Friday, August 29, 2008

Sarah Palin: geographic experience?

I haven't had a chance to blog about Obama's acceptance speech, but hope to do so. For now, tho, I am just having too much fun with the spectacularly stupid decision of John McCain to choose Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Her lack of foreign policy experience is naturally a big issue. But before we start asking basic questions like "How many countries has she visited?", I think it might be more appropriate to start asking basic questions like "How many STATES has she visited?" Forget whether or not she's been to some place exotic like France; I'd like to know whether or not she's been to New York. Or Chicago. Just what is her experience with the rest of the United States?

What if someone asks her "So, Governor, have you ever been to New York?" and she says no? There are many states that I have never been to, starting with Alaska. There are states that I may never get to. Imagine if her first trip to Minnesota is for the Republican Convention next week. Or suppose she's never been to New Orleans or Louisiana. How is she going to ask people in those states to vote for her?

That could be rather seriously embarrassing.

Sarah Palin: The triumph of ideological purity

What the ----? That was my first reaction to hearing that Sarah Palin was John McCain's choice for VP. You have got to be kidding me. Did he really choose her?

I honestly did not think that John McCain could be this stupid. I even blogged about this back in July. One of the rare comments left on this blog was a prediction that McCain would pick Palin. I thot that was ridiculous; guess I was wrong. Ted, whoever you are (not, apparently, my brother Ted), you were right, although I still don't get your point about why she has more experience than Obama.

The reaction has been intense. Andrew Sullivan, who used to be a McCain fan, has become progressively more disillusioned. And that's just over the course of this first day.

The good folks over at Daily Kos have had a field day. Trapper John has a particularly inspired list of comparisons - Sarah Palin is your New New Coke!

It took a bit of thinking for me to classify this decision - bad decision? stupid decision? or worst possible decision imaginable?

I settled on "worst possible decision imaginable."

After that, I enjoyed some profoundly unfortunate, but funny, comparisons with Hillary, along the lines of "Governor, I know Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is a friend of mine. Governor, you're no Hillary Clinton." Ha!

Then I noticed that there are some Republicans who are really excited about this. Seriously. Are these people on crack?

This is from a reader email to National Review's Mark Hemingway:

Kathryn J. Lopez said this may be the day the conservatives reclaimed our party.
The initial reactions to this choice, at least among the mainstream and liberals, focus on the fact that she's a woman, her lack of experience, etc. It's obvious that McCain choose her because she's a woman. She's a token, and many women are going to be insulted by that. Big mistake there, in my opinion.

But for conservatives, she is one of them, particularly on the subject of abortion. I haven't heard much about her position, except that she's pro-life, and apparently opposed to abortion even in cases of rape and incest. I'm not sure that's the case - haven't seen hard proof of it, just a rumor of it at this point.

If that's true, and if that is a primary reason why she was chosen, it represents the triumph of ideological purity in the Republican party. Every political movement/party has a natural tension between people who are obsessed with certain issues to the point of demanding blind loyalty, and people who want to get things done, and are willing to compromise. That tension is good for democracy.

Invariably, however, one side wins out after a while. For the Dems, ideological purity in the late 80's/early 90's took on the name "political correctness." The Democratic Leadership Council was formed in part to counter that in the Democratic Party; Clinton's election was partially a reaction to the PC police. And then the Ralph Nader campaign in 2000 was a reaction yet again, by hardcore liberals, to Clinton's willingness to compromise, or to "triangulate."

So now the Republicans have their own problems with demands of ideological purity. They always have, of course, but now it has affected the presidential race.

The great problem with ideological purity is that it just doesn't work as a model for efficient governance. When ideology meets reality, ideology occasionally has to bend. If it doesn't bend, it breaks. That's what we are witnessing here: conservatives are very happy that one of them has been chosen to be VP, electability be damned. It is more important to them that McCain choose someone who agrees with them than that he chooses someone who is, you know, actually qualified to do the job, and will, you know, attract more voters.

