funds turn our markets into a casino," McCain says."They allowed naked short selling -- which simply means that you can sell stock without ever owning it. They eliminated last year the uptick rule that has protected investors for 70 years. Speculators pounded the shares of even good companies into the ground."

I suppose this shameless grandstanding is preferable, at least politically, to explaining why the fundamentals of the economy are "strong" and why McCain was against the AIG bailout before he was for it, but only marginally.

First, the president cannot fire an SEC chair. It's procedurally impossible. As ABC News reported, "[W]hile the president appoints and the Senate confirms the SEC chair, a commissioner of an independent regulatory commissions cannot be removed by the president." That seems like the kind of thing McCain ought to know before spouting off on the subject.

Second, the SEC did allow all kinds of short selling, but that's legal under the federal regulatory system that John McCain -- and his advisor, Phil Gramm -- helped put in place. After more than a quarter of a century in Congress, has McCain ever proposed changing these laws and imposing stricter regulations? No. Has he ever, before today, criticized Cox's oversight of existing trading rules? Not as far as I can tell.

Third, I'm not an expert, but I'm fairly certain short selling is not the underlying cause of the current crisis. The sub-prime mortgage fiasco and over-leveraged banks are. If McCain wants to make a case for firing Cox, he should at least get the cause right.

Steve Benen 2:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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LET'S TALK ABOUT WHO'S 'INDECISIVE'.... John McCain's metamorphosis on economic matters has been a sight to behold. He was, literally just days ago, fiercely opposed to regulation of the financial industry and an opponent of government bailouts. As of yesterday, he's the exact opposite. It led ABC News to do this fairly devastating report last night.

It's almost as if McCain doesn't realize the networks have tapes of his public comments. On Tuesday morning, McCain told NBC, "We cannot bail AIG or anybody else." A few hours later, McCain told CNBC that we "have to" let AIG fail. The very next day, McCain reluctantly concluded that the AIG bailout was the only responsible thing to do. On Tuesday morning, he told NBC, "Of course I don't like excessive and unnecessary government regulation." The same morning, he told CBS, "Do I believe in excess government regulation? Yes."

The New York Times' Gail Collins, in a very sharp column, said, "Really, if McCain is going to keep changing into new people, the campaign should send out notices. (Come to a rally for the next president of the United States. Today he's a vegetarian!)... The whole transformation was fascinating in a cheap-thrills kind of way. It's not every day, outside of 'Incredible Hulk' movies, that you see somebody make this kind of turnaround in the scope of a few hours."

Confronted with the reality that McCain has been flip-flopping all over the place, seemingly with no economic message at all, the McCain campaign has responded by insisting that Barack Obama is "indecisive" on the Wall Street crisis, and "refusing" to take a firm stand. Seriously, that's the new argument. "Indecisive."

The Obama campaign responded, "Considering the fact that John McCain flatly opposed the bailout of AIG a day before he changed course and supported it, we're not sure why on earth the McCain campaign wants to have a debate about economic indecision."

Some days, I just can't figure out what the McCain campaign is thinking.

Steve Benen 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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By: Hilzoy

McCain Chose Vanity

One more comment on McCain's confusion about the Prime Minister of Spain: as I noted earlier, I think McCain simply did not know who the interviewer was talking about. This is striking, since she identified him repeatedly: "let's talk about Spain", "President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero", "the President of Spain", etc., etc.

However, that's not the explanation the McCain campaign is going with. The Washington Post reports:

"McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Sheunemann said McCain's answer was intentional.

"The questioner asked several times about Senator McCain's willingness to meet Zapatero (and id'd him in the question so there is no doubt Senator McCain knew exactly to whom the question referred). Senator McCain refused to commit to a White House meeting with President Zapatero in this interview," he said in an e-mail."

I think this is plainly false. If McCain knew exactly who the interviewer was talking about, it's a total mystery why he said: "I have a clear record of working with leaders in the hemisphere that are friends with us, and standing up to those who are not, and that's judged on the basis of the importance of our relationship with Latin America and the entire region." The only way to make sense of that remark is to suppose that McCain thought that the interviewer was asking about someone in Latin America -- not, I assume, because he doesn't know where Spain is, but because he was just confused as to who she was talking about.

Suppose that's right. If so, then Scheunemann's spin is designed to cover up for McCain's confusion. If so, that tells us something very important. Namely:

McCain and his campaign are willing to insult a foreign leader and damage an alliance, rather than admit to a moment of confusion.

Think about it. There are a lot of things that the campaign could have said about this incident, many of which are more plausible than what Scheunemann actually said. For instance, they could have said that McCain simply misheard the interviewer, and that of course he would be more than happy to meet with the Prime Minister of Spain. This might well be true; it would certainly be a lot more plausible than saying that his comments about leaders in the hemisphere were somehow responsive to a question about the Prime Minister of Spain. But it would have involved admitting a mistake, and possibly suggesting to some voters age-related concerns like hearing loss.

