Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 31, 2008

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

* The good news is the Dow finished up about 144 points for the day. The bad news is the Dow lost 14% of its value for the month, making October 2008 among the worst on record.

* Al Gore returns to the scene of the crime.

* If you missed it, Rachel Maddow's interview with Obama was excellent, and went beyond the predictable questions that dominate typical candidate interviews. Take a look.

* When Liddy Dole falls in a ditch, she keeps digging.

* According to House Minority Leader John Boehner, Bush's Justice Department is biased ... against Republicans. (One day, at some point in the distant future, congressional Republicans will find and choose sensible leaders. I'm genuinely looking forward to it.)

* For those Americans making under $100,000, and most do, Obama's tax cut is clearly bigger than McCain's.

* Even now, Palin won't say if she'll vote for convicted felon Ted Stevens.

* Under the circumstances, I think it's fair to describe Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) as "scandal-plagued."

* Bill O'Reilly is a legend in his own mind.

* Fivethirtyeight has an interesting photo montage of McCain campaign field offices.

* Depending on how things go next week, we're likely to hear a lot more from a guy named Josh Segall, who's running in Alabama's 3rd congressional district.

* Drudge's influence really has waned.

* Bill Kristol bites the hand that feeds, blasting his employer, the New York Times.

* Obama is drawing a lot of support from newspaper editorial boards.

* Obama is drawing even more support from college newspaper editorial boards.

* And finally, it's with sadness that I note the death of the legendary Louis "Studs" Terkel, who passed away today at his Chicago home. He was 96.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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By: Hilzoy

Bunny Ears Update

When last I wrote about Bill Sali (R-ID 01), he was making bunny ears at his opponent's staff while they were being interviewed. The time before that, he was claiming that "Forty percent of the mass of every tree in the forest is crude oil." In devastating news for humorists everywhere, it looks like he might finally be getting into electoral trouble:

"CQ Politics, which takes past voting behavior and demographics into account in handicapping elections, has held the Idaho 1 race at a very tenuous Leans Republican rating, meaning Sali had an edge but an upset by Minnick was a plausible scenario. But the growing financial disparity between the parties in this contest -- and the fact that Minnick had a 51 percent to 45 percent lead in an Oct. 18-19 poll by SurveyUSA, the only published independent poll to date in the race -- has prompted a rating change to No Clear Favorite."

But just to make up for this news, the article I just cited notes one Sali gem that I wasn't aware of:

"He also introduced a bill proposing to weaken Earth's gravity that was intended to lampoon Democratic-led efforts to raise the minimum wage, calling the two proposals equally absurd."

Much to my chagrin, I find that Sali did not actually introduce the bill, though he did draft it (pdf). Still, it's the thought that counts.

Hilzoy 4:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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THIS IS CNN.... For reasons that I can't quite figure out, CNN has decided to devote an entire program this weekend to how conservatives -- and just conservatives -- are looking at the election. National Journal, listing all of the weekend's political programming, had this item:

Election Countdown: View from the Right features Townhall.com's Amanda Carpenter, Washington Times' Brian DeBose, Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes and ex-Romney press sec. Kevin Madden (CNN, SAT, 5pm).

There are a couple of things wrong with this. First, there apparently is no "Election Countdown: View from the Left." As Kyle at Right Wing Watch noted, "It seems that CNN has decided that the weekend before the election is as good a time as any to give conservative commentators an hour of free airtime to lay out their agenda. If CNN is also planning on giving liberals an hour to talk about the election, I haven't heard anything about it." (I have a call into CNN, but as far as I can tell, the right will get an hour, and the left will get nothing.)

I'm trying to imagine what the response would be if CNN announced it was giving an hour of programming to a progressive look at the election, 72 hours before voters headed to the polls, and then had no similar program for conservatives. We'd probably hear quite a bit about boycotts and FCC complaints.

Second, "Election Countdown: View from the Right" is being hosted by David Brody, the in-house correspondent for TV preacher Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network. CBN is, of course, the network in which Robertson claims to heal diseases through the television, spews radical rhetoric about groups he hates, tells people who can't afford it to send him their money, and where Robertson and Jerry Falwell blamed 9/11 on Americans.

In fact, Brody recently bragged that by appearing on networks like CNN as often he does, he has the chance to spread the Gospel and win converts for Christianity.

So, to summarize, CNN is giving the right an hour of programming, three days before the election, handing the reins to a televangelist's pundit, who wants to take advantage of "witnessing opportunities" in the mainstream media, so viewers can hear what the right thinks of the election.

It's quite a liberal media.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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By: Hilzoy

A Chorus Of Concord

It's not every day that Paul Krugman and Martin Feldstein (head of Reagan's Council of Economic Advisors and an advisor to the McCain campaign) find themselves in complete agreement. Feldstein:

"With the Fed's benchmark interest rate down to 1 percent, there is no scope for an easier monetary policy to stop the downward spiral in aggregate demand. (...)

The only way to prevent a deepening recession will be a temporary program of increased government spending. Previous attempts to use government spending to stimulate an economic recovery, particularly spending on infrastructure, have not been successful because of long legislative lags that delayed the spending until a recovery was well underway. But while past recessions lasted an average of only about 12 months, this downturn is likely to last much longer, providing the scope for successful countercyclical spending."

Krugman:

"One of the high points of the semester, if you're a teacher of introductory macroeconomics, comes when you explain how individual virtue can be public vice, how attempts by consumers to do the right thing by saving more can leave everyone worse off. The point is that if consumers cut their spending, and nothing else takes the place of that spending, the economy will slide into a recession, reducing everyone's income.

In fact, consumers' income may actually fall more than their spending, so that their attempt to save more backfires -- a possibility known as the paradox of thrift.

At this point, however, the instructor hastens to explain that virtue isn't really vice: in practice, if consumers were to cut back, the Fed would respond by slashing interest rates, which would help the economy avoid recession and lead to a rise in investment. So virtue is virtue after all, unless for some reason the Fed can't offset the fall in consumer spending.

I'll bet you can guess what's coming next.

For the fact is that we are in a liquidity trap right now: Fed policy has lost most of its traction. It's true that Ben Bernanke hasn't yet reduced interest rates all the way to zero, as the Japanese did in the 1990s. But it's hard to believe that cutting the federal funds rate from 1 percent to nothing would have much positive effect on the economy. In particular, the financial crisis has made Fed policy largely irrelevant for much of the private sector: The Fed has been steadily cutting away, yet mortgage rates and the interest rates many businesses pay are higher than they were early this year.

The capitulation of the American consumer, then, is coming at a particularly bad time. But it's no use whining. What we need is a policy response. (...)

No, what the economy needs now is something to take the place of retrenching consumers. That means a major fiscal stimulus. And this time the stimulus should take the form of actual government spending rather than rebate checks that consumers probably wouldn't spend."

Likewise: Larry Summers, Ben Bernanke, Joseph Stiglitz (pdf), Nouriel Roubini, etc.

Here's a handy chart detailing which measures give us the most stimulus bang for the buck (h/t):

Photobucket

Hilzoy 3:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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REAGAN'S COS JOINS THE OBAMACANS.... If one were to do a poll, and ask voters who Ken Duberstein is, I suspect the number would be rather small. In this sense, the notion of him joining the growing list of Obama-endorsing Republicans would seem to lack a certain political salience.

But the key to this one is Duberstein's title: Ronald Reagan's chief of staff.

Former Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein told CNN's Fareed Zakaria Friday he intends to vote for Democrat Barack Obama this Tuesday.

So, on the one hand, we have the McCain campaign and its cohorts working assiduously to convince voters that Obama is terrorist-sympathizing Marxist. On the other, we have Obama getting endorsements from Ronald Reagan's national security advisor, solicitor general, and White House chief of staff.

And Duberstein joins, of course, former Sen. Larry Pressler, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Gov. William Weld, former Gov. Arne Carlson, Charles Fried, Scott McClellan , and Ken Adelman as notable Republicans who've announced their support for Obama over the last couple of weeks.

I doubt this will affect the McCain campaign's smear efforts, but for those paying even a little attention, it's tough to characterize Obama as a radical leftist when high-profile Republicans -- including top officials from Reagan's White House -- keep announcing their support for him.

On a related note, Duberstein was on MSNBC this morning, questioning McCain's judgment for having chosen Sarah Palin for the Republican ticket. He had one real gem that makes the clip worth watching -- he said McDonald's subjects its employees to more vetting than McCain did for Palin. Ouch.

Steve Benen 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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AS NASTY AS SHE WANTS TO BE.... Sarah Palin sees her free-speech rights under fire from journalists who've highlighted her personal attacks against Barack Obama.

Palin told WMAL-AM that her criticism of Obama's associations, like those with 1960s radical Bill Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, should not be considered negative attacks. Rather, for reporters or columnists to suggest that it is going negative may constitute an attack that threatens a candidate's free speech rights under the Constitution, Palin said.

"If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations," Palin told host Chris Plante, "then I don't know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media."

Let's unpack this a bit.

If I understand her correctly -- and with Palin, it's sometimes tough to understand her general incoherence -- the governor believes she should make scurrilous, dishonest, and personal attacks against Democrats. She's afraid, however, that reporters might tell voters she's making scurrilous, dishonest, and personal attacks, and worse, that voters might recoil from her vicious style of campaigning.

And if that happens, politicians in the future might hesitate before launching scurrilous, dishonest, and personal attacks of their own. What a brutal "chilling effect" that would be.

So, as Palin sees it, the appropriate solution would be for her to accuse Obama of "palling around with terrorists," and for the media to simply pass that along without scrutiny. It's her job to wage vicious smear campaigns, and it's the media's job not to tell anyone she's waging vicious smear campaigns.

And if reporters disagree, and point out reality to voters, it undermines her First Amendment rights.

I realize far-right activists think Palin is a great leader and the future of the Republican Party. I just can't figure out why.

Steve Benen 1:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (77)

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PEOPLE LIKE SPREADING THE WEALTH.... The past couple of weeks, the McCain campaign has made some rather odd assumptions about Americans' perceptions of wealth. Ever since Barack Obama mentioned in passing that everyone benefits when we "spread the wealth around," the McCain campaign has operated under the assumption that this is so scandalous, it's worth betting a presidential campaign on.

This week, for example, McCain and Palin began calling Obama "Barack the Wealth Spreader" and the "Redistributor in Chief."

The problem for the Republican campaign, though, is that Americans -- who've seen their real wages decline over the last decade and who haven't benefited at all from Bush's tax breaks for the wealthy -- actually like the idea of spreading the wealth around.

Gallup has been asking Americans periodically for over 20 years whether the distribution of money and wealth in this country is "fair," or whether they should be "more evenly distributed among a larger percentage of the people." (The question wording does not include a reference to exactly how they would be more evenly distributed and does not mention the government.)

Across the nine times the question has been asked, a majority of Americans have agreed with the thought that money and wealth should be more evenly distributed.

The latest poll, published yesterday, showed 58% agreed that "money and wealth in this country should be more evenly distributed among a larger percentage of the people." The number is slightly higher than it was when Bush took office, but lower that it was a couple of years ago. (Among independents, it's nearly two to one -- 60% want more even distribution, while 34% believe the current distribution is fair.)

Now, Greg Sargent make a good point, arguing that McCain/Palin aren't exactly engaging in a serious discussion about economic policy: "Just as with the Ayers attack, this particular assault is really about suggesting that Obama harbors secret and vague radical schemes.... It's just more of the 'risky unknown' stuff."

That's true. In fact, I'd go a little further and argue that when McCain tells audiences that Obama's plan for a middle-class tax cut is "welfare," intended to "take your money and give it to someone else," there's also a racial component.

But as the Gallup data shows, the campaign also seems to believe that simply whining about "spreading the wealth" is supposed to be some kind of electoral cudgel, when in fact, most Americans aren't offended by the idea at all.

As Atrios noted the other day, "It takes a long time to build up words and phrases which have commonly understood meanings and appropriate negative connotations. You can't just make them up 2 weeks before an election. Most voters are going to hear 'wealth spreader' and think ... sounds good to me! Spread some all over me, please."

Steve Benen 1:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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STILL WAITING.... Of the four candidates for national office, Sarah Palin is the only one who refuses to release any of her medical records. A couple of weeks ago, her spokesperson said Palin wouldn't even answer questions on the subject.

It came as something of a surprise, then, when Palin indicated to NBC News' Brian Williams last week that she would release her medical records. She used ambiguous language, though: "If that will allow some curiosity seekers perhaps to have one more thing that they either check the box off that they can find something to criticize or to rest them assured over. I'm healthy, happy, I've had five kids, that's going to be in the medical records, never seriously ill or hurt, you'll see that in the medical records if they're released."

We're still waiting.

Governor Palin's campaign still has not released any information regarding her medical records despite frequent requests from the news media and the campaign's own assertion that they would release this information soon.

On Sunday morning, Palin spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt told ABC News that the campaign had planned to release information on her medical history early this week.... ABC News has asked every day this week about the status of the release of information and received no updates from the campaign. It is unclear what is holding things up.

"We are working on this and it will happen sooner than later," Schmitt said on Sunday.

The election is just a few days from now. Even if there were some logistical delays, such as having materials mailed in from Alaska, Palin did tell a national television audience she's release the records nine days ago. So, where are they? What's the hold up? Given Palin's background and ethical lapses, it's not unreasonable to find it discomforting when she acts like she has something to hide.

My hunch is, there isn't anything especially controversial in the records, and Palin is probably just being secretive for the sake of being secretive.

Besides, McCain and his aides probably got a detailed briefing on Palin's medical history as part of the extensive vetting process, right?

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (85)

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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.

* McCain can't implement Bush's GOTV strategy, because he can't afford it.

* A right-wing outfit called the National Republican Trust PAC will air Jeremiah Wright ads nationwide through the election.

* North Carolina has extended its early voting hours.

* The McCain campaign apparently doesn't spell-check its television ads.

* Kay Hagan hits back against Liddy Dole's "godless" ad.

* In Ohio, a National Journal poll shows Obama leading McCain by seven (48% to 41%).

* In Florida, a National Journal poll shows Obama leading McCain by one (45% to 44%).

* In Virginia, a Marist poll shows Obama leading McCain by four (51% to 47%), while National Journal also shows Obama by four (48% to 44%).

* In Colorado, a Marist poll shows Obama leading McCain by six (51% to 45%), a National Journal poll shows Obama by four (48% to 44%), and Public Policy Polling shows Obama by 10 (54% to 44%).

* In Indiana, an Indianapolis Star poll shows Obama leading McCain by one (46% to 45%), a WISH poll shows the two tied at 47% each, while Rasmussen shows McCain up by three (49% to 46%).

* In North Carolina, a Politico/InsiderAdvantage poll shows Obama and McCain tied at 48% each, while a National Journal poll shows Obama by four (47% to 43%).

* In New Hampshire, SurveyUSA shows Obama leading McCain by 11 (53% to 42%), while Research2000 shows Obama up by seven (51% to 44%).

* In New Mexico, Public Policy Polling shows Obama leading McCain by 17 (58% to 41%).

* In Missouri, a Politico/InsiderAdvantage poll shows McCain leading Obama by three (50% to 47%).

* In Montana, Rasmussen shows McCain leading Obama by four, 50% to 46%.

* In West Virginia, Public Policy Polling shows McCain leading Obama by 13 (55% to 42%).

* The latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows Obama leading McCain nationally by 11, 51% to 40%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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CONVICTED.... Maybe there's something about scandal-plagued Alaskan Republicans that leads to denial. When Sarah Palin was found to have violated state ethics laws, she announced that she'd been cleared her of "any hint of any kind of unethical activity." This was the opposite of reality.

Similarly, when Ted Stevens was found guilty of felony corruption charges, he said he hasn't been convicted.

"I've not been convicted yet," Stevens said Thursday in a meeting with the editorial board of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. "There's not a black mark by my name yet, until the appeal is over and I am finally convicted, if that happens. If that happens, of course I'll do what's right for Alaska and for the Senate.... I don't anticipate it happening, and until it happens I do not have a black mark."

Stevens reiterated that position during a televised debate late Thursday night, declaring early in the give-and-take with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, "I have not been convicted of anything."

Now, I'm not an attorney, but if an accused criminal goes to trial, and a jury founds the accused guilty, I think it's called a "conviction." The defendant can appeal his conviction, of course, but therein lies the point -- he's appealing his conviction.

I even looked it up -- a conviction is "the judgment of a jury or judge that a person is guilty of a crime as charged."

What on earth is Ted Stevens talking about?

Steve Benen 11:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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STRETCHING THE MAP JUST A LITTLE MORE.... The notion of stretching the map was never about downplaying the significance of Ohio and Florida -- they remain the two biggest battlegrounds -- but it is about making the list of swing states longer than two.

With that in mind, it's striking to see where the Obama campaign is investing resources now.

Barack Obama's campaign announced Friday that it was going on the air in John McCain's home state of Arizona for the first time this cycle, as a new CNN poll of polls released this morning finds the Republican nominee leading the Illinois senator there by just 4 percentage points, 49 to 45 percent. Six percent of the state's voters said they were unsure about their presidential pick.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters the campaign's positive closing argument spot, 'Something,' will hit the airwaves in Arizona. He also said the campaign was going back on the airwaves in Georgia and North Dakota with its negative closing argument spot, 'Rearview Mirror,' which ties McCain to President Bush.

It's one thing to open offices and organize volunteers in these states, but we're talking about television advertising in the last four days of the campaign.

Now, it's possible this ad buy is intended to psych McCain out. Or maybe the Obama campaign has already bought up every possible slot in all the other battleground states, and was looking for new ways to spend what's left of its ad budget. Either way, who would have thought in say, June, that Obama would air TV ads in Arizona, Georgia, and North Dakota in the campaign's closing days?

Asked about Obama's new ad buy in Arizona, McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds called it a "waste of his resources."

Perhaps. But if it's foolish to "waste" money in Arizona, why did McCain and the RNC launch anti-Obama robocalls in the state this week?

Steve Benen 11:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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MCCAIN'S 'ROLE MODEL'.... This presidential campaign has featured more than its share of absurdities, but the McCain campaign using Sam "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher as some kind of mascot has been one of the most inane.

Yesterday, this became farcical.

On Thursday, [Wurzelbacher] had a candidate for president calling for him at a rally where he was not present. At the next John McCain rally, he got to offer a civics lesson to the crowd about how they should educate themselves before voting. Then, at the final rally of the day, he had a crowd chanting his name. OK, they weren't chanting his real name, Joe Wurzelbacher. They were chanting, of course, "Joe-the-plumb-er!" in the same rhythm usually reserved for sporting events.

If that wasn't enough, McCain introduced Wurzelbacher as "an American hero, a great citizen of Ohio and my role model."

On Tuesday, Wurzelbacher endorsed the insane idea that a vote for Obama would be "a vote for the death of Israel." On Wednesday, Wurzelbacher played political scientist, saying the notion of progressive taxation is "honestly right out of Karl Marx's mouth. No one can debate that. That's not my opinion. That's fact."

And on Thursday, McCain believes Wurzelbacher is an "American hero" and his personal "role model."

As John Cole concluded the other day, "The McCain campaign is now a surrealist farce. Or maybe I meant surrealist force."

Steve Benen 10:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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TALKING TO OUR ENEMIES.... Gen. David Petraeus has been cautious about the presidential election, but he's come close to all-but endorsing Barack Obama's position on negotiating with U.S. rivals. A few weeks ago, a day after a presidential debate, Petraeus said, "I do think you have to talk to enemies.... I mean what we did do in Iraq ultimately was sit down with some of those that were shooting at us."

The Centcom commander has been following through on this quite a bit. Petraeus has already endorsed talking to the Taliban in Afghanistan, and reportedly wants to engage Syria, as well. What's the hitch? The Bush administration apparently won't let him.

ABC News has learned, Petraeus proposed visiting Syria shortly after taking over as the top U.S. commander for the Middle East. The idea was swiftly rejected by Bush administration officials at the White House, State Department and the Pentagon.

Petraeus, who becomes the commander of U.S. Central Command (Centcom) Friday, had hoped to meet in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Petraeus proposed the trip, and senior officials objected, before the covert U.S. strike earlier this week on a target inside Syria's border with Iraq.

Officials familiar with Petraeus' thinking on the subject say he wants to engage Syria in part because he believes that U.S. diplomacy can be used to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran. He plans to continue pushing the idea.

"When the timing is right, we ought to go in there and have a good discussion with the Syrians," said a Defense Department official close to Petraeus. "It's a meaningful dialogue to have."

It's probably a mistake to view everything through the lens of the presidential campaign, but this ABC News report is one of the day's most fascinating items. Not only is Petraeus at odds with Bush, but people close to him are leaking this information just a few days before the presidential election.

What's more, it reinforces the dynamic that's been apparent for a while -- when it comes to a national security strategy predicated on diplomacy, Obama and Petraeus are on one side, while McCain and Bush are on the other.

Steve Benen 9:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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GUTTING THE PENTAGON.... Sarah Palin campaigned in Erie, Pennsylvania, yesterday and blasted Democrats for allegedly wanting to cut funding from the Pentagon budget.

"We're fighting two wars, with a force strength in need of rebuilding, not in being gutted," Palin said. "And they [Democrats] think it's the perfect time to radically reduce defense spending? What are they thinking?"

Yes, what kind of monster would decide, in the midst of two wars, to cut defense spending? Why, to hear Palin tell it, you'd have to be some kind of nut to even think about reducing Pentagon funding right now.

With this in mind, it's probably an inconvenient time to point out that John McCain has promised to reduce defense spending. He told ABC News in April:

"I'm cutting billions and billions out of defense spending which are not earmarks. The $400 million ship that they had to scrap, it was supposed to cost $140 billion. The $30 billion I believe it is, add-on for a system in the Army that's gone up $30 billion and we still haven't got any result from it. The $50 million contract to some buddy of Air Force generals. I mean, there's so many billions out there just in defense."

It wasn't just a random slip; this is actually a clearly articulated McCain campaign policy.

McCain's top economic adviser, Doug Holtz-Eakin, blithely supposes that cuts in defense spending could make up for reducing the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25% and the subsequent shrinkage in federal revenues. Get that? The national security candidate wants to cut spending on our national security.

So, Sarah Palin, what are you thinking? Based on your attacks yesterday, it sounds like you may not be comfortable with McCain's plan to reduce the Pentagon's budget in the midst of two wars.

Steve Benen 9:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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A BUBBLE BOY FOR A NEW GENERATION.... Bush's Bubble Boy policies have always been a subject of fascination for me. In order to keep the president shielded from those who may disagree with him, the Bush White House has gone to comical lengths to keep dissenters at bay. This has, at various times, included blocking people from attending public events based on their bumper stickers, and requiring loyalty oaths for tickets.

This week, it appears the McCain gang wants to pick up where the Bush gang is leaving off. (via Atrios)

Audience members escorted out of Sen. John McCain's, R-Ariz., campaign event in Cedar Falls questioned why they were asked to leave Sunday's rally even though they were not protesting.

David Zarifis, director of public safety for the University of Northern Iowa, said McCain staffers requested UNI police assist in escorting out "about four or five" people from the rally prior to McCain's speech.

Zarifis said while the people who were taken out weren't protesting or causing problems, McCain's staff were worried they would during the speech.

It's the kind of profiling only a Republican leader could love. In this case, the RNC and the McCain campaign removed law-abiding, non-disruptive Americans from a campaign event based solely on hunches -- if they thought you might be a protestor, the basis of your appearance, you were ejected. If you resisted, you were threatened with arrest for trespassing.

In this case, the dragnet even caught McCain supporters, who apparently looked suspicious. And by "suspicious," I mean, "young."

Lara Elborno, a student at the University of Iowa, was one about "about 20 people" asked to leave the McCain event, and noted, "It was pretty much all young people, the college demographic."

In the McCain campaign, I suppose this is what passes for "youth outreach"?

But the key point here is that this is exactly how the Bush/Cheney operation has acted for eight years. I'd hoped McCain would have learned what not to do when it comes to being yet another Bubble Boy.

Has anyone heard about whether these tactics are common at other university events?

Steve Benen 8:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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MAKING THE CASE.... Lawrence Eagleburger, deputy secretary of State under Bush I, has been a McCain campaign advisor and occasional surrogate for nearly a year. As it happens, once in a while, Eagleburger strays from the script -- and that's not a good thing for McCain.

In March, for example, Eagleburger appeared at an event in DC, where he described the GOP's religious right base as "a serious problem" that he wants to see Republicans fight "hard against."

Yesterday, Eagleburger appeared on NPR as part of a segment on "making the case" for a McCain presidency. His candor was welcome, but not by McCain campaign headquarters.

A former Republican Secretary of State and one of John McCain's most prominent supporters offered a stunningly frank and remarkably bleak assessment of Sarah Palin's capacity to handle the presidency should such a scenario arise.

Lawrence Eagleburger, who served as Secretary of State under George H.W. Bush and whose endorsement is often trumpeted by McCain, said on Thursday that the Alaska governor is not only unprepared to take over the job on a moment's notice but, even after some time in office, would only amount to an "adequate" commander in chief.

"And I devoutly hope that [she] would never be tested," he added for good measure -- referring both to Palin's policy dexterity and the idea of McCain not making it through his time in office.

The NPR host went on to ask if Palin could step in during a time of crisis. "It is a very good question," Eagleburger said. He paused, laughed, and added, "I'm being facetious here. Look, of course not."

Just to add to the entertainment, Eagleburger added, "Give her some time in the office and I think the answer would be, she will be [pause] adequate. I can't say that she would be a genius in the job. But I think she would be enough to get us through a four year... well I hope not... get us through whatever period of time was necessary. And I devoutly hope that it would never be tested."

Keep in mind, Eagleburger is not just some random McCain supporter. McCain touts Eagleburger's endorsement all the time, and the campaign sent Eagleburger to NPR to emphasize why voters should support the Republican ticket.

Last week, McCain chatted with Don Imus, and expressed frustration about Republicans who've questioned Palin's qualifications. "What's their problem?" McCain asked. "I think she is the most qualified of any that has run recently for vice president."

Just days before the election, McCain hasn't even convinced his own advisors of this.

Nor has he made the case to voters: a new New York Times/CBS News poll found 59% of Americans consider Palin unprepared for national office. The report added, "The increase in the number of voters who said Ms. Palin was not prepared was driven almost entirely by Republicans and independents."

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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October 30, 2008
By: Hilzoy

Khalidi

I want to second my Obsidian Wings co-blogger Eric Martin's condemnation of John McCain's attack's on Rashid Khalidi. Eric quoted Juan Cole, which led some commenters to question Cole's objectivity. I will therefore cite two other people. First, Barnett Rubin:

"I actually find it demeaning, insulting, and depressing to have to defend Rashid. I could say, I know him, he has been a guest in my home in New York and in my rented house in Provence, he bears absolutely no resemblance to the image these despicable people are trying to project of him, and lot's more. I could point out that I am Jewish and have VISIBLE JEWISH ARTIFACTS IN MY HOME, which did not appear to alarm Rashid, if he even noticed them, but it is all just so ridiculous I don't know what to say.

I don't want to treat these charges with the respect of a refutation. I just want to express my disgust with those who uttered them and my solidarity with my friend, Rashid Khalidi."

Second, Scott Horton:

"In the current issue of National Review, Andrew McCarthy continues his campaign to link the Democratic nominee to various and sundry Hyde Park radicals. This time it is "PLO advisor turned University of Chicago professor Rashid Khalidi," who now heads the Middle Eastern Studies Department at Columbia University. Khalidi, we learn, makes a habit of justifying and supporting the work of terrorists and is "a former mouthpiece for master terrorist Yasser Arafat." And then we learn that this same Khalidi knows Obama and that his children even babysat for Obama's kids!

This doesn't sound much like the Rashid Khalidi I know. I've followed his career for many years, read his articles and books, listened to his presentations, and engaged him in discussions of politics, the arts, and history. In fact, as McCarthy's piece ran, I was midway through an advance copy of Khalidi's new book Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East. (I'll be reviewing it next month -- stay tuned.) Rashid Khalidi is an American academic of extraordinary ability and sharp insights. He is also deeply committed to stemming violence in the Middle East, promoting a culture that embraces human rights as a fundamental notion, and building democratic societies. In a sense, Khalidi's formula for solving the Middle East crisis has not been radically different from George W. Bush's: both believe in American values and approaches. However, whereas Bush believes these values can be introduced in the wake of bombs and at the barrel of a gun, Khalidi disagrees. He sees education and civic activism as the path to success, and he argues that pervasive military interventionism has historically undermined the Middle East and will continue to do so. Khalidi has also been one of the most articulate critics of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority -- calling them repeatedly on their anti-democratic tendencies and their betrayals of their own principles. Khalidi is also a Palestinian American. There is no doubt in my mind that it is solely that last fact that informs McCarthy's ignorant and malicious rants.

McCarthy states that Khalidi "founded" the Arab American Action Network (AAAN). In fact, he neither founded it nor has anything to do with it. But AAAN is not, as McCarthy suggests, a political organization. It is a social-services organization, largely funded by the state of Illinois and private foundations, that provides support for English-language training, citizenship classes, after-school and summer programs for schoolchildren, women's shelters, and child care among Chicago's sizable Arab community (and for others on the city's impoverished South Side). Does McCarthy consider this sort of civic activism objectionable? Since it was advocated aggressively by President Bush -- this is "compassionate conservativism" in action -- such an objection would be interesting. Nor was Khalidi ever a spokesman for the PLO, though that was reported in an erroneous column by the New York Times's Tom Friedman in 1982. That left me curious about the final and most dramatic accusation laid at Khalidi's doorstep: that the Khalidis babysat for the Obamas. Was it true? I put the question to Khalidi. "No, it is not true," came the crisp reply. Somehow that was exactly the answer I expected. (...)

I have a suggestion for Andy McCarthy and his Hyde Park project. If he really digs down deep enough, he will come up with a Hyde Park figure who stood in constant close contact with Barack Obama and who, unlike Ayers and Khalidi, really did influence Obama's thinking about law, government, and policy. He is to my way of thinking a genuine radical. His name is Richard Posner, and he appears to be the most frequently and positively cited judge and legal academic in ... National Review."

***

I think McCain's attacks on Khalidi are completely dishonorable, and that comparing Rashid Khalidi to a neo-Nazi, in particular, is just beyond vile. But even without that, it just plays on anti-Arab sentiment. Does anyone think that McCain's audiences know much about Rashid Khalidi, other than his suspiciously Arab name? For that matter, does anyone think that McCain knows much about him? The fact that he repeats the charge that Khalidi was a spokesman for the PLO, a claim that Khalidi denies, and that there is independent reason to think is false -- suggests either that he doesn't know, or that he doesn't care what the truth is. [UPDATE: See here for an argument that Khalidi was, in fact, a spokesman for the PLO. I think that the evidence so far is inconclusive. END UPDATE] [FURTHER UPDATE: Ron Kampeas, who wrote the post I linked to right before the updates, now says that "the evidence of Rashid Khalidi's PLO past is now irrefutable." Thanks to Martin Kramer for bringing this to my attention. END FURTHER UPDATE>]

Khalidi is just a red flag to wave in front of McCain's audiences. Mentioning his name produces the effect it does because that name is Arab. McCain surely knows this.

Colin Powell was big enough to denounce this kind of appeal to bigotry. Years ago, I would have imagined that McCain would do likewise, or at least that he would not engage in it himself. I wish I had been right. And I imagine that in a few weeks, when he contemplates the shredded remains of his honor, he will too.

Hilzoy 11:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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

* The Dow closed up nearly 190 points after a 0.3% drop in GDP. Apparently, investors expected the numbers to be even worse.

* It seems like every campaign cycle we hear all about voting-machine problems. I wonder why that is.

* I'm not an expert, but if I were the McCain campaign, I'd probably hesitate before putting Michael Goldfarb on national television again.

* Speaking of odd surrogates, I don't think Rudy Giuliani understands McCain's healthcare plan.

* The crowd was a little thin for a McCain event in Ohio this morning, so nearby schools bussed in thousands of kids to fill the seats.

* Ashley Todd is free after six days in jail, but will be required to undergo mental health treatment. The AP reported, "Her record eventually will be expunged as long as she goes to treatment, stays out of trouble and keeps authorities apprised of her whereabouts."

* One of Sarah Palin's favorite publications, The Economist, endorsed Obama.

* Ruy Teixeira, a friend of the Monthly, has returned to blogging after a lengthy absence.

* In an unusual twist, at least one Fox News exec is defending the LA Times against the McCain campaign's attacks.

* In a cringe worthy moment on the campaign trail today, McCain tried to introduce "Joe the Plumber" to an audience. As it turns out, Wurzelbacher had stood McCain up.

* And on a related note, Wurzelbacher is "being pursued for a major record deal and could come out with a country album as early as Inauguration Day." I wish I were kidding. "Joe the Plumber" has signed a deal with a Nashville p.r. firm to exploit his notoriety for all its worth.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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ABOUT THAT FOX NEWS POLL.... There have been some national polls showing John McCain narrowing the gap a bit this week -- which is not at all unexpected -- but Fox News raised some eyebrows this afternoon with a new poll showing Obama's lead down to just three points nationwide, 47% to 44%.

A week ago, a similar Fox News poll showed Obama's lead at nine points, 49% to 40%, which certainly gives the appearance of some favorable movement in McCain's direction.

But it is Fox News, which, as a rule, is grounds for some skepticism. In this case, the results are worth a closer look.

One of Marc Ambinder's readers noted that Fox News changed its sampling for this poll, as compared to last week's. Seven days ago, 43% of respondents were Dems, and 37% were Republicans. This week, 41% were Dems, and 39% were Republicans. Fewer Dems and more Republicans will obviously produce a more McCain-friendly result.

So, why change the weighting in the poll? Ambinder asked Pollster.com's Mark Blumenthal for his take.

He tells me: "If they have been weighting by party, and they suddenly changed their weighting, I'd say it's a pretty questionable practice. The last four Fox surveys all varied slightly in terms of party ID, so I'm not sure that's what they've done. That said, if the other surveys this week show no similar 'shift' in party, then it's probably reasonable to discount this result."

Steve M. had a good item on this, noting, "Democrats had a six-point party-affiliation advantage in the last poll. Now it's two? Anybody think that in any way jibes with reality right now? According to Gallup, that's less than the Dems' party advantage in 2006 or 2004. Anyone think they've slipped over the past two years? Preposterous. But it got Murdoch just the number he wanted."

Something to keep in mind when Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly trumpet this poll tonight.

Steve Benen 5:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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NOT BAD FOR AN INFOMERCIAL.... It's not my area of expertise, but these seem like pretty good ratings for a half-hour infomercial in prime time.

The combined overall household rating for Senator Barack Obama's Wednesday night infomercial, in the top 56 local television markets where Nielsen maintains electronic TV meters, was 21.7.

Obama's simulcast is the first to be aired by a presidential candidate since Ross Perot ran a political telecast on Election Day in 1996. That program was watched by 16.8% of all households nationwide. [...]

In comparison, the final debate between the two presidential candidates received a 38.3 household rating in the top 56 local TV markets. The candidates' first debate on September 26 received a 34.7 household rating in the top 55 markets; their second debate, on October 7, received a 42.0 household rating in those markets.

The New York Times added that the commercial "was particularly high-rated in several battleground states," including Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina.

At this point, we don't know much about what kinds of voters were watching -- was he preaching to the choir or were undecided voters tuning in to give Obama a chance? For that matter, we also don't know if viewers overall liked what they saw.

But looking solely at the numbers, I'm left with the impression that there are actually quite a few Americans interested in politics this year. Think about -- one in five households tuned into a political commercial, which lasted a half-hour.

Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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AL QAEDA PIPES UP AGAIN.... I guess one of these was bound to come out this week.

An al Qaeda leader has called for President George W. Bush and the Republicans to be "humiliated," without endorsing any party in the upcoming U.S. presidential election, according to a video posted on the Internet.

"O God, humiliate Bush and his party, O Lord of the Worlds, degrade and defy him," Abu Yahya al-Libi said at the end of sermon marking the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr, in a video posted on the Internet.

Libi, one of the top al Qaeda commanders believed to be living in Afghanistan or Pakistan, called for God's wrath to be brought against Bush equating him with past tyrants in history.

This news, of course, comes just a week after al Qaeda supporters stated their support for a McCain victory on a password-protected website, citing McCain's support for the Bush administration's foreign policy. The al-Hesbah site, closely linked to the terrorist group, added that al Qaeda "will have to support McCain," and hoped that a McCain foreign policy would "exhaust" American resources.

Now, to reiterate what I said last week, we're talking about the rantings of homicidal lunatics, and it's ultimately foolish to try to vote with terrorists' motivations in mind. Neither the al-Hesbah message nor the Abu Yahya al-Libi video are what a reasonable person might describe as "sensible political analysis."

But that, I'm afraid, doesn't matter. The al-Libi video is now the top story on Drudge, and it will likely soon be the main topic of conversation on the far-right blogs and talk radio.

The response from Democrats is pretty obvious. Richard Clarke, Ron Suskind, and others have written extensively on the fact al Qaeda prefers Bush's foreign policy -- it helps with terrorist recruiting and fundraising, undermines America's global stature, and costs us a fortune -- so it stands to reason that the terrorist network would support McCain, since his foreign policy is largely indistinguishable. Indeed, as Clarke, the former counterterrorism coordinator for the National Security Council, explained earlier this month, al Qaeda wouldn't want an Obama victory, in large part because the terrorist network wouldn't want a U.S. president who enjoys popularity on the world stage.

Jonathan Stevenson, a professor of strategic studies at the U.S. Naval War College, told Spencer Ackerman, "Bin Laden surely would vote for McCain. Bush, whose foreign policy McCain pretty much supported, has been a recruiting sergeant for Al Qaeda and its kin."

The smart move for conservatives is drawing attention away from this fact, not towards it. And yet, I suspect we're about to hear a bunch of unhinged voices screaming, "See? Al Qaeda hates Republicans!"

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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LIEBERMAN'S FUTURE.... Sometime before January, the Senate Democratic caucus will have to decide what to do with Joe Lieberman. The options range from doing nothing (allowing him to betray the party and become a Republican hack without consequence) or kicking him out of the caucus altogether.

In between the two is stripping Lieberman of his chairmanship, which seems to be like a no-brainer.

Members of the majority party's leadership have discussed taking away Lieberman's gavel on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, perhaps replacing it with a subcommittee gavel, aides said Wednesday.

Such a move would require the assent of the caucus, which won't get together until after the election. [...]

Aides privy to the leadership discussions say that their bosses view ending Lieberman's chairmanship of a large committee with broad oversight authority as more appropriate retribution than kicking him out of the caucus.

After all, no matter how many seats the Democrats win in the Senate next week, Lieberman's vote will still be valuable on domestic issues like health care even though he disagrees with Democrats on the war.

That sounds relatively compelling, but it's incomplete. My suspicion is that if Lieberman loses his gavel, it would be effectively be the same thing as kicking him out of the caucus.

I wasn't privy to the internal discussions, but consider Harry Reid & Co.'s dealings with Lieberman since he ran against the Democratic candidate in 2006. The party wanted his caucus vote, giving the party 51, and Lieberman wanted his committee chairmanship. If the party took his gavel, the assumption was he'd stroll across the aisle. Lieberman got to keep his chairmanship and Democrats got to keep their 51-seat majority.

Looking ahead, the caucus almost certainly won't have any incentive to leave Lieberman in the big chair in 2009. First, they'll probably have a much bigger majority. Second, Lieberman has been an awful committee chairman. And third, Lieberman has to realize he'll be punished for his campaign-season conduct.

My guess is, if Lieberman loses his committee, he'll feel compelled to spite the party and caucus with the Republicans. I guess we'll see soon enough.

Steve Benen 3:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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TAX BREAKS FOR BIG OIL.... Economic growth may have fallen into negative territory*, but there's at least one company that's doing very well: ExxonMobil's third quarter profits totaled $14.83 billion, the best quarter any U.S. company has ever had.

Like practically everything else, this has campaign implications. The AP reports, "Republican presidential candidate John McCain seized on reports of record oil company profits Thursday to criticize Democratic rival Barack Obama for favoring tax breaks for the oil industry."

That's not a typo or an editing error. The McCain campaign saw ExxonMobil's record-breaking profits as grounds to go after Obama for support tax breaks for Big Oil.

Honestly, how does one respond to something like this? By pointing out the $1.2 billion tax break McCain wants to give to ExxonMobil? By noting the $4 billion in tax breaks McCain supports for America’s largest oil companies? By highlighting the fact that McCain's energy policy reflects Big Oil's wish list? By reminding folks of McCain's abysmal record on alternative energy solutions? By mentioning that McCain's campaign is being run and financed by lobbyists for the oil industry?

An astute reader named chrenson raised a good observation yesterday.

Steve, I think I'm sensing some desperation in your closing comments on these posts. Coming up with new ways to express how very f***ed up the McCain campaign has become must be one hell of a burden. Especially since each instance of bulls**t way outdoes the one before.

Chrenson's right. It's one thing to point out some of the absurdities of the presidential campaign, but it's altogether more challenging to find different adjectives that sufficiently capture the madness emanating from McCain campaign headquarters. Reading today that McCain is going after Obama on tax breaks for Big Oil is just the latest evidence that the Republican presidential ticket is engaged in some kind of satirical performance art, and I'm just not in on the joke.

* Corrected

Steve Benen 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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'PRECONDITIONS'.... The new McCain campaign ad argues that Obama will negotiate with Ahmadinejad about the elimination of Israel and the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from every country in the Middle East. It is, as Andrew Sullivan accurately noted, "disgusting, stupid, inflammatory and, in its use of Arabic-sounding music, bigoted."

I was planning to break it down and tear it apart, but it looks like Joe Klein beat me to it.

There is so much desperate, crapulous spew from the McCain campaign right now that it's hard to keep track of it all -- but this ad, via Andrew Sullivan, marks some sort of low. Yet again -- in a last, desperate attempt to scare the elderly Jews of Florida -- McCain posits Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the "leader" of Iran, even though he has no control over Iranian foreign or military policy. (Ayatullah Ali Khamenei is the guy in charge in Iran, which is why they call him -- you guessed it -- the Supreme Leader.) Yet again, McCain brings up the notion of "preconditions," only now the preconditions are Ahmadinejad's: namely, that the U.S. would have to leave the Middle East before he'd be willing to talk.

It's all inflammatory nonsense, of course. Obama has said that he would meet with the Iranian leadership without "preconditions" -- namely, the Bush Administration requirement that the Iranians stop processing uranium. Of course, the Bush Administration doesn't seem so set on that precondition anymore, either. Again, this is a purposeful effort to mislead on Obama's actual position: he would begin lower-level negotiations with the Iranians, and see how much progress could be made. That is a position supported by many of McCain's own diplomatic supporters.

But that's not really what this is all about: this ad -- with its Middle Eastern music -- is all about implying that Obama isn't one of us, that he's one of them. It is shameful, in the extreme. It's also really bad policy.

I'd just add one tangential thought to this. There's going to come a point, probably in a couple of weeks, at which John McCain is going to express some kind of "regret" for just how disgusting his campaign became. He'll do this if he wins (hoping to generate some pre-inauguration goodwill), and he'll do this is he loses (hoping to improve his tarnished and discredited legacy). McCain will probably say, with apparent sincerity, that things "got out of hand," and he's filled with "regret" for not having intervened before his campaign became too pathetic.

But an ad as offensive as this new one shouldn't be forgotten, or forgiven. McCain, under pressure, is putting his character on the line for all to see, and post hoc remorse should be irrelevant. McCain had a choice -- lose his honor or lose the election. Whether he ends up losing both remains to be seen, but either way, McCain did not choose wisely.

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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OF COURSE IT'S ABOUT RACE.... Following up on an item from yesterday, John Judis made the case that the McCain campaign's argument about "spreading the wealth," "socialism," and "redistribution" is ultimately about race.

The argument, Judis said, "is aimed ultimately at white working class undecided voters who would construe "spreading the wealth" as giving their money to blacks. It's the latest version of Reagan's 'welfare queen' argument from 1980. It if it works, it won't be because most white Americans actually oppose a progressive income tax, but because they fear that Obama will inordinately favor blacks over them."

I perceive the rhetoric the same way. When McCain tells white working class undecided voters that Obama wants to "take your money and give it to someone else," he doesn't say who "someone else" is, but he probably hopes he doesn't have to.

Matt Feeney calls this approach "a bit loony," insisting that if McCain were really trying to engage in race-based fear mongering, the Republican campaign would "use the word 'welfare.'"

But that only helps to prove my point -- McCain has been using the word "welfare." He's used it in his stump speech (Obama, McCain says, wants to turn the IRS into "a giant welfare agency"), and he's used it in his television ads.

And why would McCain tell white working class undecided voters that Obama's tax policies constitute "welfare" and "take your money and give it to someone else"? Here's a wild guess -- it has something to do with exploiting racial fears.

Michael Crowley pointed to this exchange from CNN last night between McCain and Larry King:

KING: Concerning spreading the wealth, isn't the graduated income tax spreading the wealth? If you I and pay more so that 'Jimmy' can get some, some for him -- or pay for a welfare recipient, that's spreading the wealth.

MCCAIN: That's spreading the wealth in the respect that we do have a graduated income tax. That's a far cry from taking from one group of Americans and giving to another. I mean that's dramatically different.

Actually, it's not different at all. McCain's argument is incoherent.

Put it this way: either McCain is deliberately trying to exploit racial fears or he hasn't the foggiest idea what he's talking about. I'm afraid it's one or the other.

Steve Benen 12:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

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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.

* Obama and Bill Clinton held a rally outside Orlando late last night, their first joint event of the campaign season. "This man should be our president -- all of our president," Clinton said. "He's going to be the next president unless Americans forget what this election is all about."

* The Obama campaign unveiled its closing-argument ads this morning, one positive spot and one negative.

* McCain campaign manager Rick Davis is still inexplicably worked up about ACORN.

* Yesterday, 76 of the most distinguished scientists in the country, Nobel laureates all, endorsed Obama for president.

* In Ohio, a Time/CNN poll shows Obama leading McCain by four (51% to 47%), while a Marist Poll shows Obama up by three (48% to 45%).

* In Florida, a Time/CNN poll shows Obama leading McCain by four (51% to 47%).

* In Pennsylvania, a Time/CNN poll shows Obama leading McCain by 12 (55% to 43%), while an NBC/Mason-Dixon poll shows Obama up by just four (47% to 43%), and a Marist Poll shows Obama up by 14 (55% to 41%).

* In Colorado, a Time/CNN poll shows Obama leading McCain by eight (53% to 45%).

* In Virginia, a Time/CNN poll shows Obama leading McCain by nine (53% to 44%).

* In New Mexico, Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain by 10 (54% to 44%).