Welcome to the dance, Governor Palin. I am looking forward to Tina Fey imitating you. Also, just curious: any relation to Michael Palin?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Thinking about Obama's speech

Barack Obama will formally accept the nomination of the Democratic Party for President tomorrow here in Denver, Colorado. There is rampant speculation about what he will say. I've heard many people bemoaning the lack of aggression on the part of the Democrats. I've heard lots of people worried that McCain is pulling ahead.

I am not worried, and I don't think the Democrats need to be more aggressive. I'm happy with how Obama is responding to McCain and the Republicans; forcefully, with justified anger, but not out of fear or cynicism.

My problem with Obama going negative on McCain is that he lowers himself to McCain's level, and I think that's not a good approach. McCain may very well win a mudfight.

Obama's trick, then, has to be that he has to be tough, but not nasty. But that's still not enough. He has to force McCain to play on his terms.

Which I think he will do. Democrats aren't used to a leader being able to force Republicans to play on their terms; Clinton, at his best, was still reacting somewhat to Republicans.

I think Obama will pose this question for McCain: what is his plan to restore American greatness? He's part of the team that got us into this mess - we can't trust him to get us out of it.

Obama will reclaim liberal pride in what it means to be an American. He will remind us of the challenges that we have faced as a nation, and how we have overcome them. That's been a theme so far - from Michelle, from Hillary. But the conversation has been distracted by other factors - was Michelle's speech effective, did Hillary do enough to convince her supporters to switch to Obama?

None of this will be new for Obama. He's said it all before - we need to come together as a nation, we need to put aside partisan attacks, and focus on what we as a country need to do to solve our problems. But he'll put some meat on the bones - we need to fix our infrastructure, our schools, our healthcare, etc. Again, nothing new.

But it will feel fresh, coming so long after Obama won the nomination, so long after he was a fresh voice on the scene. It will seem incredibly refreshing after McCain's petty and trivial "celebrity" ads.

Obama does not need to go on the attack. That is the Republican playbook. He needs to prove to the American people that he can solve their damn problems.

Fortunately for all of us, he can.

Sustainable Colorado at The Big Tent

The Big Tent is a blogger hangout/policy house at the Democratic convention. I got a temporary pass today because a guy I started talking to a guy on the street, and he got me a temporary pass. It's great how things like that happen at events like this.

One of the events that I saw was organized by the Alliance for a Sustainable Colorado. It was about the impact that drilling for oil and gas is having on the West. The first speaker that I heard was an older gentleman who has roots in this part of the country. He talked about the importance "home place" for people in the West, the idea that your home grounds you in a special way, gives you a sense of place, defines you, in a sense. That's true, I think, for most people, but for him, it's particularly important out here. It was sort of a homespun, down-to-earth existentialism. This guy (I didn't catch his name) made it clear that all of the drilling for oil and gas is interfering with that sense of place.

But he also said that he and others are not opposed to drilling per se, they just want to balance the interests of the local population, which has a strong interest in keeping the environment pristine and free of toxins and pollution, with the need to drill for oil and gas.

The next speaker (again, I didn't catch his name) mentioned a statistic that I've never heard, but which blew my mind. He talked about how John McCain wants to "Drill here, drill now," as if we are not drilling enough now. So how much drilling for oil and gas is going on in the United States. According to this guy (I don't have time to verify it, but I'll look into finding a link), we are drilling 1,000 new wells in the U.S.

Every week.

50,000 new wells a year. That's incredible. That's a lot of wells. That's a good statistic for Democrats to start throwing out there.

Convention dynamics: the best work is behind the scenes

Before conventions were televised, the interesting politicking - actually voting for the different candidates, the campaigning, the twisting of arms, the caucusing, etc., all went on behind the scenes. Now the actual political work takes place in the months beforehand, during the primary season.

But there is still a lot of interesting work going on behind the scenes. Bloggers have set up a "Big Tent," just for bloggers, with some panel discussions. I'm not there because I didn't want to pay for it, but it's a new innovation for this kind of event. There are all kinds of media here; 15,000 journalists. MSNBC has part of a parking lot as its own little studio. The Daily Show is here.