There are two basic responses to this predicament. First, admit the mistake anyways. Admitting mistakes is tough, but this one is pretty easy to minimize, and probably won't be that big a deal. In any case, the only thing that really suffers any kind of damage at all is McCain's vanity. Second, insist that McCain knew who the interviewer was talking about, and meant exactly what he said. In this case, you don't have to admit error; you just have to say that you really did mean to dis a foreign leader whom we are committed, by treaty, to defend, whose troops are presently fighting in Afghanistan, and whom we have absolutely no earthly reason not to have good relations with.

It's a choice between vanity and the interests of the country. McCain chose vanity. That's an important thing to know.

Hilzoy 12:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (70)

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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:

* John McCain has 83 Wall Street lobbyists on staff. Given all the railing he's done this week about the corruption, greed, and mismanagement on Wall Street, I can't help but find this amusing.

* Even Karl Rove thinks Palin was added to the ticket for political reasons.

* Richard Riordan, the former mayor of Los Angeles and a Republican, endorsed Obama yesterday.

* Rep. Don Young of Alaska eked out a victory in his Republican primary.

* In the latest national poll from New York Times/CBS, Obama leads McCain among registered voters by five (48% to 43%), and among likely voters by five (49% to 44%).

* In the latest national poll from Quinnipiac, Obama leads McCain among likely voters by four, 49% to 45%.

* The latest CNN poll shows Obama and McCain tied in Florida at 48% each.

* The latest CNN poll shows McCain leading Obama in North Carolina by one, 48% to 47%.

* The latest CNN poll shows Obama leading McCain in Ohio by two, 49% to 47%.

* The latest CNN poll shows Obama leading McCain in Wisconsin by three, 50% to 47%.

* The latest CNN poll shows McCain leading Obama in Indiana by six, 51% to 45%.

* Speaking of the Hoosier State, a new Indianapolis Star poll shows Obama ahead in Indiana by three, 47% to 44%.

* A new SurveyUSA poll shows Obama leading McCain in New Mexico by eight, 52% to 44%.

* Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain in Wisconsin by two, 48% to 46%.

* Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain in Oregon by four, 51% to 47%.

* The latest Field Poll in California shows Obama leading McCain by 16, 52% to 36%.

* Speaking of California, voters in the state don't appear anxious to ban gay marriages.

* Jeb Bush apparently hasn't been especially impressed with his brother's presidency.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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MCCAIN'S PAIN IN SPAIN.... Following up on an earlier item, the English-language version of John McCain's interview with El Pais is now available -- TPM was kind enough to put it in this YouTube version -- and listening to the audio makes it pretty clear that McCain was just hopelessly confused. (Aravosis posted a transcript of the relevant portion.)

The reporter kept trying to help him focus, explaining that she was referring specifically to Spain, but McCain kept talking about "leaders in the hemisphere." Still hoping to help McCain with his obvious confusion, she said, "OK, but I'm talking about Europe -- the president of Spain, would you meet with him?" McCain dodged the question, saying only, "I will reunite with any leader that has the same principles and philosophy that we do: human rights, democracy, and liberty. And I will confront those that don't."

McCain eventually said, "Honestly, I have to analyze our relationships, situations, and priorities" -- as if Spain, a long-time U.S. ally and NATO member, might not enjoy strong ties with a McCain administration. Yglesias responded, "You don't expect a presidential candidate to have an elaborate 'Spain policy' or anything, but Spain is a fellow democracy, a member of NATO and the EU, etc. It would be very strange for the United States to have anything other than a close relationship with Spain."

McCain's embarrassing confusion is already pretty major news in Spain today, but at this point, the only major U.S. outlets who've picked up on this are the online sections of Time and the Washington Post.

Forgetting Zapetero's name is almost forgivable, though hard to explain for a candidate who claims to be an expert in foreign policy. But the interviewer kept using the word "Spain." She even gave him a big hint with the word "Europe."

Let's also not lose sight of the broader pattern. McCain thinks the recent conflict between Russia and Georgia was "the first probably serious crisis internationally since the end of the Cold War." He thinks Iraq and Pakistan share a border. He believes Czechoslovakia is still a country. He's been confused about the difference between Sudan and Somalia. He's been confused about whether he wants more U.S. troops in Afghanistan, more NATO troops in Afghanistan, or both. He's been confused about how many U.S. troops are in Iraq. He's been confused about whether the U.S. can maintain a long-term presence in Iraq. He's been confused about Iran's relationship with al Qaeda. He's been confused about the difference between Sunni and Shi'ia. McCain, following a recent trip to Germany, even referred to "President Putin of Germany." All of this incoherence on his signature issue.

I'm curious. What do you suppose the reaction would be from the political establishment if Barack Obama had made these mistakes over the course of the campaign? What would reporters, pundits, and Republicans have to say about Obama's ability to lead a complex world in a time of war and uncertainty?