* In Nevada, a Time/CNN poll shows Obama leading McCain by seven (52% to 45%).

* In North Carolina, a Time/CNN poll shows Obama leading McCain by six (52% to 46%).

* In Missouri, a Time/CNN poll shows McCain leading Obama by two (50% to 48%).

* In Georgia, a Time/CNN poll shows McCain leading Obama by five (52% to 47%).

* In Arizona, a Time/CNN poll shows McCain leading Obama by seven (53% to 46%), while an NBC/Mason-Dixon poll shows McCain up by four (48% to 44%).

* In Minnesota, Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain by 12 (55% to 43%), while an NBC/Mason-Dixon poll shows Obama up by eight (48% to 40%).

* In California, a Field Poll shows Obama leading McCain by 22 (55% to 33%).

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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WILL HAS NO USE FOR MCCAIN.... It's probably fair to say conservative columnist George Will has been thoroughly unimpressed by John McCain of late. He's blasted McCain for "behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high." Will has lamented McCain's "dismaying temperament." He's described McCain as "childish," "shallow," and suffering from a "Manichaean worldview."

And today, Will labeled McCain "John the Careless," citing among other things, McCain picking Sarah Palin for the GOP ticket because he seemed to believe "never having attended a 'Georgetown cocktail party' is sufficient qualification for the vice presidency."

The column is worth reading, but this is the paragraph that stood out for me:

Palin may be an inveterate simplifier; McCain has a history of reducing controversies to cartoons. A Republican financial expert recalls attending a dinner with McCain for the purpose of discussing with him domestic and international financial complexities that clearly did not fascinate the senator. As the dinner ended, McCain's question for his briefer was: "So, who is the villain?"

This is amusing, but it's also important. McCain's appreciation for policy complexities doesn't exist. Maybe he's impatient, maybe he's easily confused, maybe both. But McCain not only prefers to see the world as black and white, good guy vs. bad guy, he needs this dynamic to make sense of current events. Subtleties, nuances, and depth are inconvenient, and therefore dismissed.

Indeed, we saw this clearly just a few days ago. Criticizing Obama's policy on nuclear energy, McCain described the security of spent fuel, the storage of nuclear waste, and nuclear proliferation as -- and I quote -- "blah blah blah." Don't bother him with details; just tell him who the enemy is and which direction to start attacking. Intellectual seriousness is for wusses.

There are three key angles to this. First, it's about the single worst quality a president can have, especially in a time of crisis.

Second, it helps explain why McCain's attacks against Obama have been almost entirely personal. Obama, as far as McCain is concerned, "is the villain." He doesn't deserve respect; he deserves, McCain seems to believe, to be destroyed.

And third, McCain's style is so similar to Bush's worldview, it's frightening. The only key difference is Bush, who famously boasted that he doesn't "do nuance," generally approached politics with a genial attitude. McCain likes to "reduce controversies to cartoons," but with angry and erratic temperament.

Steve Benen 11:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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MORE FROM GORE.... I didn't really expect to see much more of Al Gore before Election Day. He gave a great speech at the Democratic convention, and he appeared in Michigan to endorse Obama, but the Nobel laureate seems anxious to move away from the appearance of being a partisan advocate.

Fortunately, though, that won't preclude a couple of stops on the campaign trail for Gore -- in a swing state that has a particular significance to him.

Al Gore -- Nobel laureate, Academy-Award winner, former vice president and presidential aspirant -- returns to Florida on Friday to campaign for fellow Democrat and current presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Gore will appear at "Vote for Change" rallies in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, according to a release just issued by the Obama campaign.

Gore returns (on Halloween, no less) to the land of butterfly ballots, hanging chads and a 36-day national recount drama that determined Gore lost and George W. Bush won the 2000 presidential election.

You think the Obama campaign sees Florida as a pick-up opportunity? That was Bill Clinton in Florida on Wednesday, that'll be Al Gore in Florida on Friday, and both Obama and Biden have spent quite a bit of time in the state this week themselves.

If this doesn't help motivate Sunshine State Democrats, I don't know what will.

Steve Benen 10:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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SIGNIFICANT SHRINKAGE.... The nation's GDP, as expected, has fallen into negative territory, with the worst economic contraction in seven years. It wasn't a surprise, but that's cold comfort under the circumstances.

The economy shrank at a 0.3 percent annual rate in the third quarter, its sharpest contraction in seven years as consumers cut spending and businesses reduced investment in the face of rising fears that recession was setting in.

The Commerce Department said the third-quarter contraction in gross domestic product was the steepest since the corresponding quarter in 2001 though it was slightly less than the 0.5 percent rate of reduction that Wall Street economists surveyed by Reuters had forecast.

The McCain campaign, presumably with a straight face, issued a statement that argued Barack Obama, by moving the country in an entirely different economic direction, "would accelerate this dangerous course." The McCain campaign added, Obama is "change Americans cannot afford."

I have to admit, this is rather amusing. The economic policies of the last eight years clearly haven't worked. Obama is offering a new approach. McCain's argument, in effect, is that we need to stick with what we know has already failed. If we can only keep doing what Bush has done, and wait for it to start working, everything will work out fine. Indeed, we "cannot afford" to go in a different direction.

Why anyone would find this persuasive is a mystery.

Steve Benen 10:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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A GAMBLING MAN.... A couple of months ago, Michael Scherer and Michael Weisskopf wrote an interesting piece about the two presidential 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."

In the campaign, McCain's recklessness has become increasingly obvious -- picking Palin for the ticket, "suspending" his campaign -- hoping that voters have no interest in electing a steady, unflappable leader with a cool head and reliable temperament. Obama has even made some effort to connect this to substantive issues, arguing that McCain's penchant for gambling would lead to reckless public policies.

But as Steven Waldman noted this week, there's a more specific audience that may find this discussion important.

Campaign Money Watch, a money-and-politics watchdog group, has begun running an ad about McCain's connections to the gambling industry. The ad makes no mention of the moral dimensions of gambling. But behold where they have decided to run the ads: Lynchburg, Virginia, home of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, and Tallahassee, Florida, a conservative part of the state -- that's right, evangelical-heavy areas in two battleground states.

"We knew that religious conservatives would be motivated by their concern about gambling," explained David Donnelly, director of the group. "And you add to that their concern about campaign contributions. It's a combustible mix."

Now, Obama has never pushed this too aggressively, in part because being perceived as anti-gambling would be damaging in Nevada, a key swing state.

Regardless, with Campaign Money Watch's ad on the air, might Christian conservatives in places like Lynchburg and Tallahassee care about McCain's love for an activity -- and close ties to an industry -- they find immoral? Something to keep an eye on.

Steve Benen 9:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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JAWBONE.... The Obama campaign has emphasized its plan to help make college more affordable and accessible to young people. The McCain campaign doesn't really have a plan, but the Republican nominee does have faith in the power of his personality.

As president, Mr. McCain would take a bully pulpit approach to student aid, aides say. Rather than propose any new federal money, he would jawbone and publicly try to coax colleges to slow their rate of tuition increases using the federal tax exemptions they receive as leverage....

Mr. McCain is also calling for the Pell Grant, which assists low-income students, to be high enough to cover in-state undergraduate tuition.... Mr. McCain, however, has not proposed any new money for the Pell program.

Yes, "jawbone." If that sounds familiar, there's a good reason.

Mr. Bush, as a candidate in January 2000, said a president ought to demand that OPEC members increase production. ''The president of the United States must jawbone OPEC members to lower the price [of gas],'' Mr. Bush said then.

Remind me, how does it work out when conservative Republicans promise changes based on jawboning?

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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THE INDIGNITY OF WORRYING ABOUT ARIZONA.... I got an email this morning from Time magazine, noting the latest Time/CNN poll numbers from "battleground" states. The list included Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, North Carolina ... and Arizona.

Oh, the indignity of it all. (For the record, the poll shows McCain leading in his home state by seven, 53% to 46%.)

The recent polls showing a fairly competitive contest in Arizona apparently aren't a fluke. Greg Sargent reported late yesterday that the McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee are now concerned enough about the state to start using robocalls. Here's the script:

"I'm calling for John McCain and the RNC because Barack Obama is so dangerously inexperienced, his running mate Joe Biden just said, he invites a major international crisis that he will be unprepared to handle alone.

"If Democrats win full control of government, they will want to give civil rights to terrorists and talk unconditionally to dictators and state sponsors of terror. Barack Obama and his Democratic allies lack the experience and judgment to lead America. This call was paid for by the Republican National Committee and authorized by McCain-Palin 2008."

The substance of the message is, of course, blisteringly stupid. But under the circumstances, that's not really the point.

As Greg explained, "The call means Republicans are sinking resources into a state that obviously should have been a complete lock for McCain, with time fast running out. Simply extraordinary."

McCain will return to Arizona early next week, to vote and to prepare for an Election Night event. Any chance he might hold a rally before Tuesday, just in case?

Steve Benen 8:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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THE CASE IN 30 MINUTES.... The Obama campaign's 30-minute commercial could have gone in a couple of different directions last night, some better than others. I was fairly confident he would rely on Ross Perot's pie charts -- the hallmark of the last candidate to air a half-hour commercial -- and it was unlikely that we'd see Obama just talk to the camera the entire time.

What the campaign did, instead, made for a pretty compelling program, highlighting the difficulties facing four real families -- all of whom, by the way, live in "red" states -- confronting common challenges. The segments, and Obama's policy prescriptions, were, as publius noted, "pitch perfect."

Nearly as interesting as what Obama said was what he didn't. The audience did not hear Obama utter the words "McCain," "Bush," or "Republican." There were no cheap shots, no pointed jabs, and really, no partisan remarks at all. Obama simply focused all of his attention on making the case for his agenda, highlighting the struggles of America's middle class, and telling voters what he wants to do.

A.L. noted that it created quite a contrast: "Obama's campaign is clearly about big issues. Whether or not you agree with his policies or think he'll be able to do what he says, his campaign is quite clearly about making life better for the American people. It's about health care and jobs and education and the economy. And what was McCain's campaign about today? He and his running mate spent the whole day calling on the LA Times to release a video tape of a farewell party that Obama attended for a Palestinian professor at the University of Chicago in 2003."

Tuning in last night, I had a very similar reaction. Watching a McCain speech yesterday afternoon and then Obama's program last night, I had this urge to pose questions to voters: which candidate cares more about substance? Which has a vision of where the country needs to go? Which treats voters with respect? Which appeals more to voters' best instincts? Which is willing to engage those with whom he disagrees? Which candidate wants America to feel proud, and which wants Americans to be afraid?

Which candidate is big and which is small?

If yesterday did nothing else, it made the answer to these questions fairly obvious.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

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October 29, 2008

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

* The Fed cut interest rates to just 1%. The markets' reaction was mixed.

* McCain fans get violent in Miami.

* More of the same: "Authorities at the University of Kentucky are trying to find out who hung an effigy of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on campus."

* Sarah Palin has already been the subject of multiple ethics complaints; what's one more?

* It looks like there are quite a few cheapskates in the Senate Democratic caucus.

* The right is now unabashedly anti-equality? These guys have really fallen off the ideological cliff.

* By Rudy Giuliani's own standards, he can't possibly vote for John McCain.

* Rep. Chris Shays, a Connecticut Republican: "[John McCain] has lost his brand as a maverick."

* Ari Fleischer should probably brush up on GOP talking points before appearing on CNN.

* The next stimulus bill will be debated in the House after the election, but before the winter holidays.

* I get the sense that McCain doesn't know what a "safety net program" is.

* And finally, Jonathan Stein made an interesting observation yesterday: while the DNC's site is heavily promoting Obama, the RNC's site doesn't feature McCain at all. I just checked a moment ago, searching the RNC's home page. It features Obama's name six times, and doesn't mention its own party's presidential nominee even once.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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THE CATALYST.... John McCain told Sean Hannity last night that his campaign is on the upswing, and he knows precisely why: "This 'Joe the Plumber' event has really been a catalyst. It really has. You know we look back on political campaigns. 'I paid for this microphone, Mr. Breen.' Ed Muskie crying outside the Union Leader, or whatever it was, you know? There are moments when something happened, and clearly Senator Obama going to Joe the Plumber's drive way, and him getting an answer that clearly he didn't like."

Now, for those who consider reality important, this doesn't make a lot of sense. Wurzelbacher can't be a "catalyst" (or, more accurately, an exploited mascot) for McCain's message since Wurzelbacher doesn't actually prove McCain's point.

As we talked about the other day, if Joe Wurzelbacher was a small businessman whose taxes would go up under an Obama administration, all of this would be very powerful. It's about attaching a real-life person to a policy point the campaign wants to emphasize. In this case, McCain desperately wants regular folks to think Obama will raise their taxes, reality notwithstanding.

But since McCain's "catalyst" would get a tax cut in an Obama administration -- probably a bigger break than under McCain -- the whole thing falls apart fairly quickly.

So, what's the point? Last week, Atrios argued, persuasively, that McCain is exploiting this guy because "Joe The Plumber" is "a white guy who's about to have his pocket picked by a black guy. It doesn't have to be true."

John Judis raises a similar argument today.

...McCain and Sarah Palin's attack against Obama for advocating "spreading the wealth" and for "socialism" and for pronouncing the civil rights revolution a "tragedy" because it didn't deal with the distribution of wealth is aimed ultimately at white working class undecided voters who would construe "spreading the wealth" as giving their money to blacks. It's the latest version of Reagan's "welfare queen" argument from 1980. It if it works, it won't be because most white Americans actually oppose a progressive income tax, but because they fear that Obama will inordinately favor blacks over them.

I think that's absolutely right. Pay particular attention to the way McCain phrases his ridiculous rhetoric: "That's what change means for the Obama administration. They're redistributing. It means taking your money and giving it to someone else."

McCain doesn't say who "someone else" is, but for the white working class undecided voters he's targeting, he's hoping he doesn't have to.

I've simply never seen a more offensive, more nauseating, presidential campaign.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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LET'S TALK ABOUT MEDIA 'BOYCOTTS'.... By now, I suspect most people have seen the breathtaking interview between Joe Biden and Barbara West of WFTV in Orlando, in which, by any reasonable standard, West's questions fell somewhere between "ridiculous" and "in need of medication."

Soon after, the Obama campaign realized there wasn't much point in talking to Barbara West. She's not really a journalist, the campaign wouldn't be treated professionally, and there's no real point in having a dialog.

In response, John McCain is now whining to Fox News' Sean Hannity about the Obama campaign's media "boycotts." McCain said, "[I]f anybody in the media, much less Joe the Plumber asks a tough question, then they're boycotted. They pull their ads, etc."

I sincerely wonder about McCain's grip on reality sometimes. Amanda Terkel noted the irony of McCain's latest complaints.

* McCain canceled an appearance on CNN's Larry King Live after CNN's Campbell Brown conducted a tough interview with McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds about Palin's foreign policy experience.

* Last month, the McCain campaign barred New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd from flying on both the McCain and Palin press planes after she wrote a negative column.

* McCain campaign officials barred Time's Joe Klein from traveling with them, after he asked McCain an uncomfortable question about foreign policy.

* Campaign officials have repeatedly gone on air to bash journalists after tough interviews, saying that Katie Couric asked Palin "a series of trapdoor questions," the New York Times "cast aside it's journalistic integrity to advocate for the defeat of John McCain," and demanded that the media treat Palin with "deference."

I'd just add one other important note -- McCain's whining came during an interview with Sean Hannity. Did McCain not appreciate the irony? McCain was groaning about Obama avoiding "tough questions" from professional journalists, while McCain palling around with a right-wing clown who got the interview because McCain knows there won't be any "tough questions."

Has there ever been a more inane presidential campaign?

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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MCCAIN WAGES WAR ON THE TIMES (THE OTHER ONE).... I'm trying to imagine how the McCain/Palin campaign could become more ridiculous. Nothing is coming to mind.

The campaign's style of "pinata politics" has now led McCain and Palin to swing their bat at the Los Angeles Times, taking a break from its usual complaints about the New York Times, which is what the campaign does when it's not whining about MSNBC, which it finds time to do when it's not describing Obama as a terrorist-sympathizing socialistic pervert. (It's quite a classy operation the Republicans are running.)

Here's the story in a nutshell. In April, the Times ran a report about Obama attending a going-away party for Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian American (whose group received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a McCain-led Republican organization). The Times has a video from the party, which it used as the basis of its report six months ago.

McCain, Palin, and right-wing activists want the Times to release the video.

"The Los Angeles Times refuses to make that videotape public. I'm not in the business of talking about media bias but what if there was a tape with John McCain with a neo-Nazi outfit being held by some media outlet?

"I think the treatment of the issue would be slightly different," [McCain] said.

For her part, Sarah Palin said the Times is Obama's "pet newspaper," which deserves a Pulitzer prize "in kowtowing."

I know the pressure of the campaign is getting intense, but I'm afraid the Republican ticket is starting to crack and say crazy things.

First, instead of condemning the Times, the McCain campaign should be thanking it. The Times is the one who broke the story about the going-away party in the first place -- it didn't hide the revelation, it exposed the revelation. There'd be no right-wing cries about the party if it weren't for the Times' article in the first place. If the paper were trying to help Obama, it wouldn't have published the piece.

Second, the Times hasn't released the video because its confidential source gave the paper the tape "on the condition that we not release it." The paper received the video, and described its contents for readers. There's no conspiracy here.

And third, for McCain to compare a going-away party for a college professor as analogous to associating with "a neo-Nazi outfit" suggests McCain's moral compass is so irreparably broken, he probably shouldn't seek national office.

Steve Benen 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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HIT 'EM WITH HUMOR.... Barack Obama campaigned earlier in Raleigh, North Carolina, principally relying on the closing-statement speech he unveiled in Ohio on Monday. Today, however, he added a new paragraph.

"[B]ecause he knows his economic theories don't work, he's been spending these last few days calling me every name in the book," Obama said. "Lately, he's called me a 'socialist' for wanting to roll back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans so we can finally give tax relief to the middle class. I don't know what's next. By the end of the week, he'll be accusing me of being a secret communist because I shared my toys in kindergarten. I shared my peanut butter and jelly sandwich."

From time to time, over the course of the 20 or so months, Obama has demonstrated an ability to use humor very effectively. Greg Sargent noted earlier, "[This] kind of unforced mockery, even levity, tends to be a good indicator of genuine confidence in the outcome."

I think that's true, but I'd add that Obama seems to use humor, light mockery, and the occasional sarcasm even when he's less confident in the outcome. For months, regardless of circumstance, even during the primaries, when given a choice between delivering an angry response and a humorous one, Obama almost always prefers the latter.

One gets the sense that Obama's not mad at the Republicans; he just thinks they're ridiculous.

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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GUILT-BY-ASSOCIATION WATCH.... Apparently, some years back, as part of his career in academia, Barack Obama attended a going-away party for Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian American.

John McCain and his campaign have joined right-wing bloggers in thinking there's something sinister about Obama having known Khalidi, who conservatives insist was an aide to Yasser Arafat -- a claim that has not stood up well to scrutiny.

As long as McCain wants to go down this road, though it's probably worth fleshing out his own ties to the same professor.

During the 1990s, while he served as chairman of the International Republican Institute (IRI), McCain distributed several grants to the Palestinian research center co-founded by Khalidi, including one worth half a million dollars.

A 1998 tax filing for the McCain-led group shows a $448,873 grant to Khalidi's Center for Palestine Research and Studies for work in the West Bank. (See grant number 5180, "West Bank: CPRS" on page 14 of this PDF.)

The relationship extends back as far as 1993, when John McCain joined IRI as chairman in January. Foreign Affairs noted in September of that year that IRI had helped fund several extensive studies in Palestine run by Khalidi's group, including over 30 public opinion polls and a study of "sociopolitical attitudes."

Now, just to be clear, what's wrong with McCain having directed thousands of dollars in grants to Khalidi's research center? Not a thing. As far as I can tell, no one has questioned Khalidi's scholarship or the work of the Center for Palestine Research and Studies.

McCain and his cohorts, however, believe there's a lingering scandal about Obama having gone to Khalidi's going-away party some years back. The hypocrisy is breathtaking, even for them.

Steve Benen 1:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE WEAK GET RIDICULOUS.... Recent polling shows Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) trailing in her re-election fight in North Carolina against Democrat Kay Hagan, so it stands to reason that she's getting a little desperate.

I didn't think she'd get this desperate.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole's latest advertisement suggests her Democratic opponent, Kay Hagan, is a godless heathen.

"A leader of the Godless Americans PAC recently held a secret fundraiser for Kay Hagan," the 30-second spot says, showing footage of the group's members talking about their atheist beliefs on cable news.

"Godless Americans and Kay Hagan. She hid from cameras. Took godless money," the ad concludes. "What did Kay Hagan promise in return?"

At the very end of the ad, a voice sounding like Hagan's says: "There is no God."

Seriously, Dole used a Hagan impersonator to make voters think she's an atheist.

It's hard to know where to start with an ad this deplorable. First, Hagan is actually a Sunday school teacher and an elder in her church. Second, the fundraiser in question was co-hosted by 40 people, one of whom is on the board of an atheist political action committee. Third, there's nothing scandalous about non-believers.

And fourth, what the hell is "godless money"?

Hagan held a press conference this morning with her family and pastor to denounce the ad, and announced that if Dole didn't pull the ad, she would seek a cease-and-desist order.

Even in a campaign cycle filled with sleazy, deplorable attacks, Dole has disgraced herself in a way few thought possible.

Steve Benen 12:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (92)

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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.

* I guess something like this was inevitable: "Citizens United, the conservative group headed by notorious Whitewater scandalmonger David Bossie, is distributing hundreds of thousands of DVDs attacking Barack Obama's associations with Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers in newspapers in Ohio, Nevada, and Florida this week, a group spokesperson confirms to us."

* In Florida, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll shows Obama leading McCain by seven (50% to 43%), Quinnipiac shows Obama by two (47% to 45%), and an Associated Press poll also has Obama up by two (45% to 43%).

* In Ohio, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll shows Obama leading McCain by nine (49% to 40%), Quinnipiac shows Obama by nine (51% to 42%), and an Associated Press poll has Obama up by seven (48% to 41%).

* In Pennsylvania, Quinnipiac shows Obama leading McCain by 12 (53% to 41%), an Associated Press poll has Obama up by 12 (52% to 40%), and a Franklin & Marshall College poll has Obama up by 13 (53% to 40%).

* In Nevada, an Associated Press poll shows Obama leading McCain by 12 (52% to 40%), while a Suffolk University poll shows Obama up by 10 (50% to 40%).

* In Colorado, an Associated Press poll shows Obama leading McCain by nine (50% to 41%).

* In Virginia, an Associated Press poll shows Obama leading McCain by seven (49% to 42%).

* In New Hampshire, an Associated Press poll shows Obama leading McCain by 18 (55% to 37%).

* In North Carolina, an Associated Press poll shows Obama leading McCain by two (48% to 46%).

* In Indiana, a Howey/Gauge poll shows McCain leading Obama by two, 47% to 45%.

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

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'YET'.... In response to the Obama campaign's half-hour special tonight, the McCain campaign unveiled a new ad today, with an odd closing line.

Most of the 30-second spot is predictable: Obama lacks experience and wants to raise taxes. Nothing new here. But the last line of the voice-over tells the viewer, "The fact is Barack Obama's not ready ... yet." The "yet" comes after a dramatic pause, presumably for emphasis.

It's a curious message. Over the summer, when McCain was emphasizing the "celebrity" nonsense, most of his ads insisted that Obama is "not ready to lead." There was no "yet."

So, I guess the new argument is that Obama will be ready at some point in the near future? That's the new attack? I feel like I'm missing something here.

Jason Zengerle argued:

McCain seems to be acknowledging voters' warm feelings toward Obama and even sort of agreeing with them, with the crucial caveat that he thinks Obama still needs some seasoning. Maybe McCain's final hail mary is to pledge to serve one term ... and then to pledge his support to Obama in 2012.

Steve Benen 11:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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THE INTRA-PARTY PIE FIGHT CONTINUES.... ABC News' Jake Tapper had a very interesting piece late yesterday, noting the subtle efforts Sarah Palin has made to distance herself from the McCain campaign and its strategic decisions. Tapper noted, "[S]ome Republicans are starting to now say they should have seen this coming, since Palin has a reputation for making friends who can help her and then screwing them over."

The ABC report noted several examples, including mentors Palin ultimately challenged when she wanted to advance her career. Tapper concluded:

[A]ll I can tell you is that some McCain allies are now quite suspect of Palin and worried that Sen. McCain is going to become just the latest Palin ally whom she uses -- and then discards -- in her rapid ascendance to power.

I'm really curious -- how did Tapper come upon this angle? I don't mean that as a slight; Tapper has done some solid work during the campaign. But he had a lengthy list of Alaskan politicians Palin has "screwed over" for professional gain, and cited "some Republicans" who believe Palin has established a pattern of using and discarding allies when it suits her purposes. It reads a bit like an oppo piece put together by the McCain campaign.

If this is poised to become a common sentiment in Republican circles, it represents an aggressive new line of intra-party attack. Up until now, the whispers from GOP insiders have focused on Palin being incompetent, inexperienced, and unqualified. Republicans, though, generally don't care about competence, experience, and qualifications.

But if insiders are dishing to Tapper and others about Palin's habit of "screwing over" Republican allies to advance her career, that's more damaging, isn't it?

Steve Benen 10:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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BATTLEGROUND: ARIZONA.... The front page of the Arizona Republic this morning features this headline: "Obama neck and neck with McCain in Arizona." This is, of course, McCain's home state, making the recent polls more than a little embarrassing.

Sen. John McCain's once-comfortable lead in Arizona has all but evaporated, according to a new poll that has the underdog Republican presidential candidate struggling in his own backyard.

With less than a week until Election Day, McCain is leading his Democratic rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, by 2 points, 46 to 44, down from a 7-point lead a month ago and a double-digit lead this summer, according to a poll from Arizona State University.

It's one of four polls published over the last week or so that show McCain's lead in Arizona at five points or less. (Another poll this week, from Northern Arizona University, puts McCain up by eight. An outlier?)

As I mentioned the other day, the likelihood of Obama winning Arizona is still very remote. In the last half-century, the state has only supported the Democratic ticket once, and it's unlikely the second time would come when an Arizonan leads the Republican ticket.

That said, under normal circumstances, if there's a state in which McCain's lead drops from double digits to low-single digits, the RNC is inclined to intervene and invest some resources in the state, as we saw earlier this week in Montana. Any chance McCain's pride would allow the RNC to spend a few bucks in Arizona, just to be safe?

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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MCCAIN'S CHOICE.... Two weeks ago, A.K., a long-time regular, emailed me, asking why the Obama campaign wasn't hammering McCain in a television ad for admitting he doesn't understand the economy.

A.K., I have good news for you.

In this new spot released this morning, there's no voice-over, just on-screen text: "John McCain in his own words." Then we see the first quote: "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." Then the second: "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should." And the third: "'I might have to rely on a vice president that I select' for expertise on economic issues."

"His choice?" the ad continues, just before showing Sarah Palin, winking at the Rich Lowry during the vice presidential debate.

"On November 4th," the ad concludes, "you get to make yours."

The ad is a two-fer -- it reminds viewers that McCain, by his own admission, doesn't know a thing about the economy, and almost as importantly, tells viewers that McCain will rely on Sarah Palin for economic advice.

It's a pretty devastating spot, and for Democrats, I suspect it will be one of the more satisfying negative ads of the campaign cycle.

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

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CONSERVATIVE HEAVYWEIGHTS PLANNING POST-MORTEM.... This ought to be interesting.

Two days after next week's election, top conservatives will gather at the Virginia weekend home of one of the movement's most prominent members to begin a conversation about their role in the GOP and how best to revive a party that may be out of power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue next year.

The meeting will include a "who's who of conservative leaders -- economic, national security and social," said one attendee, who shared initial word of the secret session only on the basis of anonymity and with some details about the host and location redacted. [...]

"There's a sense that the Republican Party is broken, but the conservative movement is not," said this source, suggesting that it was the betrayal of some conservative principles by Bush and congressional leaders that led to the party's decline.

If McCain wins, the meeting will focus on how to make sure he's sufficiently right-wing to meet the base's standards, and how the far-right leaders would rely on Sarah Palin as their conduit to power. If McCain loses, the meeting will weigh who the next conservative leaders will/should be.

The goal, obviously, is to get a head start on the party's post-election retrospection. Before anyone can even consider moving the Republican Party towards the middle, leading activists and power brokers want to ensure that the GOP will redouble their efforts to be as rigidly conservative as possible.

It just doesn't occur to these party leaders that the Republican governing philosophy doesn't work. The party had it all just a few years ago, did exactly what it wanted to do, ran over Democrats as if they were speed-bumps, and saw all of their ideas fail miserably. As the nation moved away from the GOP as a result, these activists concluded they'd learned a valuable lesson -- the Republican Party wasn't nearly conservative enough.

Atrios had a very sharp post yesterday explaining the party's folly: "Bush and this bunch of Republicans have completely f***ed the Republican brand. Social conservatism (ban abortion and contraception, stone gay people) just isn't popular enough nationally, and they've (for a second time) destroyed the idea of Republicans as 'fiscal conservatives.'"

And next week, a "who's who of conservative leaders," oblivious to all of this, will plot the party's future. Democrats, I'm sure, couldn't be more pleased.

Steve Benen 9:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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IT'S JUST A LONG AD.... This evening in prime time, the Obama campaign will air a half-hour long ad, talking about Obama's policy agenda in some detail. It's already facing pushback from conservatives who think, well, it's not quite clear what they think, but they're not happy.

On MSNBC yesterday, far-right pundit Willie Geist said Obama's ad reminded him of "the Soviet invasion," because it "take[s] over the airwaves." Yesterday afternoon, Elisabeth Hasselbeck called the Obama ad "repulsive." (By the way, I don't know who Hasselbeck is or why her political opinions are significant, but her complaint about Obama's ad was Mark Halperin's lead story late yesterday.)

Yes, Obama is obviously history's greatest monster. He's a presidential candidate who's going to go on television to talk to voters about what he wants to do if elected. Instead of a 30-second spot filled with soundbites, Obama is going to offer depth and detail in a 30-minute program. Clearly, words like "repulsive" and comparisons to the USSR are the only logical conclusions to draw.

For crying out loud, it's just a long ad. It's not even unprecedented.

It will also have a live component, featuring Mr. Obama at a rally in Florida. The infomercial has been under production for weeks in the Virginia office of Mark Putnam, whose firm, Murphy-Putnam, is part of the Obama advertising team.

The program is to be shown on NBC, CBS, Fox, Univision, MSNBC and two cable networks that cater to African-Americans, BET and TV One. Ross Perot, the last presidential candidate to run similar programming, broadcast eight long infomercials to an average of 13 million viewers, with one of them getting 16.5 million viewers.

Mike Murphy, a former McCain confidant, noted that he's encouraged the McCain campaign to do the exact same thing, and they probably would, if they could afford it.

For his part, McCain argued yesterday that Obama's ad is anti-baseball, insisting it would bump back the World Series on Fox by 15 minutes. "No one will delay the World Series with an infomercial when I'm president," McCain said yesterday in Pennsylvania. As it happens, McCain was, predictably, not telling the truth -- a Fox Broadcasting executive told Ben Smith, "We didn't push back the game at all," adding that the network planned to trim the pre-game commentary.

That said, I suppose McCain has to say something about this. Ken Goldstein, director of the Wisconsin Advertising Project, said, "John McCain's only chance is to disqualify Barack Obama. He has seven days. Every day that people are talking about Barack Obama's infomercial is a day that John McCain isn't getting his message out."

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (80)

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KEEPING HIS DISTANCE.... Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) is in pretty good shape for his re-election fight next week, but he's apparently concluded that being seen alongside Sarah Palin could undermine his chances.

Gov. Mitch Daniels today began his final campaign swing in his now-famous RV, heading to southern Indiana. One place Daniels won't include on his tour is the Jeffersonville stage where Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican nominee for vice president, will be campaigning Wednesday evening.

Daniels said he plans to talk to folks in the parking lot, but can't fit into his schedule a joint appearance with Palin.

"I'm going by (the Palin rally.) I've got another event scheduled at the same time, but it is close by, so I'm going to go by and spend as long as I can there and hang out in the parking lot and spend some time with the folks standing in line or patiently waiting to get in," Daniels said. "I'm not speaking at the rally, no."

So, let me get this straight. Palin will be in Jeffersonville; Daniels will be in Jeffersonville. Palin will be inside a venue talking to voters; Daniels will be outside the same venue talking to voters. Daniels could go inside and be seen with his party's vice presidential nominee, but he doesn't want to. As Josh Marshall put it, "I guess heading in from the parking lot to the stage would have just been too much for Daniels' schedule to handle."

This, in a state that hasn't supported a Democratic presidential ticket in 44 years, and where Bush won four years ago by nearly 21 points.

McCain/Palin is still favored in Indiana, but Obama/Biden has narrowed the gap significantly. Apparently, Daniels doesn't want to take any chances.

Of course, if McCain/Palin loses, I can't wait to see Daniels and Palin exchanging dirty looks at next year's gathering of the National Governors Association.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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By: Hilzoy

Socialism Is Everywhere

In a stunning reversal, John McCain today endorsed the redistribution of wealth:

"We have a plan of action to get America's economy going again, Maria, and it has to do with a wide range of prescriptions. But one of them is to keep people in their homes. Look, it was the housing crisis that started this, OK? Fannie and Freddie, this -- was the catalyst that blew this whole thing up. And frankly, the administration is not doing what I think they should do, and that's go in and buy out these bad mortgages, give people mortgages they can afford, stabilize home values and start them back up again. They did that during the depression, it was called the Home Owners' Loan Corporation.""

Did you catch that? John McCain wants to take your money and "spread" it to various mortgage lenders. Apparently, he thinks that he knows better than you do how your money should be spent.

On reflection, this shouldn't come as such a surprise. McCain has endorsed a variety of other socialistic, redistributive measures. His website notes that "John McCain believes we must enlarge the size of our armed forces to meet new challenges to our security." Needless to say, this amounts to redistributing taxpayer dollars -- your dollars -- to the men and women who would join McCain's enlarged military. Likewise, McCain proposes spreading some of your hard-earned wealth to defense contractors: "John McCain strongly supports the development and deployment of theater and national missile defenses", and he "has fought to modernize our forces, to ensure that America maintains and expands its technological edge against any potential adversary". In yet another capitulation to socialism, "he is committed to ensuring that veterans' health care programs receive the funding necessary to provide the quality health care our veterans need and deserve" -- in other words, to taking the money you have earned and giving it to veterans who get sick. Talk about the nanny state!

The horrors continue: "He will commit a $5,000 tax credit for each and every customer who buys a zero carbon emission car". Apparently, John McCain doesn't believe that you and I are competent to decide for ourselves whether to give money to people who buy hybrid cars. No: the government will decide for us, and let us foot the bill. Likewise, "John McCain Will Commit $2 Billion Annually To Advancing Clean Coal Technologies." Why can't I decide for myself whether or not I want to fund clean coal? Or to contribute to a $300 million dollar prize for the development of batteries for plug-in hybrids? Or give foreign aid to Israel? And why is John McCain so eager to expropriate my money to pay for his priorities?

John McCain might think it's the role of government to use my money to "provide $5,000 for health insurance to every American family". But those of us who cherish genuine American values know that that's just a fancy way of saying that he wants to spread the wealth.

This is socialism, pure and simple. John McCain believes that the President and the Congress should have the right to expropriate our money, and spend it on what they think matters. It's un-American, and I, for one, can no longer be a part of it.

That's why I'm moving to Somalia, where I can live under a limited nonexistent government that respects my freedoms, as the Founding Fathers intended.

Hilzoy 1:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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By: Hilzoy

A Lurch To The Left

Sigh ...

"Warming up a crowd in Sioux City this morning for GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, U.S. Rep. Steve King said Republicans are not going far enough to paint Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama as the purveyor of a socialist agenda.

King, known for provocative, partisan remarks, suggested Obama actually could be classified as even more extreme than a socialist. King also said his party is the only one with a legitimate claim on representing freedom as Americans know it.

"When you take a lurch to the left you end up in a totalitarian dictatorship," King said. "There is no freedom to the left. It's always to our side of the aisle.""

It's astonishing how quickly people have forgotten the gulags of the 1990s -- dissidents herded into camps on the Alaskan tundra, boiling bark and eating insects to keep from starving. And the purges: kulaks, political opponents, anyone who crossed the leaders vanishing without a trace. The show trials: I never thought that people would forget the sight of Newt Gingrich sitting broken on the stand confessing his rightist tendencies, or Rush Limbaugh in tears, admitting that he was an enemy of the state.

It's almost as though it never happened.

Hilzoy 12:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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October 28, 2008

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

* After dropping to a five-year low yesterday, the Dow soared by about 900 points today.

* It took a while, but Sarah Palin finally agreed that Ted Stevens should resign.

* Just think, if you only watched Fox News, you probably wouldn't even know that Stevens was a convicted felon.

* If you build it, they will watch: in just its second month, "The Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC is beating CNN's "Larry King Live" in the key demo that advertisers care about.

* Another Republican is backing Obama: this time, it's former Rep. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. of Maryland.

* Wait, the McCain's Keating scandal can get worse.

* It's painful to think 15% of women in the Armed Services who served in Iraq or Afghanistan were victims of sexual assault or sexual harassment during their tours of duty. It's also completely unacceptable.

* I'm disappointed the Christian Science Monitor is going to be a weekly instead of a daily. It's a good paper.

* I find it hard to relate to someone who uses words like "intellectualoids."

* Great, now we have right-wing blowhards attacking the poor. Classy.

* Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita has become quite an embarrassment to himself.

* Notice how calm the Obama campaign's Bill Burton seems while Fox News' Megyn Kelly gets angry.

* And finally, my most sincere condolences to the family and friends of Dean Barnett, who died yesterday after a lengthy fight with cystic fibrosis. He was just 41 years old.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE.... I have some friends and family in Florida -- I'm a Miami native -- and I've heard quite a few stories about extraordinary lines in order to vote. One guy I know waited in line for literally three hours -- in the middle of a weekday, when one might assume the lines would be shorter.

To his credit, the governor is actually going to help those who want to participate in the process.

Gov. Charlie Crist on Tuesday extended early voting hours across Florida to 12 hours a day.

The executive order comes after record early voting turnout has contributed to long lines at polling sites.

Current Florida law allows for early voting to be conducted eight hours a day each weekday and for a total of eight hours during the weekends.

With Crist's order, early voting sites will be open the rest of this week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. They will be open a total of 12 hours on Saturday and Sunday, the last day of early voting.

Immediately after signing the order, which declares a state of emergency, Crist told reporters, ''It's not a political decision. It's a people decision.''

Given the recent trend -- most of the early Floridian voters have been Democrats -- the decision doesn't do McCain any favors, which makes Crist's decision all the more honorable.

Indeed, it's also worth noting that Crist also broke with traditional Republican norms upon taking office, making it easier for released felons to regain their voting rights.

I disagree with Crist on a whole lot of issues, but when it comes to voting, he seems willing to do what too many Republicans won't: the right thing.

Steve Benen 4:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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A 'SCRIPTED ROBOT OR AN UNSCRIPTED IGNORAMUS'.... The estimable Robert Draper, blogging at GQ, offers an interesting, behind-the-scenes look at the extent to which McCain's team scrambled after Sarah Palin joined the Republican ticket. (via Jonathan Chait)

Almost from the very beginning, the Palin pick created tension. An armada of handlers descended on McCain's running mate like the flying monkeys in The Wizard Of Oz.... [Tucker Eskew] and [Nicole Wallace] took charge of schooling the Alaska governor on message discipline. Two days later at the GOP convention, an adviser watched them coach Palin on how to answer routine press questions and warned Steve Schmidt that she was being overly managed. Three weeks later, Wallace arranged for the interview with her former CBS colleague Katie Couric, which proved to be a disaster.

Meanwhile, Palin's debate prep was going miserably, to the point where Schmidt had to peel off from McCain (who was having his own challenges responding to the financial crisis) and join Nicolle's husband Mark Wallace in simplifying Palin's prep so as to avert catastrophe. The latter efforts resulted in what one senior adviser would describe to me with palpable relief as "a campaign-saving performance."

I'm sympathetic to Eskew and Wallace, and not just because they're decent people. They've held their tongue from leaking what a couple of McCain higher-ups have told me -- namely, that Palin simply knew nothing about national and international issues. Which meant, as one such adviser said to me: "Letting Sarah be Sarah may not be such a good thing." It's a grim binary choice, but apparently it came down to whether to make Palin look like a scripted robot or an unscripted ignoramus. I was told that Palin chafed at being defined by her discomfiting performances in the Couric, Charlie Gibson, and Sean Hannity interviews. She wanted to get back out there and do more. Well, if you're Eskew and Wallace, what do you say to that?

I argued a while back that adding Palin to the Republican ticket was the most ridiculous development in presidential politics in at least a generation. With each passing revelation, I feel more confident in that assessment.

When McCain aides realize Palin doesn't have the foggiest idea what she's doing or what she's talking about, what do they do? I almost feel bad for them. Almost.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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'TINY'.... When it comes to genuine, almost pathological, dishonesty, the McCain campaign has secured a place in history. If there's a Political Liars Hall of Fame, these guys are first-ballot inductees, no questions asked.

This afternoon, McCain re-released an ad first unveiled two months ago. The voiceover tells the viewer:

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

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

"Obama -- dangerously unprepared to be president."

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

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

If McCain disagrees with Obama's assessment, fine, let him make his case. But that would require intellectual seriousness and integrity, neither of which is found at McCain campaign HQ. It leads to shameless lying like this ad, which obviously distorts the meaning of simple words that even McCain/Palin should be able to understand.

Look, this isn't complicated. During the cold war, the former USSR was "the world's greatest land military power, with a massive strategic nuclear capacity that carried on a multi-decade ideological struggle" with the United States. Iran, meanwhile, has an economy the size of Finland's, an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion, and hasn't invaded a country since the late 18th century. Anyone who argues the threat posed by modern-day Iran is similar, both in size and scope, to a former nuclear superpower is either hopelessly confused or lying.

So, why the re-release? In August, the ad was slated for a national release that never came. Now, according to Halperin, "Tiny" will air "in key Florida markets."

In other words, McCain wants to scare Jewish voters with blatant lies. Even by McCain standards, this is pathetic.

Steve Benen 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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PAT BUCHANAN EXPLAINS IT ALL.... The McCain campaign is anxious to make voters scared of the notion of a Democratic president working with a Democratic Congress, but McCain's had some trouble describing the consequences -- probably because the Democratic agenda is pretty popular.

But Pat Buchanan is willing to go where McCain's isn't, explaining in his latest syndicated column what Americans can expect if a President Obama works with a Democratic majority in the House and Senate. Some of the highlights:

* Swift amnesty for 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens and a drive to make them citizens and register them, as in the Bill Clinton years. This will mean that Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona will soon move out of reach for GOP presidential candidates, as has California.

* Two or three more liberal activists of the Ruth Bader Ginsberg-John Paul Stevens stripe will be named to the Supreme Court. U.S. district and appellate courts will be stacked with "progressives."

* Special protections for homosexuals will be written into all civil rights laws, and gays and lesbians in the military will be invited to come out of the closet. "Don't ask, don't tell" will be dead.

* The homosexual marriages that state judges have forced California, Massachusetts and Connecticut to recognize, an Obama Congress or Obama court will require all 50 states to recognize.

* A "Freedom of Choice Act" nullifying all state restrictions on abortions will be enacted. America will become the most pro-abortion nation on earth.

* Universal health insurance will be enacted, covering legal and illegal immigrants, providing another powerful magnet for the world to come to America, if necessary by breaching her borders.

Ol' Pat seems a little preoccupied with immigration and gays, doesn't he?

I don't doubt there's a segment of the population who might find such an odd rant compelling, but in general, reading Pat Buchanan tirades reinforces a simple fact: the right-wing culture war is so 1990s.

In the midst of a financial crisis and two wars, Buchanan and his cohorts apparently want to tell voters, "Be afraid! Gay, Mexican abortion doctors are coming! Run for your lives!"

I remember a time when Buchanan's rants were infuriating. Now, he just seems like some harmless clown, with harangues that read more like parodies than anything else.

Steve Benen 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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MAYBE LIEBERMAN'S BEEN TALKING TO FRIST.... Over the weekend, Joe Lieberman was asked whether he believes Sarah Palin is ready to be president. "Thank God, she's not going to have to be president from Day One," Lieberman said. "McCain's going to be alive and well."

The problem, of course, is that Lieberman doesn't know that. McCain, who's battled recurring melanoma, would be the oldest president ever elected. Obviously, we can hope for McCain's good health, but with Palin in the wings, it's not unreasonable for voters to be uncomfortable.

Lieberman took this one step further on Sunday, telling voters in Tampa he's sought professional guidance on the issue.

"People say to me, oh jeez, he's 72 and he's got skin cancer," Lieberman said, adding: "I can tell you he's been in remission for eight years. Secondly, I talked -- because I get asked this question so much -- I talked to doctors and insurance actuaries. And they tell me based on McCain's age, his health, including skin cancer, he'll live till at least 85. And probably longer."

Lieberman once again offered a prayer that Palin would not soon have to serve as commander in chief: "I believe that he'll be able to serve through his first term for which he's elected, please God."

As a rule, when a campaign surrogate is relying on doctors and actuaries to reassure voters about a candidate, it's not a good sign.

But I'm also curious which "doctors" Lieberman has been consulting on this, and just how many are confident about the "at least 85" prediction. Were any of Lieberman's doctors familiar with McCain's personal medical history? Or did Lieberman call up Bill Frist, who made a judicious diagnosis based on some footage he saw of McCain on television?

Steve Benen 1:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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MCCAIN'S HEALTHCARE CONTRADICTION.... How bad is the McCain healthcare plan? So bad that the McCain campaign is now undermining its own proposal.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain's senior economic policy adviser, told CNN that younger, healthier workers probably won't give up their employer-sponsored healthcare plans because they would have no incentive to change. "Why would they leave?" said Holtz-Eakin. "What they are getting from their employer is way better than what they could get with the credit."

That's true. Taking a credit given by a McCain administration onto the open market would be very unappealing, especially those who are getting "way better" employer-sponsored healthcare.

But here's the thing: this isn't supposed to be the McCain campaign's argument. As Ezra explained:

Young workers are cheap. They don't need much health insurance. The theory of the McCain plan is that because of this, they will take their tax credit and head over to the individual market, either purchasing very cheap health care or no health care at all. This, in theory, will bring down total spending.