Then there are the t-shirts. Dozens, if not hundreds, of different t-shirts are on sale all over the place. Some of them are even official, DNC-licensed t-shirts. And, of course, there are buttons and hats and other paraphernalia.

Panel discussions abound, on all kinds of topics. Passionate about infrastructure, Hispanic outreach, women's issues? There's a roundtable for you and several hundred of your closest ideological allies.

So while America watches speeches, some of which are actually interesting, many of which cannot be differentiated from one another, behind the scenes, connections are being formed, money is being made, ideas are being discussed and critiqued. What shows up on TV is the tip of the tip of the iceberg. And just a tiny bit of that tip of the iceberg will matter in the grand scheme of things. But that small fraction of that tip of the iceberg will determine the course of American history.

Hillary's speech

I watched all of Hillary's speech last night. Very impressive. I think the key takeaway is that she tied her campaign closely to Obama's. At the end of the day, as a United States Democratic Senator, she will be personally much more successful under an Obama presidency than under a McCain presidency. Under Obama, she will have a great deal of influence on how we fix our health care; under McCain, she'll be fighting just to stop his veto.

I think she realizes this intellectually, and realizes it somewhat emotionally, although I don't think she will be completely comfortable with having lost the nomination until Obama is actually elected.

The ultimate step for Hillary would be for her to tell her followers: if you vote for McCain, you are betraying me. She came very close to that last night. Besides her personal ambition, she really does want to preserve reproductive choice; she really does want to get us out of Iraq. She really does want a president who focuses on education. And she made it crystal clear last night that the best way accomplish all of those goals is to elect Obama.

One thing that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere else is that, at some level, I think Hillary respects Obama as a masterful politician. That requires, on her part, recognizing that he is a better politician than she is. Which has to be painful. But there is, in almost any competition, an appreciation for an ability to play the game well. Which Obama is consistently demonstrating.

As for the Clinton supporters who claim that they are going to be voting for McCain. I don't think there are that many of them. I saw a few of them marching down the street yesterday. I counted 9 of them. Followed by 12 cops.

Monday, August 25, 2008

How not to be a frustrated Democrat

It's very easy to be a frustrated Democrat these days; supposedly Obama and McCain are tied in the polls (although I am highly skeptical of that); there are still lots of people who are uncomfortable with Obama for various reasons; there will always be people who think he's a Muslim.

The best way not to be frustrated as a Democrat right now is to realize that the frustration comes from still being trapped in the Bush Administration. For all of Obama's great speeches, he's still not President. We're still a couple of months away from the election, and then a couple more months from his inaugural.

But he's doing very well. McCain's attack ads haven't worked the way Bush's did against Kerry. The Republican party is on the verge of a historic, once-in-a-generation collapse. One reason McCain is the Republican nominee is that many Republicans think that many people will vote for him because he is a "man of honor."

But that's all that McCain has going for him. In terms of policy, he's basically Bush all over again. His reputation and his status as a POW are the only things that are giving Republicans a shred of hope.

The big problem for Republicans is that there isn't another presidential candidate waiting in the wings who survived 5 1/2 years in a prison camp and can claim moral authority because of that. Which means that if and when McCain loses, Republicans will be judged on their policies. Which are failures.

So the best way to not be a frustrated Democrat is to start imagining what life will be like when not only is Bush out of office, but the Republican party starts to collapse.

Michelle's Speech

I just read Michelle's speech. It's really good. I also watched the last part of it. I read it before I watched it, which was a little weird (the text was posted before she gave the speech).

She was great. Just phenomenal. She's really one of the Obama's campaigns best weapons, particularly in contrast to Cindy McCain. The best possible argument against this absurd nonsense that the Obamas are elitist is just the simple truth: they were both born to middle- and lower-middle class families. Both of them worked their way up.