I think an intellectually honest person would agree that if Obama had made these same mistakes he'd be labeled "clueless" on foreign policy. So, why the double-standard?

Steve Benen 11:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

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OBAMA TAKES ON MCCAIN ON CHOICE.... For reasons that defy reason, a lot of voters are under the mistaken impression that John McCain is pro-choice, or at a minimum, moderate on abortion rights. The Obama campaign is taking steps to educate voters on the subject.

Democrat Barack Obama, who supports abortion rights, is only too happy to remind voters where McCain stands, but he tries to make his case without attracting too much attention. [...]

Obama is calling out McCain in ads that say the GOP nominee takes an ''extreme position on choice'' and ''will make abortion illegal.'' He is spreading his message through low-profile radio ads and campaign mailings, though, hoping to avoid being tagged as too liberal on a woman's right to choose to end a pregnancy. [...]

Obama's radio ad, running in Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and elsewhere, features nurse practitioner Valerie Baron telling voters: ''John McCain's out of touch with women today. McCain wants to take away our right to choose.''

Glossy fliers with the same messages fill the mailboxes of women in Florida, Virginia and other states.

The radio ad is pretty hard hitting. "Let me tell you: If Roe vs. Wade is overturned, the lives and health of women will be put at risk. That's why this election is so important," the nurse-practitioner says in the radio spot. "John McCain's out of touch with women today. McCain wants to take away our right to choose. That's what women need to understand. That's how high the stakes are." The ad then plays an exchange from "Meet the Press" in which McCain told Tim Russert that he favors "a constitutional amendment to ban all abortions." The ad concludes, "We can't let him take us back."

In recent cycles, it was Republicans hoping to stoke the culture-war fires by tying abortion rights to Democratic candidates, but in this cycle, it seems it's Obama who is quietly taking the offensive on the issue. Given this, the message is not without risk.

But I tend to think it's a good strategic idea for the Democratic ticket anyway. If there are a lot of independent voters and centrist Republican women inclined to consider McCain because they perceive him as a moderate, this is information that may tip the scales in Obama's favor. For that matter, as Noam Scheiber recently noted, "[T]his reminds women tempted by the Palin pick that voting Republican sets back a cause they care about deeply."

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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DREW JOINS THE ENOUGH CLUB.... It seemed unlikely that Elizabeth Drew, an accomplished journalist and author, would join the ever-growing "Enough" Club. She did, after all, write a glowing book about John McCain as recently as 2002, praising him as a principled, honorable man of conscience.

But now, Drew's done. After noting McCain's shift to the hard right, away from the 2000 persona that made him a hero to many, Drew explains that McCain "morph[ed] into just another panderer -- to Bush and the Republican Party's conservative base."

[S]ome very smart political analysts believed from the outset that McCain could win the nomination by sticking with his old self. And they still believe that McCain won the nomination not because he gave himself over to the base but as a result of a process of elimination of inferior candidates who divided up the conservative vote, as these observers had predicted. (These people insisted on anonymity because McCain is known in Republican circles to have a long memory and a vindictive streak.)

By then I had already concluded that that there was a disturbingly erratic side of McCain's nature. There's a certain lack of seriousness in him. And he does not appear to be a reflective man, or very interested in domestic issues. [...]

McCain's recent conduct of his campaign -- his willingness to lie repeatedly (including in his acceptance speech) and to play Russian roulette with the vice-presidency, in order to fulfill his long-held ambition -- has reinforced my earlier, and growing, sense that John McCain is not a principled man.

In fact, it's not clear who he is.

McCain is certainly losing friends fast, isn't he? Drew's condemnation comes just a couple of days after Richard Cohen's. Which came a couple of days after Stephen Chapman's. Which followed Michael Kinsley, Thomas Friedman, Sebastian Mallaby, Joe Klein, E.J. Dionne, Jr., Ruth Marcus, Mark Halperin, and Bob Herbert. Even David Brooks is getting there.

All admired John McCain, all held him in the highest regard, and all of have been disgusted as McCain has descended into a Republican hack. McCain probably doesn't care -- hacks can't be bothered to earn and keep respect -- but their collective revolt tells us quite a bit about McCain's transition.

Steve Benen 9:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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A PACKED HOUSE.... A few months ago, John McCain described his favorite setting -- town-hall meetings -- as the "essence of democracy." McCain seemed to revel in interacting with audiences, fielding all kinds of questions. That is, until the campaign reached crunch time -- before yesterday, McCain hadn't hosted a town-hall meeting since Aug. 20.

It was a pleasant surprise, then, to see McCain and Sarah Palin share a stage in Grand Rapids, Mich., for what's become a rare event. There was, however, a catch.

As she took questions from voters for the first time since she was tapped as Senator John McCain's running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin was asked here Wednesday about her "perceived lack of foreign policy experience.''