Holtz-Eakin is saying the theory may not work. The individual market sucks. You can be eliminated for preexisting conditions. Administrative costs are sky-high. There is no protection against the whims of your insurer. The same policy you had with your employer will, for these reasons and others, cost $2,000 more on the individual market. As such, young people may not exactly want to throw themselves into that situation.

Moreover, what young folks get from their employers is much better than what they'd receive on the individual market. Employer-based coverage plans are not aimed at young people who don't need much in the way of health care. They're aimed at older workers, and workers with families, who do. If the young workers, who are the good insurance bets, can't get better coverage on the individual insurance market, imagine how much worse the coverage will be for those who actually need to avail themselves of health care services.

Quite right. And what makes McCain's plan so striking is that it would discourage employers from providing the "way better" healthcare, precisely so workers would take McCain's credit onto the open market. "Why would they leave?" Holtz-Eakin asks. Because McCain wants them to.

"What they are getting from their employer is way better than what they could get with the credit," Holtz-Eakin argues. Well, sure. The next question, though, is why Holtz-Eakin's boss believes the smart thing to do is to push Americans away from their "way better" healthcare, taking inadequate credits that the McCain campaign now concedes are worse than the status quo.

Update: Atrios' summary is far more straightforward than mine: "So, the [McCain] plan is to increase taxes on people with decent health care plans and provide a tax credit for people to buy shitty ones. That's some wealth spreading we can believe in, my friends!"

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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THE REPUBLICAN WAR ON SCIENCE CONTINUES.... As a rule, when conservative Republicans start bashing scientific research, it's a safe bet they're wrong. This is especially true of the McCain/Palin campaign.

Last week, for example, Sarah Palin delivered a speech on the ways in which the government could do more for special-needs children. She noted that Congress could invest more in tackling autism, for example, by eliminating earmarks, such as one devoted to "fruit fly research," which she said has "little or nothing to do with the public good."

Palin, not surprisingly, had it backwards. "Fruit fly research," ironically, has helped identifiy specific proteins on nerve-cell connections, and offers possible advances in, among other things, autism.

More notably, John McCain takes great pleasure in mocking an earmark Obama requested for, as McCain puts it, "an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago."

Lawrence Krauss explains today that McCain doesn't know what he's talking about.

The "overhead projector" in question is in fact a 40-year-old Zeiss optical projector that needs to be replaced at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. The one-ton, 10-feet-long instrument is the central component of the Adler, the first planetarium ever built in the Western Hemisphere. It projects the night sky on the dome of the Sky Theater at the planetarium, which has hosted more than 35 million people since it opened, including more than 400,000 schoolchildren every year. In fact, the request -- made by Obama along with others in the Illinois congressional delegation, including three Republicans -- wasn't granted.

If it had been, it wouldn't have been a waste of government money. The National Academy of Sciences has targeted science education as a key goal in preserving the economic competitiveness of our nation. Similar "overhead projectors" in Los Angeles and New York have recently been replaced with the help of federal funds. McCain's gleeful attack sends this message: Encouraging science literacy is not worthy of government support. [...]

It is easy to attack what you don't understand. But politicians would be wiser to attempt to better appreciate how science affects the issues central to our political priorities before rushing to use scientific research and education as a scapegoat in their campaigns.

Ironically, when the McCain campaign started identifying exceptions to McCain's proposed "spending freeze," a senior policy adviser to the campaign told reporters that McCain's budget plan includes "a specific carve-out for spending on science," adding that we would "definitely see, under John McCain, more spending on research."

We're talking about a ticket that questions science when it comes to global warming, questions science when it comes to modern biology, and questions science when it comes to sexual health. That McCain and Palin support and oppose federal spending on science is consistent with their general incoherence on the subject.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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By: Hilzoy

That Tape From 2001

I spent part of last night trying to find a way to actually listen to the audio of Obama's interview with Chicago Public Radio. Unfortunately, I couldn't get it to work. So, unfortunately, I'm going to have to base my comments on Fox News' transcript, which is the most complete version I could find. It's plainly not a very good transcript -- it seems quite rushed (e.g., it's full of uncorrected spelling mistakes, abbreviations that it seems unlikely that the speakers actually used, etc.) I would normally listen to the audio to check its reliability, but as I said, it was not to be. So take what follows with the appropriate caveats.

I honestly don't see what all the fuss is about. Some of Obama's points have been made more often by conservatives than by liberals. For instance:

"i think one of the tragedies of the civil rights movement was that 41:01 the civil rights movement becaem so court focused i think there was a tendency to lose track of the political and organizing activities 41:12 on the ground that are able to bring about the coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change 41:20 and in some ways we still suffer from that"

It's just disingenuous to interpret Obama, in this passage, as saying that it's a tragedy that the Court did not pursue redistribution of wealth. The "tragedy", according to Obama, is that the civil rights movement focussed too exclusively on the courts, rather than on organizing. Conservatives have said for ages that liberals have too often tried to use the courts to bring about changes that ought more properly to be made through legislation. In this passage, Obama is agreeing with them.

As for this passage:

"but the supreme court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of basic issues of political and economic justice in this society and to that extent as radical as people try to characterize the warren court it wasnt that radical"

I agree with noted hard-left socialist Orin Kerr:

"Based on the audio posted, however, I find it hard to identify Obama's normative take. When Obama says that he's "not optimistic" about using the courts for major economic reform, and when he points out the practical and institutional problems of doing so, it's not entirely clear whether he is (a) gently telling the caller why the courts won't and shouldn't do such things; (b) noting the difficulties of using the courts to engage in economic reform but not intending to express a normative view; or (c) suggesting that he would have wanted the Warren Court to have tried to take on such a project.

My best sense is that Obama was intending (a), as his point seems to be that the 60s reformers were too court-focused. But at the very least, it's not at all clear that Obama had (c) in mind."

Moreover, if you read the transcript, the "redistribution" Obama is talking about does not seem to involve expropriating wealth from some people and giving it to others. The specific examples of redistribution under discussion are: first, ensuring that welfare recipients have hearings before they are denied benefits, and second, trying to achieve equal funding for different school districts. The point of the second is explicitly supposed to be not equal wealth, but equal opportunity:

"a classic example would be something like public education where after brown v board a major issue ends up being redistribtion how do we get more money into the schools 34:51 and how do we actually create equal schools and equal educational opportunity well the court in a case called san antonio v rodriguez in the early 70s 35:01basically slaps those kinds fo claims down and says you know what we as a court have no power to examine issues of redistribution and wealth inequalities 35:11with respect to schools thats not a race issue thats a wealth issue and something and we cant get into those"

Unequal funding for school districts has always been a huge problem for people who care about equal opportunity. Suppose you think that ideally, every kid ought to have an equal shot at success, and that while it's fine if some kids do better than others because they are more talented, willing to work harder, etc., we should try to minimize the extent to which kids are deprived of opportunity just because they were born to poor parents. (Note: minimize does not mean eliminate completely. That would be impossible. It just means doing your best to create a level playing field, when this can be done legally, and without interfering with some other important value, like the right of parents to decide how to raise their kids.) And suppose you think that while money is not by any stretch of the imagination all you need to make your school system good, not having nearly enough money can prevent you from having anything like the school system your kids deserve.

If you thought this, you'd think that the fact that we fund education locally presents us with a problem. Some cities and towns are richer than others. Those cities and towns will be able to provide much better schools for their kids. And this means that kids from poor towns will be likely to have many fewer opportunities than kids from rich towns. If you care about equality of opportunity, you'll probably think that this is a problem. One natural solution would be for states and the federal government help to fund education: in this way, funding levels for different school districts could be made more equal. But this involves, horror of horrors, redistribution: money from taxpayers who live in richer communities is being given to school districts in poorer communities.

The thing is: that's what Obama is talking about. He's not talking about cutting checks for the poor; he's talking about trying to equalize funding across school districts. And his reason for doing this is specifically to "create equal schools and equal educational opportunity", not to equalize wealth.

***

Personally, I can't wait for this election to be over. I'm tired of writing about disingenuous arguments in which people note that Obama used a word like "redistribution", pay absolutely no attention to what he actually seems to have been talking about, and infer that appearances to the contrary, he's a socialist (or a Black nationalist, or a Muslim, or whatever.) I don't expect that this sort of thing will vanish once the election is over, but I do hold out some tiny hope that there will be less of it.

Hilzoy 12:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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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.

* We knew we'd see a Jeremiah Wright ad eventually, and the right-wing National Republican Trust PAC is responsible for one.

* It looks like Virginia Republicans aren't confident in McCain's chances: "A phony flier, purporting to be from the Virginia Board of Elections, is circulating in the African-American-heavy Hampton Roads region of the state, falsely informing people that, because of expected high turnout, Democrats should vote on November 5th. The election is November 4th."

* The DNC is "taking out a $10 million line of credit to split equally between the House and Senate campaign committees" to help maximize their gains in congressional elections.

* Early voting is helping Obama in Florida and Ohio.

* The RNC is starting to worry, at least a little, about West Virginia.

* In Florida, a Suffolk Poll shows Obama leading McCain by five, 49% to 44%, while Rasmussen shows Obama up by four, 51% to 47%.

* In Ohio, Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain by four, 49% to 45%, while SurveyUSA shows Obama leading by the exact same margin.

* In Colorado, Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain by four, 50% to 46%.

* In Virginia, Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain by four, 51% to 47%.

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

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

* In New Hampshire, a Marist poll shows Obama leading McCain by five, 50% to 45%.

* In Iowa, a Marist poll shows Obama leading McCain by 10, 52% to 42%.

* In Arizona, Rasmussen shows McCain leading Obama by five, 51% to 46%.

* Pew Research Center shows Obama leading McCain nationally by 16, 52% to 36%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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THE GOP'S FACTIONAL WARFARE.... Time will tell the extent to which Republicans have a rough election cycle, but rival intra-party factions are already gearing up for a post-election fight for the future of the party. The message from the base seems rather straightforward: "Screw moderation."

The social conservatives and moderates who together boosted the Republican Party to dominance have begun a tense battle over the future of the GOP, with social conservatives already moving to seize control of the party's machinery and some vowing to limit John McCain's influence, even if he wins the presidency.

In skirmishes around the country in recent months, evangelicals and others who believe Republicans have been too timid in fighting abortion, gay marriage and illegal immigration have won election to the party's national committee, in preparation for a fight over the direction and leadership of the party.

The growing power of religious conservatives is alarming some moderate Republicans who believe that the party's main problem is that it has narrowed its appeal and alienated too many voters.

The first battle in the larger war will apparently be fought over the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee. Far-right conservatives, including Rush Limbaugh and some state party chairs, are already arguing that they will choose the next party leader, even if McCain wins the presidency.

South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson insisted this is necessary, arguing that "moderating our party is what caused us to lose power" in 2006.

This is not an uncommon sentiment among leaders of the Republican base -- they seriously believe voters would be far more likely to support the GOP if party leaders were more right-wing. What's more, if things don't go well for the party seven days from now, these activists will push this line very aggressively as the party starts to put the pieces back together, whether it makes sense or not.

Kevin recently predicted that the Republican Party is "going to be riven by factional warfare for years, with moderates unable to get a purchase on the party apparatus because of the McCain albatross hanging around their necks. Eventually, like Britain's Labor Party in the 80s, they'll find their Tony Blair, but in the meantime they're likely to double down on the most strident possible social conservatism, convinced that the heartland will respond if only they regain the true faith."

We'll see how this works out for them.

Steve Benen 11:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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'A WHACK JOB'.... The internal fight among McCain and Palin staffers got a little more intense over the weekend, when a McCain adviser told CNN, "She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone.... Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom."

Today, the blame game got even uglier. The Politico's Mike Allen reports:

In convo with Playbook, a top McCain adviser one-ups the priceless "diva" description, calling her "a whack job."

I suppose we'll be hearing even more of this in the coming days, with McCain/Bush loyalists holding Palin responsible for practically all of the campaign's difficulties. The argument may even have some merit.

But there's still a limit to all of this. Indeed, no matter how hard they try, it's McCain who ends up holding the bag. It's not complicated: if Sarah Palin is "a whack job," why did McCain pick her to be one 72-year-old heartbeat from the presidency?

I suppose the obvious response is that neither McCain nor his aides realized when they chose her that she was "a whack job," but whose fault is it that McCain and his team decided to skip the vetting phase of the process?

To blame Palin is to blame McCain. If the campaign is her fault, then the campaign is his fault.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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A DIFFERENT KIND OF BACKLASH.... There's been a fair amount of polling recently that shows John McCain's relentlessly negative campaign style backfiring -- he's struggled to narrow the gap, and he's driven up his negative ratings.

But this week, McCain's anti-Obama attacks prompted a very different kind of backlash, when at least three dozen workers at an Indiana telemarketing call center chose to walk off the job rather than read a McCain campaign script.

Nina Williams, a stay-at-home mom in Lake County, Indiana, tells us that her daughter recently called her from her job at the center, upset that she had been asked to read a script attacking Obama for being "dangerously weak on crime," "coddling criminals," and for voting against "protecting children from danger."

Williams' daughter told her that up to 40 of her co-workers had refused to read the script, and had left the call center after supervisors told them that they would have to either read the call or leave, Williams says. The call center is called Americall, and it's located in Hobart, IN.

"They walked out," Williams says of her daughter and her co-workers, adding that they weren't fired but willingly sacrificed pay rather than read the lines. "They were told [by supervisors], `If you all leave, you're not gonna get paid for the rest of the day."

The daughter, who wanted her name withheld fearing retribution from her employer, confirmed the story to us. "It was like at least 40 people," the daughter said. "People thought the script was nasty and they didn't wanna read it."

A second worker at the call center confirmed the episode, saying that "at least 30" workers had walked out after refusing to read the script.

"We were asked to read something saying [Obama and Democrats] were against protecting children from danger," this worker said. "I wouldn't do it. A lot of people left. They thought it was disgusting."

For these call-center employees, they weren't just demonstrating character by taking a stand, they were also making a personal sacrifice -- by refusing to read McCain's vile script, these workers gave up a day's pay.

Keep in mind, robocalls are illegal in Indiana, forcing the McCain campaign to rely on these call centers to spread their smears. If more states passed similar laws, maybe we'd have more call-center-worker rebellions? And ultimately fewer loathsome Republican attacks over the phone?

Steve Benen 10:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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STEVENS' (AND PALIN'S) NEXT MOVE.... Shortly after a jury convicted Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) on seven felony counts, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), head of the NRSC, ostensibly charged with the task of helping Stevens get another term, issued a strongly worded statement. "Ted Stevens served his constituents for over 40 years and I am disappointed to see his career end in disgrace," Ensign said.

Oddly enough, Stevens doesn't see it that way.

A defiant Sen. Ted Stevens is returning to Alaska on Wednesday to resume his re-election campaign, despite being convicted of felonies that carry the potential of years in prison. [...]

Hours [after the conviction], the news had settled in. The guards were gone, the campaign ordered Moose's Tooth pizza for its workers and Stevens' backers started talking about what's next.

"I think it will be a battle but we're going to throw every ounce of effort into doing so," said political consultant Art Hackney, who is working on the Stevens campaign. Hackney said it's going to be a "nonstop campaigning, very aggressive," once Stevens gets back to Alaska.

Stevens will apparently not be able to even cast a vote for himself, and hopes to become the first convicted felon ever elected to the U.S. Senate.

The other angle worth considering here is that of Stevens ally Sarah Palin, who helped run Stevens' political group and who relied on Stevens' support to get elected. Yesterday, even after the verdict, Palin wouldn't say whether or not she plans to vote for Stevens, and declined to say whether she believes he should step down.

A.L. argued that this was a missed opportunity that McCain and Palin were foolish to pass up: "[W]hy the reluctance to criticize a man now that is now a convicted felon? Why not call for him to step down? Isn't that a no-brainer? Stevens is going to lose anyway and the McCain/Palin campaign is desperate for some good media coverage. This is right in their wheelhouse. And yet they're not swinging."

I'm reminded of something Palin said just a few months ago about Stevens: "I have great respect for the senator, and he needs to be heard across America. His voice, his experience, his passion needs to be heard across America.... There's a big difference between reality and perception [about] our relationship."

I don't know what that means, but given yesterday's verdict, I'm looking forward to Palin's explanation.

Update: McCain has called on Stevens to resign from the Senate. No word from Palin.

Steve Benen 9:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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THE REPUBLICANS' WARDROBE FIGHT.... The revelations about Sarah Palin receiving $150,000 in clothes and accessories from the RNC was largely a one-day story. Maybe two. People were surprised, the late-night comics had fun with it, and the political world was moving on.

Much to the chagrin of the McCain campaign, Palin decided to renew interest in the story on Sunday, defending her frugality and blaming the RNC for the whole mess.

And with that, what was an embarrassing side story is touching off yet another internecine fight, this time between the campaign and the RNC over who's responsible for a shopping spree gone awry.

Palin has pointed the finger at the RNC, as has McCain advisor Nancy Pfotenhauer, who told MSNBC that the RNC "made the decision," and it was "obviously the RNC's call." Yesterday, RNC Chairman Mike Duncan pushed back, telling MSNBC that this was "a coordinated expense that the campaign asked us to pay for."

Complicating matters, the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes, a Palin backer, went on Fox News to blame the McCain campaign, specifically senior McCain aide Nicolle Wallace. Wallace said:

"The person who went and bought the clothes, and as I understand it put the clothes on her credit card, went to Saks and Neiman Marcus -- where she was not asked to go by Sarah Palin, where Sarah Palin has never set foot -- and bought these clothes and brought them back, the staffer who did that has been a coward and has not stepped forward and said, 'I made a mistake, I went and bought these clothes, I shouldn't have, it's been an embarrassment to the campaign and to Sarah Palin and to John McCain, I hurt the campaign, I'm sorry, it was my fault.'

"Instead, she's allowed Sarah Palin to take the whole hit, and that's hurt the campaign... All the people I talk to say it's Nicolle Wallace. Now, if she didn't do that, then let her announce it publicly."

And here I thought we'd already established that Jeff Larson was the one doing the shopping.

The party's descent into junior-high-school-level sniping continues.

Oddly enough, the Republicans seem far more anxious to talk about this embarrassing flap than the Democrats. Who knew?

Steve Benen 9:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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THERE IS NO PARALLEL.... Though it's unclear how close they were to executing their plot, two young white supremacists were arrested in Tennessee yesterday, in advance of an alleged plan to assassinate Barack Obama and murder 102 African-American kids.

Federal officials told reporters yesterday that the plot had not yet moved to an advanced stage, but the two would-be assassins had acquired weapons for their "killing spree."

For reasons that I don't understand, the Tennessee Republican Party felt compelled to issue a public statement after the arrests.

"Hate is not a political party, policy statement, agenda or ideology -- it is a pure evil that no place in civil society," said Robin Smith, Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. "Whether it is neo-Nazi skinheads plotting a racist shooting spree targeting Sen. Obama, or West Hollywood liberals hanging Gov. Sarah Palin in effigy and calling it 'art,' or unknown anarchists tossing bricks through the windows of a county Republican headquarters in Murfreesboro, Americans of all political views should be outraged."

There's an odd tendency in some far-right circles for conservatives to feel like they're victims of some kind of persecution. The problem with this bizarre complex, though, is that a) it's absurd; and b) it leads to ridiculous comparisons like this one from the Tennessee Republican Party. The statement seems to argue, "Sure, white supremacists planned a killing spree, but everyone should feel sorry for us because we've been targeted, too."

The Tennessee GOP really sees a parallel between a crude piece of art, random vandalism, and a plot to kill more than a hundred children and a presidential candidate. In Robin Smith's eyes, there's some kind of equivalency between the three. This is pure madness.

This is, of course, the same Tennessee Republican Party that's been so extreme in its vile attacks against Obama that McCain and GOP lawmakers felt the need to condemn them.

We'll see if there's any pushback against Robin Smith's breathtaking press release.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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TALK ABOUT STRETCHING THE MAP.... In June, shortly after securing the Democratic nomination, the Obama campaign began airing television ads in 14 "red" states, a group which included Montana. It seemed like an odd choice -- Bush beat Kerry in Montana by more than 20 points four years ago, and Bush beat Gore in the state by 25 points eight years ago. Did the Obama campaign know something we don't?

Actually, yes. A Rasmussen poll in July showed Obama with a narrow lead in Montana, and last week, an MSU-Billings poll showed Obama leading McCain by four, 44% to 40%.

With a week to go, the RNC has decided this is a state worth worrying about.

The Republican National Committee will begin running television ads in Montana beginning on Wednesday, a sign of how heavily the playing field is tilted against the GOP with just eight days left in the presidential election.

Obama has already spent about $2 million in the state, while the RNC's ad buy, which is a negative spot attacking Obama, will cost about $400,000.

Montana certainly seems like an unexpected addition to the list of swing states, but it's not as if Democrats are invisible there -- Montana does, after all have a Democratic governor and two Democratic senators. What's more, Bill Clinton won the state in 1992, thanks to a very strong showing from Ross Perot -- and Ron Paul is on the ballot in Montana this year (as the Constitution Party's "nominee").

In the broader context, though, there are probably quite a few vulnerable Republican senators who are wondering why the RNC would rather invest nearly a half-million in Montana on McCain's behalf, as opposed to giving them a much-needed hand in the last week.

Steve Benen 7:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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October 27, 2008
By: Hilzoy

by hilzoy

Stevens Again

Steve already noted that Ted Stevens was convicted on seven felony counts today. This is a very good thing, for (at least) two reasons. First, Senators who are corrupt ought to know that there is a non-negligible possibility that they will be convicted of felonies and sent to prison. Second, the Republicans might lose another Senate seat because of this, a fate they might well have avoided had they either induced Stevens not to run for re-election or fielded a successful primary challenger against him. I suspect politicians, like most people, will generally be unwilling to turn on one of their own in this way absent some compelling reason to do so. Knowing that they risk losing a Senate seat needlessly might help to concentrate their minds and firm up their resolve. (And yes, I do think this about politicians of both parties.)

Besides that, though, Stevens really is outrageous on the subject of earmarks. And while I don't think that earmarks are always and everywhere bad, Stevens seems to have gone way, way over the line in extracting them from Congress. Moreover, he is, by all accounts, a bully. Here's an excerpt from a profile of him from TNR, which I can't find online any more, but excerpted a little over a year ago:

""I'm a mean, miserable S.O.B.," he once proudly told his colleagues. And yet, he rose to awesome heights of influence in the Senate, controlling billions of dollars in public money. (...) How was Ted Stevens able to turn the fear and loathing he engendered in others into a political asset? (...)

Perhaps more than any other senator, Stevens obsesses over which of his colleagues are friends and which are enemies. "People who vote against this today are voting against me," he declared after one contentious vote on oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (anwr). "And I'll never forget it." After another Senate debate, Stevens announced that he had "written off" several friends in the Senate who had allegedly betrayed him. "I'm not traveling with them anymore, and I'm not going to play tennis or swim or do various things with them," he seethed. Even something as simple as an October 2005 dispute about amending a spending bill led Stevens to liken relations with his old friend, longtime Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia, to a cold warera meltdown: "Our friendship is close to the brink, very close to the brink," he warned.

Stevens doesn't just end friendships--he gets revenge. (Or, as he has put it, "I don't make threats--only promises.") In the past, he has campaigned against colleagues who have angered him, and, in March 2006, he openly admitted to pulling a bill that would aid the Puget Sound shipping industry to spite Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, who had crossed him over anwr. As a result, no one wants to say no to The Hulk, lest they land atop his hit list."

Lovely.

Hilzoy 10:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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

* We've had some extraordinarily frustrating server problems today. We're aware of it, working on it, and apologize for the inconvenience.

* Scary beyond words: "Federal agents have broken up a plot to assassinate Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and shoot or decapitate 102 black people in a Tennessee murder spree, the ATF said Monday. In court records unsealed Monday, federal agents said they disrupted plans to rob a gun store and target a predominantly African-American high school by two neo-Nazi skinheads.... Jim Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of the Nashville field office for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said the two men planned to shoot 88 black people and decapitate another 14. The numbers 88 and 14 are symbolic in the white supremacist community."

* The Dow fell another 200 points today, closing at 8175.

* This seems rather important: "U.S. military helicopters launched an extremely rare attack Sunday on Syrian territory close to the border with Iraq, killing eight people in a strike the government in Damascus condemned as 'serious aggression.' A U.S. military official said the raid by special forces targeted the network of al-Qaida-linked foreign fighters moving through Syria into Iraq."

* On a related note, there's been an increase in CIA airstrikes against militants in the Pakistani mountains.

* An aide to Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) beat and assaulted Democratic trackers over the weekend. Wolf's office, after a lengthy delay, apologized for the incident this afternoon.

* The Reuters newsroom in New York was evacuated today after an envelope with a "puff of powder" was found. Authorities found the powder to be harmless soon thereafter.

* There's a real problem with the presidential ballot in North Carolina.

* Sarah Palin started talking about her wardrobe again yesterday. Apparently, the McCain campaign isn't happy about it.

* And finally, I'm pretty sure this is a video the McCain campaign doesn't want getting around.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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DOWN THE TUBES.... Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the first sitting senator to endure a criminal trial in 27 years and an ally of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, was found guilty today on seven felony counts.

Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Senate Republican in history and patriarch of Alaska politics, was found guilty of felony charges for making false statements.

The verdict could spell the end of a 40-year Senate career for a man who rose to be one of the most dominant figures in the upper chamber and who helped transform Alaska in its 50 years of statehood. The verdict was reached after the jury deliberated since Wednesday and found the 84-year-old senator guilty of failing to report more than $250,000 in gifts from Bill Allen, the former head of Veco Corp., and other friends.

The jury did not seem to buy the explanation from Stevens that Allen showered him with gifts he didn't want and was unaware of, and that he believed the $160,000 he gave to another contractor covered all costs for the home renovations.

Roll Call noted that the decision came "on the same day that an alternate juror was placed back on the jury -- and just over a week before Stevens (R) will face voters in Alaska as he seeks re-election."

The AP added that Stevens "faces up to five years in prison on each count but, under federal sentencing guidelines, will likely receive much less prison time, if any." His lawyers will, undoubtedly, appeal today's outcome.

As for the political implications, this will seriously diminish Stevens' re-election chances -- call it a hunch -- and make it that much more difficult for the GOP to stay competitive in the Senate. Palin, meanwhile, is also likely to face new questions -- assuming she ever actually speaks to the media -- about her support for and long-time association with Stevens, whose political group Palin helped run and whose support she relied on to get elected.

Steve Benen 4:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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THE WEALTH SPREADERS.... Without a hint of irony, Sarah Palin has begun calling Barack Obama "Barack the Wealth Spreader." I'm not sure if typical voters, who've seen their real wages decline, and who haven't benefitted at all from a series of Republican tax cuts, will necessarily be outraged by the idea of a president offering more economic opportunities to those who've been left behind, but whatever. I'm not the McCain/Palin campaign's message consultant.

But more importantly, as Ryan Powers noted, there's the irony of Palin making these ridiculous attacks.

Just last month, in an interview with Philip Gourevitch of the New Yorker, Palin explained the windfall profits tax that she imposed on the oil industry in Alaska as a mechanism for ensuring that Alaskans "share in the wealth" generated by oil companies. [...]

In fact, Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share (ACES) program, which manages the redistribution of oil wealth in Alaska, brings in so much money that the state needs no income or sales tax. In addition, this year ACES will provide every Alaskan with a check for an estimated $3,200.

As Hendrick Hertzberg notes, "Perhaps there is some meaningful distinction between spreading the wealth and sharing it ... but finding it would require the analytic skills of Karl the Marxist."

I realize that even McCain, Palin, and Fox News don't take this "socialism" nonsense seriously, and that this is just rhetoric borne of desperation. McCain has always struggled with new ideas and a changing world, so it stands to reason he'd rely on a red scare as his closing argument.

But the truth is, Sarah Palin's Alaska is about as close to socialism as America gets. As Yglesias recently noted, "You have collective ownership of valuable natural resources that generates lots of revenue for the state, and then the government makes 'spreading the wealth around' through the Permanent Fund, etc. its main priority."

The point isn't that there's anything especially wrong with Palin-style socialism; there isn't. The point is, if McCain and Palin want to whine incessantly about socialism, redistribution of wealth, and "welfare," they ought to a) learn what they're talking about; and b) take a good look in the mirror.

Steve Benen 3:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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RADIO DAZE.... In 2001, then-State Sen. Barack Obama participated in a radio discussion on civil rights, the judiciary, and economics. The McCain campaign, Fox News, and Drudge have been apoplectic today, insisting that Obama's on-air comments are shocking and scandalous. I checked it out, expecting something fairly damaging, but found the whole thing rather anti-climactic.

Obama was clearly wearing his professorial hat during the interview, talking about "redistributive change," but to hear the McCain/FNC/Drudge troika tell it, Obama was practically reading from the Communist Manifesto. Not only are Republicans wrong about this manufactured outrage, they actually have the story backwards.

Obama in that interview said, "If you look at the victories and failures of the civil rights movement, and its litigation strategy in the court, I think where it succeeded was to vest formal rights in previously dispossessed peoples, so that I would now have the right to vote, I would now be able to sit at a lunch counter and order and as long as I could pay for it I'd be okay."

"But," Obama said, "The Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society. And to that extent as radical as I think people tried to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn't that radical. It didn't break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution, as least as it's been interpreted, and Warren Court interpreted in the same way that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties, says what the states can't do to you, says what the federal government can't do to you, but it doesn't say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf. And that hasn't shifted."

Obama said "one of the, I think, the tragedies of the civil rights movement, was because the civil rights movement became so court focused, I think that there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change, and in some ways we still suffer from that."

When a caller inquired about whether the courts are the appropriate mechanism for socio-economic progress, Obama said remedies should come through legislation, not the judiciary.

Now, I've let my subscription lapse on Republican Talking Points Weekly, but shouldn't conservatives agree with Obama had to say? Obama may have used a few big words, but his argument included some basic ideas that Republicans need not find controversial -- the courts have never played a role in improving economic conditions of working Americans, and the left should look to policy makers, not judges, to address economic inequalities. Over-reliance on the courts, Obama said, is a mistake.

And yet, the three-headed McCain/FNC/Drudge monster is just shocked by what Obama had to say, pointing to his remarks as evidence of, well, something nefarious. It's not quite clear what. Doug Holtz-Eakin, for reasons that defy comprehension, is pushing this story in the most intellectually dishonest way possible, destroying what's left of his credibility.

The right seems especially hung up on Obama's use of the word "tragedy," but as Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton noted, "In the interview, Obama went into extensive detail to explain why the courts should not get into that business of 'redistributing' wealth. Obama's point -- and what he called a tragedy -- was that legal victories in the Civil Rights led too many people to rely on the courts to change society for the better. That view is shared by conservative judges and legal scholars across the country."

This seemed fairly obvious to me. That McCain/FNC/Drudge are hyperventilating today says more about their desperation than Obama's ideology.

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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OBAMA'S CLOSING ARGUMENT.... Barack Obama just wrapped up a "closing argument" speech in Canton, Ohio, summarizing his vision, and highlighting the campaign's message for the final eight days.

Halperin has the full text of the 4,000-word speech, but the bulk of the message was, not surprisingly, about the economy.

"Now, I don't believe that government can or should try to solve all our problems. I know you don't either. But I do believe that government should do that which we cannot do for ourselves -- protect us from harm and provide a decent education for our children; invest in new roads and new science and technology. It should reward drive and innovation and growth in the free market, but it should also make sure businesses live up to their responsibility to create American jobs, and look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road. It should ensure a shot at success not only for those with money and power and influence, but for every single American who's willing to work. That's how we create not just more millionaires, but more middle-class families. That's how we make sure businesses have customers that can afford their products and services. That's how we've always grown the American economy -- from the bottom-up. John McCain calls this socialism. I call it opportunity, and there is nothing more American than that."

It's funny to think McCain carefully positioned himself as an opponent of middle-class tax breaks. I'm still not sure why, but the vaunted McCain Communications Team must know something I don't.

Obama's closing argument is notable in that it's almost a "greatest hits" package, drawing a bit from Obama's 2004 convention speech and his 2008 convention speech.

"In this election, we cannot afford the same political games and tactics that are being used to pit us against one another and make us afraid of one another. The stakes are too high to divide us by class and region and background; by who we are or what we believe. "Because despite what our opponents may claim, there are no real or fake parts of this country. There is no city or town that is more pro-America than anywhere else -- we are one nation, all of us proud, all of us patriots. There are patriots who supported this war in Iraq and patriots who opposed it; patriots who believe in Democratic policies and those who believe in Republican policies. 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."

For what it's worth, the McCain campaign announced this morning that McCain does not plan to offer a closing argument of his own, preferring instead to stick with the same old attacks for the campaign's closing week.

Steve Benen 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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A MOCKERY OF THE FREEDOM OF THE PRESS.... Earlier this month, reporters were told they could attend a Sarah Palin rally, but all journalists would be prohibited from talking to voters who attended the event. A week later, Palin aides told an NBC affiliate in Maine that she's willing to be part of an interview, but only if the McCain campaign could choose the reporter asking the questions.

Taking this bizarre attitude one step further, Palin offered a CBS affiliate in Des Moines five minutes for an interview. Reporter Cynthia Fodor explained the catch: "[W]e had to submit which topics we wanted to discuss ahead of time which is not standard procedure."

Think about that for a second -- Sarah Palin was afraid she couldn't get through a five-minute interview with a local television station without getting a few hints first.

Her excuses are running a little thin at this point. She's been a candidate for national office for two months, and in eight days, Palin wants voters to put her a heartbeat from the presidency. Her fear of questions is not exactly reassuring.

For what it's worth, the station agreed to Palin's demands and gave her the topics in advance. Not surprisingly, the interview was dull, and featured Palin rattling off a series of talking points.

I can't help but wonder what would have happened if Fodor had shown up for the interview and asked questions about different topics. Would Palin have gotten up and left?

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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'DANGEROUS THREESOME'.... As John McCain's desperation level gets higher, his rhetoric gets stranger. From an event in Cleveland:

"This election comes down to how you want your hard earned money spent. Do you want to keep it and invest it in your future, or have it taken by the most liberal person to ever run for the Presidency and the Democratic leaders who have been running congress for the past two years -- Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid? This is a dangerous threesome. They believe that $1 trillion of rescue financing is not enough and have already proposed another $300 billion spending spree they are calling a stimulus plan. I would rather give the great American middle class additional tax cuts and let you keep that money and invest it in your future."

First, as we talked about over the weekend, the "checks and balances" argument is wildly misguided. McCain is, in effect, telling voters that Obama will be in a position to deliver on his campaign promises, thanks to a like-minded Congress.

Second, last week, McCain liked the idea of a second stimulus plan. He really should keep up on his own talking points.

Third, if a tax cut for the American middle class were really a priority, Obama's middle-class tax cut wouldn't be three times as big as McCain's.

And fourth, "a dangerous threesome"? Is this really the most presidential message McCain can think of?

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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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. (I'm running late because the server has been a mess this morning.)

* If crowd size translates to votes, the Obama campaign must have been thrilled by what they saw over the weekend.

* Sarah Palin's home-town newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News, endorsed Obama/Biden on Saturday.

* Bill Clinton and most of the Democratic establishment of Arkansas held a rally on Obama's behalf over the weekend in Arkansas.

* In Virginia, a Washington Post poll shows Obama leading McCain by eight, 52% to 44%, while a poll from Virginia Commonwealth University shows Obama up by 11, 51% to 40%.

* In Missouri, Mason-Dixon shows McCain up by one, while SurveyUSA shows Obama by two, and Research 2000 shows Obama up by one.

* In Iowa, a Lee Enterprises poll shows Obama up by 15, 54% to 39%, while Mason-Dixon shows Obama up by 11, 51% to 40%.

* In New Hampshire, a Boston Globe poll shows Obama up by 15, 54% to 39%.

* In Georgia, Mason-Dixon shows McCain up by six, 49% to 43%.

* In Kentucky, a Herald-Leader poll shows McCain up by 16, with 12% of Kentucky voters acknowledging that they're uncomfortable with the color of Obama's skin.

Steve Benen 12:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (3)

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LEGISLATIVE INCOHERENCE.... For a while, I was keeping track of all of the bills John McCain opposed that he personally sponsored. It became daunting to keep up with -- McCain, most notably during the Republican primaries, announced his opposition to lots of his own bills.

Yesterday, as Ron Chusid noted, McCain was on CNN and took this to the next level, announcing that he would have vetoed the same spending bills he'd voted to support.

BLITZER: Where would you, as president, draw the line between vetoing that kind of spending bill or accepting it because of the greater good that it also includes, as you decided in the bailout?

MCCAIN: I would have vetoed literally every spending bill, even those that I had voted for, if I were president of the United States.

Chusid noted, "This is even more ridiculous than John Kerry's quote on voting for an appropriation before he voted against it. In Kerry's case he was talking about two different bills.... McCain is talking about vetoing bills he actually voted for. He did have the opportunity to vote against them."

I'm trying to wrap my head around McCain's argument -- the spending bills were bad, Bush should have vetoed them, so McCain voted for them.

Blitzer didn't press the issue, but I have no idea what McCain's talking about.

Steve Benen 11:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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PRESSLER JOINS THE OBAMACANS.... Another one.

Former Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.), who was the first Vietnam veteran to serve in the United States Senate, is the latest Republican to back Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign, Politico learned Sunday.

Pressler, who said that in addition to casting an absentee ballot for Obama he'd donated $500 to the Illinois senator's campaign, cited the Democrat's response to the financial crisis as the primary reason for his decision.

Pressler, who admitted that he'd never voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in his life before Obama, said it was difficult to vote against a Republican he served with in the Senate, but emphasized how impressed he's been with Obama's team of economic advisors, and added that McCain's "handling of the financial crisis made me feel nervous."

Pressler joins Colin Powell, William Weld, Arne Carlson, Charles Fried, and other notable Republicans who've recently announced their support for Obama.

But Pressler's explanation for why he dumped McCain for Obama is the part that stood out for me. For weeks, the pundits have noted that the financial crisis has seriously undermined the McCain campaign. That's true, but it overlooks why -- McCain has handled the crisis really badly. It's not enough to simply note that a focus on the economy is necessarily good news for Obama; McCain had a chance to deal with this crisis effectively and he blew it.

As Obama recently told Rolling Stone, in recent years, McCain has confronted two major crises. "One is the war in Iraq, and the other is what's happened just over the last three and a half weeks on Wall Street. In both instances, what you've seen is John McCain being impulsive, not getting all the information that he needs, surrounding himself with people who are predisposed to agreeing with him. And as a consequence, I think he's made bad judgments."

A surprising number of Republicans have apparently reached the same conclusion.

Steve Benen 10:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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WHERE'S CONDI?.... On "Meet the Press" yesterday, John McCain touched on Colin Powell's support for Barack Obama, expressing his "disappointment." He added, however, that he has the support of five former Republican Secretaries of State, though he struggled a bit in naming them.

As Ali Frick noted, there was one noticeable absence from McCain's list.

So why isn't Condoleezza Rice, the current Secretary of State, on that list? Rice has said she's "not going to get involved in this political campaign." But perhaps her hesitation has something to do with Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK). When asked in September whether Palin had enough experience for the job of vice president, Rice deliberately avoided the question, saying only, "These are decisions that Senator McCain has made. I have great confidence in him."

It is rather curious. Consider Rice's interest in the last presidential campaign, when she took a very active role. In an item that is no longer online, U.S. News reported on the scene at the White House on Election Day 2004.

It was about 2 p.m. Election Day, and White House political chief Karl Rove was steaming mad. Crummy media exit polls were all over the Internet, claiming a Kerry blowout and possibly depressing the GOP vote, as well as Bushies around the nation. "Karl was furious," we're told. So he went to work in a White House dining room, laying out electoral spreadsheets, scrolling through GOP exit polls, and watching TV. "Karl knows every single precinct," says a friend. "We were never behind."

But how would he get the word out? Enter Chief of Staff Andy Card and national security adviser Condi Rice. "She was into it," said the friend. Card shouted out vote counts from the computer, Rice scribbled them down, and Rove compared them with old statistics.

In fact, Rice arguably did more campaign work than any NSA ever. Four years ago, on the day of a massive military operation against Zarqawi, Rice gave a campaign speech. The day Poland announced it would withdraw troops from Iraq, Rice gave another campaign speech. While Europeans negotiated with Iran to end its nuclear program, Rice gave another campaign speech.

And now she's reluctant to even endorse McCain? Hmm.

Steve Benen 9:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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NUCLEAR SAFETY IS FOR WUSSES.... For months, John McCain has blasted Barack Obama for his reluctance to support expanded nuclear power plants. Obama has pushed back, noting that he supports nuclear as part of a comprehensive energy strategy, but before an expansion, he wants to resolve lingering questions about the security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage, and proliferation.

Campaigning in Iowa yesterday, McCain responded with the kind of intellectual rigor and seriousness of thought we've come to expect of the Republican nominee.

"You know, the other night in the debate with Senator Obama, I said his eloquence is admirable, but pay attention to his words," McCain said. "We talk about offshore drilling and he said he would quote, consider, offshore drilling. We talked about nuclear power, well it has to be safe, environment, blah, blah, blah."

Now, the Republican activists on hand for the speech found "blah, blah, blah" to be absolutely hilarious. I haven't the foggiest idea why.

But it does raise a question about McCain's approach to the issue. Obama has clear concerns about safeguards for nuclear power; McCain believes these safeguards are not only irrelevant, but worthy of mockery.

I'm curious: which concerns, specifically, does McCain dismiss as trivia? The security of spent fuel, storing nuclear waste, or nuclear proliferation?

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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IT ALL COMES BACK TO JUDGMENT.... The infighting among McCain campaign staffers got a little tense over the weekend, with the bulk of the tension surrounding Sarah Palin -- one faction believes she's to blame for the campaign's problems, while another believes McCain's aides have misused her and failed to take advantage of her strengths.

Far be it for me to pick sides in this squabble, but it's worth keeping in mind that it's very hard to teach an unprepared student who hasn't done her homework.

"Her lack of fundamental understanding of some key issues was dramatic," said another McCain source with direct knowledge of the process to prepare Palin after she was picked. The source said it was probably the "hardest" to get her "up to speed than any candidate in history."

Robert Draper spoke with one of the campaign's senior advisers not too long ago, asking him a straightforward question: "Leaving aside her actual experience, do you know how informed Governor Palin is about the issues of the day?"

After pondering the question for a moment, he said, "No. I don't know."

Now, in the context of the internecine campaign conflict, this might seem to give the McCain/Bush faction an edge -- Palin took on a task she wasn't prepared for. Aides worked hard to bring her up to speed on Government 101, but she simply wasn't ready. Given this, the McCain side of the campaign divide finds it easier to blame Palin for its troubles.

But there's still one key flaw: if Palin was hopelessly ignorant and unable to learn the basics, why on earth did McCain pick her? If the McCain/Bush aides hope to gain an edge by preemptively blaming Palin for a defeat, it doesn't exactly clear their boss -- McCain chose Palin to be one 72-year-old heartbeat from the presidency. If she's the disaster who gets the blame, it's still McCain who bears responsibility for the fiasco.

Steve Benen 8:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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By: Hilzoy

Oh, Great: A Second Epicenter

Paul Krugman:

"The really shocking thing, however, is the way the crisis is spreading to emerging markets -- countries like Russia, Korea and Brazil.

These countries were at the core of the last global financial crisis, in the late 1990s (which seemed like a big deal at the time, but was a day at the beach compared with what we're going through now). They responded to that experience by building up huge war chests of dollars and euros, which were supposed to protect them in the event of any future emergency. And not long ago everyone was talking about "decoupling," the supposed ability of emerging market economies to keep growing even if the United States fell into recession. "Decoupling is no myth," The Economist assured its readers back in March. "Indeed, it may yet save the world economy."

That was then. Now the emerging markets are in big trouble. In fact, says Stephen Jen, the chief currency economist at Morgan Stanley, the "hard landing" in emerging markets may become the "second epicenter" of the global crisis. (U.S. financial markets were the first.)

What happened? In the 1990s, emerging market governments were vulnerable because they had made a habit of borrowing abroad; when the inflow of dollars dried up, they were pushed to the brink. Since then they have been careful to borrow mainly in domestic markets, while building up lots of dollar reserves. But all their caution was undone by the private sector's obliviousness to risk.

In Russia, for example, banks and corporations rushed to borrow abroad, because dollar interest rates were lower than ruble rates. So while the Russian government was accumulating an impressive hoard of foreign exchange, Russian corporations and banks were running up equally impressive foreign debts. Now their credit lines have been cut off, and they're in desperate straits.

Needless to say, the existing troubles in the banking system, plus the new troubles at hedge funds and in emerging markets, are all mutually reinforcing. Bad news begets bad news, and the circle of pain just keeps getting wider."

Krugman is not alone: stories about currency crises and emerging markets are popping up all over. The WSJ:

"Sharp moves in global currency markets are being driven by short-term factors such as the fear of economic distress and the unwinding of trades that depended on borrowed money. But the currency swings are likely to have long-term economic implications for developed and emerging economies.

The dollar and the yen have both soared against nearly every other global currency over the past month as investors became convinced that a world-wide recession was looming.

The dollar has strengthened 16% against the euro, 24% against the Mexican peso, and 9% against the Russian ruble and on Friday it hit a high against the Indian rupee. The surge has brought to an end 2 1/2 years of dollar weakness, according to a Federal Reserve index that measures the buck against 26 currencies. (...)

For emerging markets, rapid currency declines have been "very disruptive," says Richard Clarida, global economic adviser at Pacific Investment Management Co. and a professor at Columbia University. "It ends up impairing confidence in markets and generating an inflation problem."

To combat these sharp moves, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, and India collectively have drawn down their reserves by more than $75 billion since the end of September, selling dollars to protect their currencies, according to Win Thin of Brown Brothers Harriman."

Check out what's happening to some stock markets overseas:

"Markets down more than 70%: Vietnam (-70.5%), Peru (-73.2%), Ireland (-73.4%), Russia (-73.9%), Iceland (-88.7%).

Markets down between 60% and 70%: Hong Kong (-60.1%), Poland (-62.6%), China (-69.8%).

Markets down between 50% and 60%: South Korea (-54.5%), Italy (-55.2%), Egypt (-56.9%), Brazil (-57.2%), Japan (-58.1%), Singapore (-58.2%), Turkey (-58.5%), India (-58.3%)."

(You might ask: isn't Pakistan supposed to be having trouble? Yes, but they've put an artificial floor on their stock market, so it can't go down.)

When a country's currency tanks, imports become more expensive, and any debt it has that's denominated in a foreign currency suddenly becomes a lot more expensive. For countries that depend on imports and foreign capital, or that have substantial debts that are not in their own currency, it can be ruinous. A lot of developing countries really don't have piles of spare money just lying around, waiting to be used for the defense of their currencies. Nor can their economies absorb serious capital flight.