The best moment came at the end, when Obama himself was onscreen. He was in Kansas City, Missouri, with a family there. The Obamas' girls came on stage, and Michelle and the girls waved to Barack and chatted with him for a few minutes. Ridiculously charming. Talk about family values.

One reason I am a Michelle Obama fan is that she worked for Public Allies, as the Executive Director of their Chicago office. I got to know Public Allies when I was in Washington, DC. Public Allies is, hands down, one of the coolest non-profit organizations that I know of.

What's even cooler than the fact that Michelle Obama worked for Public Allies is that she was recommended for the position by Barack, who was on the board at the time.

Blogging the Convention: Unconventional Women

I'm at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. This morning, I attended one of the side events at the Convention: something called Unconventional Women. It was a series of discussions (mostly with two or more women) about women in politics. There wasn't much in the way of policy - it was pretty much, "tell us about your experiences in politics, and how can we get more women in politics." Which was a fine thing to focus on, as far as I am concerned.

The highlight was when Nancy Pelosi arrived. She comes across as a solid professional on TV, but she's very impressive in person. The crowd loved her. I don't think I've ever seen anyone get two standing ovations before they even said a word. And boy can she work a crowd, and yet make it look easy. She has a compelling personal story; she had 5 kids in 6 years. She didn't run for Congress until she was 47. She's very aware of sexism all around her, and she shared some stories about clueless men, but she doesn't let it bother her - she just plows ahead.

One nice thing that she mentioned was that it's crucial for a member of Congress to be an expert on policy. She also said that she makes it clear to new Members that they have three responsibilities: to the Constitution, to the country, and to their constituents, in that order. Hopefully all of those always coincide, but if not, they are responsible for managing the conflict. It was good to be reminded that politics, at the end of the day, is about the work, and the work is passing laws.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Obama chooses Biden

Ending months of speculation and a few days of frenzy, Barack Obama has chosen Joe Biden as his running mate. Good call. Most excellent choice. Biden brings a great deal of foreign policy experience, with few downsides. Other than a tendency to occasionally let his mouth run a bit too much, he doesn't have any problems. Having run for president himself twice, he's pretty thoroughly vetted. He's very much an insider, which contrasts with Obama's "change" message, but is John McCain going to criticize someone for being in the Senate too long, when that has been his day job for a couple of decades?

Reaction is mostly positive. Andrew Sullivan is happy with it, and corrals some other responses. He's particularly happy with the contrast with the current occupant.

We've learned how disastrous a vice-president can be, in the current administration. No vice-president in American history has done as much damage to national security, constitutional integrity and the moral standing of the United States as Dick Cheney. Biden has aspects of the Cheney pick - he's older, more seasoned and more adept at foreign policy than Obama. But no one imagines that Obama would delegate - and all but abdicate - critical decisions to Biden the way Bush has to Cheney.

Nonetheless, it seems obvious that Biden speaks his mind frankly, and would have real heft and independence in the office. He knows enough that foreign leaders call him in international crises. That reassures me, as we face some grim days in the coming years in the war on terror.

This strikes me, in other words, as a pick for a candidate who is already very serious about governing - and making calls that forgo a campaign buzz for the sake of the country if he wins. Putting country first, you might say.

The more I think about it, the more I like it.
Daily Kos, meanwhile, rounds up reactions from other politicians, which are, as one might expect, pretty much glowing. The Kossacks themselves are feeling good today, as well. Kos himself isn't completely thrilled. Kos argues that Biden "fills a gap" in Obama's resume, rather than reinforces his message of change. That makes sense, but I think "plugging the gap" can also be read as "broadening his appeal." Obama has the base mostly locked down. He needs to expand his appeal to people who are interested in him, but not yet completely sold. Biden does that better than any of the other candidates.

Huffpost will have the video, and of course has completely obsessive coverage.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Lots of questions about McCain's houses

Over at TPM, I posted some questions about John McCain's houses:

How many cars does he have? Closets? TVs? Refrigerators?

What are his utilities bills like?

Etc.

Click on the link above to go to the post. At the bottom, there's a link to recommend my post. I would be most grateful if someone other than me could recommend me. Thanks!