She responded with an invitation for people to play "stump the candidate" with her.

"As for foreign policy, you know, I think that I am prepared,'' Ms. Palin said at an enthusiastic town-hall-style meeting she held alongside Mr. McCain. "And I know that on Jan. 20, if we are so blessed as to be sworn into office as your president and vice president, certainly we'll be ready. I'll be ready. I have that confidence. I have that readiness. And if you want specifics with specific policy, or countries, go ahead and you can ask me. You can even play stump the candidate, if you want to.''

But before anyone could take her up on the offer, Mr. McCain stepped in to praise Ms. Palin's qualifications....

So, what was the catch? Unlike most town-hall events, which are open to the public, include diverse crowds, and no one needs an advance invitation, this event was for ticket-holders only. And the only way to get a ticket was through the local Republican Party, after an advance RSVP. No wonder Palin was prepared to play "stump the candidate" -- it was a very friendly crowd that had no interest in testing her.

It doesn't exactly sound like a vote of confidence in the candidates' ability to answer tough questions, does it?

Steve Benen 9:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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PALIN'S CONSTRUCTION BONDS.... The good news is, Sarah Palin felt confident enough yesterday to actually answer a question during a public appearance. The bad news, she answered a question during a public appearance.

During a quick stop at a diner in Cleveland, Ohio, Sarah Palin was asked for her reaction to the AIG bailout.

"Disappointed that taxpayers are called upon to bailout another one," she said. "Certainly AIG though with the construction bonds that they're holding and with the insurance that they are holding very, very impactful to Americans so you know the shot that has been called by the Feds it's understandable but very, very disappointing that taxpayers are called upon for another one." [...]

Though she has been on the campaign trail for nearly three weeks, Palin has yet to hold a press conference, and this morning's stop marked the first time she answered a question from the press on the fly, prompting concerned looks from staffers.

And why were staffers overcome with "concerned looks"? It might have something to do with Palin's belief that AIG holds "impactful" "construction bonds."

I'm afraid this doesn't make sense. As Kevin put it, "Construction bonds? What is she talking about? Maybe performance bonds? Not that that makes any more sense. What's more, I'm pretty sure that AIG's consumer and commercial insurance business wasn't in any danger. So why focus on that? I mean, if you're only going to give the press a single sentence, why not spit out something about counterparty risk and leave their jaws hanging?"

Hubris in an unprepared candidate is not a positive trait.

Putting this in the broader context, in just the last two weeks, we've seen Sarah Palin get confused about foreign policy, housing policy, entitlements, and now, economic policy. Dan Drezner, a conservative who doesn't understand Palin's appeal, added, "Her best skill displayed to date was delivering a speech off a teleprompter (not insignificant in politics, mind you) and she's apparently exaggerating that skill as well."

It occurs to me that first-time candidates for national office often struggle to get over the learning curve. Governors and senators will visit a coffee shop in Iowa City eight months before the caucuses, get confused about a policy detail, but improve as the campaign rolls on. They take their time, go through extensive briefings, and learn to get good. By the time the conventions are done, these candidates are supposed to be on the top of their game.

In this sense, Palin is in a situation where failure is almost impossible to avoid. She's never expressed any knowledge of national or international issues, she's never expressed any interest in national or international issues, and she's making humiliating mistakes under the glare of the national spotlight, with less than two months until Election Day.

With some time in government, Palin might become a less embarrassing candidate. But at this point, it's almost unfair for McCain to set her up for this kind of fiasco.

Steve Benen 8:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT GEOGRAPHY.... My friend Hilzoy showed great restraint last night, choosing not to post an item on this, waiting to see how it would ultimately shake out. Fair enough. I think at this point, however, the available evidence suggests John McCain has committed yet another fairly serious foreign policy gaffe.

Late Wednesday night, news made its way from the other side of the Atlantic that John McCain, in an interview with a Spanish outlet, had made a series of bizarre responses to a question regarding that country's prime minister.

"Would you be willing to meet with the head of our government, Mr. Zapatero?" the questioner asked, in an exchange now being reported by several Spanish outlets.

McCain proceeded to launch into what appeared to be a boilerplate declaration about Mexico and Latin America -- but not Spain -- pressing the need to stand up to world leaders who want to harm America.

"I will meet with those leaders who are our friends and who want to work with us cooperatively," according to one translation. The reporter repeated the question two more times, apparently trying to clarify, but McCain referred again to Latin America.

Finally, the questioner said, "Okay, but I'm talking about Europe -- the president of Spain, would you meet with him?" The Senator offered only a slight variance to his initial comment. "I will reunite with any leader that has the same principles and philosophy that we do: human rights, democracy, and liberty. And I will confront those that don't [have them]."