Cleveland has it bad. But developing countries have it much, much worse. And something tells me that neither foreign aid nor charitable giving are going to be very strong for the foreseeable future.

Hilzoy 2:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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By: Hilzoy

The View From The Ground

The subprime crisis in Cleveland (h/t Undiplomatic):

"All over Cleveland, lenders from across the country were pouring money into communities that not long before had complained about being redlined.

Much of that money, from National City and other banks, found its way to Slavic Village, the childhood home of Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D), which local officials call ground zero for the foreclosure crisis. For decades, the neighborhood, which abuts a steel mill in the city's southeast, was a struggling working-class community with an aging population and few new residents. But Slavic Village underwent a dramatic change beginning in the late 1990s as the tide of mortgage money flooded the area with new homeowners, lifting prices to unprecedented heights. Thousands of the neighborhood's small wooden homes turned over, with investors selling to new buyers at multiples of their purchase price, sometimes within months, and often after making only cosmetic repairs.

"The deals became toxic immediately," said City Council member Anthony Brancatelli, who for 17 years headed the Slavic Village Development Corp. "What should have been $20,000 or $30,000 homes became $80,000 or $90,000 homes with toxic loans."

The result has been a rush of foreclosures. The number of foreclosure sales in the five-square-mile neighborhood swelled from 114 in 2001 to 840 last year. In the first six months of this year, 316 Slavic Village properties have been through foreclosure, according to figures compiled by the development corporation.

The story has been repeated to varying degrees throughout Cleveland, and the result has been the virtual collapse of the city's housing market. Livable homes can be had for as little as $6,000 or $7,000, while many others have tumbled into complete disrepair, leaving city officials in a desperate battle against the resultant blight. In Slavic Village alone, more than 50 arson fires have been set this year, while many of the vacant homes are ravaged by scavengers, looking to cash in on the copper wiring and plumbing and aluminum siding that they sell as scrap metal. It is a stunning decline that is sure to shrink the city's property tax base for years to come."

According to that article, "nearly 10 percent of the city's properties have gone into foreclosure." That's staggering. I'm trying to imagine being someone whose home is in Slavic Village, who has worked hard, been responsible, and made all her mortgage payments, and who sees her property values plummet because of the burnt out and boarded up houses all around me. In particular, I'm trying to imagine my reaction to Alan Greenspan saying that he had "found a flaw" in his ideology, or to the news that "the bailout is now the hottest lobbying game in town." Unfortunately, it's unprintable.

And it's not just homeowners, of course. Under the best of circumstances, many cities have tax problems. They have higher tax rates than the surrounding suburbs; as a result, people who can move to those suburbs do so; as a result, the city's tax base shrinks, and it has to raise taxes some more; rinse and repeat. When nearly ten percent of homes go into foreclosure and property values fall drastically, that problem gets much, much worse. And it's not as though people considerately stop committing crimes, going to school, or in some other way drawing on municipal services until the city's budget problems are over. On the contrary: their needs go up at the precise time when cities cannot pay the bills.

We're in for a world of hurt.

Hilzoy 1:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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October 26, 2008

ABOUT THOSE ZOGBY POLLS.... Zogby polls haven't enjoyed widespread acclaim this year, but they continue to be part of the mix -- and as this morning, John McCain just loves the numbers Zogby published today.

Democrat Barack Obama's lead over Republican rival John McCain has dropped to 5 points, according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll released on Sunday.

Obama leads McCain by 49 percent to 44 percent among likely U.S. voters in the daily tracking poll, which has a margin of error of 2.9 points. Obama's lead has dropped over the last three days after hitting a high of 12 points on Thursday.

Now, I noted the other day that there may be a temptation on the part of some to believe polls that offer favorable results, and ignore polls that don't. It's not an intellectually honest way of watching a campaign, but it's not uncommon. As such, it wasn't especially surprising to see McCain seize on Zogby as a reliable measurement of public opinion this morning on "Meet the Press."

But there's reason for skepticism. Zogby's wild swings -- Obama's leads have gone from three to 12 to five very quickly -- aren't reflected in other national polls, which have shown pretty steady numbers of late.

Isaac Chotiner noted, "Given the fact that the race has been remarkably stable over the past ten days or so, you might expect some skepticism from pollster John Zogby when his daily samples jump wildly around from night to night. But no: Not only does Zogby seem to have total confidence in his numbers, but he also interprets each wild swing as if it shows meaningful progress for one candidate or another."

Quite right. As recently as Thursday, Zogby said McCain "is not connecting" with voters. Just 72 hours later, McCain has found his "message."

Chotiner concluded, "This verges on the absurd. Listening to Zogby discuss his numbers is akin to hearing basketball announcers search for a reason why some particular team is having a bad shooting night. It can never be that, er, if you play an 82-game season, occasionally your shots will not fall."

Steve Benen 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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A 'COMMON PHILOSOPHY'.... Under the circumstances, one might assume that John McCain would try to avoid talking about George W. Bush altogether. Just pretend he doesn't exist. If asked, he'd say, "George who?"

But, no. McCain keeps pushing his luck. A few days ago, McCain brought up Bush in order to talk about how much Obama has in common with the president. A day later, McCain brought up Bush again in order to argue, unpersuasively, that he disagrees with the president about several key issues. McCain talked about Bush again this morning, acknowledging that he and the president "share a common philosophy of the Republican Party."

I suspect the Obama campaign couldn't be happier to have the discussion head in this direction. Indeed, Obama, campaigning in Denver today, plans to help McCain get his message out.

"Just this morning, Senator McCain said that he and President Bush – 'share a common philosophy.' That's right, Colorado. I guess that was John McCain finally giving us a little straight talk, and owning up to the fact that he and George Bush actually have a whole lot in common."

Look, this isn't even a close call. By now, we've all seen the clip with McCain bragging to a national television audience about having voted with Bush 90% of the time, "higher than a lot of my even Republican colleagues."

But the connection obviously goes far deeper. As Tom Brokaw reminded McCain this morning, the senator has insisted, "[O]n the transcendent issues, the most important issues of our day, I have been totally in agreement and support of President Bush." A few months ago, McCain vowed to campaign alongside Bush as much as possible this year.

And perhaps most importantly of all, McCain's policy agenda for the next four years is practically indistinguishable from Bush's policy agenda. This is old news.

Yet McCain continues to engage on this issue, even going so far as to equate Bush and Obama, apparently unaware of just how delighted Obama is to have this discussion in the campaign's closing days.

Steve Benen 1:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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AN ARGUMENT MISSING A CONSEQUENCE.... The McCain campaign is reportedly planning to go all in when it comes to warning voters about a Democratic president working with a Democratic Congress. It is a key to his "closing argument," and as of very recently, an integral part of his stump speech.

McCain said having Democrats in control of the White House, the U.S. House of Representatives under Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and the Senate under Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, would give Democrats unfettered power. [...]

"Senator Obama's tax increase would put even more people out of work," McCain said. "We've seen this before in other countries. It doesn't work. The answer to a strong economy is not higher taxes.

"But that is exactly what's going to happen if the Democrats have total control of Washington. We can't let that happen. Are you ready for Obama, Pelosi and Reid?" the Arizona senator said.

Putting aside McCain's obvious confusion about economics, McCain's "warnings" really don't make any sense. As Yglesias put it, "Presumably, the reason Democrats are forecast to make gains in the House and the Senate and Obama is leading in the polls is that, yes, most voters want Democrats to take over. This sounds more like a fundraising pitch than a general election argument."

On the surface, there may be something appealing about an amorphous phrase like "checks and balances." But one of the problems with McCain's argument is that it lacks consequences. He doesn't have an answer to the "or what?" question. ("We can let Dems control the White House, Senate, and House," McCain says. "Or what?" voters ask.)

McCain's pitch is premised on the notion that voters won't think it through, and will prefer gridlock just for the sake of gridlock. If the president and the Congress are on the same page, they'll be more likely to move away from Bush's economic policies, pass a middle-class tax cut, end the war in Iraq, pass a universal healthcare plan, pass a comprehensive energy policy, and make college more affordable.

McCain's argument, in effect, is, "Vote for Obama and he'll likely be able to deliver on his promises. Vote for me so those things you want are less likely to happen."

McCain has experimented with all kinds of different messages lately, but this is comically unpersuasive. If Democrats are really lucky, McCain will keep this up and make it his central focus for the next nine days.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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DAVID FRUM GIVES UP ON MCCAIN.... On CNN's "Larry King Live" a few days ago, David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter and Giuliani campaign aide, offered his party some advice. "[W]e need to stop indulging the idea, which has been pretty dead for a while, this [presidential race is winnable," Frum said. "It's probably not winnable. It's almost certainly not winnable." His advice was to focus on saving some Republican senators, instead of investing in McCain.

Frum expounded on the subject today in a Washington Post piece, in which he argued that McCain is not only losing, but is also "losing in a way that threatens to take the entire Republican Party down with him."

In these last days before the vote, Republicans need to face some strategic realities. Our resources are limited, and our message is failing. We cannot fight on all fronts. We are cannibalizing races that we must win and probably can win in order to help a national campaign that is almost certainly lost. In these final 10 days, our goal should be: senators first.

I suppose there's some logic in this, if one agrees with Frum that McCain's chances for victory are too remote to be taken seriously. But there are a couple of problems with Frum's pitch.

First, Frum's argument is predicated on an oddly paranoid premise. In explaining why Republicans should focus on "saving" vulnerable GOP incumbent senators, he argues that without 45 seats or so, Democrats will "reward friends and punish enemies," "silence conservative talk radio," "police the activities of right-leaning think tanks," and demonstrate a "militant" and "angry intolerance" for dissent. In other words, the pitch is this: "Vote for Republican Senate candidates, because David Frum has an overactive imagination."

Second, Frum believes candidates like John Sununu in New Hampshire, Gordon Smith in Oregon, and Norm Coleman in Minnesota can be saved if the party moves away from far-right "themes and messages" used by Sarah Palin. The election is nine days. Frum thinks the GOP can salvage some wins by moving to the center now? As if the nation has been unconscious the last several years?

Frum's argument is not completely ridiculous, at least when it comes to the RNC's resources. That the Republican National Committee thought it wise to spend $150,000 on Sarah Palin's campaign wardrobe, while the party's congressional candidates are struggling, is very hard to defend. If the RNC were to give up on McCain altogether, and focus its remaining resources on down-ballot races, it might make a difference.

But he likelihood of Republicans taking Frum's advice seems remote. They've come this far with an incoherent strategy, and it's too late in the game to change it now.

Steve Benen 11:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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ARIZONA.... It seems like a stretch. In fact, it seems almost silly. But to borrow Atrios' phrase, there's a certain entertainment factor in poll porn.

Democrats are circulating a poll showing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) losing ground in his own state, an ominous sign for his beleaguered campaign as state after state turns blues.

Project New West, which aims to build the Democratic Party in the Intermountain West, says McCain leads Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in the Grand Canyon State, 48 percent to 44 percent.

The pollsters call that a "dramatic shift" from a survey they took in mid-September, which had McCain ahead by 14 points, 54 percent to 40 percent.

"Bad News for McCain: Presidential Contest in Arizona has Closed in Arizona And McCain Now Leads By Just 4 Points," says a memo from pollsters Andrew Myers of Myers Research and Strategic Services, and Lisa Grove of Grove Research.

To be sure, this poll, while eyebrow-raising, seems to be at odds with most of the available data out of Arizona. What's more, while Obama is stretching the map pretty well, there's no way in the world Arizonans are going to start seeing ads in their state this week.

But the New York Times notes that Arizona is trending "blue," and while McCain is very likely to carry his home state, Democratic advances in Arizona are also likely, and the party is in position to gain "a majority of Arizona's Congressional delegation -- now with eight members -- for the first time since 1966."

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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LIEBERMAN HASN'T BEEN PAYING ATTENTION TO HIMSELF.... Joe Lieberman adopted the role of Republican attack dog early on, but as the election draws near, he's hoping the political world has a very short memory.

Lieberman, a self-proclaimed "independent Democrat" who was chosen by McCain to make the case against Obama at the Republican National Convention in early September, said his comments have been within bounds.

"When I go out, I say, 'I have a lot of respect for Sen. Obama. He's bright. He's eloquent.'"

My hunch is, Lieberman sees the direction of the political winds, and hopes to convince Democrats that while he's been a McCain sycophant, he's always been "respectful" towards Obama.

Lieberman, in other words, has to hope Democrats haven't been paying any attention at all. The party is supposed to forget, for example, when Lieberman argued that Obama doesn't put "country first."

And the time Lieberman said it was a "good question" to ask whether Obama is a "Marxist."

And the time Lieberman ironically accused the Obama campaign of "sleazy tactics."

And the time Lieberman, at the Republican National Convention, falsely accused Obama of trying to undermine the troops

"Respectful"? Nice try, Joe.

Steve Benen 9:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (330)

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WHO DOES MCCAIN PLAN TO 'TEST'?.... Last weekend, Joe Biden predicted that U.S. enemies may try to "test" Barack Obama with an international crisis early on if he's elected president, but Obama's "spine of steel'' will serve him well when faced with these challenges. The McCain campaign, ever since, has tried to characterize Biden's remarks as some kind of important development.

Yesterday, McCain, again citing Biden's comments, added some new rhetoric to the mix.

"I'm gonna test them,'' Republican John McCain said at a campaign rally in New Mexico this morning. "They're not gonna test me.''

So much for walking softly.

Maybe McCain could take a moment to elaborate on what this means, exactly. He's going to "test" rivals? Which ones? How will he "test" them?

If Biden's remarks suggest U.S. enemies may try to create an international crisis, it sounds as if McCain's message is, "I'll show them; I'll start an international crisis first!"

Given McCain's record of saber-rattling towards Iran, aggression towards North Korea, and antagonism towards Russia, McCain's vow to "test" U.S. rivals isn't exactly reassuring. What is it, exactly, he's promising to do?

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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By: Hilzoy

Question

There are only ten days left until the election. How long before the McCain campaign and/or the Republican Party compares Barack Obama to Pol Pot? Or Charlie Manson?

I mean, we've already had Hitler and Soviet Russia. Why stop there?

Hilzoy 1:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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By: Hilzoy

A Similar Mistake

They actually went there:

"Pennsylvania Republicans are disavowing an e-mail sent to Jewish voters that likens a vote for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to events that led up to the Holocaust.

"Jewish Americans cannot afford to make the wrong decision on Tuesday, November 4th, 2008," the e-mail reads. "Many of our ancestors ignored the warning signs in the 1930s and 1940s and made a tragic mistake. Let's not make a similar one this year!""

The Pennsylvania Republican Party claims that this mailer went out without their authorization, and that they have fired the consultant who was responsible. That consultant, however, says this:

""I had authorization from party officials" to send the e-mail, Rudnick said, but he declined to say who had signed off on it. "I'm not looking to drag anyone else through the mud, so I'm not naming names right now," he said."

***

There are things you should not say unless you really, really mean them, and events you should not invoke lightly. Saying that voting for Obama, or for McCain, or for any of the major party candidates in my adult lifetime, would be a mistake that is in any way "similar" to underestimating the horror of the Nazis is one of them.

We should never forget what the Nazis actually did, or what the Pennsylvania Republican Party has seen fit to invoke so lightly; and we should not dishonor those who were murdered by using them to score cheap political points.

Photobucket

Hilzoy 1:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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By: Hilzoy

Oh Noes! Socialism!

If you read Barack Obama's tax plan (pdf), it seems pretty unobjectionable. He wants to cut taxes on most people, and let the tax rates on those who make over $250,000 a year go back to the levels they were at during the Clinton years, when, as we all know, the economy went to hell in a handbasket. He will keep capital gains taxes the same for people making under $250,000 a year, and raise the capital gains rate for the remaining people to 20%; again, this is where it was after Bill Clinton cut it in 1997. He would eliminate some corporate tax loopholes, but eliminate capital gains taxes for small businesses. This hardly seems like the onset of the apocalypse to me.

Sarah Palin disagrees:

"Sarah Palin went after Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats at a campaign rally in a high school gym in Sioux City today. As supporters shouted out "Socialist!" at the mention of Barack Obama's name Sarah Palin clearly laid out the analogy without mentioning it outright -- even comparing his economic plan to other countries "where people are not free."

"See, under a big government agenda, what you thought was yours, your income, your property, your inventory, your investments, really would belong to somebody else, to everybody else. And it would be shared with everybody else." Palin said, "That philosophy of government taking more, which is a misuse of the power to tax. It leads to government moving into the role of taking care of you and government and politicians and kind of moving in as the other half of your family to make decisions for you. Now they do this in other countries where the people are not free.""

Sarah Palin: Step away from that copy of The Fountainhead...

I would really like to know what Sarah Palin thinks is an appropriate use of the government's power to tax. Maybe she is opposed to all taxes, and regards even those taxes required to provide for the national defense as confiscation or theft. Or maybe she thinks there's something sacrosanct about the levels of taxation we have now -- that all the money the government now takes is money it can take legitimately, without engaging in theft or redistribution, but any increase in taxes counts as socialist confiscation, and anyone who advocates such changes shows that s/he believes that all our property is owned collectively. That would explain why she thinks that while Bush's tax cuts did not count as redistributing wealth in favor of the rich, repealing those tax cuts on people making over $250,000 a year counts as redistributing wealth in favor of the remaining 95% of the population. But it would also be an idiotic thing to believe.

Look: socialism is a word that has a meaning. It means public control of the means of production. It does not mean taxing the top bracket at 39%. Likewise, "collective ownership" has a meaning, and it does not mean the situation that obtains when the government can repeal tax cuts for the top 5% of the population.

I assume that if Sarah Palin had a decent argument against Obama's policies, she'd make it. Trying to cast Obama as a socialist is just laughable -- almost as laughable as the idea that this line of attack will appeal to anyone outside the Republican Party's lunatic fringe.

Hilzoy 12:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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October 25, 2008
By: Hilzoy

For The Record

The NYT:

"Mr. Podesta has been mapping out the transition so systematically that he has already written a draft Inaugural Address for Mr. Obama, which he published this summer in a book called "The Power of Progress." The speech calls for rebuilding a "grand alliance" with the rest of the world, bringing troops home from Iraq, recommitting to the war in Afghanistan, cutting poverty in half in 10 years and reducing greenhouse gases 80 percent by 2050."

This has been picked up by John McCain:

"Sen. John McCain this afternoon seized on a newspaper report that Sen. Barack Obama's staff has already written a draft of an inaugural address for the Democrat, mocking the presumptuousness.

"When I pull this thing off, I have a request for my opponent: I want him to save that manuscript of his inaugural address and donate it to the Smithsonian, and they can put it right next to the Chicago paper that says, 'Dewey defeats Truman,' " McCain said in this Las Cruces, N.M., suburb."

For the record: it's not true. ThinkProgress:

"-- The book, which was in the works for over a year and was written with the help of CAP's in-house progressive historian John Halpin, traces the history and successes of progressive politics in the 20th Century, draws lessons from that history, and then applies those lessons to the big challenges facing the country -- the global economy, global warming, and global security. At the end, there is a sample inaugural address written not "for Mr. Obama," but rather, clearly offered as a literary device to summarize the main arguments in the book.

-- The inaugural address was written and submitted to the publisher in March 2008, during a time when Podesta was supporting Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Podesta re-did the introduction to the book -- but not the inaugural address -- in June when it became clear that Obama would emerge as the nominee."

As ThinkProgress points out, Obama has been heavily involved in the writing of his speeches. It would be very odd for him to let someone else write his inaugural address.

If the NYT didn't bother to get the facts before writing, they should have. If they knew that Podesta's speech was not written for Obama, they should have made that fact a lot clearer in what they wrote. Either way, they really screwed up.

H/t Matt Yglesias.

Hilzoy 10:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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By: Hilzoy

Compare And Contrast

Barack Obama on his response to the economic meltdown:

"We were getting phone calls from people in Washington and I think there were some on our staff that were thinking that maybe we should interject and respond in some way. My strong feeling was that this situation was of such seriousness that it was important not to chase the cameras. One of the advantages that we had was that I think we had been steady from the start. I had already called my economic advisors together. I had already put forward a clear set of principles that were in the process of being adopted. I had been talking to Paulson and Bernanke and the congressional leadership on a regular basis so it wasn't like I felt in any way that I was out of the loop. I felt like I was helping to shape the direction of this. And one of the things that I have become more and more convinced of during the course of this campaign is that in an environment like this one where people are really paying attention because they are worried and they are scared good policy will end up being good politics -- more than I think might have been true during boom times in the nineties when people were just feeling like it was sport, it was a game. "

Robert Draper on McCain's response:

"The meeting was to focus on how McCain should respond to the crisis -- but also, as one participant later told me, "to try to see this as a big-picture, leadership thing." As this participant recalled: "We presented McCain with three options. Continue offering principles from afar. A middle ground of engaging while still campaigning. Then the third option, of going all in. The consensus was that we could stay out or go in -- but that if we're going in, we should go in all the way. So the thinking was, do you man up and try to affect the outcome, or do you hold it at arm's length? And no, it was not an easy call."

Discussion carried on into the afternoon at the Morgan Library and Museum as McCain prepared for the first presidential debate. Schmidt pushed for going all in: suspending the campaign, recommending that the first debate be postponed, parachuting into Washington and forging a legislative solution to the financial crisis for which McCain could then claim credit. (...)

Schmidt evidently saw the financial crisis as a "true character" moment that would advance his candidate's narrative. But the story line did not go as scripted. "This has to be solved by Monday," Schmidt told reporters that Wednesday afternoon in late September, just after McCain concluded his lengthy meeting with his advisers and subsequently announced his decision to suspend his campaign and go to Washington. Belying a crisis situation, however, McCain didn't leave New York immediately. He spent Thursday morning at an event for the Clinton Global Initiative, the nonprofit foundation run by former President Bill Clinton. As McCain headed for Washington later that morning, he was sufficiently concerned about the situation that Schmidt felt compelled to reassure him. "Remember what President Clinton told you," Schmidt said, referring to advice Clinton had dispensed that morning: "If you do the right thing, it might be painful for a few days. But in the long run it will work out in your favor.""

What's interesting to me is that both candidates seem, on the surface at least, to have operated on the same principle: "good policy will end up being good politics", "If you do the right thing, (...) in the long run it will work out in your favor." The obvious next question is: OK, what is the right thing to do? And McCain got that one so spectacularly wrong that it's hard to imagine that he cared about it in the first place.

If a Presidential candidate truly wants to do the right thing in a situation like this, it seems to me that the best thing to do is not to talk about it, and not to do anything dramatic, but to work as hard as you can behind the scenes. Very few difficult policy decisions are improved by having Presidential politics injected into them, and this seemed unlikely to be one of the exceptions. McCain is not on any of the relevant committees, has no obvious expertise in finance, and, by all accounts, does not have the kind of standing in Congress that would let him rally members behind him. That means that it's not at all clear how his returning to DC would help at all, especially since he could just as easily have tried to round up support for whatever course of action he thought best by phone.

If McCain had actually asked himself what the right thing to do was, it's hard to see how he could have come up with the answer: suspending my campaign and heading to Washington. If he did think that that was the most helpful thing he could do under the circumstances, I'd have to seriously question both his judgment and his insight into his own capacities.

Steve Schmidt was right to see the crisis "as a 'true character' moment". It revealed a lot about McCain. For instance, it revealed that in the midst of the biggest economic crisis in decades, he was more concerned with looking like a leader than with acting like one, and more concerned with the politics of his own response than with doing the right thing. It also revealed that he doesn't think his own responses through, which is why he had to un-suspend his campaign so quickly.

But it's also revealing that when Steve Schmidt had to "reassure" him, he told McCain that he was doing the right thing. It was pretty obvious that that wasn't true: at any rate, a few questions about why this was the right thing to do would have made it clear that there was no reason at all to think that it was. It's interesting both that Schmidt tried to buck McCain up by appealing to his desire to think of himself as doing the right thing, and that he could count on McCain to accept that appeal to his vanity without subjecting it to scrutiny.

Decisions like this one reveal what matters to a person. People who care more about actually doing the right thing than about thinking that they do take the time to figure out what the right thing is. People who care more about their own self-image than about actually doing what's right, by contrast, have no reason to bother with that question. It seems to be important to John McCain to think of himself as an honorable person who does the right thing. But in this case at least, he didn't seem to care whether or not that thought was true.

Hilzoy 4:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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KICKING THE INFIGHTING UP A NOTCH.... Ben Smith's impressive item earlier about the infighting among McCain campaign aides has caused quite a stir, but just as importantly, it's also caused more McCain aides to start pointing fingers more aggressively.

McCain sources say Palin has gone off message several times, and they privately wonder if the incidents were deliberate. They cited that she labeled robocalls -- recorded messages often used to attack a candidate's opponent -- "irritating" even as the campaign defended their use. Also, they pointed to her telling reporters she disagreed with the campaign's decision to pull out of Michigan.

A second McCain source tells CNN she appears to be looking out for herself more than the McCain campaign.

"She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone," said this McCain adviser. "She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else.

"Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom."

This is only going to get worse, as various factions fight to preserve their careers by destroying their campaign colleagues, hoping to avoid blame in the event of a defeat.

Kevin noted that today's buzz is likely "just the barest teaser of the bloodshed that's going to erupt between McCain and Palin loyalists after the election." If the McCain campaign comes up short, that's certainly true. We're 10 days from Election Day and multiple McCain insiders are dishing to CNN about Sarah Palin being a power-hungry diva?

What do you suppose McCain's top aides will be saying in 11 days?

Steve Benen 4:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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THE PENNSYLVANIA GOP.... It's not as if one state Republican Party office is known for being especially well respected, but the Pennsylvania GOP seems to be competing for some kind of prize in absurdity.

A new e-mail making the rounds among Jewish voters in Pennsylvania this week falsely alleged that Mr. Obama "taught members of Acorn to commit voter registration fraud,'' and equated a vote for Senator Barack Obama with the "tragic mistake" of their Jewish ancestors, who "ignored the warning signs in the 1930's and 1940's."

At first blush, it was typical of the sorts of e-mails floating around with false, unsubstantiated and incendiary claims this year.

But where most of the attack e-mails against Mr. Obama have been mostly either anonymous or from people outside of mainstream politics, this one had an unusually official provenance: It was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Republican Party's "Victory 2008" committee.

And it was signed by several prominent McCain supporters in the state: Mitchell L. Morgan, a top fund-raiser; Hon. Sandra Schwartz Newman, a member of Mr. McCain's national task-force monitoring Election Day voting, and I. Michael Coslov, a steel industry executive.

After the email caused an uproar, leaders of the state party repudiated it, telling reporters that some of the email was "accurate," but some of the attacks couldn't "substantiated."

This is the same Pennsylvania Republican Party that recently issued a press release describing Obama as "a terrorist's best friend," and the same Pennsylvania Republican Party that apparently was involved in promoting the Ashley Todd hoax.

That's a lot of nonsense in a short period of time for one state party.

Steve Benen 3:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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THE HUGE ETHICS SCANDAL ON THE BACKBURNER.... It's vaguely surreal that in the midst of a competitive presidential campaign, one of the candidates for national office is embroiled in a major ethics scandal, and the political world is largely ignoring it.

Two weeks ago, an independent investigation launched by the Alaskan legislature into Sarah Palin's abuse-of-power scandal wrapped up on Friday with a fairly devastating report -- Palin violated the public trust, violated state ethics laws, and lied about it. Soon after, Palin, driven either out of ignorance or illiteracy, said the report had cleared her of "any hint of any kind of unethical activity," which is the opposite of reality.

The investigation into Palin's scandal is not yet over.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin finished giving three hours of depositions Friday night to the state Personnel Board, which is looking into whether she unfairly fired Alaska's public safety director this summer, her attorney told CNN.

Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate, gave her deposition in St. Louis.... Her husband, Todd Palin, also was supposed to testify separately Friday but it was unclear if he had done so.

Personnel Board investigator Timothy Petumenos took the governor's testimony.

Now, the Petumenos probe should be more favorable to Palin. It's run, after all, by Alaska's personnel board, which is made up of members who answer to the governor, which makes it far from independent. My suspicion is that Republicans support this inquiry because they want one more report -- in this case, a less objective one -- to clear Palin of any wrongdoing. The new talking point would be, "One investigation cleared Palin, one didn't, so let's just forget the whole thing."

This may yet be tricky, however. Petumenos is a Democrat who contributed to Palin's 2006 opponent for governor, Tony Knowles. Complicating matters slightly, the Anchorage Daily News reported that the personnel board's investigation of Palin has been "broadened" to include "other ethics complaints against the governor."

But stepping back, it's amazing this scandal is barely generating a whisper in political circles. A candidate for national office has been found to have violated ethics laws, recently, in a major abuse-of-power scandal. The Obama campaign isn't pressing the issue, reporters seem to find this irrelevant, and most voters probably have no idea that the scandal is ongoing. As far as I can tell, John McCain hasn't said a word about any of this, and reporters haven't even asked for his perspective on his running mate's

It's odd. If Joe Biden were recently found to have abused the powers of his office and lied about it, and was still under investigation as Election Day neared, I have a hunch it'd be a bigger deal.

Steve Benen 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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SATURDAY'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 a two-minute ad this morning that emphasizes Obama's economic plan and how he'd pay for it. McCain and Bush aren't mentioned.

* The National Republican Senatorial Committee has officially given up on winning Colorado's open U.S. Senate seat, which obviously spells trouble for Bob Schaffer.

* In other Senate news, Obama cut a new TV ad for Oregon's Jeff Merkley, the first commercial Obama has done for a Democratic Senate candidate this year.

* In Ohio, a new Ohio Newspaper Poll shows Obama leading McCain by three, 49% to 46%. A month ago, this same poll showed McCain up by two.

* In Colorado, a new Rocky Mountain News/CBS4 poll shows Obama leading McCain by 12, 52% to 40%.

* In New Hampshire, Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain by four, 50% to 46%.

* In Iowa, Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain by eight, 52% to 44%.

* Nationally, Newsweek shows Obama leading McCain by 12, 53% to 41%.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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A CAMPAIGN DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF.... The Lord of the Flies climate at McCain campaign headquarters continues, with a pro-Palin faction reportedly at odds with the loyal Bushies McCain brought in to run the operation.

Even as John McCain and Sarah Palin scramble to close the gap in the final days of the 2008 election, stirrings of a Palin insurgency are complicating the campaign's already-tense internal dynamics.

Four Republicans close to Palin said she has decided increasingly to disregard the advice of the former Bush aides tasked to handle her, creating occasionally tense situations as she travels the country with them. Those Palin supporters, inside the campaign and out, said Palin blames her handlers for a botched rollout and a tarnished public image -- even as others in McCain's camp blame the pick of the relatively inexperienced Alaska governor, and her public performance, for McCain's decline.

"She's lost confidence in most of the people on the plane," said a senior Republican who speaks to Palin, referring to her campaign jet. He said Palin had begun to "go rogue" in some of her public pronouncements and decisions.

"I think she'd like to go more rogue," he said.

According to the piece in the Politico, Palin's people blame handlers for not letting her be herself. McCain's people blame Palin for being unprepared and unable to answer questions coherently. Palin's people don't want the governor to get the blame if the ticket loses, and McCain's people resent the lack of loyalty and discipline.

Putting aside which faction is right, watching both sides go at it with unattributed sniping through the media suggests the air at headquarters is getting increasingly toxic. That doesn't necessarily mean McCain's going to lose in 10 days -- voters may not care that he's the head of a dysfunctional operation, with staffers divided against themselves -- but it is another hurdle to clear.

As for Palin blowing off the campaign's advice, I have no idea whether that's going to help, but it can't get much worse -- voters don't like her, and even Republicans don't welcome her as the party's future.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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THE RETURN OF THE MAYBERRY MACHIAVELLIS.... Ross Douthat makes an interesting observation about how the McCain campaign approached policy issues, or in its case, doesn't.

One of the many fascinating things about Robert Draper's Times Magazine story on the McCain campaign is what isn't included in its account of the attempts to brand (and rebrand, and rebrand) John McCain's candidacy: Namely, any real discussion of policy. From Draper's account, the McCain campaign staff has gone around and around trying to figure out how to sell their candidate -- as a fighter! as an experienced leader! as a maverick! etc. -- but hardly ever seemed to have spent much time thinking about how these narratives would mesh with or be reinforced by the actual policy agenda the campaign was advancing.

Think about what we're supposed to expect from a McCain administration. What is it that he really wants to do if elected to the presidency? He offers a lot of vague rhetoric about "reforming" things, but no one's sure what that means.

Seriously, after two full years of campaigning, does McCain even have a policy agenda? McCain spends a lot of time making personal attack against Obama, but off the top of your head, try to name three big, unique policy ideas that McCain takes seriously and wants to implement. It's surprisingly difficult.

McCain seems to like coastal drilling -- which he opposed up until fairly recently -- but that wouldn't affect the marketplace for a decade. McCain seems to like Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy -- which he also opposed up until fairly recently -- but that's just a continuation of the last eight years. McCain seems to like Bush's Iraq policy, but that's also just more of the same. He seems to hate earmarks quite a bit -- despite the earmarks he's requested as a long-time Washington insider -- but since they constitute a tiny fraction of the budget, it's hardly a consequential policy proposal.

If all of this sounds familiar, there's a very good reason.

In an interview with Esquire magazine, [John J. DiIulio Jr., a domestic policy advisor to George W. Bush] said: ''There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you've got is everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.''

The two are identical. Bush and McCain have sought power for power's sake.

Steve Benen 11:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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SCHEUNEMANN HAS A TEMPER TANTRUM.... Randy Scheunemann may be John McCain's top foreign policy advisor, but it appears he has the kind of temperament usually found in his boss.

Yesterday morning, the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder noted the "internal dissension" at McCain campaign headquarters, including a faction that has "begun to whisper about Gov. Sarah Palin to reporters." This faction, Ambinder explained, believes Palin, "perhaps unwittingly," keeps saying things that take the campaign off message, including her ridiculous attack on Obama "palling around with terrorists" -- a line that the campaign had reportedly not cleared in advance.

Soon after, Scheunemann contacted Ambinder via email.

Just read your post. This is on the record. This is cleared by HQ. It is a fact that Barack Obama was palling around with terrorists. It was a fact before Governor Palin said it in a fully vetted speech and it is fact today. It is bullshit to claim or write anything else.

Temper, temper, Randy. Keep this up and people might start wondering about the erratic and intemperate nature of the McCain campaign, which doesn't seem to keep its cool under pressure.

First, it's kind of odd that Scheunemann believes it's a campaign-approved "fact" that Obama "palled around with terrorists." For one thing, Obama never "palled around with" Bill Ayers, who presumably is the basis for this absurd smear. If the McCain gang has evidence to the contrary, it's hiding it well. For another, note the "s" at the end of "terrorists." Scheunemann believes it's a "fact" that there are multiple terrorists that Obama keeps on speed-dial?

Second, if the volatile Scheunemann really wants to play this game, it's worth taking a moment to consider his close associations with some strikingly unsavory characters.

It is a fact that Randy Scheunemann was a stooge for Ahmad Chalabi. It was a fact before the McCain campaign launched ridiculous smears and it is a fact today. It is, to borrow a phrase, "bullshit to claim or write anything else."

Remember, we are talking about a man who would, in a McCain administration, have a key role in shaping U.S. foreign policy. Something to keep in mind.

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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READY ON DAY ONE.... Last month, Joe Lieberman was asked whether he believes Sarah Palin is prepared to lead if something should happen to John McCain after the election. "Well, you know, let's assume the best," Lieberman said, adding, "Let's assume that nothing bad will happen."

Yesterday, Lieberman, who's generally toed the party line when it comes to Palin, slipped again.

In a discussion with journalists from his home state of Connecticut, Senator Joseph Lieberman, Democrat-turned-independent but staunchly in the Republican presidential nominee's camp, offered a somewhat ambiguous assessment today of Gov. Sarah Palin's readiness to be president.

Asked by the Stamford Advocate whether Ms. Palin was prepared to be commander in chief, Mr. Lieberman said: "Thank God, she's not going to have to be president from Day One. McCain's going to be alive and well."

Lieberman added that Palin will get ready, thanks to the fact that she's "smart," and would get "on-the-job training" as the nation's vice president.

I get the sense Lieberman probably doesn't realize how ridiculous this sounds. We should be thankful, he says, that Palin won't have to take the lead on Day One. But what if she does? McCain, a cancer survivor, would be the oldest president ever elected. What if something tragic happens on the first day, or the second, or maybe sometime in the first week, before Palin's "on-the-job training" can begin?

Lieberman may be one of McCain's most sycophantic allies, but even he seems worried about Palin holding national office. It's not a good sign.

Steve Benen 9:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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REDEFINING 'SMALL BUSINESS'.... The McCain campaign has a nasty habit of redefining words when the existing definition doesn't suit its purposes. This week, "small business" no longer means what most of us think it means.

This morning, John McCain talked about taxes in his latest weekly radio address, insisting that Obama's tax plan would risk "bankrupting small businesses." McCain didn't explain how he arrived at this conclusion, especially given the fact that Obama's plan actually offers all kinds of tax breaks to small businesses.

But it appears the problem is one of definitions. The McCain campaign taxes a comically expansive view of what constitutes a "small business."

Ever since John McCain discovered "Joe the Plumber," he has exalted "small business" owners -- inviting them to announce their professions on signs at rallies -- as the country's only virtuous economic movers.

But now McCain has begun to define the term upward, leaving no mogul or tycoon behind.

On Thursday in Sarasota, Governor Charlie Crist introduced J. Robert Long, the CEO of Marine Concepts as a "small businessman." The man McCain dubbed "Bob the Boat Builder" spent, as Crist noted, most of his career at Wellcraft Marine, which reported revenues of $67 million last year, according to Yahoo! Finance.

Tonight in Colorado, Senator Lindsey Graham, a close friend of the McCains, described Cindy as "a great small businesswoman." Her "small" business -- Hensley & Co., a family-owned Anheuser-Busch distributor that is the third largest among the 800 in the country -- had revenues of nearly $200 million last year, according to Yahoo.

This does explain a few things. McCain's tax plan, for example, would offer ExxonMobil a total of $4 billion in new tax breaks. As McCain sees it, this is probably his way of helping a small business.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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WHAT DID THE MCCAIN CAMPAIGN PUSH AND WHEN DID IT PUSH IT?.... It's highly unlikely that Steve Schmidt, Rick Davis, and other senior McCain campaign aides were actively involved in pushing the Ashley Todd hoax. It's equally unlikely that anyone at the Crystal City headquarters had foreknowledge of the disgusting stunt and/or was involved in its coordination.

But now that the charade has ended and Todd will be held responsible for her deception, it's not unreasonable to expect a fuller accounting of the McCain campaign's role.

When it comes to national media, TNR's Gabriel Sherman spoke with two reporters who are are traveling with the McCain campaign and they said they "had not been told of the now-bogus assault story" on Thursday. Last night, however, NBC's Brian Williams noted on the air, "The McCain campaign steered reporters' attention to the story" on Thursday. It sounds like a point in need of clarification.

Moreover, Greg Sargent reports that McCain campaign officials in Pennsylvania actively pushed the hoax on local reporters, and promoted quotes from the attacker who didn't exist.

John McCain's Pennsylvania communications director told reporters in the state an incendiary version of the hoax story about the attack on a McCain volunteer well before the facts of the case were known or established -- and even told reporters outright that the "B" carved into the victim's cheek stood for "Barack," according to multiple sources familiar with the discussions.

John Verrilli, the news director for KDKA in Pittsburgh, told TPM Election Central that McCain's Pennsylvania campaign communications director gave one of his reporters a detailed version of the attack that included a claim that the alleged attacker said, "You're with the McCain campaign? I'm going to teach you a lesson."

Verrilli also told TPM that the McCain spokesperson had claimed that the "B" stood for Barack. According to Verrilli, the spokesperson also told KDKA that Sarah Palin had called the victim of the alleged attack, who has since admitted the story was a hoax.

What's more, there were, in fact, two Pittsburgh television stations that specifically quoted the McCain campaign on Thursday night as part of its coverage of the Todd story.

Given this, the connection between this racist, demagogic hoax and the McCain campaign, at least at the state level, is fairly obvious -- and in need of an explanation.

Will McCain hold anyone in his Pennsylvania office responsible for what transpired? Has anyone been disciplined or fired? Is McCain comfortable with his campaign's role in race-based fear mongering?

At this point, we're still waiting for some kind of reaction and/or repudiation from McCain campaign headquarters.

Steve Benen 8:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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By: Hilzoy

National Review Meltdown Watch

The National Review front page link to this article asks:

"Is there a connection between the criticisms of vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin and repressed post-abortion grief?"

Let me think long and hard about this one:

No.

This has been another edition of 'Simple Answers To Stupid Questions' (TM Atrios).

The slightly more complicated answer: given all the obvious reasons to criticize Sarah Palin, why on earth would anyone feel the need to reach for something as exotic and far-fetched as repressed post-abortion grief? It's like asking: Why do people dislike George W. Bush? Could it be an unconscious feeling of empathy with scrubby plants and brush?

Hilzoy 1:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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By: Hilzoy

"The Tokyo Rose Of Al Qaeda"

You'll never guess who:

"Republican U.S. Senate challenger Christopher Reed accused fellow Navy veteran and Democrat Sen. Tom Harkin of aiding the enemy because of his call to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq on a scheduled timetable.

In a taped debate that aired Thursday night on Iowa Public Television, Reed called Harkin the "Tokyo Rose" of al-Qaida and Middle East terrorism.

"We're taking advice from somebody who has an eight-year history of becoming the Tokyo Rose of al Qaida and Middle East terrorism," Reed said.

After the debate, Harkin called Reed's comments "beyond the pale." and says Reed has lost his bearings.

The term refers to Japanese women who broadcast anti-American messages in English to U.S. troops during World War II.

"The white flag of surrender, accusing our Marines of torture, voting to defund our troops while they are in harm's way, those are all records of having an anti-American policy," Reed said.

Reed specifically said Harkin was "providing aid and comfort to the enemy," language consistent with the U.S. definition of treason. When asked by the moderator whether he was accusing Harkin of treason, Reed replied, ""No. I'm accusing him of giving our enemies the playbook.""

Tom Harkin? A traitor? That's just unhinged.

As I said yesterday: in a sane world, this sort of slander would be not just wrong, but politically suicidal. Luckily, Iowa seems to be pretty sane: the latest polls have Harkin leading Reed by 21 points. With any luck, the rest of the country will get the message.

Hilzoy 1:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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By: Hilzoy

Ashley Todd

I didn't write about Ashley Todd last night, when I first read her story. It didn't make sense to me, but then again, lots of things don't, and some of those things are true. All that was clear to me then was that one way or another, it would turn out to be a horrible story involving someone with very serious problems, and that I did not want to leap to conclusions.

Now that she has recanted, I'm torn. On the one hand, I think that anyone who would do something like this must have real psychiatric problems. (I don't think this about all crimes -- I think someone could rob a bank and be perfectly sane.) And I can almost think my way into the mindset of someone who is completely convinced that if Barack Obama is elected, something unspeakably bad will happen to this country, and who is frustrated that she can't make people see what is so evident to her. You can see this kind of desperate conviction in some of the tapes of McCain supporters outside his rallies, and you can read it on some of the right-wing blogs: the sense that this country is about to make an incalculable mistake, and no one seems to care. It would not take much, I think, for someone who felt this way, and who had serious psychiatric problems, to decide, in a moment of absolute boneheadedness, to show the world what seemed so obvious to her.

(Note: being able to understand something like this does not in any way imply thinking it's not an appalling thing to do. There are appalling things that I can understand, and some of the things I can understand are more appalling than some of the things I can't. Second note: I don't mean to suggest that this is something to which McCain supporters are particularly prone, except insofar as this is the sort of thing you do when your candidate is about to lose, and Obama is not losing. Nuttiness does not follow political boundaries, and no one should think that either side is immune to it.)

But what I can't think my way into is her saying that the person who did it was black. No kind of desperation that I can think of would have required that detail. That's just gratuitous, and very, very ugly.

I'd like to give a shout-out to the Pittsburgh police. I know nothing about the officers who worked this case, but it seems unlikely that they are all Democrats, all Republicans, or all any political anything. They are professionals, and they did their jobs. If they hadn't, some tall black man who was just going to the store or taking a walk could have ended up in jail.

Because the police did their jobs, some innocent man, somewhere, will get to enjoy the rest of his life. No one will ever know which tall black man would ever have been wrongfully arrested, or whose life might have been ruined, not even the man himself. But he's out there somewhere, and while he owes his close call to Ashley Todd's racism, he owes his escape to the Pittsburgh police. Had it not been for them, ten years from now the Pittsburgh papers might have had occasion to write a story like this:

"A decade after he was cleared as a suspect in one of Boston's most notorious crimes, William Bennett is still very angry.

In autumn of 1989, the ex-convict was named a suspect in the killing of Carol DiMaiti Stuart, a pregnant, suburban white woman shot, allegedly by a black man, in what looked like a random street robbery. Bennett's arrest seemed to solve a high-profile murder case, quieting an outraged city whose leaders promised swift justice. But when suspicion shifted to the husband, Charles Stuart, Bennett went from cold-blooded murder suspect to a symbol of police abuse and Boston's lingering racial divide.

Yesterday, in a rare interview, Bennett told the Globe the case still haunts him. He blames it for his mother's premature death and frayed family ties. And he refuses to hide his frustration.

"I don't trust anybody. I barely trust myself," said Bennett, now 50. "The police falsely pinned a crime on me once and they can do it again.

"I have no faith in the law enforcement and I don't like cops," said Bennett, who does kitchen work on Newbury Street for a food service company. "Nothing has changed. You still have those same racist cops on the police force."" (Boston Globe, 4/6/2000.)

I'd also like to give a shout-out to all the people who held off on this, and to Michelle Malkin, who did a lot to keep this story from getting completely out of hand. To the people who jumped on the bandwagon: think about the responsibilities that come with having an audience. When a story like this hits, you can try to convince people to withhold judgment until the facts are in, or you can lose your head along with everyone else. It seems like a pretty clear choice to me.

And to McCain's Pennsylvania communications director: now would be a good time to decide to spend more time with your family.

Hilzoy 1:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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October 24, 2008

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

* Another rough day on Wall Street, with the Dow falling over 300 points.

* Bush voted for McCain today.

* Did New Mexico Republicans hire a private investigator to intimidate minority voters? Zachary Roth and Adam Serwer have the story.

* It wasn't too long ago that McCain was quite the socialist.

* He also used to pal around with Chilean dictators.

* The New York city council cleared the way for Michael Bloomberg to seek a third term as mayor.

* Republicans lose another round in court: "The Indiana Supreme Court has declined to approve a bid by the GOP to shut down early voting centers in Democratic strongholds of a key county."