McCain's houses

So John McCain was a little confused about how many houses he has. Oops. This is a classic example of Michael Kinsley's observation that a gaffe is what happens when a politician tells the truth.

Maybe it depends on what the definition of "house" is.

Politico answered the question for him: it's eight. The Obama camp, of course, has been on this all day. One detail that has gone mostly overlooked: when he couldn't answer, McCain said that he would have his staff get back to the interviewer. His staff? It's actually normal for a Senator to refer questions to staff, but it sounds like the classic Hollywood line "I'll have my people get in touch with your people."

The best thing about this for the Obama campaign is that it gives them an excuse to highlight this issue without bringing it up first. The fact that the McCains own so many houses has been known for a long time, but it has been below the radar. Now everyone in the country knows about it. Greg Sargent at TPM has a succint summation of the implications:

This gift is four-fold: It allows the Obama campaign to reclaim the offensive after a far-too-defensive stretch. It energizes rank-and-file Dems who had been hand-wringing about what they saw as Obama's unwillingness to get tougher with McCain.

It gives Obama the opening he needed to sound a more aggressive populist tone that until now he'd left to others. And it shifts the focus away from national security politics, where McCain was making clear gains, on to domestic economic issues, which are paramount in the minds of voters.
TPM found another little tidbit in the Politico piece: the McCains recently raised their budget for household employees from "$184,000 in 2006 to $273,000 in 2007." $273,000 for household employees? Many people have maids that clean their houses once a week, or maybe a guy who does the lawn, but a quarter of a million dollars for household employees? Smells like elitism to me.

Of course, John McCain doesn't actually own all of these houses. His wife, Cindy, owns them, because she's the one with the money.

In 2004, didn't Rush Limbaugh et. al. mock John Kerry for marrying a wealthy heiress?

Half the fun is watching the McCain campaign try to spin this:

McCain strategists hope that Obama's brass knuckles punch doesn't work. "Americans don't like this class warfare stuff," the official said. They aspire to be rich, the official said. They don't aspire to eat arugala or hang out with celebrities.
Americans also don't like feeling like they're being screwed over by rich people who know how to game the system.

The more the McCain camp tries to spin this, the more ridiculous they look. What the hell does an obscure kind of lettuce have to do with a Presidential campaign? Hanging out with celebrities? Isn't McCain the one with a cameo in a raunchy sex comedy? Which I think will ultimately be the best thing for Obama: there's just no way McCain can use trivialities like arugula or Paris Hilton to attack Obama, when he has 8 houses. Owning more than one house is something absolutely everybody understands.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Obama and patriotism

John McCain has been subtly - and sometimes not so subtly - questioning Obama's patriotism. Obama hit back hard in a speech at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention. Here's the video:




Josh Marshall is uncomfortable with this approach. He advises Obama to STOP BEGGING. I can see where Josh is coming from, but I think he's overly concerned. This is a tightrope that Obama is walking - he can't be seen as coming across as whiny. But I think Obama is striking the right tone. First, he choose a great venue - a veterans convention. He makes it clear that he respects their service to this country, and then demands that McCain do the same thing for him. But here's the kicker: he ties his demand to the fate of the country as a whole. He's not "asking" this for himself - that would be whining. He's demanding it for the sake of the country. There's a key difference between "asking" and "demanding." By tying his love of America to every other American's, he does several things. First, he reclaims the issue of patriotism from the right. For some on the left, being patriotic has occasionally been uncool, because it was associated with the right. I always thot that was the wrong approach. I think liberals are at their strongest when they claim that they love America so much that they want to do whatever they can to make it a better place, and that requires criticizing it.

So Obama is taking back the issue of patriotism. And he's essentially daring McCain to question his patriotism again. Obama is controlling the terms of this debate. I think he's putting McCain on the defensive. He's forcing McCain to address the issue head-on, which, of course, is the last thing that McCain wants to do. At some point, someone is going to force McCain to answer this straight up - does Obama love America as much as you do? And if McCain waffles or weasels, then he is the one who will look weak, and Obama is the one who will look tough.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Quote of the day - Republicans and intellectuals

Quote of the day:

"[T]he Republican party is no more a natural home for intellectuals than it is for feminists or trades unionists."
I couldn't have said it better myself.