I don't speak Spanish, so I'm not in a position to report on the audio of the interview, but Aravosis is fluent, and he reached an important conclusion: "McCain didn't appear to know that Spain was in Europe, or that the leader of Spain was named Zapatero, even after he was told that Zapatero was the leader of Spain."

Josh Marshall, who broke the story and has done a lot of the heavy lifting, explored the various possibilities: "The great majority [of those who have weighed in] appear to think the McCain was simply confused and didn't know who Zapatero was -- something you might bone up on if you were about to do an interview with the Spanish press. The assumption seems to be that since he'd already been asked about Castro and Chavez that McCain assumed Zapatero must be some other Latin American bad guy. A small minority though think that McCain is simply committed to an anti-Spanish foreign policy since he's still angry about Spain pulling its troops out of Iraq."

The options aren't appealing. Either McCain was strikingly confused about Spain's location and leadership, or he was deliberately taking a provocative and overly aggressive line towards a European and NATO ally.

As of very early this morning, Josh had tracked down another audio version from a Miami radio station, which makes it easier to hear McCain's English responses. They only reinforced what appeared to be true initially: "It's still a bit difficult to hear McCain since the translator is speaking simultaneously. But you can hear most of what he says. It's pretty clear that McCain doesn't remember who Zapatero is. And he keeps referring to his approach to Latin America even after the interview keeps pointing that she's asking him a question a Spain, which is actually in Europe."

What's more, the Spanish press is treating this as a pretty humiliating gaffe.

I suspect the line from U.S. political reporters will be the same as their response to Palin's "Bush Doctrine" flap -- this won't matter because most Americans may not realize that Spain is in Europe, and the typical voter doesn't know who Zapatero is, either.

I'd argue that this misses the point. To hear McCain tell it, his principal qualification as a presidential candidate is his expertise on foreign policy. He was sitting down with a major Spanish news outlet -- presumably he'd been prepped, at least a little -- as part of his outreach to Latino voters. And McCain was, apparently, clueless.

That's not ignorance we can believe in.

Steve Benen 7:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

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September 17, 2008

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

* The federal government effectively took control of AIG last night.

* Investors weren't impressed -- the market fell 450 points today.

* That's quite an attack: "Attackers armed with automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and at least one suicide car bomb assaulted the U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital on Wednesday. Sixteen people were killed, including six assailants, officials said."

* The House passed a new energy bill last night, which includes expanded coastal drilling opportunities.

* Happy Constitution Day.

* In case you needed a reminder, Michael Kinsley explains, once again, that Democratic presidents really are better for the economy than Republican presidents. He's got charts to prove it.

* The White House was asked today whether the fundamentals of the economy are strong. The president's press secretary didn't want to answer the question.

* Palin defended McCain's "verbiage" on Fox News.

* The hack of Palin's email account appears to be legit.

* As a rule, McCain's rhetoric shouldn't sound like Herbert Hoover's.

* There's a renewed interest in McCain's medical records.

* CNN's Alex Castellanos really doesn't seem to understand Daily Kos and MoveOn.org.

* Dan Quayle thinks liberals are afraid of "effective conservatives" like Sarah Palin -- and Dan Quayle.

* Mitt Romney's hypocrisy knows no bounds.

* The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus notices that John McCain has been lying an awful lot.

* Welcome back, Brian Beutler. I know I'm not the only one who missed you.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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PALIN VETTING -- THREE WEEKS LATER.... A week ago today, the McCain campaign unveiled a new ad that argued the Obama campaign was sending researchers, represented by wolves, to Alaska to look for embarrassing information on Sarah Palin. I'm not sure what the point of it was -- researching one's opponent is pretty standard stuff in a presidential campaign -- but the McCain campaign wanted to present itself as some kind of victim, so they went with the ad.

Looking back, though, it appears the McCain campaign had it backwards.

McCain's campaign has sent at least one dozen researchers and lawyers to Alaska to pore over Palin's background, ready to respond to questions about her tenure as governor and mayor of Wasilla, a small town outside Anchorage. [Taylor Griffin, a former Treasury Department spokesman in the Bush administration] has been leading the team in Alaska, which includes operatives of the Republican National Committee.

I'll never really understand why McCain didn't think to do this before inviting Palin onto the ticket, but as we know, the move was about shameless politics and was done at the last minute.

As for last week's ad, and the charges that Obama researchers were looking into Palin's background, Christopher Orr noted that it looks like the McCain campaign was "crying wolf."

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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A MCCAIN STAFF MEETING.... If I didn't know better, I might think Barack Obama enjoys getting off the ropes and going on the offensive.

In a speech in Elko, Nevada, this afternoon, Obama relayed the story about John McCain, in the midst of a financial meltdown, boasting that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong." Obama responded today, "But it sounds like he got a little carried away, because yesterday, John McCain actually said that if he's President, he'll take on the -- and I quote -- 'ol' boys network' in Washington. I am not making this up. This is someone who's been in Congress for 26 years -- who put seven of the most powerful Washington lobbyists in charge of his campaign -- and now he tells us that he's the one who will take on the ol' boy network. The ol' boy network? In the McCain campaign, that's called a staff meeting."