* I'm beginning to think that when it comes to responsible use of limited resources, AIG maybe, just maybe, is a little on the unreliable side.

* Joe Wurzelbacher is thinking about running for Congress. Seriously.

* Right-wing personalities still can't quite give up on the whole Obama birth-certificate thing. How very sad.

* I thought the story surrounding Rep. Tim Mahoney's (D-Fla.) scandals couldn't get any worse. I stand corrected.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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THE ASHLEY TODD HOAX.... I wanted to follow up briefly on the earlier item on the Ashley Todd hoax, because the story, which started and ended with incredible speed and efficiency, offers a few angles that matter more in the broader context.

Jonathan Chait, for example, emphasizes a good point.

I don't think the actions of one sick volunteer say anything at all about John McCain or his campaign. They do, however, tell us a lot about right-wing yellow journalists, from Drudge on down, who manipulated primitive racial-sexual fears for partisan gain.

Quite right. There's been an ongoing "debate" (I use the word loosely) of late about Drudge's influence, and the Todd fiasco is likely to do some lasting harm to his credibility and judgment. It's about time.

There's also this quote from John Moody, Fox News' executive vice president, which we talked about earlier.

If the incident turns out to be a hoax, Senator McCain's quest for the presidency is over, forever linked to race-baiting.

I rejected this out of hand earlier, because it struck me as unfair to tie the McCain campaign to a ridiculous stunt that McCain aides probably had nothing to do with. But upon further reflection, that might be letting McCain off the hook too easy.

I find it impossible to believe the campaign coordinated Todd's hoax or knew about it in advance. But that's not the end of the story. The McCain campaign did follow Drudge's lead and pushed this story aggressively with reporters, hoping, in Chait's words, to manipulate primitive racial-sexual fears for partisan gain.

And that's really not O.K. As Josh Marshall noted, "There are many questions to be asked about who pushed this story yesterday afternoon and last night. A lot of explaining." The end of the "story" shouldn't be the end of the questions.

Finally, a friend of mine asked me this afternoon if I felt sorry for Ashley Todd. Honestly, and at the risk of sounding callous, I don't know. Someone who felt compelled to lie to the nation and apparently carve her own skin in order to "help" the McCain campaign probably needs some help.

But this wasn't just some spur of the moment accident or the result of a random bad decision -- Todd deliberately perpetrated an elaborate hoax, exploited racial fears, and lied wildly in the hopes of helping change the outcome of a presidential election.

"Pity" isn't the first reaction that comes to mind.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (68)

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A FRIEND IN FRIED I've been following these Obama-endorsing Republicans with great interest, but there's clearly a distinction between surprising GOP support and the more predictable GOP support. Scott McClellan? Not a surprise. Ken Adelman? A surprise. Colin Powell? Not really a surprise. William Weld? A mild surprise.

But Charles Fried is not only a surprise, he's a first of sorts. Cass Sunstein reports:

Charles Fried, a professor at Harvard Law School, has long been one of the most important conservative thinkers in the United States. Under President Reagan, he served, with great distinction, as Solicitor General of the United States. Since then, he has been prominently associated with several Republican leaders and candidates, most recently John McCain, for whom he expressed his enthusiastic support in January.

This week, Fried announced that he has voted for Obama-Biden by absentee ballot. In his letter to Trevor Potter, the General Counsel to the McCain-Palin campaign, he asked that his name be removed from the several campaign-related committees on which he serves. In that letter, he said that chief among the reasons for his decision "is the choice of Sarah Palin at a time of deep national crisis."

Fried is not only a respected lawyer and credible voice on judicial issues, he's been an advisor to the McCain campaign. And as of this week, he just couldn't go through with it. He'd seen what McCain had become, and he threw his support to Obama.

Are there practical implications of notable Republicans siding with Obama? It's hard to say without any real data, but I do think it undermines of the McCain campaign's central talking points -- Obama the "extremist." I suspect there are probably at least some independents out there wondering, "If Obama is so far from the mainstream, why do Colin Powell and a bunch of Republicans keep endorsing him?"

Steve Benen 4:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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MIDDLE CLASS.... There are plenty of interesting results in the latest CBS/New York Times poll, including a top line that shows Obama leading McCain nationally by 13, 52% to 39%. McCain's smear tactics and personal attacks appear to have largely backfired; voters are more comfortable with the idea of Obama handling a crisis; and voters don't seem to mind the notion of raising taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year.

But Nate Silver finds a gem in the internals that's worth remembering.

Poll respondents were asked which economic class would benefit from the candidates' tax policies. For McCain, 59% said his policies would benefit the rich, while 11% said the middle class. For Obama, a 38% plurality said his policies would benefit the middle class, 24% said Obama's plan would benefit all classes equally, and 22% said the poor.

It's tough to overcome these kinds of numbers, when very few people actually consider themselves rich.

Far more than being a "center-right" country, this is a middle class country, and a candidate who fails to speak to the concerns of the middle class does so at his own peril. [...]

There have been plenty of other occasions ... on which McCain had plenty of time to contemplate his message, and wound up coming across as tone deaf. The failure to mention the phrase "middle class" even once during the three presidential debates was either brazen, incompetent, or both. The notion that a capital gains tax cut would be persuasive to middle class families was naive. Joe the Plumber is gimmicky, and seems that way to most Americans.

Conversely, it is not as though Obama was Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney -- someone who was seen coming into this crisis as an economic savant. But the basic message that a robust middle class is the foundation of economic growth is exactly the right one in troubled times like these, and Obama has delivered it with discipline and grace.

Why is Obama leading? This has a lot to do with it.

Steve Benen 3:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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THE CANDIDATES, THE PARTIES, AND THE ECONOMY.... As of now, the Dow is down about 320 points, after having been down about 400 earlier today. Karl Rove, in analysis that's even absurd by his low standards, has been telling Fox News viewers that the "volatility" on Wall Street "may be" a reflection of "people's concerns about what would happen if Barack Obama" wins the presidential election.

It reminded of a great piece by the estimable Kevin Drum in the new issue of the Washington Monthly, on economic performance during certain parties' presidencies.

In the postwar era, it turns out, Democratic presidents consistently produce higher growth rates, lower unemployment, better stock market growth, and less income inequality than Republican presidents. Nobody quite knows why, but the results are surprisingly robust.

Within the economics profession this topic is known as the study of "political business cycles," and I first became interested in it 10 years ago, before the dot-com boom of the Clinton era and the weak recovery of the Bush era. Even back then the data was clear. Add up growth rates under Democratic administrations, and you get a higher number than under Republican administrations. Ditto for employment levels. Inflation rates are about the same. Do it again with lag times, since presidents inherit economies from their predecessors, and you get the same result. Change the lag time from one year to two, or three, or four, and you still get the same result. Fast-forward to 2008, and the results become even more dramatic. We've now had eleven presidents since World War II, with over sixty years of data points to draw from, and no matter how you slice the results, Democratic presidents are better for the economy.

And what produces these results? You'll have to read the piece to find out.

As a reminder, Kevin's piece is in the new issue, which we'd like to send you a free copy of. It's easy to get this free, no-obligation issue in your hands. Just follow the link. If you want to subscribe after receiving it, you may do so for the very special rate of only $19.95 for one year. If not, the issue is still yours.

Steve Benen 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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HE AIN'T HEAVY, HE'S MCCAIN'S BROTHER.... It's not unprecedented for a presidential hopeful to have an embarrassing brother. Jimmy Carter had Billy. Bill Clinton had Roger. George Bush had, well, actually he was Jeb's embarrassing brother.

And right about now, I suspect John McCain wishes he were an only child.

This report, from the ABC affiliate in D.C., features Joe McCain's call to 911 to complain about traffic in Northern Virginia. Seriously.

Joe McCain called 911 on his cell phone, and when asked what the emergency was, said, "It's not an emergency, but do you know why on one side at the damn drawbridge of 95, traffic is stopped for 15 minutes and yet traffic's coming the other way?" When the operator asked if he were calling 911 to complain about traffic, McCain said, "F**k you" and hung up.

The operator called the number back, got Joe McCain's voicemail, and left a message about abusing emergency resources.

So -- get this -- Joe McCain called back to complain that someone had given him the "riot act about the violation of police."

The McCain campaign has decided not to respond to news outlets' request for comment. I can't imagine why.

Just as an aside, I can't help but marvel at the embarrassing side-stories the McCain campaign has had to endure the last two days -- Palin's $150,000 wardrobe, the highly-paid makeup artist, the hoax in Pittsburgh, and now McCain's brother's insane 911 call. Not exactly the kind of news a struggling campaign wants to deal with 11 days from the election.

Steve Benen 2:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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TODD RECANTS, WILL FACE CHARGES.... A painful ending to a sordid story.

Police sources tell KDKA that a campaign worker has now confessed to making up a story that a mugger attacked her and cut the letter "B" in her face after seeing her McCain bumper sticker.

Ashley Todd, 20, of Texas, initially told police that she was robbed at an ATM in Bloomfield and that the suspect became enraged and started beating her after seeing her GOP sticker on her car. [...]

This afternoon, a Pittsburgh police commander told KDKA Investigator Marty Griffin that Todd confessed to making up the story.

The commander added that Todd will face charges; but police have not commented on what those charges will be.

It certainly seemed to be headed in this direction. The AP reported this afternoon that Ashley Todd, the McCain volunteer, did not appear in bank surveillance footage at the ATM where the alleged attack occurred, and changed her story to say she'd been knocked unconscious by her assailant. Yesterday, Todd shared with news outlets specific remarks the attacker said during the alleged incident, so this represented a rather dramatic change.

I seriously doubt that the McCain campaign was involved in planning this hoax, but I've heard that the campaign was pushing this story to reporters rather aggressively last night, and Fox News and Drudge have been covering it with great enthusiasm (and without much skepticism). Most national news outlets paused, waiting for additional information. It was the right move. No word, as of yet, on contrition from Fox News or Drudge.

In a political context, this sad story won't help the McCain campaign at all, creating another distraction in a state the campaign is desperate to win.

And in a social context, we have yet another high-profile instance of someone blaming an African-American man for a crime that did not occur.

Steve Benen 1:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (72)

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FIT FOR A CELEBRITY.... There's reportedly already quite a bit of dissension among McCain campaign staffers, as aides try to pin the blame for the campaign's troubles on their colleagues. But I wonder how those already frustrated employees will feel about getting paid a lot less than Sarah Palin's stylist.

Who was the highest paid individual in Senator John McCain's presidential campaign during the first half of October as it headed down the homestretch?

Not Randy Scheunemann, Mr. McCain's chief foreign policy adviser; not Nicolle Wallace, his senior communications staff member. It was Amy Strozzi, who was identified by the Washington Post this week as Gov. Sarah Palin's traveling makeup artist, according to a new filing with the Federal Election Commission on Thursday night.

Ms. Strozzi, who was nominated for an Emmy award for her makeup work on the television show "So You Think You Can Dance?", was paid $22,800 for the first two weeks of October alone, according to the records. The campaign categorized Ms. Strozzi's payment as "PERSONNEL SVC/EQUIPMENT."

The payment on Oct. 10 made Ms. Strozzi the single highest-paid individual in the campaign for that two-week period. (There were more than two dozen companies that got larger payments than Ms. Strozzi). She easily beat out Mr. Scheunemann, who received $12,500 in the first half of October, and Ms. Wallace, who got $12,000.

This is, of course, an unhelpful bookend to the story about the $150,000 Palin campaign wardrobe.

Keep in mind, with just 11 days remaining, the McCain campaign is feeling a serious financial pinch. That the highest-paid member of the team is a makeup artist is rather hard to defend.

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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DUMBEST. CAMPAIGN OBSERVATION. EVER.... I've been reluctant to comment on the incident regarding Ashley Todd, because it seems there are a variety of unanswered questions about what, exactly, transpired. Todd, as you may have heard, is a McCain campaign volunteer who claims to have been robbed and beaten in Pittsburgh by a large black man, in part because of her McCain campaign bumper sticker.

The best round-up I've seen on the story and what we know so far comes from my friend Alex Koppelman at Salon, who summarizes why Todd's story has drawn scrutiny, why political observers on the left and right are suspicious about the veracity of her claims, and highlights the fact that local police officials have noted "inconsistencies" and "changes" in Todd's version of events.

I'll withhold judgment on this until more information is available. I won't, however, withhold judgment on this breathtaking piece from John Moody, Fox News' executive vice president, who described the alleged Ashley Todd crime as a "moment of truth."

Part of the appeal of, and the unspoken tension behind, Senator Obama's campaign is his transformational status as the first African-American to win a major party's presidential nomination. That does not mean that he has erased the mutual distrust between black and white Americans, and this incident could become a watershed event in the 11 days before the election.

If Ms. Todd's allegations are proven accurate, some voters may revisit their support for Senator Obama, not because they are racists (with due respect to Rep. John Murtha), but because they suddenly feel they do not know enough about the Democratic nominee.

If the incident turns out to be a hoax, Senator McCain's quest for the presidency is over, forever linked to race-baiting.

I haven't the foggiest idea what this man is talking about.

To hear the executive vice president of Fox News tell it, if a young white woman was beaten by a black man, voters will revisit whether they know Obama well. If the young woman's story is a hoax, voters will reject McCain. This is the most blisteringly stupid political analysis I've seen in quite a while. There's no coherence here whatsoever. What does the incident have to do with getting to know Obama? What does McCain have to do with Todd's story? Moody doesn't say.

Keep in mind, John Moody's job at Fox News includes sending daily memos to the network's staff and on-air personalities, explaining how to cover the day's news.

It tells us quite a bit about the network.

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

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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.

* A new Gallup poll shows Obama with strong support from Jewish voters. "The current proportion of U.S. Jews backing Obama is identical to the level of support the Democratic ticket of John Kerry and John Edwards received in the 2004 presidential election (74%)."

* A new McCain robocall insists that Obama's healthcare plan will slow "development of life saving drugs."

* The Obama campaign is responding with its own robocall, featuring a Navy veteran and self-described former McCain supporter denouncing McCain for running a "dishonorable campaign" of "vicious personal attacks."

* Interesting new tool unveiled by the Obama campaign to track and monitor McCain campaign lies and scare tactics.

* The New York Times editorial board endorsed Obama today, urging readers to remember that "the nation's future truly hangs in the balance."

* When it comes to re-election, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is in deep trouble in her district, and so is Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) in his. Both have said very dumb things recently.

* Obama unveiled his first all Spanish-language television ad yesterday, and his pronunciation is surprisingly good for someone who doesn't speak Spanish.

* Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) has finally cut an ad for McCain. It's a radio spot.

* Hillary Clinton's PAC has donated $500,000 to over 75 Democratic candidates in over 30 states.

* In Florida, a Miami Herald poll shows Obama leading McCain by seven, 49% to 42%.

* In Montana, a Montana State University-Billings poll shows Obama leading McCain by four, 44% to 40%.

* In Indiana, SurveyUSA shows Obama leading McCain by four, 49% to 45%.

* In Georgia, Rasmussen shows McCain leading Obama by five, 51% to 46%, but InsiderAdvantage shows Obama with a narrow lead, 48% to 47%.

* In Minnesota, Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain by 15, 56% to 41%.

* In Washington state, Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain by 11, 54% to 43%.

* In Louisiana, Rasmussen shows McCain leading Obama by 16, 57% to 41%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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MCCAIN'S ELITE SUPPORT IN UNREAL AMERICA.... A closer look at the most common zip codes for McCain campaign contributors leads to an interesting result. (tip of the hat to Pushback).

1.10021 - New York, N.Y.

2. 85253 - Paradise Valley, Ariz.

3. 10022 - New York, N.Y.

4. 06830 - Greenwich, Conn.

5. 92660 - Newport Beach, Calif.

6. 22101 - McLean, Va.

7. 75205 - Dallas, Texas

8. 77024 - Houston, Texas

9. 78209 - San Antonio, Texas

10. 63124 - St. Louis, Mo.

I suppose St. Louis and those cities in Texas probably qualify as "real America" by McCain campagn standards, but New York, Greenwich, McLean (a wealthy D.C. suburb), and Newport Beach sound like the kind of places where we might find some rascally elitists who aren't sufficiently "pro-America."

Steve Benen 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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AN EARLY JUMP ON RECRIMINATIONS.... The presidential race really isn't over. There aren't a lot of scenarios pointing to a McCain victory, but they exist.

But as of now, the scene at McCain headquarters is starting to resemble Lord of the Flies.

With despair rising even among many of John McCain's own advisors, influential Republicans inside and outside his campaign are engaged in an intense round of blame-casting and rear-covering -- much of it virtually conceding that an Election Day rout is likely. [...]

The candidate's strategists in recent days have become increasingly vocal in interviews and conference calls about what they call unfair news media coverage and Barack Obama's wide financial advantage -- both complaints laying down a post-election storyline for why their own efforts proved ineffectual.

These public comments offer a whiff of an increasingly acrid behind-the-scenes GOP meltdown -- a blame game played out through not-for-attribution comments to reporters that operatives know will find their way into circulation. [...]

At his Northern Virginia headquarters, some McCain aides are already speaking of the campaign in the past tense. Morale, even among some of the heartiest and most loyal staffers, has plummeted. And many past and current McCain advisors are warring with each other over who led the candidate astray.

A well-connected Republican in the private sector even started to receive calls and resumes from senior McCain aides this week. Ouch.

The operatives running McCain's campaign aren't just worried about a likely defeat, they're also worried about their personal reputations, and the extent to which they'll be blamed if and when the campaign comes up short. As these aides see it, it's important to get a jump on assigning blame now, before someone else points the finger at them and, in the process, undermines their career. A circular firing squad is almost an inevitable dynamic.

"The cake is baked," said a former McCain strategist. "We're entering the finger-pointing and positioning-for-history part of the campaign. It's every man for himself now."

A McCain campaign official told the Politico that all hope is not yet lost: "We have a real chance in Pennsylvania. We are in trouble in Colorado, Nevada and Virginia. We have lost Iowa and New Mexico. We are OK in Missouri, Ohio and Florida. Our voter intensity is good and we can match their buy dollar for dollar starting today till the election. It's a long shot but it's worth fighting for."

The interesting thing about that assessment is if McCain loses Iowa and New Mexico, as this McCain aide argues he will, and also loses the states where he's "in trouble" (Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia), Obama can lose Pennsylvania, Missouri, Ohio, and Florida and still win the election.

Stepping back, and considering the broader context, I have to admit, it's odd to see so many Republicans pointing fingers, assigning blame, dishing internal dirt to reporters, and generally showing the kind of discipline common in losing campaigns.

They are, in other words, acting the way Democrats used to act.

Steve Benen 11:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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JUKEBOX JOHN KEEPS CHANGING HIS TUNE.... John McCain was interviewed this week by a local CBS affiliate in DC who asked, "Where is the John McCain from 2000?" The Republican nominee rejected the premise.

McCain replied, "You'll have to tell me what's changed. I love it when they say, 'Oh McCain has changed.' And I say, 'What have I changed on?' They can't name a single issue or they'll name an issue and it's false. I'm the same guy."

The same thing came up about a month ago on "The View," when co-host Joy Behar told him, "I don't see the old John McCain." He responded at the time, "I've been through this litany before, when I say, 'OK, what specific area have I 'changed'?' Nobody can name it."

I almost feel like McCain is taunting me personally.

Shortly after McCain started his campaign two year ago, I started noticing that he was shamelessly abandoning most of the positions he used to maintain. Soon after, I started keeping a list, and though I haven't updated it in a while, at last count, McCain had flip-flopped on 76 different issues. In most instances, it was a reversal that led McCain to end up on the right, in order to help him win the Republican nomination and the support of his party's far-right base.

"What have I changed on?" The real question is what McCain hasn't changed on. The man has completely reinvented himself, fundamentally changing his economic worldview (more than once), his approach to foreign policy, how he perceives national security policy, how he deals with culture-war issues, even how he approaches signature issues like campaign finance reform.

The old McCain not only wouldn't recognize the new McCain, it's safe to say the old McCain wouldn't even vote for the new McCain.

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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WORSE THAN 'POLITICS AS USUAL'.... In her Republican convention speech, Sarah Palin boasted that she "took on the old politics as usual" in Alaska, "stood up to...the good old boys," and "put the government of our state back on the side of the people."

The LA Times' Charles Piller took a closer look at Palin's approach to government, though, and found the kind of cronyism that would even make Bush blush.

* More than 100 appointments to state posts -- nearly 1 in 4 -- went to campaign contributors or their relatives, sometimes without apparent regard to qualifications.... Palin filled 16 state offices with appointees from families that donated $2,000 to $5,600 and were among her top political patrons.

* Several of Palin's leading campaign donors received state-subsidized industrial development loans of up to $3.6 million for business ventures of questionable public value.

* Palin picked a donor to replace the public safety commissioner she fired. But the new top cop had to resign days later under an ethics cloud. And Palin drew a formal ethics complaint still pending against her and several aides for allegedly helping another donor and fundraiser land a state job.

Most new governors install friends and supporters in state jobs. But Alaska historians say some of Palin's appointees were less qualified than those of her Republican and Democratic predecessors.

Terrence Cole, an Alaska political historian, said Palin showed "a disrespect for experience," picking donors and friends for key government positions they had no business filling.

My personal favorite: "Franci Havemeister, one of several of Palin's childhood friends tapped for leadership jobs, heads the state agriculture division. A former real estate agent, she was ridiculed in Alaska after it was reported that she had cited among her qualifications for the job a childhood love of cows."

Remember, as far as John McCain is concerned, Palin was brought onto the ticket because of her record as a "reformer."

By all indications, she "reformed" Alaskan government through ethics violations and jobs for unqualified donors and friends. Sounds quite a bit like George W. Bush's approach to "reform."

Steve Benen 9:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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MR. FREEZE CONTINUES TO THAW.... When John McCain first announced his support for a spending freeze, he said he would exempt "the caring of veterans, national defense and several other vital issues."

What counts as a "vital issue"? He didn't say at the time, but the list of "vital" parts of the federal budget keeps getting longer.

Most of the time, [McCain] pledges to freeze spending on "all but the most important programs like defense, veterans care, Social Security and health care," pledging to "veto every single pork-barrel earmark."

But when he's on [Florida's] Space Coast -- as he was last week -- McCain is quick to insert a qualifier: He supports an additional $2 billion for NASA to speed up the new rocket system intended to replace the space shuttle and narrow what's now planned as a five-year gap between the retirement of the shuttle and the Ares rocket's first manned flight.

He told a Florida television station that he would "move money around" to protect NASA from a spending freeze because, "Space is vital."

I'm beginning to wonder if McCain even knows what a "spending freeze" is.

I've been keeping a running list of the exceptions McCain has vowed to make to his "freeze," which now includes for the Pentagon, the V.A., entitlements, healthcare, scientific research, job training, NASA, and other undefined "important programs."

The point of McCain's proposed freeze is, of course, to drastically cut federal spending, to help offset the costs of his additional breaks for the wealthy. But as Ali Frick noted, by insisting on all of these exceptions, McCain is stepping on his own message: "A spending freeze that exempts health care, military and veterans programs, and entitlement spending has very little left to freeze."

Quite right. McCain would apparently still be able to cut funding for law enforcement, infrastructure, and education -- a brilliant move during a recession, by the way -- while cutting taxes for millionaires, but it would make a very small dent in a very large budget.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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MCCLELLAN LATEST REPUBLICAN TO BACK OBAMA.... I vaguely recall the point in the presidential campaign -- I think it was called "the summer" -- when the chattering class obsessed over whether Barack Obama could keep the various elements of the Democratic Party together.

I think the media missed the more interesting trend: Obama is keeping Democrats together, and is picking up support from conservatives and Republicans.

It's been a rough couple of weeks for the McCain campaign, watching fairly high-profile Republicans endorse Obama, including Colin Powell, Christopher Buckley, Ken Adelman, and former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson.

Yesterday, Obama picked up yet another.

Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary who sharply criticized President Bush in his memoir last spring, told CNN Thursday he's voting for Barack Obama.

"From the very beginning I have said I am going to support the candidate that has the best chance for changing the way Washington works and getting things done and I will be voting for Barack Obama and clapping," McClellan told new CNN Host D.L. Hughley.

McClellan is the third high-profile Bush insider to throw his support to Obama, following Powell and Matt Dowd.

It's not just the more visible public figure, either. E.J. Dionne, Jr., noted in his column today, "In The Post tracking poll released yesterday, Barack Obama drew 22 percent of the vote from self-described conservatives. That's a seven-point gain on John Kerry's 2004 conservative share."

But it's the endorsements that have to be dispiriting for the McCain campaign. To be fair, McClellan, by virtue of his book, stopped reading from the Republican script quite a while ago, and it's fair to say his influence in GOP circles is minimal. But when the spokesperson for a conservative Republican president breaks ranks and throws his support to a progressive Democrat, it only adds to the sense of momentum and inevitability.

Update: Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, a Republican, also endorsed Obama this morning.

Steve Benen 8:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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PALIN MORE FORGIVING OF SOME KINDS OF TERRORISM.... Given all the recent talk from the McCain campaign about domestic terrorism in the 1960s, NBC's Brian Williams asked Sarah Palin a good question last night: "Is an abortion clinic bomber a terrorist, under this definition, governor?"

Palin, seemingly annoyed by the question, responded, "There's no question that Bill Ayers via his own admittance was one who sought to destroy our U.S. Capitol and our Pentagon. That is a domestic terrorist. There is no question there. Now others who would want to engage in harming innocent Americans or facilities that it would be unacceptable to, I don't know if you're gonna use the word 'terrorist' there, but it's unacceptable and it would not be condoned on our watch."

Have we really reached the point at which the Republican ticket wants to parse the meaning of the word "terrorist"?

I was curious about the dictionary definition of the word: "The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons." Sounds about right.

Given this, we have an organized group of activists who feel justified killing American physicians and bombing hundreds of doctors' offices on U.S. soil because they don't like a legal, medical procedure. "I don't know if you're gonna use the word 'terrorist' there." Why, pray tell, not? And does John McCain, who sat silently during the exchange, agree with this?

Actually, he might. ThinkProgress noted a couple of weeks ago that McCain has "repeatedly voted against protecting Americans from domestic terrorists carrying out violence at abortion clinics."

There's a striking disconnect here. Obama has denounced Ayers' crimes, and labeled Ayers' acts "terrorism." The Republican ticket, however, is reluctant to do the same when it comes to a different kind of domestic terrorism.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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By: Hilzoy

by hilzoy

Back in 1994, Susan Smith strapped her two sons into her Mazda and let it roll into a lake, drowning them. She had been having an affair, but the man she had been having it with didn't want her children. Newt Gingrich had this to say about her crime:

"I think the mother killing her two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American how sick society is getting and how much we have to have change," he said at the time. "I think people want to change, and the only way you can get change is to vote Republican."

I recall, at the time, being horrified by this. And what really bothered me was less that Gingrich had said it -- after all, he was only one person, albeit a powerful one -- than the response. Gingrich had tried to politicize a horrific murder (by a woman who, as it happened, turned out to have been molested by her stepfather, "a former member of the executive committee of the South Carolina Republican Party and a member of the Christian Coalition". I think his political affiliation is irrelevant; Susan Smith was deeply disturbed, and politics had nothing to do with it. I mention this only to highlight the complete absurdity of blaming liberals for what Susan Smith did.) And what happened?

Some liberals were aghast. But Gingrich himself paid no price for what he said. (I imagine this is one reason he went on doing it.) He was reelected to Congress. Shortly thereafter, he was elected Speaker of the House. Just last year, David Broder wrote:

"If there is any politician of the current generation who has earned the label "visionary," it is probably the Georgia Republican and former speaker of the House."

As far as I'm concerned, anyone, of any political party, who blames the actions of someone like Susan Smith on his or her opponents shows that he or she is without shame. In a sane world, politicians who did this would be thrown out of office: their constituents might or might not agree with their political views, but they would be revolted by anyone who said such a thing. If, for some reason, it was important enough to keep their party in the majority that they had to vote for a candidate who said something like that, the voters would nonetheless let their party leaders know, in no uncertain terms, that it was time to find a primary challenger for next time.

And in that world, people would probably say this sort of thing a lot less. Now we have to rely on their consciences alone; if they paid a price for saying genuinely hateful things, their self-interest would line up on the side of basic decency.

We might be getting closer to that world.

It has been six days since Michele Bachmann called for an investigation into the un-American views of members of Congress. During that time, El Tinklenberg, her opponent, has raised $1.3 million. The NRCC has pulled its advertising from her district. And SUSA has her down by three points, though that's within the margin of error.

Michele Bachmann may yet win. But in her district, she should have won easily. She has paid a serious price for what she said. A few more episodes like this and we might just see politicians thinking twice about vileness as a political tactic.

That would be a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Hilzoy 12:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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October 23, 2008

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

* After struggling for most of the day, the Dow closed up 172 points today.

* Not all of today's economic numbers were good: "New applications for state unemployment benefits increased by 15,000 in the week ended Oct. 18 to a seasonally adjusted 478,000."

* Alan Greenspan's faith in the free market was apparently a big snafu.

* On a related note, no serious person believes Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were responsible for the financial crisis.

* McCain defended Palin's exorbitant campaign wardrobe today, telling reporters, "She needed clothes."

* The White House fired Scott Bloch before he could resign.

* Bill O'Reilly will get $10 million a year to tell people to shut up.

* I don't think Palin knows what a "precondition" is.

* The polls on marriage equality in California remain close, but a new LA Times poll shows a majority opposing a ban on gay marriage.

* Usually, Republican race-baiting isn't as blatant as this direct-mail piece in Texas.

* Usually, Republican gay-baiting isn't as blatant as this direct-mail piece in North Carolina.

* The RNC is denying robo-texting efforts.

* Newt Gingrich thinks "Saturday Night Live" should be sued for its skits about Palin.

* Next year, Bono will be a contributing writer to the New York Times' op-ed page.

* James Dobson has quite an active imagination.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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THE OTHER WARDROBE MYSTERY.... In all sincerity, I had no intention of returning to the subject of Sarah Palin's $150,000 campaign wardrobe, but there's been one unexpected twist.

Up until now, the question has been, "Why did the RNC spend so much money on clothing and accessories?" This afternoon, a report from the New York Times generated a new question: "Why don't the numbers add up?"

Some of the fashion experts consulted Wednesday, for instance, about the $150,000 in purchases that appeared on Federal Election Commission records were puzzled by where all of that money had gone, given what they had seen of Ms. Palin's wardrobe.

Consider also the $4,902.45 charge at Atelier New York, a high-end men's store, presumably for Ms. Palin's husband, Todd, the famous First Dude.

Karlo Steel, an owner there, said he had gone through the store's receipts for September, twice, and found no sales that matched that amount, nor any combination of sales that added up to the total. Because the store carries aggressively directional men's wear, he caters to a small clientele and knows most of his customers by name, as well as the history of their purchases.... "We have no recollection of that sale and no idea what they are talking about," Mr. Steel said.

Similarly, the RNC records show a charge of $98 at a high-end children's boutique in Minneapolis, but after going through their receipts, the store owners found no record of the sale.

And here I thought the story was odd enough before.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (83)

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STRATEGERY WATCH.... There's been quite a bit of speculation over the last couple of days about John McCain's avenues to 270 electoral votes, and just how many of them seem to have roadblocks. CNN reported Monday that Colorado is the next "red" state Republicans are likely to give up on, prompting fierce denials from the McCain campaign.

Today, it appears the reports were true.

Republicans are slashing their television advertising at Colorado's three biggest television stations, a troubling sign for presidential nominee John McCain.

McCain is headed to Colorado Friday, but public records provided by three Denver stations show the GOP this week cut their ad spending for McCain by 46 percent.

What's more, Greg Sargent spoke with ad maven Evan Tracey about the shifts in McCain's ad expenditures, which include far fewer ads in "blue" states like Wisconsin and New Hampshire, a "red" state like Colorado, and apparently even a reduction in Pennsylvania, perhaps due to insufficient funds. McCain is increasing airtime, however, in Virginia and Florida.

Tracey notes that there were a couple of exceptions to this pattern. For instance, he says, McCain's ad spending has also dropped in Ohio and North Carolina, two states that are effectively dead heats.

But Tracey says he thinks these shifts are not about McCain confidence in those states as much as they are about the shortage in available ad time in them that's been created by Obama's massive spending and the ad buying done in local races. In other words, McCain's getting outspent by even more than before in these dead-heat, must-win states.

For McCain, time, resources, and options appear to be dwindling.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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DEFINING 'ELITE'.... It's a little jarring to hear John McCain and Sarah Palin complain about "elites." We are, after all, talking about two wealthy and powerful Republican politicians. And yet, complain they do.

In the second part of his interview with the members of the Republican ticket, NBC's Brian Williams inquired about exactly who the "elite" are.

"Oh, I guess just people who think that they're better than anyone else.... So anyone who thinks that they are -- I guess -- better than anyone else, that's -- that's my definition of elitism," Palin replied. [...]

"I know where a lot of 'em live," McCain added with a laugh.

"Where's that?" Williams asked.

"Well, in our nation's capital and New York City," McCain replied. "I've seen it. I've lived there. I know the town. I know -- I know what a lot of these elitists are. The ones that she never went to a cocktail party with in Georgetown. I'll be very frank with you. Who think that they can dictate what they believe to America rather than let Americans decide for themselves."

First, Palin just got finished telling voters that people in small towns are "the best of America," where people are "patriotic" and "pro-America," and where "we find the kindness and the goodness and the courage of everyday Americans." Sounds like "elitism" to me.

Second, for all the talk McCain offers about "cocktail parties in Georgetown," let's not forget that he's been a frequent guest at these fancy soirees. The Washington Post's Sally Quinn, a D.C. socialite, noted recently that McCain has been a regular on the Georgetown party circuit. "I've sat next to him many times at dinner parties in Georgetown," Quinn said. "He's an absolutely delightful dinner partner."

Look, we're talking about a candidate who's been a Washington insider for a quarter of a century, who forgets how many homes he owns, who owns 13 cars, who married into a very wealthy family, and who's an "absolutely delightful dinner partner" in Georgetown. There's nothing especially wrong with any of this, except when he feels justified complaining about the "elites."

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

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CHALLENGING FOREIGN POLICY ASSUMPTIONS.... The New York Times' David Sanger had a good item today about the foreign policy worldviews of the two major-party presidential candidates, and how Barack Obama and John McCain perceive America's role in the world.

It reminded of a point Wesley Clark emphasized in the new issue of the Washington Monthly, on the post-Bush foreign policy stakes and the need to challenge the assumptions pushed over the last eight years.

Regardless of who takes office in January, American foreign policy will continue to seek a higher, more legitimate purpose than the simple protection of American interests. But a McCain presidency is likely to have a sharper edge in this than an Obama administration. Candidates who speak of strengthening a society of democracies to sidestep the United Nations and expelling Russia from the G8 sound naive and exclusionary. I would hope that an Obama administration would show more tolerance and patience while we built the institutional framework at home and beefed-up teams of civilians abroad to augment the nonmilitary aspects of American foreign policy, including preventive diplomacy and support to fledging democracies. But neither candidate is likely to persist in the simplistic illusion that the act of voting will, in itself, prove a silver bullet in defeating terrorism.

So far, in all my travels abroad, I've only had one man tell me that America must do to his country what we did to Iraq. He was a Syrian diplomat-politician in exile. I told him to forget it. We have learned that painful lesson -- or at least, I hope we have.

As a reminder, Clark's piece is in the new issue, which we'd like to send you a free copy of. It's easy to get this free, no-obligation issue in your hands. Just follow the link. If you want to subscribe after receiving it, you may do so for the very special rate of only $19.95 for one year. If not, the issue is still yours.

Steve Benen 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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SLOWLY BACKING AWAY.... A couple of weeks ago, former Michigan Gov. William Milliken, a lifelong Republican, withdrew his support from John McCain, citing his offensive campaign and his choice of running mates.

Milliken was relatively easy for Republicans to dismiss; he was a three-term governor way back in the '70s. Arne Carlson is a little tougher to ignore.

Arne Carlson, a former Republican governor in Minnesota, has endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Carlson said Thursday that the Illinois senator's stances on the Iraq war, the economy and green energy goals won him over. Carlson, who served from 1991 to 1998, also cited recent comments by GOP Congresswoman Michele Bachmann questioning whether politicians have "pro-America or anti-America views."

"Regardless of our party, regardless of our partisan inclinations, there is no interest more compelling than the interest in the well-being of the United States," Carlson said at a gathering of Obama supporters at the state Capitol.

Carlson added, "He has laid out for this nation a vision for a national purpose."

These "Obamacans" seem to be increasingly common, don't they?

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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ABOUT THAT BALANCED-BUDGET PROMISE.... The notion that John McCain can inherit a half-trillion dollar deficit, cut taxes by hundreds of billions of dollars, respond to a massive financial crisis, keep two wars going, and eliminate the entire budget shortfall in four years is utterly ridiculous. This week, the McCain campaign walked the senator's promise back a bit.

The financial crisis has "thrown a wrench" in the plan of U.S. Republican presidential candidate John McCain to balance the budget in his first term, his economic adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin said on Monday.

McCain has pledged to reduce government spending and balance the federal budget by 2013 and has insisted that the current financial crisis will not alter his campaign promises.

"The events of the past few months have completely thrown a wrench into that, there's no way round it. He would still like to balance it. It's going to be harder, take longer," said Holtz-Eakin at a debate with his Democratic counterpart at Columbia University in New York.

I think the word the kids use is "duh." Of course it's going to be "harder" and will "take longer" to balance the biggest deficits in American history. What bugs me, though, is the constant claims to the contrary. McCain and aides started the campaign vowing to balance the budget in four years.

Then they changed their mind, and said McCain wouldn't balance the budget in four years.

Then they changed their mind again, and said McCain would.

A week later they changed their mind again, and said McCain wouldn't.

At the third presidential debate, McCain changed his mind again, and said he would.

Less than a week later, they've changed their mind yet again, and said he wouldn't.

So, for those keeping score at home, McCain does, doesn't, does, doesn't, does, and doesn't promise voters to eliminate the deficit by 2013.

Remember when McCain considered his straight-talking consistency one of his selling points?

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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THE ANGRY RIGHT.... Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn) wants a new round of McCarthyism. Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) believes liberal Americans "hate real Americans." Rep. Randy Kuhl (R-N.Y.) insisted the other day that Democrats want "the American public to suffer."

Unfortunately, these aren't odd, unhinged examples. CQ has an interesting item on what GOP lawmakers say from the House floor with some regularity.

House Democrats, a Los Angeles Superior Court official and Columbia University are among the entities Republican lawmakers have described as "anti-American," "anti-American power" or "anti-American military" on the House floor in the current Congress.

Amid a backlash against Republicans who have challenged their colleagues' loyalty to America or Americans on the campaign trail, a review of the Congressional Record reveals that similar rhetoric has been in use in the House chamber, as well.

In particular, the term "anti-American" has been hurled freely in floor debates by a pair of junior GOP stalwarts, Reps. Virginia Foxx and Ted Poe .

Foxx said Democrats "seem to be anti-American power and anti-American control." Poe has lashed out at American judges, universities, and lawmakers he disagrees with.

It's hard not to get the impression that a few too many conservative Republicans just don't like Americans very much. That, and the fact that the line between wild-eyed right-wing bloggers and Republican members of Congress continues to blur.

Steve Benen 12:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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

* The McCain campaign and the RNC have two new robocalls. The first insists that Obama has "voted against ... protecting children from danger." The second goes after Obama's "bitter" comments, and says he and "elitist Democrats" want to take away people's guns.

* The National Republican Senatorial Committee is running ads in North Carolina that assume an Obama victory.

* As recently as July, the McCain campaign didn't see the need to even open a campaign office in the Republican stronghold of Indiana. Now, less than two weeks before Election Day, the McCain campaign has decided to spend several hundred thousand dollars on "a last-minute television buy" in the state.

* In Florida, Quinnipiac shows Obama leading McCain by five, 49% to 44%, while Mason-Dixon shows McCain leading by one, 46% to 45%.

* In Ohio, Quinnipiac shows Obama leading McCain by 14, 52% to 38%, while Time/CNN shows Obama up by four, 50% to 46%, and the Big Ten polling consortium shows Obama up by 12, 53% to 41%.

* In Pennsylvania, Quinnipiac shows Obama leading McCain by 13, 53% to 40%, while the Big Ten polling consortium shows Obama up by 11, 52% to 41%.

* In Virginia, Time/CNN shows Obama leading McCain by 10, 54% to 44%, while Mason-Dixon shows Obama leading by two, 47% to 45%,

* In Nevada, Time/CNN shows Obama leading McCain by five, 51% to 46%.

* In North Carolina, Time/CNN shows Obama leading McCain by four, 51% to 47%.

* In Indiana, the Big Ten polling consortium shows Obama leading McCain by 10, 51% to 41%.

* In West Virginia, Time/CNN shows McCain leading Obama by nine, 53% to 44%.

* In Iowa, the Big Ten polling consortium shows Obama leading McCain by 13, 52% to 39%.

* In Michigan, the Big Ten polling consortium shows Obama leading McCain by 22, 58% to 36%.

* In Minnesota, the Big Ten polling consortium shows Obama leading McCain by 19, 57% to 38%.

* In Wisconsin, the Big Ten polling consortium shows Obama leading McCain by 13, 53% to 40%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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NEGOTIATING WITH TERRORISTS.... Barack Obama chatted with Time's Joe Klein this week, and indicated that U.S. negotiations with the Taliban may be worth pursuing. This, under normal circumstances, would send Republicans and conservative activists into an unbridled frenzy.

The problem, though, is that Gen. David Petraeus has expressed support for U.S. negotiations with the Taliban, too. Obama told Klein:

"This is one useful lesson that is applicable from Iraq. The Sunni awakening changed the dynamic in Iraq fundamentally. It could not have occurred unless there were some contacts and intermediaries to peel off those who are tribal leaders, regional leaders, Sunni nationalists, from a more radical, messianic brand of insurgency. Whether there are those same opportunities in Afghanistan I think should be explored."

It's an uncomfortable reality that often goes unmentioned, but as part of his strategy in Iraq, Petraeus reached out to Iraqis who were responsible for killing Americans. For all of McCain's demagoguery about talking to Iran or North Korea, Petraeus negotiated with those who had American blood on their hands, precisely because Petraeus kept the bigger picture in mind.

Now that he's the Centcom commander, and conditions in Afghanistan are deteriorating, Petraeus sees the utility of negotiating with the Taliban, just as he negotiated with Sunni insurgents. As Petraeus explained two weeks ago, "I do think you have to talk to enemies.... I mean what we did do in Iraq ultimately was sit down with some of those that were shooting at us."

Obama sees this as a possibility for Afghanistan, as well. Hell, even Gates' Pentagon is grudgingly coming to the same conclusion.

So, here's the challenge for the right: how does one attack Obama for his willingness to talk to the Taliban without also attacking David Petraeus for agreeing with Obama's approach? For that matter, how does one make John McCain look credible on foreign policy and national security, when his approach is so far from the mainstream?

And if McCain does agree with Petraeus/Obama, how does he justify talking to the Taliban while condemning talking with Iran?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Steve Benen 11:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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GOING TO THE WELL A LITTLE TOO OFTEN.... It was the basis of a debate message. And a stump speech. And an ad campaign.

And now it's a tour.

Central Florida is getting ready for another visit from Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

McCain is set to take part in a "Joe The Plummer" tour rally Thursday.

Yes, that's right, John McCain is kicking off a "Joe the Plumber" tour. Seriously.

This is terribly odd for a variety of reasons, but the problem that stands out for me is that McCain has chosen a man to be his mascot who doesn't actually prove McCain's point. If Joe Wurzelbacher was a small businessman whose taxes would go up under an Obama administration, all of this would make a lot of sense. It's about attaching a real-life person to a policy point the campaign wants to emphasize. In this case, McCain desperately wants regular folks to think Obama will raise their taxes, reality notwithstanding.

But that's just it -- McCain is exploiting Wurzelbacher for no reason. Under Obama's tax policy, Wurzelbacher would get a tax cut, not a tax increase. Indeed, I don't know the details of Wurzelbacher's finances, but there's reason to believe he'd end up far better off under Obama's tax plan than McCain's.

So why is it, exactly, that McCain sees the need for a "Joe the Plumber" tour? I've never seen anything like this level of inanity.

Steve Benen 10:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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SCHWARZENEGGER STRAYS FROM THE SCRIPT.... Yesterday, John McCain chatted with Don Imus, and expressed frustration about Republicans who've questioned Sarah Palin's credentials. "What's their problem?" McCain asked.

"I think she is the most qualified of any that has run recently for vice president," McCain added. "I'm amazed. I'm amazed."

McCain's amazement notwithstanding, he's right about one thing -- a lot of Republicans are very concerned about the idea of putting Palin one 72-year-old heartbeat from the presidency. Apparently, even California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) still needs some convincing.

The McCain campaign convinced Schwarzenegger to hit the campaign trail, making appearances on McCain's behalf in battleground states like Ohio. He sat down with CNN's Campbell Brown yesterday, and unfortunately for the campaign, strayed from the script.

Brown asked Schwarzenegger if he believes Palin is, in the event of an emergency, qualified to be president. He replied, "I think that she will get to be qualified."

Brown, noticing Schwarzenegger's hesitation and sheepish response, pressed on, asking, "She will get there? What do you mean? She's not ready yet?" Schwarzenegger, looking a little embarrassed, said, "By the time that she is sworn in I think she will be ready."

In other words, as far as Schwarzenegger is concerned, Palin isn't ready now, but hopefully things will come together between now and January.

Maybe McCain should have talked to Schwarzenegger about this before calling on him to give the campaign a boost.

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

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GLOBAL STANDING AND PRESTIGE MATTER.... The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof shares an anecdote in his column today about a conversation he had the other day with a friend in Beijing about Barack Obama. She was amazed to hear that Obama is leading in the polls because "surely a black man couldn't become president of the United States." As she perceives America, African Americans are primarily "janitors and laborers."

Kristof explained that black people hold "all kinds of jobs," and Obama appears well positioned. The woman in Beijing wondered aloud whether white Americans would tolerate this. Kristof said, "If Obama is elected, it'll be because white people voted for him."

The friend in Beijing, after a long pause, responded, "Unbelievable! What an amazing country!"

It's a reminder of a point Jonathan Alter emphasized in the new issue of the Washington Monthly -- there's a lot at stake in this election, and "the restoration of our image in the world" shouldn't be overlooked.

Our allies and their people understand the stakes. That's why 200,000 well-wishers showed up to hear Obama in Berlin in July. I was there, and met Germans who had organized Obama clubs in their suburban towns. They wore "Obama Tsunami" T-shirts. Why? Partly because he's cool, but mostly because they know that only Obama has a chance -- just a chance -- to lead again as the Americans did for so many years. The Germans I talked to ached for it.