Definition of "intellectual" from the Oxford English Dictionary:
"A person of superior (or supposedly superior) intellect, esp. one having an analytic mind; an enlightened person."
The quote is from Christopher Caldwell, a columnist in the Financial Times. Mr. Caldwell, it should be noted, is a graduate of Harvard, with a degree in English literature.

The fact that such an unfortunate turn of phrase, regardless of intention, can be written by a respected conservative writer (I admit that I usually respect Mr. Caldwell's writing), without apparent irony, is strong evidence of the truth of the statement itself. One wonders if Mr. Caldwell includes himself in either "intellectuals" or "Republicans," since, according to him, they are mutually exclusive.

Obama and the rope-a-dope, Part II

Last week I wrote about Obama possibly using the rope-a-dope as a strategy, giving McCain some slack, and then coming back hard. I think a mini-version of this has been at work while Obama has been on vacation. A friend emailed me and was frustrated that Obama seemed off his game.

I think Obama has been winning by losing. The idea of an Obama cult has been floating through the culture for months, and more than a few people seemed tired of the hype. A break was in order. McCain has been in the headlines for a week or so.

So now we can go forward with headlines about Obama "coming back," just in time for the convention. The country has had an Obama "breather."

I refuse to worry about Obama at this point. He's still unflappable. I take my cues from his fortitude.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

How to talk to people about Obama

Great post over at TPMCafe about how to talk to people about Obama. Basically, be polite, listen, don't be aggressive. Basic common decency, but it's always nice to be reminded of this. I think it's particularly important in the age of blogs to keep this stuff in mind, because blogs provide a certain freedom to rant, and that can be problematic in the real world. I always try to keep in mind how Obama himself treats people who disagree with him when I engage in political discussions. I have to admit that I wasn't at my best during primary season, when I was mad at Hillary. But I like to think that I always tried to at least be fair.

Counting Electoral Votes - Obama way ahead

According to polls, Obama has roughly a 5% lead, and has had that for a while now. One question I keep hearing is "Why can't Obama put this away?" Many people seem to think that with a race this close in the polls, it's effectively tied.

Kos sees things differently. One of the great things that Kos does is analyze the race in terms of how many electoral college votes each candidate has. He looks at the polls for each state, and, depending on who is ahead, awards those EV's to that candidate. Pretty straightforward. If Obama is ahead in the polls in California, Obama gets all of California's EV's.

By this standard, Obama is ahead, 312 to 226. That's a decisive victory.

Making things more interesting, Kos also looks at "competitive" states, which he defines as states where the polls show a difference within single digits. If Obama is ahead of McCain by less than 10 points in Michigan, it's up for grabs. By this metric, Obama is still ahead, 200 votes to only 82 for McCain.

Finally, Kos splits the difference between these two approaches, and looks at states where the polling difference is less than 5 points, where it is really competitive. Now Obama is at 264, and McCain is at 154. That puts Obama within 6 votes of winning, which is one smallish state, or two of the smallest states.

Pretty much any way you look at it, McCain is in big trouble.

John McCain, technology and competition

Salon has an excellent piece on John McCain and his rather awkward approach to high tech stuff. Kind of funny to think of a fighter pilot unfamiliar with something as simple as email. I thot fighter pilots were supremely macho guys who were in command of some of the most sophisticated and powerful technology of the day. Maybe email is too down to earth.

This is not just a style issue. McCain has been in an important place to oversee the growth of the Internet: he was chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. His record there is not good.


During McCain's tenure, the committee oversaw the implementation of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the first major overhaul of U.S. telecom law in nearly 62 years. McCain had to choose whether to be pro-competition or pro-big business. In most instances, he chose the latter route, by opposing increased Internet access for schools and libraries, backing large mergers to benefit the telecom industry and supporting a virtual system of haves and have-nots.
McCain, of course, does not see things this way. He's in favor of letting the free market work, and thinks the government should just stay out of the way.