That's a good line. Expect to hear it again.

Obama also went after McCain's proposal for "a high-level commission" to study the economic crisis. Obama told Nevadans today, "[Y]esterday, John McCain's big solution to the crisis we're facing is -- get ready for it -- a commission. That's Washington-speak for 'we'll get back to you later' Folks, we don't need a commission to figure out what happened. We know what happened. Too many in Washington and on Wall Street weren't minding the store. CEOs got greedy. Lobbyists got their way. Politicians sat on their hands until it was too late. We don't need a commission to tell us how we got into this mess, we need a President who will lead us out of this mess -- and that's the kind of President I intend to be."

I'm glad to see Obama follow up on McCain's commission idea. It's the kind of proposal most voters probably see as a hollow, buck-passing exercise. It becomes all the more significant when one realizes McCain has literally nothing else to offer when it comes to the crisis on Wall Street -- he says he's rediscovered his love of regulation, but he won't offer any details.

A commission in response to a financial meltdown is pretty humiliating. The McCain campaign probably put the idea out there before thinking it through, and probably regrets it now.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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'TROOPERGATE' HEATS UP.... I'm not sure why Sarah Palin's "Troopergate" scandal isn't getting more play right now. The still largely unknown Republican VP nominee is in the midst of a fairly serious ethics controversy, and after giving her word to cooperate as part of a transparent process, Palin and her team are acting like they have a lot to hide. Usually, for the national media, this would be like waving red meat in front of a hungry dog.

Newsweek reports that Ed O'Callaghan, a former U.S. Attorney dispatched to Alaska by the McCain campaign, is actively trying to shut the investigation down.

The AP reports that Alaska's Republican state attorney general is blocking state employees from honoring legislative subpoenas, and explained yesterday that the officials are refusing to testify as part of the investigation.

TPM's Zachary Roth reports that Alaskan Republicans have enlisted out-of-state, right-wing lawyers to file suit, hoping to halt the investigation.

As we talked about yesterday, Palin is now refusing to cooperate with the investigation she'd vowed to cooperate with, and is claiming executive privilege to shield her gubernatorial emails from scrutiny from investigators.

And even conservative Alaskans are surprised by the new-found, McCain-driven efforts to destroy Walt Monegan's reputation.

You really can't experience the full effect of Monday's news conference featuring Palin spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton unless you hear it for yourself. Stapleton passionately attacked former Commissioner of Public Safety Walt Monegan. Her rhetoric was plain, desperate, and obvious. Her tone, pure shrill.

With intensity, urgency, and alarm in her voice, Stapleton described Monegan's behavior as commissioner as egregious insubordination, full of obstructionist conduct and a brazen refusal to follow instructions.

Did Walt Monegan, former Marine, and lifetime crime fighter deserve this? Of course not.

But history has proven, get in the way of Sarah Barracuda's political ambition, and you won't know what hit you.

In a reasonable political environment, these circumstances would create a genuine feeding frenzy. We have an ethics scandal, involving a candidate for national office who appears to have lied, and who keeps changing her story. We have promises of cooperation, followed by complete and total obduracy. We have powerful Republicans converging to shut down a legitimate investigation.

We have, in other words, a serious political scandal, which a presidential campaign is doing its best to obstruct. Where's the outrage?

Steve Benen 3:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

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MCCAIN'S CRYSTAL BALL.... To hear John McCain tell it, when it comes to the Wall Street crisis, he deserves credit, not for taking steps to prevent it, but for knowing it was coming.

On CBS's "The Early Show" yesterday, McCain said, "[T]wo years ago I warned that the oversight of Fannie and Freddie was terrible, that we were facing a crisis because of it, or certainly serious problems.... [T]he influence that Fannie and Freddie had in the inside-the-beltway, old-boy network, which led to this kind of corruption is unacceptable, and I
warned about it a couple of years ago."

Evidence to support McCain's gift of foresight is surprisingly thin. In fact, evidence to the contrary is much easier to come by.

ABC's Jake Tapper found an interview McCain did in New Hampshire, shortly before the Republican presidential primary, on the seriousness and the dimensions of the subprime mortgage crisis. McCain conceded that he didn't see the mortgage crisis coming.

"I don't know the dimensions of this. It's hard to know what the dimensions are.... [I]n this whole new derivative stuff, and SIBs and all of this kind of new ways of packaging mortgages together and all that is something that frankly I don't know a lot about.