McCain would try to lead, too, but in a twentieth-century way that would attract few followers. American prestige would remain at its current low level -- or, if he indulged his instinct for saber rattling, it would sink further. By the time another president who could inspire the world came along, China would be nearly the largest economy on earth and no doubt determined to impose its values on at least some parts of the world. The window for restoring American prestige is very short.

As a reminder, Alter's piece is in the new issue, which we'd like to send you a free copy of. It's easy to get this free, no-obligation issue in your hands. Just follow the link. If you want to subscribe after receiving it, you may do so for the very special rate of only $19.95 for one year. If not, the issue is still yours.

Steve Benen 9:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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THE SHOPPING-SPREE FALLOUT.... The Politico broke the story late on Tuesday about the RNC spending more than $150,000 on apparel and accessories for Sarah Palin and her family over just seven weeks. Yesterday, it was quite a topic of conversation. I was especially interested, though, in what Republicans would do to spin the embarrassing revelations.

The initial response from the McCain campaign was that this wasn't important in light of the serious challenges facing the country. That's a nice try, I suppose, but it seemed kind of silly given the source -- this is the same campaign that's spent the last several months talking about a '60s-era radical, celebrities, arugula, lipstick, and sex-ed for kindergarteners. It's a little late in the day to whine about the importance of substance.

This, however, is an even worse excuse.

Others said the issue was tainted with sexism, given that male politicians often spend thousands of dollars on suits.

"She had a legitimate need to purchase clothing to get her through three months of grueling campaigning in the constant spotlight of television cameras," said William F. B. O'Reilly, a Republican consultant in New York. "No one would blink if this was a male candidate buying Brooks Brothers suits."

For goodness sakes. John Edwards, a man, spent $400 on a haircut, and the political world was obsessed with the story for quite a while. It had nothing to do with gender, and everything to do Edwards' image as someone working families can relate to.

Similarly, Sarah Palin has been presented as a regular person, right off of Main Street, who rails against big-city "elites" who live outside "pro-America" parts of the country. A $150,000 shopping spree might undermine that message a bit.

I can appreciate why this story is embarrassing, and coming at a bad time, but they'll have to do better than the sexism excuse.

Post Script: John McCain argued on the Senate floor in 1993, "The use of campaign funds for items which most Americans would consider to be strictly personal reasons, in my view, erodes public confidence and erodes it significantly."

Steve Benen 9:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (68)

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ABOUT THAT AP POLL.... A few credible national polls have been released over the last couple of days, and most of them offered similar results. NBC/WSJ shows Obama up by 10; Fox News has him leading by nine; ABC/WaPo puts Obama's lead at 11; and Gallup shows an eight-point lead. Nothing especially shocking.

And then, there was that AP/GFK poll released yesterday, which threw a curveball at the political world.

The presidential race tightened after the final debate, with John McCain gaining among whites and people earning less than $50,000, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that shows McCain and Barack Obama essentially running even among likely voters in the election homestretch.

The poll, which found Obama at 44 percent and McCain at 43 percent, supports what some Republicans and Democrats privately have said in recent days: that the race narrowed after the third debate as GOP-leaning voters drifted home to their party and McCain's "Joe the plumber" analogy struck a chord.

These results conflicted with all of the other data we've seen of late. That doesn't make it wrong, of course, but it does give one pause.

There may be a temptation on the part of some to believe polls that offer favorable results, and ignore polls that don't. It's not an intellectually honest way of watching a campaign, but it's not uncommon. As such, there were more than a few conservatives who quickly seized on the AP poll as a very significant campaign development.

Are they right? There's reason for skepticism. As Ambinder and Subday noted, 44% of those in the poll's voter sample were self-identified evangelical Christians, who tend to be conservative Republicans. In the last presidential race, evangelicals constituted 23% of voters -- about half the number used in the AP poll.

It's possible, I suppose, that evangelical turnout will be higher this year, but a jump from 23% to 44%? It's very unlikely. In fact, it's practically impossible, and rather foolish to assume as part of the basis for a national campaign poll.

Anyone getting too excited (or too depressed) based on this AP poll is probably making a mistake.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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MAYBE MCCAIN SHOULD STOP DOING INTERVIEWS.... At this point, it stands to reason that John McCain would want to do as many television interviews as possible, getting his message out and reaching a large audience. Of course, that only makes sense if McCain is prepared to say intelligent, persuasive things during these interviews.

Did you happen to catch McCain on CNN's "Situation Room" yesterday?

McCain argued, for example, that as the financial crisis unfolded, he's been "very consistent," while Obama "has been all over the place." This, of course, is backwards. He went on to suggest the way to stimulate the economy is to cut federal spending, which, again, is backwards. Moments later, McCain slammed the bailout package that he voted for.

There was also this bizarre exchange:

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about your support -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- you did support President Bush's plan to overhaul Social Security and allow Social Security recipients to use about 10 percent of their Social Security savings in the stock market. That collapsed, obviously. It didn't go forward. Knowing what we know now about the volatility of the stock market, is that still a good idea?

MCCAIN: The reason why the talks collapsed is because the Democrats insisted on agreeing to tax increases before we sat down.

This, again, is completely backwards, as if McCain doesn't really remember the events of 2005. Worse, when Blitzer pressed, McCain refused to answer the substance of the question.

One more:

BLITZER: Right now, we still 140,000, 150,000 troops in Iraq. The Bush administration seems to be close to what's called a Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri Al- Maliki. It calls, in the draft agreement, at least, for complete withdrawal of forces from villages and cities by July 30th of 2009 and out of the country by December 31st, 2011. If you're elected president, would you, as commander-in-chief, honor this agreement if, in fact, it's formalized?

MCCAIN: Well, with respect, Wolf -- and you know better, my friend. You know better. It's condition-based. It's conditions-based. And Ryan Crocker, our ambassador in Baghdad, said if you want to know what victory looks like, look at this agreement. So you know better than that, Wolf. You know it's condition-based.

Actually, it's not "condition-based." It's McCain who should "know better."

I was, at first, inclined to think McCain is cracking under the pressure, leading to his confusion about so many issues, but the truth is, he's been like this for a while.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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October 22, 2008

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

* Ugh: "A late afternoon barrage of selling sent the Dow Jones industrials tumbling almost 700 points before the index pulled back to close down near 500. Weak corporate earnings stoked fears that the government's financial intervention won't keep global economies out of recession."

* There was a scare at the New York Times today when an envelope was found containing a "white granular substance." Authorities came in, ran some tests, and concluded that the substance was "non-hazardous."

* On a related note, several Senate offices received bomb threats this afternoon. No suspicious packages have been found and none of the offices have been evacuated.

* McCain has now begun robo-texting anti-Obama smears to cell phones.

* Republican thugs continue to get physically abusive, this time in Missouri.

* On a related note, it's hard to believe the threatening messages ACORN has received lately. The audio clips are nauseating.

* There's still some lingering question as to whether Sarah Palin has to declare the $150,000 in clothes and accessories as "income."

* For reasons that defy comprehension, marriage equality in California appears to be in real trouble. (thanks for the heads-up on this article, R.K.)

* Are Republicans responsible for fueling the nonsense about Obama being a secret Muslim? Steven Waldman explains why the GOP bears responsibility.

* And finally, a day in the life of an unpopular president: "Not once this year has President Bush appeared in public at a campaign rally for the Republican Party or any of its candidates. And on Tuesday night, when he attends a million dollar fund-raiser for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, it will be the last political event he does before Election Day."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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BACHMANN'S TROUBLES GO FROM BAD TO WORSE.... Five days after Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) called for a new round of McCarthyism, her troubles keep getting worse. At this point, her Democratic opponent, El Tinklenberg, has raised $1 million in the wake of Bachmann's madness, while Bachmann is still trying to explain herself.

In the latest twist, Bachmann told voters yesterday that she'd never seen "Hardball" before, and is convinced that Chris Matthews had set a "trap" and she "stepped into it."

As excuses go, this is pretty silly. Bachmann, a member of Congress, said some crazy things. Matthews had the wherewithal to follow up and inquire further, and Bachmann responded by saying even crazier things. That's not a "trap," it's an "interview."

Besides, Bachmann was just as ridiculous yesterday when she told far-right blogger Hugh Hewitt, "Barack Obama's views are against America." I guess Hewitt is setting traps for Bachmann, too, that rascal.

Complicating matters, the Huffington Post reports that the National Republican Congressional Committee "is pulling its media purchases from Bachmann's race."

Six days ago, Bachmann seemed poised for an easy re-election campaign. Today, she's in freefall.

Sometimes, there are consequences for McCarthyism.

Steve Benen 4:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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JEFF LARSON'S OTHER CAREER.... We talked just the other day about McCain having hired FLS-Connect, a robocal firm led by Republican activist and Karl Rove protege Jeff Larson -- the same Larson that Bush hired eight years ago to destroy McCain with scurrilous robocalls.

Today, Larson's name came up in a very different context. Everyone now knows that the Republican National Committee spent more than $150,000 on clothes and accessories for the Palin family since late August. But guess who was doing the shopping?

[B]uried in the same FEC disclosure form that revealed Palin's taste for the fine life is the name of the man who appears to have been her personal shopper: Jeff Larson.

Under FEC regulations, the RNC must file what is called a "Schedule F form," which lists "expenditures made by political committees or designated agents(s) on behalf of candidates for federal office." [...] Along with the matching dates and dollar totals, note the "Transaction ID Number," which clearly connects the questionable expenditures with reimbursement payments made to Larson. [...]

What's so incompetent about this from a political tradecraft perspective is that both parties ordinarily take the easy precaution of making sure such embarrassing material isn't obvious to reporters, which they do by routing the payment through a law firm or consultant. Here they neglected to do so.

A different Jeff Larson, perhaps? No such luck. The New York Times confirms that the Republican consultant and robocall-firm executive bought Palin's clothes and was reimbursed by the RNC.

But wait, there's more. Noting the "six degrees of GOP sleaze," Josh Marshall reminds us, "Jeff Larson is not only John McCain's chief robocaller and Sen. Palin's $150k clothes shopper, he's also the guy who's giving that sweetheart rental deal on his apartment in DC" to Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.).

Amazing.

Steve Benen 4:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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RUDY ROBOCALLS.... Convinced that Republican robocalls can't get sleazier? You haven't heard Rudy Giuliani's contribution to the medium.

"Hi, this is Rudy Giuliani and I'm calling for John McCain and the Republican National Committee, because you need to know that Barack Obama opposes mandatory prison sentences for sex offenders, drug dealers, and murderers.

"It's true, I read Obama's words myself. And recently, congressional liberals introduced a bill to eliminate mandatory prison sentences for violent criminals -- trying to give liberal judges the power to decide whether criminals are sent to jail or set free. With priorities like these, we just can't trust the inexperience and judgment of Barack Obama and his liberal allies. This call was paid for by the Republican National Committee and McCain-Palin 2008."

The phrase "eliminate mandatory prison sentences" is missing a pesky detail. As Greg Sargent, who posted the audio, explained, "Note that Rudy claims Obama 'opposes mandatory prison sentences' for rapists and murders, Rudy is actually referring to Obama's opposition to specific mandatory minimum sentences. By dropping the word 'minimum,' he's insinuating that Obama opposes mandatory prison sentences in general."

Even by the standards of the McCain campaign and the RNC, this is insane. And given the fact that crime is not one of the key issues of the campaign, maybe Republicans can explain why it's suddenly the basis for direct-mail pieces in Florida and robocalls in, among other places, Ohio, North Carolina, Colorado, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Maine.

For what it's worth, Sen. Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican, became the fourth Republican senator to denounce McCain's robocalls today, joining Collins, Coleman, and Snowe.

Steve Benen 3:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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MCCAIN AND HIS PLATFORM.... One more thought on Sarah Palin's interview with James Dobson. This exchange about the Republican Party platform, which includes some very conservative measures and Palin boasted about today, is important:

DOBSON: In your private conversations with Senator McCain is it your impression that he also strongly supports those views? I know that he did not oppose that platform when it was written. Do you think he will implement it?

PALIN: I do, from the bottom of my heart. I am such a strong believer that McCain believes in those strong planks and we do have good conversations about some of the details too, about the different planks and what they represent.

Some of the "different planks" in this year's Republican Party platform include a constitutional amendment to ban on all abortions, including in cases of rape or incest, and opposition to taxpayer-financed embryonic stem-cell research.

The problem is, McCain says he opposes a constitutional amendment to ban all abortions and supports taxpayer-financed embryonic stem-cell research. And yet, Palin assured Dobson that McCain is on board with "the different planks." Indeed, she's a "strong believer" that McCain "believes in those strong planks."

That raises a few possibilities:

* McCain's real positions are different from his stated positions.

* Palin doesn't know what McCain's real positions are.

* Palin was deliberately misleading Dobson.

Dobson explained how thrilled he is at the right-wing positions in the Republican platform, which he noted are even more conservative than "during the campaigns of Ronald Reagan.... There are principles there that just, I've been fighting for 30-40 years."

Dobson wants to know if McCain really believes in his platform and if Palin's right about McCain's positions.

Here's a wacky idea: maybe the McCain campaign can clarify.

Steve Benen 3:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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'MOST QUALIFIED'.... McCain describes Palin on Don Imus' show:

"I think she's the most qualified of anyone recently who has run for vice president to tell you the truth."

Dick Cheney, Joe Lieberman, Al Gore, Lloyd Bentsen, and George H.W. Bush? No, Sarah Palin is "the most qualified."

Wow.

Steve Benen 2:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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MCCAIN CAMPAIGN RATTLED BY AL QAEDA ADMISSION.... Following up on an earlier item, al Qaeda supporters reportedly stated their support for a McCain victory on a password-protected website. The group apparently prefers the candidate who'll keep pursuing Bush administration policies. This is, obviously, an unwelcome development for the McCain campaign.

The smart move for the McCain campaign would have been to ignore the al Qaeda message. Obama was unlikely to push it, and media attention on the story this morning was sporadic. But perhaps concerned that voters might take this seriously, and realize that McCain's policies complement al Qaeda's agenda, the McCain campaign scrambled this afternoon and hosted a "panicked" conference call.

McCain's senior foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann made two predictable points. First, al Qaeda's message shouldn't be taken at face value. Second, quotes from Hamas and Iran that seem sympathetic to Obama must be taken at face value.

A reporter noted the contradiction.

One especially fun moment on the call came when McCain adviser Jim Woolsey badly undercut the campaign call's message. Woolsey said that Al Qaeda supporters who praise McCain are actually doing it to hurt him, because praise from Al Qaeda is the "kiss of death."

At that point, a reporter quite naturally asked whether the same could be said of Hamas advisers who praise Obama, prompting Woolsey to pull a homina homina homina and dodge the question.

Look, this isn't complicated. It isn't even new -- Richard Clarke, Ron Suskind, and others have written quite a bit on the fact al Qaeda prefers Bush's foreign policy -- it helps with terrorist recruiting and fundraising, undermines America's global stature, and costs us a fortune -- so it stands to reason that the terrorist network would support McCain, since his foreign policy is largely indistinguishable. The smart move for the McCain campaign is drawing attention away from this fact, not towards it.

What's more, if al Qaeda really wanted to play some kind of reverse-psychology game here, it probably wouldn't have posted a message to a website closely linked to the terrorist group, in Arabic, on a page accessible by a password. Indeed, if the situation were reversed, and that same page had expressed support for Obama, every Republican in America would be screaming hysterically right now.

But what seems clear is that Republicans are stuck in a trap of their own making. Bush, Cheney, McCain, and other leading Republicans have argued for years that we must take the terrorists' words seriously and accepted at face value. Today, they're arguing the polar opposite.

The truth is, it's foolish to try to vote with terrorists' motivations in mind. But therein lies the point -- Republicans have said we must vote with terrorists' motivations in mind. And as of this morning, that's no longer a maxim they find helpful.

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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PALIN TALKS TO DOBSON.... Sarah Palin's support may be dropping quickly among most Americans, but she remains a favorite of the religious right movement. Palin chatted with Focus on the Family's James Dobson, and the two were clearly very much on the same page.

In an interview posted online Wednesday, Sarah Palin told Dr. James Dobson of "Focus on the Family" that she is confident God will do "the right thing for America" on Nov. 4.

Dobson asked the vice presidential hopeful if she is concerned about John McCain's sagging poll numbers, but Palin stressed that she was "not discouraged at all."

"To me, it motivates us, makes us work that much harder," she told the influential Christian leader, whose radio show reaches tens of millions of listeners daily. "And it also strengthens my faith because I know at the end of the day putting this in God's hands, the right thing for America will be done, at the end of the day on Nov. 4."

Dobson praised Palin's opposition to abortion rights, to which the governor affirmed that she is "hardcore pro-life."

If you listen to the interview, note the rhetorical shift for Palin. While she usually likes to emphasize words like "maverick" and "independence," talking to Dobson, Palin practically boasted of how little the Republican ticket strays from far-right orthodoxy.

According to a rough transcript provided by my friends at Right Wing Watch, Palin bragged about the McCain/Palin platform, which "respects life," and returns "to the social issues that are what Republicans, at least in the past, had articulated and tied to stand on." She added, "You would maybe have assumed that we would have gotten further away from those strong planks. But no, they're there, they're solid, we stand on them."

In other words, don't worry about Republicans moderating an inch on divisive culture-war, social issues. Palin assured Dobson that's not the case. Indeed, she said she believes from the "bottom of [her] heart" that McCain is "solidly there" on implementing far-right policies.

It's easy to get the sense that Sarah Palin is not a vice presidential candidate sympathetic to the concerns of a religious right activist, she's a religious right activist running for the vice presidency.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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WE'RE ALL SOCIALISTS NOW.... To hear John McCain and Sarah Palin tell it, Barack Obama's plan to cut taxes on middle-class families, and raise taxes on the very wealthy, is not only a bad idea, it's socialism. As 11th-hour, desperation attacks go, it's pretty weak, especially when a conservative Republican president is nationalizing banks and the financial industry.

But McCain's error is actually worse than most of his more routine mistakes. For one thing, progressive taxation is as American as apple pie. For another, McCain's take on progressive taxation seems to have "evolved" over time.

On the first point, the AP's Charles Babbington has a very good piece today, explaining "the nation's long tradition of redistributing huge amounts of wealth through tax-and-spending policies." Babbington noted, "Placing a heavier burden on the wealthy has been a cornerstone of the federal income tax since its inception in 1913."

McClatchy's David Lightman and William Douglas had a similar item last night, noting, "Favoring higher tax rates for the wealthy than for the less fortunate isn't socialism, and if it is, then the U.S. has been a socialist country for nearly a century, under both Democrats and Republicans."

But the amusing part of all of this is the hypocrisy. McCain now seems to believe Obama's tax policies were crafted by Karl Marx, but it was just a couple of personas ago when McCain thought Obama's approach was the right one.

It's well documented that McCain's full-throated support of cuts for those in the top tax brackets represents something of a reversal since 2001, when he voted against Bush-backed tax slashes for top earners. "I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us at the expense of middle class Americans who most need tax relief," he wrote in a statement at the time.

But archived MSNBC videotape from 2000 further demonstrates how McCain's tone has shifted on taxes and what constitutes socialism since the end of his last presidential race. Answering questions during a Hardball College Tour show in October 2000, McCain defended the progressive tax system when questioned by a town hall participant who warned that the high tax bracket of her father -- a doctor -- smacked of an inching towards "socialism and stuff." McCain said that progressive tax systems are based on the fact that "we feel, obviously, that wealthy people can afford more." He spelled out this response: "Here's what I really believe, that when you are -- reach a certain level of comfort, there's nothing wrong with paying somewhat more."

I guess McCain was for socialism before he was against it.

Steve Benen 12:35 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.

* The new McCain campaign ad, I kid you not, features people identifying themselves as "Joe the Plumber."

* McCain thinks Republicans who question Palin's credentials have an "elitist" attitude.

* A right-wing group called Let Freedom Ring is spending over $1.2 million on some anti-Obama attacks ads. The spots will air in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado.

* In Wisconsin, a WPR poll shows Obama leading McCain by 13, 51% to 38%.

* In South Dakota, a KELO poll shows McCain leading Obama by seven, 48% to 41%.

* In West Virginia, Rasmussen shows McCain leading Obama by nine, 52% to 43%.

* In Colorado, an InsiderAdvantage poll shows Obama leading McCain by five, 51% to 46%.

* In Maine, a Pan Atlantic SMS Group poll shows Obama leading McCain by 12, 51% to 39%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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MCCAIN'S ROBOCALL PROBLEM ISN'T GOING AWAY.... How offensive are the McCain campaign's robocalls? At this point, three Republican senators -- Snowe, Coleman, and Collins -- have denounced them and called on McCain to drop them. Even Sarah Palin doesn't seem to care for them.

The calls are so scurrilous, in an area where McCain hired callers to read the script, instead of using an automated system, one woman at a phone-bank quit rather than lie to voters about Obama and Bill Ayers.

For what it's worth, the Obama campaign is responding with its own robocall, but it includes a very different message.

The Obama campaign plans to release [today] a robocall that hits back hard against John McCain's robocalls -- it features a small business owner from Green Bay, Wisconsin, that says she's been turned against McCain by his "sleazy" roboslime campaign against Obama.

An Obama adviser sent us the call, which features Jeri Watermolen, a small business owner from Green Bay, who claims that she "used to support McCain but has switched her support to Obama" because of the "sleazy phone calls and mail" attacking Obama that McCain has put out.

The call will tell voters, "Hi, this is Jeri Watermolen, calling for the Campaign for Change. I live in Green Bay and, like you, I've been getting sleazy phone calls and mail from John McCain and his supporters viciously -- and falsely -- attacking Barack Obama. I used to support John McCain because he honorably served our country -- but this year he's running a dishonorable campaign. We know McCain will continue many of Bush's policies, and now he's using George Bush's divisive tactics. In fact, he hired the Bush strategists whose attacks even McCain once called hateful. Barack Obama will turn the page on these negative politics and stand up for the middle class. That's the change we need, and it's why I have changed my mind about John McCain."

For that matter, Biden went on a tear yesterday, blasting McCain on these calls. "If he's really serious when he said this morning on one of the shows that this election is all about the economy, then I say, 'John, stop your ads. Bring down those robocalls,'" Biden said. "If it's about the economy, argue the economy.... John, stop these calls!"

I have a hunch the McCain campaign never expected this much pushback.

Steve Benen 11:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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THE JUDICIARY.... Sarah Palin chatted with Focus on the Family's James Dobson yesterday for an interview airing today. I'll have more on their discussion later, but it's worth noting that for Dobson, the single biggest issue on the political landscape isn't abortion or gays, it's the federal courts. It's precisely why Dobson, who had vowed he wouldn't vote for McCain "under any circumstances" ultimately changed his mind.

And speaking of the courts, the estimable Stephanie Mencimer has a terrific item on the judiciary as part of this month's issue of the Washington Monthly, highlighting one of the often overlooked issues at stake in this year's presidential election.

While the contrast between Barack Obama and McCain on hot-button social issues couldn't be clearer, to focus exclusively on abortion or separation of church and state is ultimately distracting. The Supreme Court hasn't heard a great deal of these cases lately, and this pattern is likely to continue for the near future. The areas where McCain may have the biggest influence include the growing number of business cases on the docket (in which McCain's choice of judges would surely share his own ardent belief in deregulation) and questions of presidential power.

John McCain's Court, in fact, would look almost exactly like George W. Bush's. McCain has said repeatedly that he would appoint justices in the model of John Roberts and Samuel Alito. By the conclusion of Roberts's second term this year, the Court had undergone a historic shift to the right. His Court has significantly restricted the average person's access to the legal system, all but eliminated equal pay lawsuits, destroyed efforts to desegregate public schools, and made the Court an even friendlier place for well-funded business groups looking to insulate themselves from liability for wrongdoing. As Justice Stephen Breyer lamented, "It is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much." By all indications, the Roberts bloc would like to change far more.

The subject hasn't generated nearly as much as attention as it should -- I think there's a disconnect because voters don't realize the influence a president has on the judiciary -- but Mencimer's terrific piece explains exactly why this matters. Just as importantly, Mencimer takes a closer look at the kind of jurists we'd see in an Obama administration. Read the piece.

And also keep in mind, as we talked about on Monday, you can receive a free, no-obligation copy of our new issue. It's a unique issue about a critical election, and it features some terrific analysis from highly respected journalists (Jonathan Alter, James Fallows, Nicholas Lemann, Kevin Drum) on some of the policy issues that matter most (the economy, foreign policy, energy, education, the federal judiciary).

It's easy to get this free issue in your hands. Just follow the link. If you want to subscribe after receiving the issue, you may do so for the very special rate of only $19.95 for one year. If not, the issue is still yours.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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SO MUCH FOR MCCAIN'S OUTREACH TO WOMEN.... I don't think I've ever seen a campaign with a worse sense of timing.

Just yesterday, Sarah Palin held a rally in Nevada, flanked by women supporters she identified as Democrats and/or NOW members. The point of her speech was, apparently, to encourage women voters to support John McCain because he picked her as his running mate. "[O]nly our side has a woman on the ticket," Palin said, as if it were a trump card.

Unfortunately for the Republican campaign, while Palin was trying to do outreach to women in a swing state, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis appeared on Bill Bennett's radio show to talk about "feminism." Big mistake.

Davis explained that Palin drives "liberal feminists" "nuts" because "she's a conservative Republican" who's working as a governor. Bennett agreed, adding, "Let me give you three things that I think drives them crazy, and you don't have to comment. That's she's very attractive. That she's very competent or that she's very happy. You know, as a human being."

Instead of pushing back, and telling Bennett how absurd this is, McCain's campaign manager replied, "Yeah, all of the above."

And all of this comes the same week as McCain blasting the "feminist left" while on the campaign stump.

If there's a logic to all of this, it's hiding well.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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STRATEGERY.... John McCain has very little time, dwindling resources, and a limited number of options in order to reach 270 electoral votes. As such, he's having to make some tough decisions.

Democrats who monitor advertising spending now put at five the number of states where Senator John McCain is reducing his advertising -- New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Colorado, Maine and Minnesota.

In essence, Mr. McCain's campaign has decided to spread the advertising time he bought for the upcoming week in those states over the next two final weeks.

While station managers in the affected states said they were not ruling out the possibility that Mr. McCain would pump money back in before election day, on Nov. 4, the move represents a stark reordering of priorities.

Estimates suggest McCain will save about $2 million by reducing ads in these five states. He'll need the money -- not only is Obama investing heavily, but McCain will no longer share the advertising costs with the Republican National Committee.

The campaign has started to phase out [hybrid] ads in these final days, deciding to stick to advertisements it can devote fully to Mr. McCain's campaign message. That will greatly disadvantage Mr. McCain as he struggles to keep up with the far better funded Mr. Obama.

Scaling back in Colorado is probably the most significant development here. If Obama carries the states Kerry won, and then wins in Iowa, New Mexico, and Colorado, he'll cross the 270 threshold, even without other battleground states where he's competitive (Virginia, Missouri, North Carolina, Nevada, etc.).

It's why Pennsylvania has become the centerpiece of McCain' entire strategy. If he's going to lose enough "red" states to put Obama over the top, he'll need to flip a "blue" state with a lot of electoral votes, and he perceives Pennsylvania as his last, best shot.

Given the recent polling in the Keystone State, McCain is taking an enormous gamble that appears unlikely to pay off.

Steve Benen 10:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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AL QAEDA'S PRESIDENTIAL PREFERENCE?.... A couple of weeks ago, Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism coordinator for the National Security Council, explained that al Qaeda would probably prefer a John McCain victory this year, in part because the terrorist network wouldn't want a U.S. president who enjoys popularity on the world stage.

As it turns out, al Qaeda may have more than one reason to root for McCain.

Al-Qaida supporters suggested in a Web site message this week they would welcome a pre-election terror attack on the U.S. as a way to usher in a McCain presidency.

The message, posted Monday on the password-protected al-Hesbah Web site, said if al-Qaida wants to exhaust the United States militarily and economically, "impetuous" Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain is the better choice because he is more likely to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"This requires presence of an impetuous American leader such as McCain, who pledged to continue the war till the last American soldier," the message said. "Then, al-Qaida will have to support McCain in the coming elections so that he continues the failing march of his predecessor, Bush."

The al-Hesbah website, closely linked to the terrorist group, added that al Qaeda "will have to support McCain," and hoped that a McCain foreign policy would "exhaust" American resources.

I suspect the conservative response will be that this message is an elaborate attempt at reverse psychology -- al Qaeda says it would prefer McCain because it really doesn't want McCain. I suppose anything's possible -- we're talking about the rantings of homicidal lunatics -- but if the goal was to get this message out to an American audience, al Qaeda probably wouldn't have published it in Arabic in a password-protected website.

Nevertheless, if this same site had expressed support for Obama, I suspect we'd hear about little else for the next two weeks.

Steve Benen 9:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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THE REAL MCCAIN IN REAL AMERICA.... Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), for reasons that defy comprehension, recently bashed his own area, saying, "There is no question that western Pennsylvania is a racist area." He later apologized, but added that the "whole area, years ago, was really redneck."

John McCain, campaigning in western Pennsylvania, tried to use Murtha's foolishness as a campaign issue, but struggled badly with his lines.

"You know, I think you may have noticed that Senator Obama's supporters have been saying some pretty nasty things about western Pennsylvania lately," McCain said. "And you know, I couldn't agree with them more." Noticing his confused crowd and realizing he'd screwed up, McCain added, "I couldn't disagree with you, I couldn't agree with you more than the fact that western Pennsylvania is the most patriotic, most God-loving, most, most patriotic part of America, and this is a great part of the country."

Putting aside the fact that McCain still isn't the most eloquent of speakers, I still don't understand why on earth McCain would start identifying the "most God-loving" and "most patriotic part of America." Sarah Palin just got herself into quite a bit of trouble on this, so much so that she publicly apologized yesterday.

So why go down the same road? Why argue that some parts of the country are more patriotic than others?

As Joe Klein explained, "Anyone who talks about the 'pro-American' parts of the country is making an anti-American statement.... Anyone who describes one part of the country as 'most patriotic' has lost all sense of what patriotism means."

Steve Benen 9:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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MCCAIN'S BIGGEST HURDLE.... The new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll is pretty consistent with most of the recent data we've seen. But there's one surprise.

With two weeks to go until Election Day, Obama now leads his Republican rival by 10 points among registered voters, 52 to 42 percent, up from 49 to 43 percent two weeks ago.

Obama's current lead is also fueled by his strength among independent voters (topping McCain 49 to 37 percent), suburban voters (53 to 41), Catholics (50 to 44) and white women (49 to 45). [...]

In the survey, Obama also holds commanding leads on the issues -- especially economic ones. He has a 39-point advantage over McCain in handling health care (59 to 20 percent), a 21-point edge on improving the economy (49 to 28), a 21-point lead on the mortgage and housing crisis (45 to 24), a 17-point edge on dealing with the Wall Street crisis (42 to 25), a 14-point lead on taxes (48 to 34) and a 12-point advantage on energy and the cost of gas (44 to 32).

The result that stands out, though, is McCain's biggest problem. I'd long assumed McCain would be burdened by his close association with an unpopular president, and his affiliation with a tarnished Republican brand. But that's not it -- voters' biggest concern about McCain is his running mate.

A clear majority (55%) believe she's not qualified, and more voters have a negative impression of her than a positive one (47% to 38%). NBC reported, "Now, Palin's qualifications to be president rank as voters' top concern about McCain's candidacy -- ahead of continuing President Bush's policies, enacting economic policies that only benefit the rich and keeping too high of a troop presence in Iraq."

Similarly, the Pew Research Center released a new poll yesterday, showing Obama leading McCain nationally by 14 points, 52% to 38%. When it came to favorability, both Obama and Biden have seen their numbers climb steadily; McCain's numbers have fallen quickly; and Palin is the only one of the four whose unfavorable number is higher than her favorable number.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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A WARDROBE FOR THE REAL AMERICA.... As Hilzoy noted last night, Sarah Palin has a new and unexpected problem -- the Republican National Committee has spent more than $150,000 on clothes and accessories for Palin and her family in just seven weeks. The figure includes more than $75,000 at Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis, and nearly $5,000 on hair and makeup. The funds were not just directed at the governor -- about $5,000 was also spent at Atelier, a high-class shopping destination for men.

The political implications are more than a little humiliating. Consider all the McCain campaign messages a story like this steps on -- "elitist," "small-town values," "big spender," "relating to 'real' America," etc.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, American households spend an average of $1,874 a year on clothing. The RNC spent $150,000 on one family in seven weeks. Frankly, I'm not even sure how one family can spend that much so quickly. We're talking about an average of more than $2,000 a day, every day, since late August. (Yglesias noted, "The total bill is well over double the median household income in the United States.")

Marc Ambinder reports that Republicans are pissed that Palin and the RNC could have let this happen.

There is already an attempt to blame the media -- as in, the liberal media would have looked askance at Palin if she wasn't clad in Neiman Marcus, but this won't wash. Republicans, RNC donors and at least one RNC staff member have e-mailed me tonight to share their utter (and not-for-attribution) disgust at the expenditures.

This sort of spending is without precedent -- the closest approximation for any campaign I've ever covered is make-up expenses for television interviews and commercial shoots -- and Schmitt's weakly defensive response tonight indicates that the campaign is deeply embarrassed by it and has nothing to say in their defense. Spokespeople have clammed up, a sure sign that they're trying to figure out who authorized the expenses and who knew about them. Did Palin wear all of the clothing? Where is it kept?

The Democrats are going to have a lot more fun with this than is prudent, but the heat for this story will come from Republicans who cannot understand how their party would do something this stupid ... particularly (and, it must be said, viewed retroactively) during the collapse of the financial system and the probable beginning of a recession.

And those are just Republican officials. Imagine being an RNC small donor this morning, and learning that your $20 went towards a whole new wardrobe for the Palin family, as compared to, say, helping a Republican candidate win an election. Indeed, what might "Joe the Plumber" think?

Ezra added, "Sarah Palin wasn't a beet farmer last week. She was a governor. Presumably, she had clothing already. The sort of clothing that was appropriate for giving political speeches and attending campaign meetings. You can imagine the need for a couple new things (lots of different climates, etc), but not $150,000 for a whole new wardrobe. And not $150,000 of other people's money for a whole new wardrobe."

At this point, the McCain campaign's spin machine has been very quiet, apparently still struggling to come up with a defense for this. I'm looking forward to hearing what they come up with.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (88)

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By: Hilzoy

Shop On, Sarah Palin, Shop On!

Sarah Palin does her bit to boost sagging retail sales:

"The Republican National Committee appears to have spent more than $150,000 to clothe and accessorize vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her family since her surprise pick by John McCain in late August.

According to financial disclosure records, the accessorizing began in early September and included bills from Saks Fifth Avenue in St. Louis and New York for a combined $49,425.74.

The records also document a couple of big-time shopping trips to Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis, including one $75,062.63 spree in early September.

The RNC also spent $4,716.49 on hair and makeup through September after reporting no such costs in August."

Just think: each and every one of those dollars will not be spent defending a contested Congressional seat. Sarah Palin: shop on!

She does seem to have a talent for getting other people to pay for things, though. And while I don't mind when she charges the RNC, I might be a bit annoyed if I were a citizen of Alaska:

"Gov. Sarah Palin charged the state for her children to travel with her, including to events where they were not invited, and later amended expense reports to specify that they were on official business.

The charges included costs for hotel and commercial flights for three daughters to join Palin to watch their father in a snowmobile race, and a trip to New York, where the governor attended a five-hour conference and stayed with 17-year-old Bristol for five days and four nights in a luxury hotel.

In all, Palin has charged the state $21,012 for her three daughters' 64 one-way and 12 round-trip commercial flights since she took office in December 2006. In some other cases, she has charged the state for hotel rooms for the girls.

Alaska law does not specifically address expenses for a governor's children. The law allows for payment of expenses for anyone conducting official state business.

As governor, Palin justified having the state pay for the travel of her daughters -- Bristol, 17; Willow, 14; and Piper, 7 -- by noting on travel forms that the girls had been invited to attend or participate in events on the governor's schedule.

But some organizers of these events said they were surprised when the Palin children showed up uninvited, or said they agreed to a request by the governor to allow the children to attend."

Where I come from, when you say that your kids were invited and they weren't, that's called "lying." And when you amend expense reports to say they were on official business when they weren't, that's called "falsifying documents." No doubt that's because I don't come from Real America, and haven't absorbed nearly enough of its timeless moral values.

I can't help remembering what Sarah Palin told us about her spending habits back in the day:

"I came to office promising major ethics reform, to end the culture of self-dealing. And today, that ethics reform is the law.

While I was at it, I got rid of a few things in the governor's office that I didn't believe our citizens should have to pay for.

That luxury jet was over the top. I put it on eBay.

I also drive myself to work.

And I thought we could muddle through without the governor's personal chef - although I've got to admit that sometimes my kids sure miss her."

But sticking the taxpayers with the tab for trips for her kids and luxury hotels -- giving that up was a bit too much to ask.

Hilzoy 12:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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October 21, 2008
By: Hilzoy

NewsMax: Not Aware Of All Internet Traditions

Ken Timmerman has a rather breathless article in NewsMax called "Obama's Secret Campaign Cash: Has $63 Million Flowed from Foreign Sources?" Here's the argument for the claim that it could have: Examining Obama's donations over $200, which must be itemized in FEC filings, the author discovers a class of donations that strikes him as suspicious. He calculates the proportion of the itemized donations that are of this suspicious kind, and then figures out how much money would be similarly suspect if that proportion also held in the non-itemized donations, the ones for less that $200. Answer: $63 million.

You might be wondering: what are these suspicious donations? They are donations for amounts like $20.01, or $150.04 -- donations that are not rounded to the nearest dollar:

"In all, Newsmax found an astonishing 37,265 unique donors to the Obama campaign whose contributions were not rounded up to dollar amounts. That amounts to more than 10 percent of the total number of unique donors whose names have been disclosed by the Obama campaign to the public. (...)

Campaign finance experts find the frequent appearance of unrounded contributions suspicious, since contributors almost invariably give in whole dollar amounts.

One expert in campaign finance irregularities offers a possible explanation.

"Of course this is odd. They are obviously converting from local currency to U.S. dollars," said Ken Boehm, the chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center."

And that, gentle reader, is why Timmerman thinks that $63 million of Obama's contributions might be from foreigners: because the last two digits are something other than .00. Apparently, Neither Ken Boehm nor Timmerman knows about this:

"Calpundit add $.15
Daily Kos add $.01
EdCone.com add $.13
Eschaton add $.18
The Hamster add $.04
Instapundit add $.03
pandagon.net add $.07
Political Wire add $.09
Seeing the Forest add $.02
Talk Left add $.11
Talking Points Memo add $.22
Yellow Dog Blog add $.36

You'd be forgiven if the above list doesn't make any sense to you. But in the old, pre-ActBlue days, the easiest way to make sure your blog got "credit" for driving donations was to have your readers append a certain amount of cents to every donation. $20.01, you know it's from Kos. $20.22, it's from Talking Points Memo, and so on."

If memory serves, Clarkies added .04. People still do this: not as many as in 2004, but still.

Honestly. Some people have no sense of history.

Hilzoy 10:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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By: Hilzoy

More Trouble Ahead

From the Washington Post:

"Consumers are increasingly unable to pay off their credit cards, forcing banks to hoard cash to protect against future losses and lend to fewer people, according to reports yesterday from several of the nation's largest banks.

These financial disclosures showed a spike in credit card loans going bad, putting further pressure on already-stressed balance sheets. J.P. Morgan Chase said the number of credit card loans in default rose 45 percent in the third quarter from the comparable period a year ago and predicted that default rates would sharply accelerate through 2009, with 7 percent of credit card loans going bad. (...)

The deterioration in consumer credit, the latest downturn to whack Americans after the housing slump and mortgage meltdown, threatens one of the linchpins of the U.S. economy. Over the past 10 years, credit card debt has gone up 75 percent as Americans' real wages and savings rate have stayed flat. That means Americans have been spending beyond their means -- and fueling economic growth with borrowed money.

Now, the housing crash, financial downturn and contracting economy have made it more difficult for Americans to settle their bills, setting off a downward spiral. As people fail to pay off their credit card bills and other loans, banks must put away money to cover expected losses. So banks lend less. Americans who tended to rely on loans to fuel their spending must cut back, readjusting their spending habits to conform with what they earn.

"Given that the savings rate has been minuscule, there's no reserves in the tank for the consumer to tap his savings to support his spending," said Scott Valentin, a financial services analyst at Arlington investment bank Friedman Billings Ramsey. But consumers have been driving about two-thirds of the U.S. economy.

Overall, the rate of credit card loans going bad increased 54 percent in the second quarter of 2008 from the same period in 2007, according to Federal Reserve data, the latest available.

A report this week from Innovest, a research firm, said banks and other credit card lenders could record nearly $100 billion in losses because of bad loans through the end of next year. Innovest said financial firms could be reaching a "tipping point" at which years of growth in credit card debt starts to decline."

There are several problems here. The first is the possibility that banks will have to write off even more bad debt. Americans owe about $950 billion worth of credit card debt, and, as with mortgages, credit card debt has been securitized. The second is that banks might hoard cash if they think they will have to write down bad debts, at a time when credit is already very tight. But the third is that, as the Post notes, consumer spending drives a lot of our economy. But there's a problem:

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Wages have been flat for the better part of a decade. We made up for that fact by borrowing, both against our houses and on credit cards. Since virtually every form of credit seems to have dried up, and a large jump in people's wages doesn't seem to be in the offing, it's hard to see how consumer spending will not take a very serious hit. And if it does, the economy will suffer enormously.

Hilzoy 9:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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

* The Dow dropped another 230 points today.

* Palin apologized today for her "pro-America areas" remark from the other day.

* On a related note, Palin still seems a little confused about the V.P.'s responsibilities.

* Bush has stated his desire to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, but he's not actually going to follow through.

* The smartest thing MSNBC has ever done is give Rachel Maddow a prime-time show: "Maddow ... has done something that is virtually unheard of: she has doubled the audience for a cable news channel's 9 p.m. hour in a matter of days." I can't overstate how encouraging this is.

* Speaking of MSNBC, Chris Matthews wants to chat with Michelle Bachmann again. I'm not surprised -- the ratings would be huge.

* Conservatives looking for encouraging presidential polls have begun touting online polling of children. Seriously.

* Has Drudge's campaign influence evaporated? Eric Boehlert makes a compelling case that it has.

* Amusing voting anecdote from an Obama supporter in Southwest Kansas.

* Seriously, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) is really unimpressed with the Republican ticket.

* Apparently, there's some bizarre rumor circulating in far-right circles about Michelle Obama ordering lobster at the Waldorf Astoria. It's not true.

* The RNC's complaints about ACORN keep falling apart.

* On a related note, the RNC's small-donor database is apparently little more than a publicity stunt.

* Beneath contempt: "A dead bear was found dumped this morning on the Western Carolina University campus, draped with a pair of Obama campaign signs, university police said."

* Homelessness has largely been on the decline, but it appears to be rising again.

* Don't let the door hit you on the wait out, Scott Bloch.

* And finally, a Pennsylvania state rep named Tim Mahoney is working hard to make sure he's not that Tim Mahoney.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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A CENTER-RIGHT NATION?.... If the available evidence is accurate, in about two weeks, Americans will help elect a Democratic House, a Democratic Senate, and possibly a Democratic president. A majority of the nation's governors are already Democrats. Polls show fairly strong support for the policy agenda presented in the Democratic Party's platform, including universal healthcare and ending the war in Iraq. Even on culture war issues, most Americans are pro-choice, support the separation of church and state, and are growing increasingly supportive of expanding gay rights.

With all of this in mind, Newsweek's Jon Meacham has a 3,300-word cover story this week, insisting that the United States is a "center-right" nation, and if Obama is elected, he'd be foolish to forget it.

The piece has already generated some interesting responses, but I'm partial to Media Matters' Paul Waldman's take, noting that when Republicans make gains in federal elections, it's perceived as evidence of a national shift to the right. When Democrats make gains, it doesn't matter, because the nation still leans to the right. When Republicans win, it's incumbent on Democrats to move to the center. When Democrats win, it's still incumbent on Democrats to move to the center.

Waldman also takes this a step further, noting what George W. Bush has done to discredit conservatism going forward.

With the exception of a reduction in the size of government ... conservatives got pretty much everything they wanted from George W. Bush. They got tax breaks for the wealthy, huge increases in defense spending, a bellicose foreign policy, two Supreme Court justices ready to overturn Roe v. Wade, a mania for deregulation of business, a Justice Department devoted to advancing the electoral interests of the Republican Party, a consolidation of power in the executive branch, lackadaisical enforcement of environmental regulations, constant efforts to undermine labor unions, and the list goes on and on. This administration has been conservatism in action, and the country couldn't be more disgusted with the results.

Conservatives are increasingly sounding like they're stuck in the 1980s, as they warn against the creeping tide of socialism and denounce Obama's tax plan as "welfare." You almost expect to hear John McCain take the stage to a pulsing Richard Marx tune, then start reciting lines from "Red Dawn." It may have reached its apogee when, in her debate with Joe Biden, Sarah Palin quoted Reagan on the danger that if we're not careful, one day we'll be telling our children and grandchildren about a time when America was free. What was Reagan warning against in that quote? The passage of Medicare, one of the most successful and popular programs in U.S. history, brought to you courtesy of big-government liberals.

When conservatives take stands like these, so far from the American mainstream, the Beltway acolytes of the Church of Centrism never seem to mind. Will a GOP defeat be greeted with columns by Jon Meacham and his ilk instructing Republicans sternly that they need to abandon their ideology and move to the center, lest they permanently alienate themselves from the public?

I'm not counting on it.

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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BIDEN'S PREDICTION.... The lead headline at Mark Halperin's "The Page" this afternoon was, "Palin Keeps Hammering Biden Comment." It comes 24 hours after Halperin's lead headline from yesterday, "McCain Pounces on Biden 'Crisis' Remark."

Now, I follow these developments pretty closely, but I had to stop and ask myself, "What is that Biden said again?"

Apparently, Biden spoke at a Seattle fundraiser on Sunday night, and made something of a prediction.

"Mark my words. It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy," said Biden to a roomful of donors. "The world is looking. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America."

"Remember I said it standing here, if you don't remember anything else I said," Biden continued. "Watch, we're going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy."

Maybe my radar is off, but this doesn't sound especially controversial.

And yet, McCain and Palin are on the attack, arguing ... well, I'm not quite sure what they're arguing. Apparently it has something to do with "testing" the next president. Rudy Giuliani said the remarks were evidence that "Biden continues to harbor serious doubts" about Obama, but I haven't the foggiest idea how he came to that conclusion.