McCain's long history in the Senate has one main theme: Government can do no good in telecom policy. "McCain is a pure free-market ideologue," said Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America. "Their [Bush and McCain] belief is that government should just get out of the way and let the private sector do it. Clearly, in the financial markets, the private sector has done a horrible job."
But there is no such thing as a pure free market in an area of the economy like telecommunications. Government regulation will determine the structure of that market. The difference of opinion is simply what the structure of the market will be, not whether or the market will be free. The issue here is not whether the telecom industry will be owned by the state or private industry. That debate, at least in this country, is over. And for telecom, it was never really an issue - the state has never, as far as I know, owned telecom companies in this country.

The debate over state vs. private control of the economy is an old one, but conservatives are still fighting that fight, because they are still enjoying the fact that they won that ideological battle. John McCain is still fighting it.


a common theme of McCain's views on tech policy is the belief that law can rarely be used to benefit telecommunications. Government intervention, for the most part, is bad. "Unless there is a clear-cut, unequivocal restraint of competition, the government should stay out of it," McCain said in 2007. "These things will sort themselves out."
That's like saying that we should have a minimum of rules in a game like football, and just let the teams play, and let them "sort things out" on the field. We don't do that because we understand that competition has to have rules to be fair.

McCain seems oblivious to the fact that these things get "sorted out" in the halls of Congress, and that he is a key part of that process.
McCain has boasted that he has "never done any favors for anybody -- lobbyist or special interest group -- that's a clear, 24-year record."

But the record isn't so clear. McCain's chairmanship of the Senate Commerce Committee has been good for large corporations, and they have rewarded him handsomely. In 2000, Washington Internet Daily, a trade site, reported that McCain was the "[c]lear leader in fund-raising from high-tech companies." Over those past two years, McCain collected $1.2 million from communications and electronics companies, including nearly $700,000 from phone companies and telecom infrastructure firms.
I am actually not as suspicious of this kind of politician-money connection as most people. I don't think the companies are buying McCain's loyalty. I think he was already in their camp, and they are simply supporting someone who agrees with them.

The problem is that he sees large corporations as doing no wrong. He sees them as acting in their best interests, and therefore in their customers' best interest. And since their customers are the public, what is in their customers' best interest is in the public's best interest.

What McCain, and many conservatives, seem to miss is that what is in a corporation's best interest is NOT necessarily in their customers' best interest, and certainly not necessarily in the public's best interest. It goes back to the old state-vs.-private ownership issue. McCain trusts large corporations because he thinks the alternative is state control. But that is no longer the debate. The debate now is between different KINDS of competition. The issue is no longer whether or not we should allow competition or impose regulations. The issue now is how to use regulations to MANAGE competition. In this respect, Democrats may actually be better capitalists than Republicans, because they understand the need to be skeptical of large corporations' claims to be in favor of the "free market," when in fact they are in favor of skewing the rules to be in favor of them.

We do not the most successful teams set the rules for baseball, basketball, football, etc. We should have the same standards for the market.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bad conservative movie coming soon!

A movie that I hadn't heard of until today is allegedly coming soon to a movie theater near you. It's called "An American Carol," and it sounds horrendous. IMDb lists the release date as October 3 of this year. It's not completely surprising that I haven't heard of it, but I do try to keep up on these things. It's going to have an IPO on HSX next week. The IPO price is H$6.00, which I think is optimistic. That price means that the folks at HSX think it might make as much as $6 million in the first four weeks of release. The lowest possible price for an IPO is H$3, which is usually reserved for documentaries and foreign movies that are going to make a few thousand at most.

So maybe the H$6 price means that they're being nice.

Unfortunately, the Liberty Film Festival, my source for all things conservative-film related, is on hiatus (I know the founders). The closest I can come to a conservative review is this review from Reason, which is technically a libertarian rag.