"But I do rely on a lot of smart people that I have that are both in my employ and acquaintances of mine. And most of them did not anticipate this. Most of them, I mean I can find some that did. But, a guy that's on my staff named Doug Holtz-Eakin, who was once the head of the Office of Management and Budget, said that there was nervousness out there. There's nervousness. There was nervousness that we had such a long period of prosperity without a downturn because of the history of our economy. But I don't know of hardly anybody, with the exception of a handful, that said 'wait a minute, this thing is getting completely out of hand and is overheating.'

"So, I'd like to tell you that I did anticipate it, but I have to give you straight talk, I did not."

Funny, he seems to have a far different message now. I wonder why that is?

Steve Benen 2:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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ELITISM.... In general, the notion that a Democrat that few Americans have ever heard of is prepared to support John McCain is pretty inconsequential. There are some high-profile Republicans, including Iowa's Jim Leach, backing Barack Obama, so the notion of a low-profile Democrat breaking party ranks seems largely forgettable.

But a lot of news outlets seem to be taking this pretty seriously, so it's probably worth taking a closer look.

Lynn Forester de Rothschild, a prominent Hillary Clinton supporter and member of the Democratic National Committee's Platform Committee, will endorse John McCain for president on Wednesday, her spokesman tells CNN.

The announcement will take place at a news conference on Capitol Hill, just blocks away from the DNC headquarters. Forester will "campaign and help him through the election," the spokesman said of her plans to help the Republican presidential nominee.

Explaining her distaste for Obama, Forester said, "I feel like he is an elitist."

Let me get this straight. Lynn Forester de Rothschild, who tends to go by "Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild," is the CEO of an international holding company. She's married to Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, a British financier and a member of the prominent Rothschild banking family of England. She splits her time living in London and New York.

And she's backing John McCain, a multimillionaire who has lost track of how many homes he owns, because she perceives Obama as "an elitist."

I think D-Day had the right response: "Pardon me while I laugh hysterically for the next 10 minutes."

Steve Benen 1:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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THE EXPECTATIONS GAME.... Believe it or not, the first presidential debate is next week. With that in mind, the drive to set expectations is on.

Four years ago, the Bush campaign knew exactly how to play the game. Matthew Dowd, the Bush-Cheney campaign's chief strategist, told the Washington Post that John Kerry "is very formidable, and probably the best debater ever to run for president." "I'm not joking," Dowd added. "I think he's better than Cicero," the ancient Roman orator.

The goal, obviously, was to build up expectations that Kerry couldn't meet. It's common sense -- partisans on both sides want the public to expect their guy to be average and other guy to be great.

I found it odd, then, that Frank Donatelli, the deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee, seemed to have this backwards while talking to the National Review.

"Starting early next week, I think you'll see a lot of interest in Friday's debate. It may draw the highest numbers we've ever seen, and I think that for the v.p. debate, you'll see a tremendous amount of interest. We feel good about that. Senator McCain is much better at giving answers off the cuff, and Obama has some trouble when he doesn't have his teleprompter."

I see this a lot in far-right circles, this notion that Obama is a clumsy speaker when he doesn't have a teleprompter. It seems like a silly thing to say given that Obama tends to do extremely well with a teleprompter, while McCain is pretty clumsy whether he has a teleprompter or not. Indeed, if Obama needed a script to get through a debate, voters might have noticed over the course of dozens of debates during the Democratic nominating process.

But more importantly, the RNC's message actually helps the Obama campaign by raising expectations for McCain and lowering them for Obama.

As Oliver Willis, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, put it, "Folks, this is panic time! Sen. Obama might not even be able to form words as Sen. McCain verbally pounds him to a bloody pulp. It's gonna be a moider. Remember, Barack Obama simply cannot debate without a teleprompter. John McCain will talk circles around him. Make sure you tell that to everyone you know. Oh, and make sure they tune into the debate."

Steve Benen 1:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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DRUDGE STILL, INEXPLICABLY, RULES THEIR WORLD.... The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza has an odd item today, arguing in support of the notion that the Drudge Report is "the single most influential source for how the presidential campaign is covered in the country."

In the banner headline spot for most of the day was a picture of entertainer Barbra Streisand touting a Beverly Hills fundraiser for Barack Obama -- not exactly the sort of headline that the Illinois senator wants as chum for the cable channels 49 days before the election.

Two other stories never merited attention from Drudge: a claim by a senior aide to John McCain that the Arizona senator had invented the BlackBerry and a statement by McCain surrogate Carly Fiorina that neither McCain nor Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would be equipped to serve as CEO of a major U.S. company.

As Cillizza describes it, Drudge picks stories to highlight, the media follows Drudge's lead, and cable channels use his site as a de facto assignment editor. Except in this case, Cillizza probably didn't pick the best examples to bolster his case -- as Greg Sargent explained, the networks didn't care about the Streisand story at all, and news outlets were all over the Fiorina story.

The Post's Cillizza added that Drudge has been aggressive in casting the Republican ticket in the most favorable light possible, which Cillizza says is a direct response to the media trying to scrutinize Sarah Palin's qualifications for national office. Heaven forbid.