Lieberman campaign officials have made similar comments about the next president being tested, and no one cared. So what, exactly, is the point of this little brouhaha?

I get the sense "Joe the Plumber" rhetoric wasn't polling well in the overnights, so the campaign needed a new toy to play with.

Steve Benen 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

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PALIN TO TALK TO CNN.... After having endured grueling interviews from hard-hitting journalists like Sean Hannity, Hugh Hewitt, and Bill Kristol, Sarah Palin has decided she's now willing to chat with CNN for the first time.

And who's getting the interview? I thought they might go with an A-lister like Wolf Blitzer or Anderson Cooper. Or maybe some softballs from Larry King. Perhaps some no-nonsense from Campbell Brown. Or maybe go with one of the correspondents following the campaign from the beginning, such as John King or Candy Crowley.

I didn't think Drew Griffin would get the gig.

CNN investigative correspondent Drew Griffin will sit down for a wide-ranging interview with Republican vice-presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin in Reno, Nev., today. The 15-minute, one-on-one interview will air in all three hours of The Situation Room and will cover a variety of topics.

Now, it wouldn't be fair to pre-judge the interview. Drew Griffin may do a great job and conduct an important interview. We'll see soon enough.

But it is fair to wonder why he was tapped for the first Palin interview on the network. It was Griffin, for example, who went to Alaska and dismissed the significance of the Troopergate scandal before investigators concluded that Palin had violated state ethics and abused the powers of her office. As Griffin told CNN viewers, the controversy was unlikely to "bring down the newest star on the political scene."

Griffin has also taken a leading role in reporting on the manufactured ACORN "issue," often with disappointing results.

What's more, according to his bio, Griffin works out of the Atlanta bureau, and doesn't normally cover politics or campaigns.

With this in mind, how is it, exactly, that when it came time for Palin's first interview on CNN, the "best political team on television" gave the gig to someone who isn't even part of CNN's "best political team on television"?

If the McCain/Palin campaign dictated to CNN who the interviewer had to be, I trust the network would disclose something like that.

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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ABOUT THAT PAKISTAN POLICY.... Campaigning in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, 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."

Soon after, John McCain said Palin's response doesn't count, because questions from voters constitute "gotcha journalism."

Today, just 23 days after Palin insisted U.S. forces should "absolutely" be willing to enter Pakistan in pursuit of terrorists, she blasted Obama for believing the same thing.

Describing "crisis scenarios" the next president might face, Palin initially bashed Obama's willingness to support U.S. diplomacy with enemies. She added, "Now, Senator Obama, too, having advocated sending our U.S. military into Pakistan without the approval of the Pakistani government, invading the sovereign territory of a troubled partner in the war against terrorism, we gotta call that scenario number two."

I'm curious, does Palin remember three weeks ago? It was a pretty big story -- everyone seemed rather surprised that she agreed with Obama on U.S. counter-terrorism policy, specifically regarding Pakistan. There was quite a bit of follow-up on this.

And now she's blasting Obama for having the same position she held less than a month ago? As Greg Sargent noted, "[W]hoever lets this sort of thing into her speeches is either incompetent or very, very brazen."

I suppose it could be both -- incompetence and shamelessness are not mutually exclusive -- but I'm open to suggestion.

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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WE KEEP THE TAPES.... About a year ago, Olbermann did a segment about John McCain claiming that he knew all along that the war in Iraq would "long and hard and tough." Olbermann featured a series of quotes from McCain showing the exact opposite to be true, concluding, "Senator, we keep all the tapes of these interviews. C'mon!"

It's a lesson far-right members of Congress keep forgetting.

As everyone now knows, Rep. Michelle Bachmann questioned Barack Obama for having "anti-American" views on Friday, adding that she wants a new round of McCarthyism for all members of Congress. Faced with intense pushback, Bachmann told a reporter on Sunday, "I'm not saying that [Obama's] views are anti-American. That was a misreading of what I said." The video showed she was lying. ("Congresswoman, we keep all the tapes of these interviews. C'mon!"

Similarly, Rep. Robin Hayes, a right-wing Republican from North Carolina, was warming up a crowd on Saturday in advance of a McCain speech. Hayes told voters, "[L]iberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God."

Questioned about his disgusting and divisive attack, Hayes' office denied everything.

Then the audio clip emerged, proving that Hayes had clearly said what he'd been quoted saying. The exact quote: "Folks, there's a real America, and liberals hate real Americans that work, and accomplish, and achieve, and believe in God."

Ideally, Republican officials would stop saying insane things. But barring that, they may want to keep in mind that reporters keep tapes, and their denials end up looking pretty ridiculous later.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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CRIST READING FROM HIS OWN SCRIPT.... Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) apparently doesn't have much use for the McCain campaign's talking points.

Crist was asked about the attacks from many McCain supporters that Obama is advancing a "socialist" agenda.

"I imagine different people have different definitions. I don't think it looks that way to me," he said.

This comes shortly after Crist rejected McCain's rhetoric about ACORN, Crist's absence from McCain campaign advertising, and Crist's noticeable reluctance to go all out in Florida in support of McCain's campaign.

An uncharitable interpretation might lead one to wonder if Crist, who was considered for the McCain ticket, is being spiteful for having been turned down for Sarah Palin.

But there are other possible explanations for the rift, most notably Crist's sense of which way the political winds are blowing in Florida. Something to keep an eye on.

Steve Benen 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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By: Hilzoy

ACORN

I've been following the ACORN story, and trying, bit by bit, to understand it. The broad outlines are pretty clear:

"ACORN registers lots of lower income and/or minority voters. They operate all across the country and do a lot of things beside voter registration. What's key to understand is their method. By and large they do not rely on volunteers to register voters. They hire people -- often people with low incomes or even the unemployed. This has the dual effect of not only registering people but also providing some work and income for people who are out of work. But because a lot of these people are doing it for the money, inevitably, a few of them cut corners or even cheat. So someone will end up filling out cards for nonexistent names and some of those slip through ACORN's own efforts to catch errors. (It's important to note that in many of the recent ACORN cases that have gotten the most attention it's ACORN itself that has turned the people in who did the fake registrations.) These reports start buzzing through the right-wing media every two years and every time the anecdotal reports of 'thousands' of fraudulent registrations turns out, on closer inspection, to be either totally bogus themselves or wildly exaggerated. So thousands of phony registrations ends up being, like, twelve."

There a couple of key points here. First, as a lot of people have pointed out, voter registration fraud is not the same as fraudulently casting a ballot. There are a lot of safeguards in place to prevent people from casting fraudulent ballots, and submitting a fraudulent registration does not begin to mean that you will be able to cast a fraudulent ballot. First, you'd need to submit the fake registrations. Then you'd need to hope that they made it through the election officials' screening. And then, as Rick Hasen writes in Slate:

"I would have to (...) pay a lot of other individuals to go to the polling place and claim to be Mary Poppins or Old Dead Bob, without any return guarantee --thanks to the secret ballot -- that any of them will cast a vote for my preferred candidate. Those who do show up at the polls run the risk of being detected ("You're not my neighbor Bob who passed away last year!") and charged with a felony. And for what -- $10?"

And besides all that, you'd have to hope that none of the large number of people you hired shoot their mouths off about it later. If you think about it, it's a pretty labor-intensive and risky way to try to steal an election. Much easier and safer to rig an election machine, stuff a ballot box, or find some subtle way of intimidating the other side's voters. This may be why there's very little evidence of actual voter fraud.

Second, in any large organization that has a lot of workers registering people to vote, someone is going to get lazy and decide to turn in made-up registrations rather than real ones. That's not a sign of organizational perfidy; it's human nature. The important question, in the ACORN stories, is not: did some one of their many, many employees submit fake registrations? It's: did ACORN knowingly try to get fake registrations accepted? and, if not: did it do everything it could have done to minimize the number of fake registrations, and to catch those that were submitted?

Third, a lot of news stories I've read have said that ACORN submitted fraudulent registration cards without noting that ACORN is often required by law to return all registration cards, even the ones filled out for "Mouse, Mickey". (This is to prevent them from discarding, say, all the people from a party they don't like, leaving the people whose cards they threw out believing that they had registered when in fact they were not.) ACORN does try to identify fraudulent registrations, and to mark them as fraudulent or suspicious when it turns them in. (They also fire people who submit fake registrations to them, and on at least some occasions turn them in to the election board.) Some of the coverage I've seen fails to mention whether the fake registrations ACORN submitted were flagged in this way or not.

Omitting this information is irresponsible: there's a huge difference between ACORN submitting fraudulent registration cards in the hopes of sneaking them into the system, and ACORN turning in fraudulent registration cards in an envelope marked "Fraudulent Registration Cards; Please Investigate!", because the law requires it to. The first is knowing fraud; the second is compliance with the law. The media should make it clear which of the two is going on.

Likewise, it would be good if the media would distinguish between cases that might possibly indicate an attempt by ACORN to register fraudulent voters and cases that couldn't. The guy who registered 73 times, for instance, will not show up on voter registration rolls as 73 separate iterations of himself, all with the same address, driver's license, etc. There is really no plausible story about how this could represent an attempt by ACORN (or anyone) to steal an election. Given the charges flying around, the media ought to make this clear.

That said, on to a few specific cases. I picked them more or less randomly, based on what I happened to read about when I was thinking of doing this. I tried to dig a bit deeper, to figure out whether or not the evidence pointed to any sort of systematic fraud. In particular, I wanted to know whether or not ACORN had flagged suspicious registrations, and whether or not it seemed to be cooperating with the authorities and generally trying to minimize fraud. I did this because I wanted to find some sort of evidence one way or another.

In the cases I've gone through, the takeaway seems to be: ACORN had flagged suspicious registrations; it was cooperating with authorities, there is no evidence that it was trying to submit fraudulent registrations, and plenty of evidence that it was trying not to. (E.g., firing people who submitted fake registrations to ACORN.) I do think ACORN ought to ask serious questions about its practice of paying people to register people to vote, and/or about its controls on its employees, though I understand why one might want to give low-income people the work. Details below the fold.

Indiana: The basic story:

"Lake County Republican Chairman John Curley wants a federal investigation into hundreds of voter registrations bearing fictitious signatures or the names of dead and underage people.

"Fraudulent applications are the workings of ACORN groups operating from Milwaukee and Chicago who are getting out the vote for Obama. I'm Republican, but I want everyone who should vote to vote. But I want a clean election," Curley said at a Wednesday news conference."

However, on closer inspection it's not clear that ACORN did anything wrong:

"ACORN, the liberal-leaning community activist group, followed the law when it notified authorities that some of the voter registration applications it submitted in Lake County apparently were fraudulent. (...)

"We ID'd those applications as questionable," Charles D. Jackson, spokesman for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, said of the Lake County applications.

"We turned them in three separate stacks: ones we had been able to verify, ones that were incomplete and ones that were questionable or suspicious."

Jim Gavin, spokesman for Secretary of State Todd Rokita, Indiana's top election official, confirmed that groups that conduct registration drives in the state must turn in all applications they collect.

Failure to do so, Gavin said, is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and up to one year in prison.

Ruthann Hoagland, assistant registration administrator with the Lake County Board of Elections and Voter Registration, confirmed that about 2,500 applications ACORN submitted were divided into three groups, as Jackson described."

In this case, what happened is completely consistent with ACORN having done nothing untoward. They were required to turn in their forms, and they did; they had flagged forms that were incomplete or questionable. The specific case in Indiana that has gotten a lot of media play is a registration in the name of Jimmy Johns, which is a restaurant; ACORN has posted pdfs of the cover sheets on which they flagged this registration as problematic when they submitted it to the election board. It indicates that the canvasser who submitted it was fired. ACORN also says they turned that canvasser in to the authorities.

Las Vegas: The basic story:

"Members of a new task force designed to prevent voter fraud raided the Las Vegas office of an organization that works with low-income people on everything from voting to neighborhood improvements.

State investigators, armed with a search warrant, sought evidence of voter fraud at the office of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known as ACORN, a Nevada Secretary of State's office spokesman said today.

"This is part of an ongoing investigation by the multijurisdictional task force that we announced this past July," Secretary of State Ross Miller said in a statement. "We said then that we would work aggressively to protect the process. We're going to do everything possible to ensure that Nevada's voter rolls are protected and to ensure that only those who are eligible can cast a ballot."

There are allegations that some registration applications were completed with false information, while other applications attempted to register the same person multiple times, Miller said. (...)

ACORN had received a subpoena dated Sept. 19 requesting information on 15 employees, all of whose names had been included in packages previously submitted to election officials, [ACORN's interim chief organizer Bertha] Lewis said. ACORN provided its personnel records on the 15 employees on Sept. 29, she said.

"For the past 10 months, any time ACORN has identified a potentially fraudulent application, we turn that application in to election officials separately and offer to provide election officials with the information they would need to pursue an investigation or prosecution of the individual," Lewis said. "Election officials routinely ignored this information and failed to act.""

And:

"Joe Camp, who oversaw the voter drive's quality-control operation, said that whenever a batch of registrations didn't seem kosher based on phone checks, they were submitted to the Clark County Election Department with a "Problematic Card Cover Sheet." ACORN on Wednesday supplied examples of such submissions going back to April.

By law, ACORN could not simply not turn in a suspect registration, even if it was in the name of Mickey Mouse. It is a felony to discard or destroy voter registration forms, which are tracked with individual serial numbers.

Camp said 46 packets of especially suspicious forms, totaling about 700, were submitted, and more than 50 canvassers were fired. Henderson, the regional ACORN director, said the group wished legal action would have been taken against those people."

You can read the affadavit submitted in support of Nevada's search warrant on ACORN here (pdf; the 'probable cause' section begins on p. 11). A couple of things struck me about it. The first is that it is largely based on documents ACORN gave to Nevada's investigator, and on his subsequent interviews with some of the ACORN ex-employees whose names he got from those documents. The documents ACORN provided came from its quality control program, which had identified problems with registrations submitted by these employees. There's nothing in the affadavit about ACORN failing to cooperate; in fact, ACORN offered to turn over information on the ex-employees who had submitted fraudulent registrations for further investigation. There's also nothing that explains why a warrant was needed.

Moreover, the various ex-employees of ACORN were all terminated when ACORN discovered that they had been submitting fraudulent registrations. And none of them says anything to suggest that ACORN encouraged this in any way. Instead, you get statements like this (pp. 14-15):

"JONES also stated that it was very hot outside when she was trying to get people to complete a form. JONES stated that many people she approached would not complete a form. JONES stated that as a result, she began asking people who had completed forms if they would complete forms for other people."

Or:

"ANDERSON described that some of the canvassers hired by ACORN were "lazy crack-heads" who were not interested in working and just wanted the money."

(Bear in mind that these are interviews with people who were fired by ACORN, and thus have no obvious motive to cover for the organization.)

There's nothing in the affadavit that suggests complicity on ACORN's part, at all.

New Mexico: TPMMuckraker has this one:

"Last week, as we noted at the time, the New Mexico GOP had publicly claimed that 28 people voted fraudulently in the Democratic primary, held in June, for a local race.

Then this morning, the RNC sent out a press release announcing a 3pm conference call with reporters "on the recent developments in New Mexico regarding ACORN."

But at 11am, ACORN -- the community organizing group that Republicans have been trying lately to turn into a voter fraud boogeyman -- held a conference call of its own, asserting that local election officials had confirmed that the 28 people in question, mostly low-income Latinos, were valid voters."

***

As I said, I think that it would be a good idea for ACORN to go over its quality control. But in the cases I tried to dig deeper in, there doesn't seem to be anything to indicate a systematic effort to fraudulently register people, as opposed to a bunch of canvassers getting lazy. I think the media ought to be much, much clearer about this.

Hilzoy 12:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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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.

* Obama will leave the campaign trail on Friday and Saturday to visit his grandmother, who helped raise him, and who is gravely ill in Hawaii.

* Obama is hosting an economic forum in Lake Worth, Fla., this afternoon, featuring governors, business leaders, and economic experts.

* CNN reported that the McCain campaign is effectively giving up on Iowa, New Mexico, and Colorado -- all "red" states -- but McCain aides deny the accuracy of the report.

* Just one day after Sarah Palin criticized the use of robocalls, she recorded her own robocall.

* The Republican Party of Florida has begun attacking Obama on, of all things, crime.

* In Ohio, a Suffolk University poll shows Obama leading McCain by nine, 51% to 42, while Rasmussen has McCain up by two, 49% to 47%.

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

* In Virginia, Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain by 10, 54% to 44%, while SurveyUSA shows Obama up by six, 51% to 45%.

* In Missouri, a Suffolk University poll shows McCain leading Obama by one, 45% to 44%, while Rasmussen shows Obama up by five, 49% to 44%.

* In Colorado, Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain by five, 51% to 46%.

* In North Carolina, Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain by three, 51% to 48%.

* In New Hampshire, Research 2000 shows Obama leading McCain by seven, 50% to 43%.

* In Indiana, Public Policy Polling shows Obama leading McCain by two, 48% to 46%.

* In New Jersey, Quinnipiac shows Obama leading McCain by 17, 59% to 36%.

* And don't forget to keep an eye on that Senate race in Kentucky. According to SurveyUSA, it's tied.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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MCCAIN TO PUSH A PRO-GRIDLOCK MESSAGE.... The campaign that changes its pitch on a nearly daily basis is about to change its pitch again. The new argument is pretty straightforward: if voters elect Obama, there will be a Democratic president working with a Democratic Congress.

In making the case, Republicans acknowledge, McCain is caught in a bind. The argument that they think may best resonate with independents is the one that calls upon them to make an issue out of a party label McCain has worked elsewhere to shrug off.

"That argument is a bank shot," said McCain strategist Charlie Black. "We're reminding them that by considering Obama they're delivering a monopoly to liberal Democrats."

Yesterday, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham introduced McCain at a rally in this St. Louis suburb as "the best check and balance you can find to tell Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi not to raise your taxes and grow the government." Over the last week, McCain has regularly declared that Obama is "planning with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid to raise taxes, increase spending, and concede defeat in Iraq."

Advisers say that McCain will begin marketing divided government more directly in coming days as part of a summation targeted at undecided independents.

As arguments go, I suppose McCain has offered worse, but there are a few drawbacks to this.

First, "vote for gridlock" isn't exactly a compelling pitch. As the argument goes, voters should support McCain, not because he's right, but because he'll fight with Congress. In other words, if you're not tired of partisan spats and a dysfunctional Washington, McCain wants to deliver a few more years of it.

Second, McCain may find this hard to believe, but Obama's policy agenda is actually pretty popular. By running as the pro-gridlock candidate, McCain is effectively telling voters, "If you vote for Obama, he'll be in a position to do all of the things he's promising to do." Given that a majority of Americans support a middle-class tax cut, ending the war in Iraq, a comprehensive energy policy, and universal healthcare, the message may not resonate as much as McCain might hope.

As it turns out, McCain may end up with this message by default -- nothing else has worked. The smears aren't connecting, and McCain's policy agenda, such as it is, isn't exactly winning voters over. A pro-gridlock appeal is arguably the only card that hasn't already been played.

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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ADELMAN.... There have been more than a few "Obamacans" this year -- the group of relatively high-profile Republicans and conservatives who, for a variety of reasons, are supporting Barack Obama. We've seen some from current and former lawmakers (Leach, Gilchrest, Chafee), some Republican officials (Powell, Kmiec), and some well known political observers (Buckley), and even some conservative scholars.

But it never would have occurred to me that Ken Adelman would throw his support to Obama.

Ken Adelman is a lifelong conservative Republican. Campaigned for Goldwater, was hired by Rumsfeld at the Office of Economic Opportunity under Nixon, was assistant to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld under Ford, served as Reagan's director of arms control, and joined the Defense Policy Board for Rumsfeld's second go-round at the Pentagon, in 2001. Adelman's friendship with Rumsfeld, Cheney, and their wives goes back to the sixties, and he introduced Cheney to Paul Wolfowitz at a Washington brunch the day Reagan was sworn in.

In recent years, Adelman and his friends Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz fell out over his criticisms of the botching of the Iraq War. Still, he remains a bona-fide hawk ("not really a neo-con but a con-con") who has never supported a Democrat for President in his life. Two weeks from now that's going to change: Ken Adelman intends to vote for Barack Obama. He can hardly believe it himself.

Adelman told George Packer that he's basing his decision largely on questions of "temperament" and "judgment." As Adelman sees it, McCain faced a temperament test when the financial crisis began, and McCain failed under pressure, becoming "impetuous, inconsistent, and imprudent; ending up just plain weird."

McCain's judgment test came when choosing a running mate, Adelman argued, and he failed that one, too.

Subsequently, Adelman added, "[McCain's] hiring of the Bush attack squad, South Carolina 2000, made me view this honorable man as heading a dishonorable effort. And that's still the case. It's pretty disgusting, what he's doing."

Given Adelman's background and ideology, I hardly know what to do with this information. Indeed, if Obama is elected, I can only assume Adelman will slam Obama's foreign policy with some enthusiasm for his failures to start a series of new wars. With that in mind, it's not as if Adelman is about to be welcomed into the Democratic fold with open arms.

But Adelman's rejection of McCain, his erratic behavior, and his reckless judgment reflects just how far McCain has fallen. I don't imagine Adelman carries the same kind of electoral significance as, say, Colin Powell, but if McCain can't hold onto Adelman, it speaks to a broader and more significant problem for the Republican ticket.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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THE MONEY ISN'T THERE.... The severity of the financial crisis has affected the presidential campaign in obvious ways -- as the McCain campaign has publicly acknowledged, the more Americans focus on the economy, the better it is for Obama -- but it's let's not overlook another less obvious implication.

Remember all of those right-wing 527s that were going overwhelm the political landscape? As it happens, the conservative financiers have lost a lot of money lately.

"After the [GOP] convention, things looked good," said Phil Musser, a Republican fundraising consultant. "Major donors interested in issue advocacy were tuned in, political juices were flowing, polling looked good, and then, blammo! Most donors lost 20 or 30 percent of their net worth in eight days. With few exceptions, that pretty well shut down the money discussion for a lot of folks."

Four years ago, groups operating outside the party structure invested more than $130 million in television commercials, often carrying the kind of negative messages that the candidates themselves wished to avoid. This year, total spending by such groups is at about $17 million so far, with no single organization playing a dominant role, according to Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

There were reports earlier this year, for example, that Freedom's Watch was prepared to amass a quarter-billion dollar budget for the 2008 campaigns. Billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson was expected to help bankroll the operation -- that is, before he saw "$4 billion of his personal fortune evaporate as a result of the slumping national economy, and that was before the slow-motion stock market crash."

On the other hand, as Michael Crowley noted, there's the outside support Democrats are receiving:

The slowdown in giving appears to have had a disproportionate impact on Republicans. Obama holds an enormous money advantage in the closing weeks of the campaign. His ads have been bolstered by mail and phone-bank efforts largely financed by labor unions. The AFL-CIO alone has directed more than $50 million to persuade its members to support Obama and other Democrats.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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FAVORABILITY.... Horse-race polls are obviously interesting right now, but the latest New York Times/CBS News poll asked voters about their impressions of the candidates, and the results have to be encouraging to Democrats. Indeed, Republican efforts to smear Obama haven't done much -- except undermine the public's regard for McCain.

As voters have gotten to know Senator Barack Obama, they have warmed up to him, with more than half, 53 percent, now saying they have a favorable impression of him and 33 percent saying they have an unfavorable view. But as voters have gotten to know Senator John McCain, they have not warmed, with only 36 percent of voters saying they view him favorably while 45 percent view him unfavorably.

Even voters who are planning to vote for Mr. McCain say their enthusiasm has waned. In New York Times and CBS News polls conducted with the same respondents before the first presidential debate and again after the last debate, Mr. McCain made no progress in appealing to voters on a personal level, and he and his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, had alienated some voters.

To put this in context, Obama's favorability numbers, which have increased 10 points over the last month, are now "the highest for a presidential candidate running for a first term in the last 28 years of Times/CBS polls."

On the other side of the aisle, McCain's unfavorable rating has grown 10 points since September, to 45%, while Sarah Palin's negatives are up 12 points, to 41%.

Palin's negative rating "is the highest for a vice-presidential candidate as measured by The Times and CBS News" -- even worse than Dan Quayle's.

The Times report added that many of those who've lost regard for McCain cited his negative campaigning, which is bolstered by a new CNN poll showing Americans unimpressed with McCain's relentlessly negative attacks.

I guess this means Obama's winning the "have a beer with" question?

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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LEADING WITH HIS CHIN.... With just two weeks until Election Day, it's probably too late for the McCain campaign to reconsider how it goes about launching new attacks, but McCain aides would be well served if they did a quick hypocrisy check before going on the offensive.

McCain decided not too long ago, for example, that it was scandalous to be associated with officials from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- except he'd hired Fannie/Freddie lobbyists for his campaign. McCain decided tax credits for low-income workers constitute "socialism" -- except for the tax credits in McCain's plan. McCain loathed Hollywood fundraisers with celebrities -- except for his own trip to Hollywood for a fundraiser with celebrities. McCain is disgusted by voting against troop voting during a war -- except for his own vote against troop voting during a war.

Then McCain announced that one of the single biggest issues on the political landscape was voter-registration fraud and whether Obama had ever paid a group accused of wrongdoing. Oops.

John McCain's campaign has directed $175,000 to the firm of a Republican operative accused of massive voter registration fraud in several states.

According to campaign finance records, a joint committee of the McCain-Palin campaign, the RNC and the California Republican Party, made a $175,000 payment to the group Lincoln Strategy in June for purposes of "registering voters." The managing partner of that firm is Nathan Sproul, a renowned GOP operative who has been investigated on multiple occasions for suppressing Democratic voter turnout, throwing away registration forms and even spearheading efforts to get Ralph Nader on ballots to hinder the Democratic ticket.

In a letter to the Justice Department last October, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers said that that Sproul's alleged activities "clearly suppress votes and violate the law."

That Sproul would come under the employment umbrella of the McCain campaign -- the Republican National Committee has also separately paid Lincoln Strategy at least $37,000 for voter registration efforts this cycle -- is not terribly surprising. Sproul, who has donated nearly $30,000 to McCain's campaign, has been in the good graces of GOP officials for the past decade despite charges of ethical and potentially legal wrongdoing.

"It should certainly take away from McCain's argument," said Bob Grossfeld, a progressive political consultant based in Arizona who has followed Sproul's career.

Rep. Chris Cannon, a Utah Republican said in May, "The difference between ACORN and Sproul is that ACORN doesn't throw away or change registration documents after they have been filled out."

It's hard not to get the impression that McCain just doesn't think these attacks through.

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

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PINATA POLITICS TURNS TO DRUG USE.... In desperation, and with the other attacks coming up short, Republicans have begun an effort to re-ignite interest in Barack Obama's teenaged drug use. I should know better, but this is surprisingly cheap, even for them.

This apparently started over the weekend, when the New York Times published an item about Cindy McCain, which noted, among other things, her bout with drug addiction and the criminal efforts she engaged in, using an international charity to create phony prescriptions in the names of her staff. McCain's lawyer lashed out, insisting that the Times should go after Michelle Obama and "Barack Obama's drug dealer."

Yesterday, McCain campaign surrogates pursued a similar line. Mike Huckabee, who usually prefers to stay out of the gutter, said Obama's drug use as a teenager is now relevant. Rudy Giuliani followed suit during an interview on Fox News.

"[Y]ou can't even raise these issues. And, you know, God forbid somebody would do some reporting on Barack Obama's use of drugs. I guess that was the point that Mrs. McCain's lawyer made."

This is a terribly odd line of attack. First, the New York Times already wrote a detailed, well-researched, front-page piece about Obama's teenaged drug use. I'm not sure what more the Republicans want the Times to do.

Second, Giuliani's decision to bring this up, unprompted, is especially interesting, given that Giuliani specifically said during his own campaign that the media shouldn't push this issue, and even praised Obama's honesty and candor on the issue. It's almost as if Giuliani decided to bring it up yesterday, for no reason, as part of some kind of coordinated smear campaign.

Third, for Republicans to draw some parallel between Obama's background and Cindy McCain's is a stretch. Obama was a teenager, experimenting with drugs as young people often do; McCain was an adult, misusing the resources of a non-profit organization, and using "her status as a charity director and senator's wife to cajole the drugs she wanted." There seems to be a qualitative difference between the two.

And finally, what is it, exactly, that the Republican attack dogs want the media to report about Obama's teenaged drug use? That it happened? That's already been widely reported. Indeed, Obama wrote about it in his book, and has talked about it on the campaign trail.

The reality is, the McCain campaign doesn't want to see more "reporting"; it wants to get in another 11th-hour smear. It's kind of sad to watch.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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By: Hilzoy

Bunny Ears And Real Americans

Bill Sali, one of my favorite nutty Congresspeople, makes the news again:

"Congressman Bill Sali and his campaign staff disrupted a NewsChannel 7 reporter and a representative for his opponent during an interview Tuesday in Downtown Boise.

KTVB reporter Ysabel Bilbao was interviewing Walt Minnick's campaign director John Foster Wednesday afternoon. During the interview, someone loudly yelled and was laughing during the interview at the Grove plaza.

Bilbao and Foster initially ignored the intrusion, but quickly noticed the source of the heckling -- Sali and members of his staff. (...)

Foster said he saw Sali making faces at him and holding up "bunny ears.""

Bill Sali is the Republican Congressman from Idaho who once said:

"Forty percent of the mass of every tree in the forest is crude oil," he said. Going after that, he said, "could put Idaho in the oil business for the first time."

Crude oil. From trees. Take that, Saudi Arabia!

He's also personally charming:

"His confrontational style alienates even fellow Republican legislators. During the 2006 session, he angered Democrats so much during a debate about abortion that they walked out. Afterward, Newcomb said: "That idiot (Sali) is just an absolute idiot. He doesn't have one ounce of empathy in his whole fricking body. And you can put that in the paper."(...) But that isn't all. When Republican Congressman Mike Simpson was speaker of the Idaho House, he once threatened to throw Sali out of a window in the state Capitol."

Still, I'll take bunny ears and arboreal crude over Rep. Robin Hayes' claim that "liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God."

I wonder: when, exactly, did I become a synthetic American?

Hilzoy 2:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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October 20, 2008
By: Hilzoy

There They Go Again ...

Cliff May at The Corner quotes Kimberley Strassel:

"To kick off our show tonight, Mr. Obama will give 95% of American working families a tax cut, even though 40% of Americans today don't pay income taxes! How can our star enact such mathemagic? How can he "cut" zero? Abracadabra! It's called a "refundable tax credit." It involves the federal government taking money from those who do pay taxes, and writing checks to those who don't. Yes, yes, in the real world this is known as "welfare," but please try not to ruin the show."

Hmm. This is a tough one. How can you cut taxes for people who pay no income taxes? Magic? Welfare? Or maybe -- just maybe -- people who pay no income taxes pay some other kind of tax.

I know, I know: how could there be any sort of tax other than the (federal) income tax? I have heard that in distant lands there are strange, exotic taxes, like the "sales tax", the "property tax", "state and local income taxes", the "capital gains tax", "use taxes", "permit fees", other fees, the "severance tax", the "occupational privilege tax", the "estate tax", the "gift tax", the "federal excise tax", and even the fantastically named "generation skipping transfer tax". But surely we have no such outlandish customs here! We who live in a country that has only one sort of tax, the federal income tax, can only stare in wonder at those benighted countries where people actually pay taxes whenever they buy a shovel or realize capital gains.

Oh. Wait.

Oops!

I guess that means Cliff May doesn't have to worry about this either:

"OK, so we all know that taxation without representation is a form of tyranny. But as Kimberly Strassel and others have been pointing out, "40% of Americans today don't pay income taxes."

What if, not implausibly, in the next administration that number rises to 51% or more? At that point, the majority of Americans not paying taxes would elect leaders who decide how much the minority must fork over to the government — to be redistributed to the majority through government programs and services.

A majority of American would enjoy representation without taxation. This is probably not a form tyranny that Jefferson, Madison, Franklin et al. envisioned."

Apparently, you just can't say it too often: just because someone doesn't pay federal income taxes does not mean she doesn't pay taxes at all. If the number of people who paid no federal income tax rose above 50%, or even 99%, that would not mean that the majority of Americans were not paying taxes, period.

Hilzoy 9:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (72)

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GOP TICKET TRIVIA.... I was born in 1973, and it's been fun to note that every single Republican presidential ticket in my lifetime, before this year, has featured someone with the last name Bush or Dole. It's not unusual to take this one step further and note, again before this year, that every Republican presidential ticket since 1952, with one exception, has featured someone with the last name Bush, Dole, or Nixon.

But Mark Halperin asks a fun one: "When was the last U.S. presidential election the Republican Party won without a Nixon or a Bush on the ticket?"

Think it over; the answer is below.

The Republican ticket of Hoover/Curtis way back in 1928 was the last time a GOP ticket without a Bush or Nixon won.

Did you know without looking?

Steve Benen 7:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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

* The market is back up over 9,000 again, at least for now, with the Dow closing up over 400 points.

* Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke approves of the idea of a second stimulus package.

* Joe Biden allowed reporters to sift through his medical files for several hours today, and made his personal physician available to reporters. Biden appears to be in fine health.

* Romney stammered when asked if Sarah Palin is ready to lead the nation. Oops.

* Over the weekend, a Republican political consultant, who owns a firm that's been registering hundreds of thousands of voters and gathering petition signatures, was busted for ... wait for it ... voter registration fraud.

* Contrary to what Dana Milbank reported last week, the Secret Service denies having any role in keeping journalists from talking to voters at McCain/Palin rallies.

* Judith Miller is ending up at Fox News.

* Taking infrastructure seriously again. What a concept.

* The "fair tax" really is pure policy insanity.

* Bill Kristol thinks 9/11 "did not result in a much-feared (by intellectuals) wave of popular Islamophobia or xenophobia." I'm pretty sure that's false.

* Are election boards ready for November 4?

* Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) was found guilty of driving while under the influence.

* And it's one thing to for Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) to call for a new round of McCarthyism, but it's slightly worse for her to lie about it. Note to Bachmann: you're only making matters worse.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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WRIGHT REDUX?.... Way back in March, John McCain appeared on Fox News, and Sean Hannity practically begged McCain to attack Barack Obama over Jeremiah Wright. It didn't work. After Hannity noted questions about the former pastor of Obama's former church, the Fox News personality asked "Would you go to a church like that?" McCain responded, "Obviously, that would not be my choice. But I do know Sen. Obama. He does not share those views."

That, in a way, should have effectively ended the story, but that obviously didn't happen. The "issue" lingers, and the Republican Smear Machine is chomping at the bit to start making Wright the single most important issue in the campaign. McCain, according to most media accounts, has said it's the one attack he won't make.

That is, that was what McCain said last week. Now, all of a sudden, Wright might be on the table again.

John McCain's campaign manager says he is reconsidering using Barack Obama's relationship with Reverend Jeremiah Wright as a campaign issue during the election's closing weeks.

In an appearance on conservative Hugh Hewitt's radio program, Davis said that circumstances had changed since John McCain initially and unilaterally took Obama's former pastor off the table. The Arizona Republican, Davis argued, had been jilted by the remarks of Rep. John Lewis, who compared recent GOP crowds to segregationist George Wallace's rallies. And, as such, the campaign was going to "rethink" what was in and out of political bounds.

"Look, John McCain has told us a long time ago before this campaign ever got started, back in May, I think, that from his perspective, he was not going to have his campaign actively involved in using Jeremiah Wright as a wedge in this campaign," he said late last week. "Now since then, I must say, when Congressman Lewis calls John McCain and Sarah Palin and his entire group of supporters, 50 million people strong around this country, that we're all racists and we should be compared to George Wallace and the kind of horrible segregation and evil and horrible politics that was played at that time, you know, that you've got to rethink all these things. And so I think we're in the process of looking at how we're going to close this campaign. We've got 19 days, and we're taking serious all these issues."

Rick Davis has said a lot of blisteringly stupid things over the course of the campaign, but this might top them all. Davis wants to put Wright on the table because McCain's losing, but he doesn't have the courage to say so. He has to rationalize his craven decisions by blaming John Lewis, which is just pathetic, even by Rick Davis' standards.

For what it's worth, I think if McCain reverses course on this now, it's likely to backfire. First, everyone in America has already heard all about Wright -- voters who are going to base their vote on the former pastor of Obama's former church decided a long time ago not to support Obama.

Second, the more McCain tries to move the campaign away from the economy, the more he cedes the one issue most on the minds of voters.

And third, pivoting to Wright in the final two weeks would reek of desperation, reinforce the "erratic" meme, and shrink McCain's stature at the very moment he needs the opposite. I wouldn't be especially surprised if the Obama campaign hopes McCain does go this route.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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JUST LET JOE GO.... A new poll from Suffolk University's political research center confirms what a lot of us suspected: voters really don't care about "Joe the Plumber."

[T]he Republican ticket's emphasis on Joe the plumber -- the Ohio man who challenged Obama on his tax plan and who McCain and running mate Sarah Palin are trying to turn into a symbol -- is not paying huge dividends, according to the poll.

While 68 percent of Ohio respondents said they recognized Joe the plumber, only 6 percent said that Joe's story will make them more likely to vote for McCain. An additional 4 percent said the tale made them more likely to vote for Obama; and 85 percent were not affected. In Missouri, where 80 percent had heard of the plumber, 8 percent said they were more likely to vote McCain, 3 percent more likely to vote Obama, and 86 percent said they were not affected by his story.

Greg Sargent noted, "It's worth pointing out that McCain's 'Joe the Plumber' gambit isn't just some throwaway one-off gag. It's a central pillar of McCain's closing argument on the economy, which is likely to decide this election."

Quite right. The "throwaway one-off gag" is the focal point of the entire Republican pitch right now. Honestly, McCain's interest in exploiting Joe has gone from odd to creepy. Joe is the focus of McCain's stump speech, and today, the McCain campaign launched a new project called the "I'm 'Joe the Plumber'" campaign. Folks are apparently supposed to send in videos about "living the American Dream" and "standing with" McCain/Palin.

I'm not convinced McCain is definitely going to lose this election, but I think he'd stand a much better chance if he didn't change the entire message of his campaign on a week to week basis, letting the whole race ride on an odd message about an unlicensed plumber who'd get a generous tax cut under Barack Obama's tax plan -- and who voters apparently care very little about.

If McCain manages to pull out a victory in two weeks, it will be despite an incoherent campaign strategy, not because of it.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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MCCAIN: BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A RUBLE?.... Some campaigns just don't have good timing. Today, the McCain campaign decided to cast aspersions on the Obama campaign's extraordinary fundraising success, referencing "secret donations" and "illegitimate money."

Now, as a substantive matter, McCain aides whining that Obama has more donors than McCain seems like a rather pointless exercise. There's nothing "secret" or "illegitimate" about Obama's contributions -- every dollar is reported, and donors who meet the legal threshold are disclosed. McCain should be familiar with these rules, since he helped write them. (McCain wants Obama to itemize every donor, including small donors. The Obama campaign has said there are too many of them to make this feasible.)

But more importantly, the same afternoon McCain aides were complaining about Obama's fundraising success, we also learn that the McCain campaign sought illegal contributions from the Russian ambassador to the United Nations.

The Russian Mission to the United Nations issued a bizarre statement to the UN press corps today stating simply, "We have received a letter from Senator John McCain requesting financial contribution to his Presidential campaign. In this connection we would like to reiterate that Russian officials, the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations or the Russian Government do not finance political activity in foreign countries."

Intrigued, I called the Russian Mission and a press officer there directed me to this item on the Mission's website. It seems that the McCain-Palin campaign sent a generic fundraising letter to Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly I Churkin.

Accepting foreign money is, of course, against the law. The McCain campaign was, in effect, asking the Russian ambassador for an illegal campaign contribution.

Now, in fairness, this was almost certainly the result of some kind of innocent mix-up. Churkin received a generic email solicitation, probably by accident. Russian officials don't believe the McCain campaign was deliberately asking for an illegal donation. Ruslan Bakhtin, press secretary of the Russian mission, told Ben Smith, "We just find it amusing." As do I.

I'm curious, though. If the Obama campaign had inadvertently sought illegal campaign contributions from a Russian official, do you suppose the McCain campaign and Fox News might raise a fuss?

Steve Benen 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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HECKLING VOTERS.... I've seen comedians get heckled at comedy clubs. I've seen athletes get heckled at sporting events. I've never even heard of voters getting heckled. And yet, McCain/Palin supporters keep finding new and creative ways to undermine democratic norms.

The Washington Times, a self-described conservative paper, reported today on a polling site in North Carolina where "a group of loud and angry protesters ... shouted and mocked the voters as they walked in." The voters were mostly black, and the "angry protesters" were "nearly all were white."

Stop and think about that for a second. In the United States, in the 21st century, we have Republican activists protesting a presidential election. McCain/Palin supporters have taken to heckling, mocking, and shouting at people who want to participate in the democratic process. Literally.

And when they're not trying to intimate voters at polling places, Republican activists are slashing voters' tires, kicking journalists to the ground, attacking middle-aged women going door to door on Obama's behalf, and vandalizing ACORN offices. And, of course, the unabashed racism is common.

The mind reels.

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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FREE ISSUE OFFER.... I'd like to think that a lot of you are already Washington Monthly subscribers, but for those readers who are waiting for a little extra enticement, or who are on the fence, I have some good news.

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Steve Benen 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

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UNIQUELY SLEAZY.... I've suggested more than once that the McCain/Palin campaign is the most dishonest of the last few decades. Today, Josh Marshall goes further, calling the Republican campaign the sleaziest of the last 35 years.

Either because of age or recent immersion in politics, a lot of readers have asked, is it really usually this bad? Do they all get this sleazy? As sleazy as McCain?

The simple answer, I think, is, No. They don't. I don't think there's any question that McCain's is the dirtiest and most dishonest campaign, certainly in the last 35 years and possibly going much further back into the early 20th century.

You may say, wait, Willie Horton? The Swift-boat smears? What about those?

But here's the key point, one that is getting too little attention. President Bush's father didn't run the Willie Horton ad. And this President Bush, however much they may have been funded by his supporters and run with Karl Rove's tacit approval, didn't run the Swift Boat ads. These were run by independent groups. Just how 'independent' we think they really are is a decent question. But even the sleaziest campaigns usually draw the line at the kind of sleaze they are wiling to run themselves under their own name.

In this case, though, the kind of toxic sludge usually run by one-off independent groups in very limited ad buys makes up virtually all of McCain's presence on TV.

Even setting aside this distinction, McCain's campaign has charted new territory in deliberate lying and appeals to racism and xenophobia.

Josh's point about independent groups getting their hands dirty so the candidates don't have to is important, but I'd add that one of the factors that amplifies the sleazy nature of the McCain campaign is its willingness to jump from one detestable attack to another.

With some of the more recent cycles, the Republican Machine would settle on a personal attack early on, and ride the wave. Bill Clinton, they said, was a "liberal" of "weak character." John Kerry, they said, was an "elitist" flip-flopper. The GOP attack dogs picked these labels in advance, and repeated them ad nauseum, literally every day for six months.

The attacks from McCain have been more haphazard. Obama's a rookie. That didn't work? OK, he's a "celebrity." That didn't work? How about, he's a partisan Democrat who won't stand up to his party. Nothing? All right, he's insufficiently supportive of the troops. Or he's a pervert who wants to bring sex-ed to kindergarteners. Or a terrorist-sympathizer. Or he's a socialist. All the while, the subtext of McCain/Palin rhetoric vacillated between Obama's race, patriotism, and/or being "foreign," but it's never come together in a coherent way.

I labeled all of this "pinata politics" back in August, hoping to capture McCain's habit of appearing blind-folded, swinging a bat wildly in every direction. The effect, though, has been the same -- by struggling to come up with a consistent line of criticism, and ratcheting up the hate and fear whenever one line of attack failed to move the needle, McCain's position as the sleaziest candidate in a generation is secure.

Steve Benen 1:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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MCCAIN, PALIN SPLIT ON MARRIAGE.... John McCain has taken some heat from the Republican base for his opposition to a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. It's not that he's tolerant on gay rights -- he's actually even further to the right than Bush, even opposing state initiatives on civil unions -- but he claims to be a "federalist" on the issue.

Sarah Palin, however, is somewhere else. During her debate with Joe Biden a couple of weeks ago, Palin was asked if she would support granting same-sex benefits to couples nationwide, as they do in Alaska. She kinda sorta expressed opposition to the idea, before offering a bizarre, 85-word, run-on sentence about how "tolerant" she is. Palin concluded that a McCain-Palin administration might support civil unions, in contradiction to what McCain has already said on the issue.

As it turns out, these two really aren't on the same page at all. Palin told CBN's David Brody that, unlike McCain, she wants an anti-gay amendment to the Constitution, too. "[I]n my own, state, I have voted along with the vast majority of Alaskans who had the opportunity to vote to amend our Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman," Palin said. "I wish on a federal level that that's where we would go because I don't support gay marriage."

Palin has probably heard McCain talk about this issue, and explain why he opposes an anti-gay amendment. Maybe she can explain why she thinks he's wrong?

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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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.

* Obama expects the presidential race to get tighter in the remaining 15 days.

* McCain's creepy obsession with "Joe the Plumber" isn't paying political dividends.

* At this point, early voting and absentee ballots seem to favor Obama in several "red" states, including Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

* If you haven't seen pictures from Obama's record-breaking crowd in St. Louis on Saturday, it was an impressive showing.

* Obama and Hillary Clinton will campaign together in Florida today, their first joint appearance since a New Hampshire event in June.

* Sarah Palin appeared on "Saturday Night Live" over the weekend, and was in two amusing skits.

* McCain has spent less time in "real" Virginia than Obama.

* The AFL-CIO has a hard-hitting direct-mail piece going out on McCain and retirees.

* In Ohio, a Mason-Dixon poll shows McCain leading Obama by one, 46% to 45%.

* In Colorado, Rasmussen shows Obama leading McCain by seven, 52% to 45%.

* In Minnesota, a Star Tribune poll shows Obama leading McCain by 11, 52% to 41%, Research 2000 shows Obama ahead by 13, 52% to 39%, and SurveyUSA shows Obama up by six, 50% to 44%.

* In Wisconsin, Mason-Dixon shows Obama leading McCain by 12, 51% to 39%, while a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee poll shows Obama up by 15, 51% to 36%.

* In West Virginia, Mason-Dixon shows McCain leading Obama by six, 47% to 41%.

* In Montana, Research 2000 shows McCain leading Obama by four, 49% to 45%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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FLORIDA FEUD?.... Florida's electoral significance is pretty obvious, so it's curious that the state's Republican Party establishment seems to be deeply at odds with the McCain campaign. It has the potential to be a rather consequential rift.

The Orlando Sentinel reported over the weekend that there's "a growing discontent" among Florida Republican leaders, many of whom believe McCain took the state for granted from the start.

"My question would be, 'What campaign?' I just don't see one," said Bill Negron, an Orlando member of McCain's regional Hispanic steering committee. "To me, it looks like people are working hard to ensure that McCain doesn't get elected."

Those are dangerous words for any candidate. Once doubt infects a campaign -- once the faithful start grumbling -- it can spread like the plague.... One who has advised the McCain organization called it the "most poorly run presidential campaign of the last 25 years. It's truly Dukakis-like," referring to the hapless 1988 campaign of Democrat Michael Dukakis.

"They have absolutely no strategy for winning," said the veteran operative, who did not want to be identified criticizing a candidate he supports. "I see ... no rhyme or reason to this campaign or its scheduling or its planning."

How bad is it? The St. Petersburg Times reported yesterday that Florida Republican Party officials "announced to their state executive committee Saturday that they expect to carry over at least $2-million into 2009, rather than spend all their money on this election."

And what about Florida Gov. Charlie Crist? Last week, he contradicted the McCain campaign message and announced his belief that Republican ACORN complaints are unfounded. This, after Crist has been noticeably reluctant to go all out in Florida in support of McCain's effort.

Crist was asked over the weekend why he hasn't appeared in any McCain campaign television or radio ads in the state. ''I haven't been asked,'' Crist responded.

It's possible all of this won't matter. Even Republican voters may not care if there's a rift between the state party and the party's presidential candidate.

But given Florida's significance, the closeness of the polls in the state, it's just one more hurdle for the McCain campaign to try to clear.

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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THE WRONG IDEA AT THE WRONG TIME.... At last week's presidential debate, John McCain's prescription for dealing with a financial crisis was painfully backwards. He vowed to slash federal spending ("with a hatchet" and with a "freeze") and balance the biggest budget deficits in American history in just four years.

He made similar arguments on the stump after the debate, arguing the other day that the government ought to "live on a budget, just like you do."

McCain's approach seems to mirror the pundits' conventional wisdom -- in tough times, the government should tighten its belt and cut back on investments that might spur economic growth. The "neo-Hooverite premise" dominates much of the media discourse.

But it's still wrong.

[E]xtra spending, a sore point in normal times, has been widely accepted on both sides of the political aisle as necessary to salvage the banking system and avert another Great Depression.

"Right now would not be the time to balance the budget," said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan Washington group that normally pushes the opposite message.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, of course, generally argues in support of a balanced budget, but even it realizes there are circumstances to consider here.

And yet, McCain has faced minimal resistance on this. Even the Obama campaign seems reluctant to note that McCain has his economics backwards, probably out of fear that the media's conventional wisdom -- that it's better to cut spending and worry about debt when the economy is falling apart -- is widely accepted by voters. But that doesn't make McCain any less wrong.

The New York Times report added, "[I]f recent history repeats itself, the deficit is likely to be an issue again when the economy recovers."

Fine. Great. No problem. I'm all for it. But until then, can we not pretend that McCain's plan makes sense?

Steve Benen 10:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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THE AYERS ATTACKS AREN'T CONNECTING.... The McCain campaign's smear of choice just isn't working.

More challenges for John McCain: Likely voters overwhelmingly reject his effort to make an issue of Barack Obama's association with 1960s radical William Ayers. Fallout continues from McCain's pick of Sarah Palin for vice president, with 52 percent saying it weakens their confidence in his judgment. And on optimism, it's Obama by 2-1.

Skepticism about the Ayers issue was one of the factors cited by Colin Powell in his endorsement of Obama yesterday, and in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, likely voters broadly agree: 60 percent say Obama's relationship with Ayers is not a legitimate issue in the presidential campaign; 37 percent say it is.

Given McCain's standing in the polls, this means quite a few McCain supporters don't even consider the Ayers "issue" legitimate.

What's more, the same poll showed a variety of discouraging numbers for the Republican ticket. A 52% majority say that McCain's choice of running mates makes them "less confident in the kind of decisions he'd make as president," and that includes majorities of moderates (62%), young adults (59%) and women (56%). For Joe Biden, the numbers are reversed.

And while I tend to think the media's interest in "optimism" is overstated, I suppose it's also worth mentioning that Obama enjoys a huge edge -- 62% to 30% -- when respondents are asked with candidate is more optimistic. Similarly, Obama also enjoys a big lead - 54% to 37% -- on which candidate has the better personality and temperament for office.

The numbers will surely not be welcome at McCain campaign headquarters (which, we learned over the weekend, are in a fake part of Virginia).

Steve Benen 9:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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MCCAIN'S ROBOCALL PROBLEM, REDUX.... John McCain reliance on automated calls to spread lies and smears about Barack Obama has drawn criticism from Republican candidates, journalists, and was even cited by Colin Powell yesterday.

Yesterday, even Sarah Palin didn't seem interested in defending McCain's robocalls.

[W]hen asked if she would approve the use of robocalls if she were running the campaign, Palin said she'd probably chart a different course.

"If I called all the shots, and if I could wave a magic wand," Palin said, "I would be sitting at a kitchen table with more and more Americans, talking to them about our plan to get the economy back on track and winning the war, and not having to rely on the old conventional ways of campaigning that includes those robocalls, and includes spending so much money on the television ads that, I think, is kind of draining out there in terms of Americans' attention span.

"They get a bit irritated with just being inundated," she continued, "and you're seeing a lot of that of course with the huge amounts of money that Barack Obama is able to spend on his ads and his robocalls also."

When a presidential candidate's own running mate distances herself from the tactics approved by the top of the ticket, you know McCain is going too far.

For what it's worth, Sam Stein reports that McCain's robocalls have also drawn fire from an important constituency: "parents whose children have been on the receiving end of the incendiary calls."

Steve Benen 9:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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THOSE ELUSIVE MEDICAL RECORDS.... The New York Times' Lawrence Altman not only covers medicine for the paper, but he's also a trained physician. In the world of medical reporters, Altman is arguably the nation's most respected, and he covered John McCain's health during the 2000 campaign.

This year, after a series of unexplained delays, the McCain campaign agreed to let a handful of carefully-chosen journalists have limited and temporary access to some of McCain's medical records -- no photocopies were allowed -- and excluded Altman from the invitation list. Given the circumstances -- McCain is a cancer survivor and would be oldest man ever elected president -- the secrecy was disconcerting.

With this background in mind, Altman's piece in today's Times is especially important.

Last May, [McCain's] campaign and his doctors released nearly 1,200 pages of medical information, far more than the three other nominees. But the documents were released in a restricted way that leaves questions, even confusion, about his cancer.

A critical question concerns inconsistencies in medical opinions about the severity of his melanoma; if the classification of his melanoma is more severe, it would increase the statistical likelihood of death from a recurrence of the cancer. [...]

By not allowing reporters to interview him or his doctors extensively about his entire medical history, he has made it impossible to get a complete picture of his diagnoses and treatment.

The candidates on the Democratic ticket haven't exactly been anxious to provide detailed medical records, either. The Obama campaign released a one-page from his personal physician in May stating that he was in "excellent" health. Joe Biden, who had emergency surgery 20 years ago for an aneurysm, released 49 pages of medical records late last week showing that he was healthy, "but the documents did not indicate whether he had had a test in recent years to detect any new aneurysm."

And then there's Sarah Palin, who hasn't released any medical information at all. Altman reported, "Last week Maria Comella, a spokeswoman for Ms. Palin, said the governor declined to be interviewed or provide any health records." How reassuring.

But it's McCain that's arguably the most troubling. While the limited disclosure with other candidates -- or, in Palin's case, the complete absence of disclosure -- is an unwelcome development, there's little reason to question whether they're healthy. With McCain, though, it's a little scary. His advanced age, his bout with cancer, the absurdity of his running mate, and his secrecy lead to reasonable questions about what McCain wants to hide about his medical background.

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that there is a concern "that McCain's cancer was more advanced than his physicians concluded and that the chance of recurrence is consequently higher. Melanoma that spreads widely through the body -- 'metastasizes,' in medical parlance -- is rapidly fatal."

The surest and quickest way to make these questions disappear is for the McCain campaign to offer a more complete disclosure.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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THE RIGHT REACTS TO POWELL.... Colin Powell offered a detailed, reasoned, and eloquent endorsement of Barack Obama yesterday, explaining how and why he came to this conclusion. In response, leading conservatives considered Powell's analysis, reflected on the merit of his arguments, and judiciously weighed the significance of Powell's forceful announcement.

No, no, I'm just kidding. Far-right voices dismissed the development as nothing more than an easily ignored racial matter. The conservative luminaries included:

* Rush Limbaugh, who said, "Secretary Powell says his endorsement is not about race... OK, fine. I am now researching his past endorsements to see if I can find all the inexperienced, very liberal, white candidates he has endorsed. I'll let you know what I come up with."

* Pat Buchanan, who told MSNBC's audience, "All right, we gotta ask a question. Look would Colin Powell be endorsing Obama if he were a white liberal Democrat..."

* George Will didn't go quite as far, but he nevertheless emphasized a racial angle and got an Al Sharpton reference in: "I think this adds to my calculation -- this is very hard to measure -- but it seems to me if we had the tools to measure we'd find that Barack Obama gets two votes because he's black for every one he loses because he's black because so much of this country is so eager, a, to feel good about itself by doing this, but more than that to put paid to the whole Al Sharpton/Jesse Jackson game of political rhetoric."

Assorted far-right bloggers and Republican activists weighed in with similar assessments.

That Powell might have been telling the truth about his motivations is, apparently, out of the question. As the right's argument goes, Powell, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, former National Security Advisor, and former Secretary of State -- who, by the way, contributed the maximum to John McCain's campaign last year -- took a look at Obama's skin color, and just knew what he had to do.

Far-right political analysis -- it's easier than thinking.

Imagine if Powell had endorsed McCain, and leading liberal voices said the only reason Powell supported him is because both served in the military, or because both are in their early 70s (McCain is a year older than Powell). The conservatives would say this is ridiculous, and they'd be right.

In their drive to dismiss the significance of Powell's support for Obama, though, emphasizing race is even worse than ridiculous.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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October 19, 2008
By: Hilzoy

E. O. Wilson On Biology And Morality

Via Andrew Sullivan, I see that The Atlantic has put E. O. Wilson's article 'The Biological Basis Of Morality' online. I had repressed all memory of this article, but it really annoyed me at the time, so much so that I wrote a letter to the editors about it. For some, um, unfathomable reason they declined to publish it, but now (heh heh) I can, and so I have put it below the fold. (Why should perfectly good snark go to waste?)

I am reliably informed that E. O. Wilson is a brilliant biologist. I would read anything he wrote about ants with interest. But it does not follow from that that he knows anything about philosophy. Of course, that's no reason why he can't write intelligently on it. But it is a reason why someone at the Atlantic should have gone over what he wrote to make sure it was accurate, as I'm sure they would have done had I submitted an article on insects. Apparently, no one did.

To the Editors:

Suppose that E. O. Wilson's article on 'The Biological Basis of Morality' were a hoax. Suppose that, inspired by Alan Sokal, Wilson had written it to see whether, if a scholar who is deservedly famous for his work in one field were to write on another, you would hold his work to your usual standards of accuracy and sound argument. And suppose he now wrote to let you in on the joke. He would be able cite from his article all the features of Sokal's work that so embarrassed the editors of Social Text, including:

-- Obvious and easily detectable factual errors. Wilson claims that ethicists "tend not to declare themselves on the foundations of ethics." This would be astonishing if true; fortunately, as any attempt to check this assertion would have made clear, it is not. He writes that Kant's Categorical Imperative "does not accord ... with the evidence of how the brain works". It would be fascinating to learn what advances in neurology have shown that it is morally permissible to act on maxims that we cannot will to be universal laws. According to Wilson, John Rawls "offers no evidence that justice-as-fairness is consistent with human nature." In fact, Rawls devotes a sixty-page chapter of A Theory of Justice to this question. Wilson describes Rawls as a "transcendentalist", i.e., a thinker who holds that "the order of nature contains supreme principles, either divine or intrinsic". In fact, Rawls explicitly rejects this view. These are only a few of the factual inaccuracies that pervade Wilson's article. None of them would have been difficult to detect, had anyone tried to do so.

-- Quotes taken out of context. One example: Wilson claims that "Rawls opens A Theory of Justice with a proposition he regards as irrevocable", and which he then quotes. In fact, Rawls begins the next paragraph of Theory as follows: "These propositions express our intuitive conviction of the primacy of justice. No doubt they are expressed too strongly. In any event I wish to inquire whether these contentions or others similar to them are sound, and if so how they can be accounted for." If this counts as taking a claim to be irrevocable, I would hate to see Wilson's idea of diffidence.

-- Unsound arguments. Wilson begins by distinguishing the view that moral laws "exist outside the mind" from the view that they are "contrivances of the mind". He then argues that we should reject the first alternative, since it amounts to the view that moral laws are "ethereal messages awaiting revelation, or independent truths vibrating in a non-material dimension of the mind". He takes the view that morality is a human contrivance to imply that we can answer moral questions only by understanding the biology behind our moral sentiments. It is worth noticing the implications of this argument. If we could not conduct any inquiry whose object is a human contrivance without inquiring into its biological roots, we would be unable to balance our checkbooks or figure out winning moves in chess without first understanding the selection processes that led us to engage in these activities -- unless, of course, we were prepared to regard truths about our bank balances or what move will mate in two as "ethereal messages awaiting revelation". Wilson's argument depends on the idea that these are our only alternatives. But they are not.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that morality is a 'contrivance of the mind'. This would not imply that we need to use biology to determine what the answers to moral questions are. Think of mathematics, which is arguably a human invention. Biology might explain why we have the ability to construct mathematical proofs, but it is not necessary to know anything about biology to construct the proofs themselves, since biological claims do not normally figure as premises in mathematical arguments. Likewise, the claim that morality is a human contrivance might imply the existence of a biological underpinning to our ability to construct moral arguments, but it does not follow from this that biological claims must figure in the arguments themselves.

Still, one might think, biology might be relevant to ethics not because ethics is a human contrivance, but because of the particular sort of contrivance that it is. To assess this suggestion, we should distinguish different ways in which biology might be relevant to ethics. First, ethicists have to make certain assumptions about what it is possible for people to do, since morality should not require anything it is impossible for us to do, like being in two places at one time. (Since most moral theories require qualities, like generosity and courage, which some people actually display, and which it must therefore be possible for people to have, it is unclear that sustained biological research is needed on this point.) Second, biology might help us to understand the social consequences of adopting various different moral views. Most of Wilson's examples show biology to be relevant to ethics in one of these two ways, whose possibility few ethicists would dispute.

The crucial issue is whether biology is relevant to ethics in a third way. If we knew which moral principles people can act on, and the consequences of adopting them, we would still have to decide which principles we should adopt. Should we adopt those that make us happiest? Those that promote human autonomy? Those that all could endorse? Professor Wilson's central thesis is that we can use biology to answer this question. But it is not clear how biology could answer it: how, for instance, any amount of information about the processes of selection that led to altruistic behavior could license conclusions about when that behavior should be encouraged and when it should be proscribed. Wilson's only support for the claim that it can is that the alternative is to imagine moral truths "vibrating in a nonmaterial dimension of the mind". But if, as I argued above, this is not our only alternative -- if we can hold both that morality is a human contrivance and that biology is not relevant to answering moral questions -- then this is no support at all.

Suppose Wilson were to inform you that his article was in fact a hoax, and to list the points made above: that his article contains obvious errors that anyone familiar with his subject would have caught and corrected; that it takes quotes out of context and attributes to thinkers positions they explicitly disavow; and that its central thesis is supported only by the semblance of an argument. And suppose he then asked why, given these facts, you chose to print it. How would you reply?

[hilzoy]

P.S.: The chapter of Rawls' Theory devoted to the question whether Rawls' principles are consistent with human nature is ch. 8 (pp. 453-512). Rawls' rejection of what Wilson calls 'transcendentalism' can be found in Political Liberalism. In that work Rawls defines a view which he calls 'rational intuitionism'. Rational intuitionists, as Rawls describes them, hold that "moral first principles and judgments, when correct, are true statements about an independent order of moral values; moreover, this order does not depend on, nor is it to be explained by, the activity of any actual (human) minds." (p. 91) By contrast, Rawls holds that the principles of justice should be "represented as the outcome of a procedure of construction" (p. 93); or, in Professor Wilson's terms, as a contrivance of the mind. Rawls spends a chapter developing his view by explicitly contrasting it to the view Wilson attributes to him, which makes this attribution hard to understand.

Hilzoy 5:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (73)

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By: Hilzoy

McCain On Obama's Fundraising

Here's John McCain's response to Barack Obama's fundraising totals for September (h/t):

"I'm saying that history shows us where unlimited amounts of money are in political campaigns, it leads to scandal.

I'm not comparing it with -- I'm saying this is the first since the Watergate scandal that any candidate for president of the United States, a major party candidate, has broken the pledge to take public financing.

We enacted those reforms because of that scandal. We know that we let unlimited amounts of money -- in this case $200 million unreported -- and there's already been stories of people who have made small contributions multiple times and all that.

I'm saying it's laying a predicate for the future that can be very dangerous. History has shown that."

It seems pretty clear to me that McCain is saying this because he wants to plant the idea that there's something scandalous or unsavory about Obama's fundraising in people's minds. However, it's worth noticing what point he might have been trying to make, had he actually meant what he said.

Allowing "unlimited amounts of money" into political campaigns could mean one of two things. First, it might mean allowing individual donors to give as much money as they want. This is what has caused scandals in the past: when Nixon turned out to have gotten $2 million in campaign pledges from milk producers and milk support prices went up shortly thereafter, for instance. But that's illegal now: as a result of those scandals, there are strict limits on what an individual can give to a political campaign. So presumably that's not what McCain is taking about.

On the other hand, allowing "unlimited amounts of money" into political campaigns could mean something different: that even if individuals' contributions are limited, the total amount that candidates raise by getting donations below the limit from large numbers of people leads to scandal.

That's the only way in which Obama's contributions are "unlimited". (Or, more precisely, limited by the number of US citizens multiplied by the amount each of them can legally donate.) So it's worth asking: why does John McCain think that that would lead to scandal? Does allowing more and more people to donate below the legal limit lead to scandal? If so, how? If anything, it would seem to decrease the possibility of scandal: people often worry that politicians will listen more closely to their contributors than to ordinary citizens, but the more ordinary citizens contribute, the less likely that becomes. Likewise, a candidate who got only a small number of contributions might not want to alienate those few people who donate to her campaign, but a candidate who gets lots of donations is, by definition, less dependent on any individual donor for contributions. So that part makes no sense.

What alternative would McCain propose? Personally, I favor public financing of elections, along with some amount of free air time for candidates with support above a given threshold. (The savings of candidates' time alone would make this worthwhile, I think: I'd rather politicians focus on their jobs and engaging with the voters, and forget about raising money.) However, I don't think that's a view that's likely to find favor in the Republican party.

Would McCain rather the number of donors who can give to a candidate be limited, so that once you reach a certain amount of money, no one else can contribute? Or that pubic financing be mandatory, so that no one can contribute, and a fixed amount of money is given out by the government? If so, he should advocate that directly, and take on those within his party who would see either option as a limit on freedom of speech. But he shouldn't talk blithely about scandal unless he's willing to explain both how that scandal might come about, and what alternative arrangement he supports.

Hilzoy 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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SPREADING THE WEALTH.... Barack Obama's tax plan must be pretty good, because the only attacks John McCain has come up with are fanciful nonsense.

To hear McCain/Palin tell it, Obama supports "socialism" and his plan to cut taxes on the middle class and lower-income families amounts to "welfare." The idea of "spreading the wealth around," the argument goes, is Karl Marx's dream.

There are obviously multiple angles to this, not the least of which is the notion that the Ayers attack hasn't had the desired effect, and the McCain gang needed a new smear, preferably one that a) sounds scary; and b) involves the economy in some way. A spectacularly stupid "red scare" fits the bill.

Josh Marshall noted, accurately, that the "welfare" talk is almost certainly driven by racial animus. Indeed, it almost has to be -- both Obama and McCain are offering refundable tax credits as part of their economic plans. It's pretty obvious McCain just wants to use the world "welfare" the way Republicans did throughout the 1980s -- as a racially divisive code word.

For that matter, what's the opposite of "spreading" the wealth? Concentrating it, which is effectively what McCain wants to do with his own economic plan -- keep as much wealth as possible at the top, and wait for it to trickle down. Jonathan Cohn had a terrific item, explaining why "spreading the wealth" is a perfectly sound and reasonable approach to tax policy, and pointed to Adam Smith for support.

But to tie it all together, consider the speech Obama is scheduled to deliver in Fayetteville, North Carolina, today.

"Lately, [McCain] and Governor Palin have actually accused me of -- get this -- socialism. John McCain just repeated the charge again this morning. And you know why? Because I want to give a tax cut to the middle class -- a tax cut to 95% of American workers. These are folks who work hard every single day and get payroll taxes taken out of their paycheck every single week. These are the teachers and janitors who work in our schools. They're the cops and firefighters who keep us safe. They're the waitresses who work double shifts, the cashiers at Wal-Mart, the plumbers fighting for the American Dream. John McCain thinks that giving these Americans a break is socialism. Well I call it opportunity, and there is nothing more American than that.

"If John McCain wants to talk about redistributing wealth to those who don't need it and don't deserve it, let's talk about the $700,000 tax cut he wants to give Fortune 500 CEOs, who've been making out like bandits -- some of them literally. Let's talk about the $300 billion he wants to give to the same Wall Street banks that got us into this mess. Let's talk about the $4 billion he wants to give oil companies like Exxon-Mobil or the $200 billion he wants to give the biggest corporations in America. Let's talk about the 100 million middle-class Americans who John McCain doesn't want to give a single dime of tax relief. Don't tell me that CEOs and oil companies deserve a tax break before the men and women who are working overtime day after day and still can't pay the bills. That's not right, and that's not change.

"I promise you this -- not only will the middle class get a tax cut under my plan, but if you make less than $250,000 a year -- which includes 98 percent of small business owners -- you won't see your taxes increase one single dime. Not your payroll taxes, not your income taxes, not your capital gains taxes -- nothing. That is my commitment to you.

"Here's the truth, North Carolina. This debate -- and this election -- comes down to what we value. In the America I know, we don't just value wealth, we value the work and workers who create it.

"For the last eight years, we have tried it John McCain's way. We have tried it George Bush's way. We've given more and more to those with the most and hoped that prosperity would trickle down to everyone else. And guess what? It didn't. So it's time try something new. It's time to grow this economy from the bottom-up. It's time to invest in the middle-class again."

I can appreciate the thinking behind McCain's attacks. He wants to characterize Obama as some kind of extremist, and "socialist" is one of those tried-and-false smears Republicans have been using for decades. But it's a foolish strategy, as evidenced by Obama's remarks -- McCain has put himself in a position where Obama gets to defend a middle-class tax cut that McCain is attacking. What genius on McCain's staff came up with that idea?

Steve Benen 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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ODD PRIORITIES AT THE FBI.... That Justice Department sure is busy.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is struggling to find enough agents and resources to investigate criminal wrongdoing tied to the country's economic crisis, according to current and former bureau officials.

The bureau slashed its criminal investigative work force to expand its national security role after the Sept. 11 attacks, shifting more than 1,800 agents, or nearly one-third of all agents in criminal programs, to terrorism and intelligence duties. Current and former officials say the cutbacks have left the bureau seriously exposed in investigating areas like white-collar crime, which has taken on urgent importance in recent weeks because of the nation's economic woes.

The pressure on the F.B.I. has recently increased with the disclosure of criminal investigations into some of the largest players in the financial collapse, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The F.B.I. is planning to double the number of agents working financial crimes by reassigning several hundred agents amid a mood of national alarm. But some people inside and out of the Justice Department wonder where the agents will come from and whether they will be enough.

It's unpleasant dynamic. Of course, we learned this week that this is the same Justice Department that has the time and resources to investigate trumped up ACORN allegations, and pursue pointless registration fraud cases, so I'm afraid there's something of a disconnect here.

Where will the agents come from to consider financial crimes? Here's a radical idea: stop using the FBI to pursue baseless Republican schemes and assign those agents to real law-enforcement work.

Steve Benen 1:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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DEBATES GIVE OBAMA AN EDGE.... All of the snap polls and focus groups showed Barack Obama winning each of the debates against John McCain, but the lasting impact of the debates matters far more.

John McCain improved his debate scores in his final encounter with Barack Obama, but not enough to challenge Obama's dominance across their three meetings -- an advantage that's improved Obama's image well beyond his core supporters.

Likely voters by 3-1 say they have a better rather than worse opinion of Obama because of his debate performances. It's helped him in key groups including white voters overall, working-class whites, independents, married women, white Catholics -- even among conservatives and perhaps evangelical white Protestants, core Republican constituencies.

Overall, 36 percent of likely voters in this ABC News/Washington Post poll say they have a better opinion of Obama as a result of the debates, 12 percent worse. That compares with McCain's result: Just 20 percent think better of him, vs. 26 percent worse.

The impact among self-described independents was especially interesting -- 33% said the debates led to think better of Obama, while only 13% said the opposite. For McCain, 19% of independents said the debates made them think better of the Republican, while 28% said the opposite.

A few weeks ago, James Fallows noted the 1960, 1980, and 1992 races, and importance of the debates in each. "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."

Now that the debates are finished, I'd argue that Obama excelled on both counts -- he "won" the debates and cleared the credibility test.

Steve Benen 1:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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POWELL, REDUX.... After his "Meet the Press" appearance, during which he endorsed Barack Obama, Colin Powell stopped to answer reporters' questions outside the studio. As it happens, his remarks were nearly as interesting after the program as they were during.

Powell was asked about the relentless negativity of the McCain campaign, and Powell made no effort to hide his disappointment. Perhaps most importantly, Powell noted that the constant right-wing efforts to a) falsely label Obama as a Muslim; and b) make "Muslim" some kind of slur, not only undermines national unity, but also damages America's standing in the world. "Those types of images going out on Al Jazeera are killing us around the world," Powell said.

He went on to express his disgust for Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) neo-McCarthyism. "We have got to stop this kind of nonsense," Powell said, "pull ourselves together, and remember that our great strength is in our unity and in our diversity."

Tying it all together, Powell concluded, "We can't judge our people and hold our elections on that kind of basis. Yes, that kind of negativity troubled me. And the constant shifting of the argument, I was troubled a couple of weeks ago when in the middle of the crisis the campaign said, 'We're going to go negative,' and they announced it. 'We're going to go negative and attack his character through Bill Ayers.' And now I guess the message this week is we're going to call him a socialist. Mr. Obama is now a socialist, because he dares to suggest that maybe we ought to look at the tax structure that we have. Taxes are always a redistribution of money. Most of the taxes that are redistributed go back to those who pay them, in roads and airports and hospitals and schools. And taxes are necessary for the common good. And there's nothing wrong with examining what our tax structure is or who should be paying more or who should be paying less, and for us to say that makes you a socialist is an unfortunate characterization that isn't accurate."

Powell has gotten a good look at what's become of his Republican Party, and he really doesn't like what he sees.

Steve Benen 12:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

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MCCAIN'S ROBOCALL PROBLEM.... It probably struck John McCain as a good idea. He'd hire the same Republican hatchet men who smeared him eight years ago, and hire the same Republican firm who viciously attacked him, and give them lots of money to destroy Barack Obama with indefensible robocalls -- the political coward's weapon of choice.

He probably didn't expect significant pushback, but that's what he's getting. Colin Powell cited the robocalls this morning as part of his denunciation of the McCain campaign. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine denounced McCain's robocalls on Friday, and Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota followed suit on Saturday.

The developments have not gone unnoticed by major news outlets. The New York Times ran an unflattering item on McCain's tactics, as did the Washington Post. Time's Karen Tumulty called McCain's robocall strategy "as ridiculous as it is cowardly." Joe Klein added, "Real men don't hide behind robocalls. It is nowhere near honorable."

It is against this backdrop that McCain appeared on "Fox News Sunday," where Chris Wallace pointed out McCain's previous denunciations of robocalls, and asked if the Republican is now prepared to stop the smear campaign. McCain responded, "Of course not."

McCain said his robo-slime was highlighting "a legitimate issue," which is the question of whether Obama is "being truthful with the American people," a clear reference to his robo-call attacking Obama's association with William Ayers.

Actually, this is false. McCain's robo-call about Obama and Ayers says absolutely nothing about whether Obama is telling the truth about his relationship with the former Weatherman. If you don't believe me, you can listen to the full call right here.

McCain's Ayers robo-slime is not about Obama's honesty at all. Rather, it's all about Ayers' domestic terrorism, and it's all about the false insinuation that Obama has "worked closely" with Ayers in his capacity as a terrorist and killer of Americans.

We're now at the point where John McCain has been reduced to distorting his own distortions -- he's not only running a robo-slime campaign that is totally at odds with his previously claimed principles, but he's now lying about it, too.

If McCain still has the capacity to feel shame, now would be a very good time for it.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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THE IMPACT OF THE POWELL ENDORSEMENT.... The timing couldn't be much worse for the McCain campaign. Hoping to generate some sense of momentum, McCain was nevertheless hit by a one-two punch this morning -- Obama demonstrated a stunning level of support with his $150 million fundraising haul, which was immediately followed by Colin Powell announcing his enthusiastic support for the Democratic nominee.

There is ample disagreement in political circles about Powell, and with good reason. His legacy is blemished by his role in the Bush administration, and his United Nations presentation on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

That said, as a purely political matter, Powell's endorsement of Obama strikes me as a fairly significant political development. Powell is arguably the nation's most popular and most respected Republican. He has been a friend of McCain's for a quarter of a century, has seen up close what kind of leader McCain would be, and even contributed to McCain's campaign.

And yet, as of this morning, Powell is officially an Obama supporter -- and is officially dejected about what's become of McCain's campaign and the Republican Party.

Part of the significance comes from the importance McCain has given Powell. The man who just endorsed Obama is also the man McCain considered as a possible running mate. Over the summer, unprompted, McCain described Powell as "a man who I admire as much as any man in the world, person in the world."

What's more, today's announcement becomes something of a trump card. As VoteVets.org Chairman and Iraq war vet Jon Soltz noted the other day, "For all the smears being hurled about 'palling around with terrorists' and 'white flag of retreat,' nothing can counter that like a Republican former 4-star coming out and saying 'This guy loves America as much as me.'"

I'd just add that Powell didn't just tacitly offer a vague endorsement, he offered his unapologetic support to Obama, while blasting what's become of his old friend, John McCain. He sounded like a man who barely recognizes what's become of today's GOP. For self-described moderates and independents, Powell remains a widely admired figure. What's more, few if any Americans enjoy the media adulation that Powell has, which means coverage of this morning's announcement is likely to be very strong.

With that in mind, Powell's endorsement this morning may very well have a significant impact.

Steve Benen 10:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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COLIN POWELL ENDORSES OBAMA.... On "Meet the Press" this morning, ret. Gen. and former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama. Powell continued to refer to the Republican Party as "my party," and added that he doesn't plan to hit the campaign trail for Obama, but nevertheless gave a full-throated endorsement to the Democratic candidate. More soon.

Update: Here's the video:

Second Update: I'm still trying to track down a transcript, but in the meantime, note not only Powell's glowing praise of Obama, his vision, and his readiness, but also Powell's denunciations of the McCain campaign's tacitcs (they've gone "too far"), adding Palin to the ticket, McCain's nauseating robocalls, the Ayers "issue," the prospect of additional conservative Supreme Court justices, and the fact that the Republican Party has moved "even further to the right."

Obama, Powell said, is "the president we need now," citing his "ability to inspire, the inculsive nature of his campaign, because he his reaching out all across America ... he has met the standard of being a successful president, being an exceptional president. I think he is a transformational figure."

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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BACKLASH TO BACHMANN.... On Friday afternoon, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) went way over the line, telling a national television audience that she wants a neo-McCarthyist witch hunt, including an investigation to discover whether members of Congress are "pro-America or anti-America." The remarks have generated quite a response.

While many have condemned Bachmann's embrace of what can fairly be described as bordering on fascism, many of those offended by Bachmann have also thrown considerable support to Bachmann's opponent, former state transportation chief Elwyn Tinklenberg. The Democrat posted an item to Daily Kos last night, talking about the outpouring of support his campaign has received since Bachmann's shocking comments.

The last few hours have been nothing short of astounding. Since Congresswoman Michele Bachmann appeared on MSNBC's Hardball earlier tonight, there's been a deluge of support unlike anything we have seen. [...]

Our phones haven't stopped ringing. Many have called in to say they're sorry they can only send money and wish they could be here to help.

What kind of help are we talking about here? Tinklenberg raised over $488,000 in just 24 hours. That's pretty impressive.

Tinklenberg, to be sure, remains the underdog. The race is competitive, but Bachmann got elected for a reason -- it's a conservative district. As Eric Kleefeld noted, "Tinklenberg still faces an up-hill battle, though, as this district voted 57%-42% for George W. Bush in 2004. So the question for him is whether there has been enough of a turn against Bush Republicanism -- and especially against Bachmann's extreme version of it -- for him to pull off an upset."

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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OBAMA'S STUNNING FUNDRAISING NUMBERS.... There were ample reasons to believe that the Obama campaign's fundraising was very good in September. Obama is blanketing airwaves with expensive television ads, and is buying half-hour prime-time blocks on most of the major networks. There was some speculation that Obama may have blown the doors off the old record and raised $100 million in just one month.

No one could have predicted this.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama reports raising more than $150 million in September in an unprecedented eruption of political giving.

The influx of money has helped the Illinois senator expand the field of competitive states and has widened his financial advantage over Republican rival John McCain.

The monthly figure pushed Obama's total fundraising to $605 million, unseen before in presidential politics.

According to a video posted by Obama campaign manager David Plouffe this morning, the record-shattering numbers were the result of 632,000 new donors, bringing the new total of donors to over 3.1 million. Just remarkable.

The previous record for the best fundraising month any presidential candidate ever had was Obama in August, when he raised $66 million -- far less than half what Obama raised in September.

I vaguely recall some grumbling in Democratic circles a couple of months ago, with many wondering whether the Obama campaign's fundraising would be strong enough to justify opting out of the public financing system.

$150 million in September seems to answer the question.

Steve Benen 7:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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By: Hilzoy

That's Very Reassuring ...

From the NYT:

"President Bush and European leaders, who have been tussling over whether to revamp the regulatory framework for global finance, agreed Saturday night to take steps toward a series of international meetings to address the economic crisis, the White House said.

After a private dinner at Camp David, Mr. Bush, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, issued a joint statement saying they agreed to "reach out to other world leaders" to propose an international summit meeting to be held soon after the United States presidential election, with the possibility of more gatherings after that."

Steps towards a series of meetings! Just the thing to put the markets to rights!

With any luck, they'll move on to considering the possibility of future discussions to explore the option of appointing a blue-ribbon commission to propose possible joint statements and recommendations. And then we'll really have progress!

Hilzoy 1:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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By: Hilzoy

Running Out The Clock

From the Washington Post:

"The Bush administration is seeking to recall a military jury that gave a light sentence to Osama bin Laden's driver in one of the first trials at Guantanamo Bay, arguing that the judge improperly credited the defendant for time he had already spent in the detention facility.

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a 40-year-old Yemeni captured in Afghanistan in November 2001, was sentenced in August to 66 months for providing material support to terrorism. The judge, Navy Capt. Keith J. Allred, credited the defendant with 61 months and eight days for time he had been detained at the U.S. military prison in Cuba, leaving Hamdan with an effective sentence of 142 days. Prosecutors had sought a 30-year term.

The government argues that Hamdan was not entitled to any credit for his pretrial detention because he was not held at Guantanamo Bay "in connection with the charges for which he was tried, but was independently detained under the law of armed conflict as an enemy combatant," according to motions filed with the military court and released this week.

According to military prosecutors, that distinction also allows the government to hold any detainee even after he has been tried, convicted, sentenced and has served his time. The government said in court papers that prosecution for violations of the laws of war is an "incidental fact" to a detainee's "wartime detention as an enemy combatant.""

You have to wonder why they are doing this. Hamdan has been tried, convicted, and sentenced. He was credited for time served. If my math is correct, his remaining sentence ends around the end of December. A few weeks later, a new administration will take office. Whoever wins the election, it's hard for me to see how a new administration will not try to bring the United States back into conformity with its own laws, and with the treaties it has signed. If they do so, they will presumably end up releasing Hamdan.

Are they just trying to run out the clock? Can they not admit that they went to court and did not get everything they wanted? Why waste everyone's time doing this? Do prosecutors and judges have nothing better to do?

Hilzoy 12:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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October 18, 2008

CONNECTING THE DOTS.... Time's Karen Tumulty sees the pattern.

There is now a pattern emerging from the McCain campaign and its surrogates. Instead of trying to persuade Americans who aren't in their camp (the sign of a campaign that thinks it can win), they are trying to de-legitimize them (the sign of a campaign that thinks it can't).

That's what you hear in Sarah Palin's disquisition in Greensboro, N.C., on "these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, very pro-America areas of this great nation." (So what does that say about the rest of the country?) That is what you hear in Nancy Pfotenauer's suggestion that there's a difference between Northern Virginia and "real Virginia." It is what you hear in Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann's crazypants rant about--well, I really don't know what. And it is what you hear in a robocall strategy that is as ridiculous as it is cowardly.

While The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder notices the same pattern, and applies the developments to a physics model.

Now -- the Mainstream Media, typically clueless, has interpreted these remarks conventionally -- classically, you might say, as if we live in an Eisteinian universe with three dimensions of space and a quasi-dimension of time: either these women were summoning their inner Nixonian cultural warriors, or they were untethered from reality.

But three utterances of this nature for me lead to an entirely more edifying possibility: that Palin, Bachmann and Pfotenhauer were making a radical new claim about the fundamental forces and constants that compose the background of our universe.

For decades, theoretical physicists have sought to unify the theory of gravity with standard particle model of physics. So far, no dice. The dominant but by no means proven theory is popularly referred to as Superstring theory, or M theory, or some variant. No need to go into the details here. Crucially, though, some of the leading variants of string theory presuppose a universe of ten spacial dimensions plus time.

We cannot rule out the possibility that Palin, Bachmann and Pftoenhauer -- let's call them PBP for short -- are somehow about to perceive these extra dimensions, and that there is something fundamental about their physical constitutions that makes such perceptions unavailable to most everyone else.


Steve Benen 10:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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MCCAIN'S ECONOMIC CONFUSION LINGERS.... With the financial crisis having unfolded in earnest over a month ago, one would like to assume that John McCain has had time to read up on the issue, get his facts straight, and get a better understanding of the one issue on which he's admitted his ignorance.

No such luck. McCain chatted with Human Events' John Gizzi yesterday about a variety of topics, including the financial crisis. It's probably worth taking a moment to question the wisdom of a presidential candidate spending time with a magazine as far on the fringe of American political ideology as Human Events, but let's put that aside for now and consider what McCain actually said.

Gizzi began, predictably, by trying to blame the crisis on Democrats and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977. McCain, who has to realize how wrong this is, nevertheless played the role of far-right hack.

"I think that Fannie and Freddie and certainly the CRA you are talking about are a big part of it. There was an Inspector General's report, I believe, that talked about unsafe and unsound financial practices. And [the Democrats'] defense of Freddie and Fannie was remarkable. Certainly, Chris Dodd and Barney Frank and many others were there.

"Regarding the CRA, the much-maligned [former Texas Sen.] Phil Gramm fought it and led the opposition to it. So there's no doubt that those of us who sponsored legislation to reign in Freddie and Fannie were defeated by the Democrats. I wonder if Republicans had not lost control of Congress [in '06] that maybe we could have acted and avoided the financial crisis in '07.

"But having said that, John, Republicans bear a great responsibility for letting spending get out of control. So when this crisis took place, they had no cushion. Okay?

"A ten trillion deficit, debt to China $500 billion. So, I'd love to blame the Democrats for all of it, but a spending spree and the increase in the size of government [when Republicans controlled Congress] and increasing the national debt also helped create this firestorm."

None of this makes a lick of sense. Literally, every sentence is ridiculous.

McCain continues to blame Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He's completely wrong.

What's more, McCain buys into the CRA nonsense, despite the fact that this absurd argument has been discredited over and over again. (As Ezra politely explained this week, "[Everyone] spouting this CRA bullshit, is a fraud, and they should be laughed out of polite company.")

Even McCain's comments highlighting Republicans' culpability is foolish. Excessive spending "helped create" the financial crisis? How's that, exactly?

A month after the crisis began, and just 17 days before Election Day, John McCain remains economically illiterate. It's actually kind of scary.

Steve Benen 5:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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THE 'REAL' VIRGINIA.... It's all about division. For Sarah Palin, it's about dividing "pro-America" communities from those parts of the nation she's less fond of. For Michelle Bachmann, it's about dividing "un-American" members of Congress from the rest of the chamber.

And for the McCain campaign, it's about dividing individual swing states, pitting one region against another.

On MSNBC this morning, McCain adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer asserted that "real Virginia" does not include Northern Virginia: "I certainly agree that Northern Virginia has gone more Democratic.... But the rest of the state -- real Virginia if you will -- I think will be very responsive to Senator McCain's message."

MSNBC host Kevin Cork gave Pfotenhauer a chance to revise her answer, telling her: "Nancy, I'm going to give you a chance to climb back off that ledge -- did you say 'real Virginia'?"

But Pfotenhauer didn't budge, and instead dug a deeper hole: "Real Virginia, I take to be, this part of the state that's more Southern in nature, if you will.

This comes just two weeks after Joe McCain, the senator's brother and campaign surrogate, referred to Virginia's two most northern counties as "communist country."

Hmm. Virginia is a key swing state, with 13 electoral votes, and recent polling showing Obama with a modest lead. The state's two most populous counties -- Fairfax and Prince William Counties -- are both in northern Virginia.

And the McCain campaign keeps insulting them.

If there's a clever angle to this strategy, it's hiding well.

Steve Benen 3:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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MCCAIN: MIDDLE-CLASS TAX CUT IS 'WELFARE'.... And here I thought John McCain couldn't slip further from reality on economic matters. I stand corrected.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Saturday accused Democratic rival Barack Obama of favoring a socialistic economic approach by supporting tax cuts and tax credits McCain says would merely shuffle wealth rather than creating it. [...]

Obama has said his tax policies would cut payments for 95 percent of working Americans, while increasing them only for families making more than $250,000 a year. McCain has argued that 40 percent of Americans don't pay income taxes, either because they are seniors or don't meet minimum earnings thresholds, so the only way to cut their taxes is to give them various credits.

"In other words, Barack Obama's tax plan would convert the IRS into a giant welfare agency, redistributing massive amounts of wealth at the direction of politicians in Washington," McCain said in the radio address.

We talked the other day about why McCain doesn't know what he's talking about, but Obama is prepared to deliverer a speech in St. Louis today that drives the point home nicely. According to the prepared text, Obama will explain that both candidates are offering tax cuts: "The difference is who we're cutting taxes for."

"It comes down to values -- in America, do we simply value wealth, or do we value the work that creates it? For eight years, we've seen what happens when we put the extremely wealthy and well-connected ahead of working people. Now, John McCain thinks that the way to rebuild this economy is to double down on George Bush's policy of giving more and more tax breaks to those at the very top in the false hope that it will all trickle down. I think it's time to rebuild the middle class in this country, and that is the choice in this election.

"Senator McCain wants to give the average Fortune 500 CEO a $700,000 tax cut but absolutely nothing at all to over 100 million Americans. I want to cut taxes -- cut taxes -- for 95 percent of all workers. And under my plan, if you make less than $250,000 a year -- which includes 98 percent of small business owners -- you won't see your taxes increase one single dime. Not your payroll taxes, not your income taxes, not your capital gains taxes -- nothing. It's time to give the middle class a break, and that's what I'll do as President of the United States.

"Lately, Senator McCain has been attacking my middle class tax cut. He actually said it goes to, 'those who don't pay taxes,' even though it only goes to working people who are already getting taxed on their paycheck. That's right, Missouri -- John McCain is so out of touch with the struggles you are facing that he must be the first politician in history to call a tax cut for working people 'welfare.'

The only 'welfare' in this campaign is John McCain's plan to give another $200 billion in tax cuts to the wealthiest corporations in America -- including $4 billion in tax breaks to big oil companies that ran up record profits under George Bush. That's who John McCain is fighting for. But we can't afford four more years like the last eight. George Bush and John McCain are out of ideas, they are out of touch, and if you stand with me in 17 days they will be out of time."


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'UNSUPPORTED BY THE FACTS'.... For all the awful coverage of the Republicans' nonsensical "voter fraud" hysteria -- CNN, I'm looking in your direction -- it's probably worth praising major news outlets that get it right. ABC News' report was actually pretty good at moving beyond reporting what the McCain campaign puts in misleading press releases.

Charges of potential vote fraud volleyed by Republicans, including Sen. John McCain himself, are out of proportion to reality, according to election experts.... McCain's voter fraud worries -- about Acorn or anyone else -- are unsupported by the facts, said experts on election fraud, who recall similar concerns being raised in several previous elections, despite a near-total absence of cases.

"There's no evidence that any of these invalid registrations lead to any invalid votes," said David Becker, project director of the "Make Voting Work" initiative for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Becker should know: he was a lawyer for the Bush administration until 2005, in the Justice Department's voting rights section, which was part of the administration's aggressive anti-vote-fraud effort.

"The Justice Department really made prosecution of voter fraud of this sort a big priority in the first half of this decade, and they really didn't come up with anything," he said.

"We're chasing these ghosts of voter fraud, like chickens without a head," said Lorraine Minnite, a political science professor at Barnard College in New York who has researched voter fraud and fraud claims for most of the past decade. "I think it's completely overblown, I think it's meant to be a distraction."

"This stuff does not threaten the outcome of the election," said Minnite. "How many illegal ballots have been cast by people who are fraudulently registered to vote? By my count, it's zero. I just don't know of any, I've been looking for years for this stuff."

The report added, "Despite the experts' opinions, a McCain-Palin campaign spokesman reiterated that their concern was real." But it nevertheless went on to point to assessments from a Republican governor, non-partisan academics, and a prosecutor, all of which helped to highlight how embarrassingly wrong the campaign is.

The ABC News report didn't come right out and plainly say that the McCain-Palin campaign is lying, but it came pretty close.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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BARNES ON PALIN.... Fred Barnes' new Weekly Standard cover story on Sarah Palin has plenty of the predictable sycophancy one might expect given the writer and the subject. Barnes m