Cillizza quotes anonymous Drudge readers praising Drudge for challenging media "bias," and then cites a Karl Rove acolyte lauding Drudge's "nose for news."

Reading Cillizza's piece, I'm just not sure what the point is. Maybe it's because I've never read or cared about Drudge, but I have no idea what Cillizza is driving at. That Drudge is widely read by television producers? Yes, I suppose that's true, but we knew that. That Drudge readers think Drudge is really important? Sure, I suppose they do. That Drudge thinks news outlets have a liberal bias? Yes, Drudge apparently does think that, as do countless other conservative bloggers. So?

I wonder if Cillizza is failing to connect the dots -- how is it that media outlets are being driven by Drudge, and being skewered by Drudge for their so-called bias, at the same time? In other words, if the cable networks are getting their ideas from Drudge, what is it, exactly, that Drudge is rebelling against? How is he speaking truth to power if he's helping call the shots in the first place?

There are interesting questions to be considered in this media dynamic, but I can't help but think Cillizza missed them altogether. Greg Sargent has a better idea, suggesting it might be a good time for "Drudge-ologists" to question whether media figures are wise to "take their cues from a confirmed serial fact-inventor."

Is this, you know, a bad thing? What does it say about the business? Don't the same reporters and editors who proclaim Drudge's influence make editorial decisions to follow him when they do? Isn't one of the dirty secrets of the profession that reporters and editors on occasion actually tailor their stories to get Drudge links?

If Drudge is going to consume our attention, how about a real discussion of Drudge and what the Drudge phenomenon says about the journalism profession -- one that goes beyond the narrow question of how influential he is?

Sounds like a good idea to me.

Steve Benen 12:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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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 mysterious and deceptive right-wing polling, intended to drive down Jewish support for Barack Obama, was launched by the Republican Jewish Coalition.

* The latest Ipsos/McClatchy poll shows Obama and McCain tied nationally at 45% each. Nader is third with 2%, followed by Barr with 1%.

* TPM reports, "A group of civil rights lawyers is launching what it bills as the largest voter-protection effort in American history, planning to raise and spend millions of dollars to station hundreds of lawyers and thousands of volunteers at polling places across the country to help voters having trouble with the polls on Election Day." The project is called, "Election Protection."

* Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain in New York by 13, 55% to 42%.

* Research 2000 shows Obama leading McCain in Vermont by 19, 55% to 36%.

* Quinnipiac shows Obama leading McCain in New Jersey by 3, 48% to 45%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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ANOTHER MCCAIN REINVENTION UNDERWAY.... Yesterday, on the "Today" show, John McCain rejected the notion of government intervention to support AIG, saying, "I do not believe that the American taxpayer should be on the hook for AIG." NBC's Matt Lauer asked, "So, if we get to the point, in the middle of the week when AIG might have to file for bankruptcy, they're on their own?" McCain replied, "Well, they're on their own."

This morning on "Good Morning America," McCain took a far different line on the bailout. "I didn't want to do that. And I don't think anybody I know wanted to do that. But there are literally millions of people whose retirement, whose investment, whose insurance were at risk here," McCain said.

It was yet another reminder that when it comes to addressing trying economic times, McCain has to pretend he never believed all of the things he's always believed.

A decade ago, Sen. John McCain embraced legislation to broadly deregulate the banking and insurance industries, helping to sweep aside a thicket of rules established over decades in favor of a less restricted financial marketplace that proponents said would result in greater economic growth.

Now, as the Bush administration scrambles to prevent the collapse of the American International Group (AIG), the nation's largest insurance company, and stabilize a tumultuous Wall Street, the Republican presidential nominee is scrambling to recast himself as a champion of regulation to end "reckless conduct, corruption and unbridled greed" on Wall Street. [...]

McCain hopes to tap into anger among voters who are looking for someone to blame for the economic meltdown that threatens their home values, bank accounts and 401(k) plans. But his past support of congressional deregulation efforts and his arguments against "government interference" in the free market by federal, state and local officials have given Sen. Barack Obama an opening to press the advantage Democrats traditionally have in times of economic trouble.

This is more than just about giving Obama an opening; it's principally about McCain trying to reinvent himself on the fly, hoping no one notices.

[In 1999], McCain had joined with other Republicans to push through landmark legislation sponsored by then-Sen. Phil Gramm (Tex.), who is now an economic adviser to his campaign. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act aimed to make the country's financial institutions competitive by removing the Depression-era walls between banking, investment and insurance companies.

That bill allowed AIG to participate in the gold rush of a rapidly expanding global banking and investment market. But the legislation also helped pave the way for companies such as AIG and Lehman Brothers to become behemoths laden with bad loans and investments.

McCain now condemns the executives at those companies for pursuing the ambitions that the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act made possible.

In other words, McCain personally gave the financial industry a green ligh