I've thot a bit about why conservatives don't make good movies. It's not that they don't want to. And it's not as if there aren't conservatives who aren't talented.

I think the problem is that making great movies requires a strong sense of empathy, and conservatism, as an ideology, is not strong on emphasizing empathy. As individuals, conservatives are perfectly capable of being good, sympathetic listeners. Conservatives can be just as compassionate in person as liberals.

Ideologically, however, conservatism tends to stress principles like competition, the rights of the individual to compete in free markets, etc. Every man for himself, that kind of thing.

I make a distinction between ideological conservatives, like William Kristol, who preach the virtues of the free market, and actual businesspeople, who are IN the free market. Many businesspeople have to be empathetic; salespeople in particular have to listen to and understand their customers. Business folks also have to make an effort to understand the world as it is so they can deal with it, rather than try to impose their will on it. Ideologues of all stripes, left and right, tend to want to shape reality and make it conform to their desires, rather than working with what's possible. Ideologues who make movies are making movies that they want to make, not that audiences want to watch.

In this respect, the free market is actually a blessing for liberals in Hollywood, because it forces them to compromise between making movies according to their political ideals and making movies that will attract audiences. While it may constrain a liberal's idealism to make movies in Hollywood, doing so also forces them to make good movies.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Cokie Roberts on Obama in Hawaii

Barack Obama is on vacation this week in Hawaii. I think that's a good idea - the man has been working incredibly hard, and he's about to go into an American campaign for president. He'll be lucky to have a day off once a month between now and November 4th.

Some people, however, are not impressed with his decision to go to Hawaii. One of those people is Cokie Roberts. Talking Points Memo has the video of her on TV on Sunday on This Week with George Stephanopoulos. She acknowledges that "Hawaii is a state," but thinks it's too foreign and exotic. Instead, she suggests that he go to some place like Myrtle Beach.

David Kurtz, at TPM, thinks this is ridiculous. Of course Hawaii is a state. And Obama was BORN there. And his grandmother lives there. Why wouldn't he go there for a vacation?

Meanwhile, no one has mentioned, in the course of covering this, how many vacation days Bush has taken in the last 7 years.

I can see Kurtz's point, but I would like to give Cokie some slack. I had a friend in DC who once worked for Cokie Roberts as her personal assistant, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I like Cokie Roberts, she seems very nice. I'd like to provide some perspective here.

Cokie Roberts was born in 1943. Hawaii was admitted to the Union in 1959. So Cokie Roberts was 15 when Hawaii became a state. Her father, Hale Boggs, was a U.S. Representative from Louisiana when Hawaii was admitted. So, for her, Hawaii is exotic. She didn't grow up with people who regularly went to Hawaii on vacation.

Part of the reason that people in the 1940's and '50's didn't travel to Hawaii was that travel by jet airplanes didn't start carrying passengers until the late 1950's. Hawaii was one of the first places served by jets, right around the time when it became a state.

So I think it's perfectly understandable for Cokie Roberts to think of Hawaii as an exotic place to go on vacation. For her, growing up in Louisiana, I'm sure it was very exotic. And incredibly expensive to get to. Imagine what it would have required to travel to Hawaii in that era: you would have had to get to either San Francisco or Los Angeles, which might have easily required multiple planes, and THEN you could get to Hawaii. We're talking a two or three day trip, each way. So, if you did go, you would have wanted to stay at least a week, if not two, just to justify all the time involved to get there. I've been to Hawaii, and I know many people who have. We can get there in six hours, which is just part of a day. But during Cokie Roberts' youth, the only people who could have afforded to go to Hawaii would have been the wealthy, the kind of people who could afford to travel to an exotic location for two or three weeks. No wonder she thinks it's an exotic place to go on vacation.

I'm posting about this apparently trivial comment because I think this is an example of cross-generational understanding that has been cropping up during this campaign, and that will continue to come up. As an Obama supporter, I take a certain responsibility to try to listen, as Obama does, to people who I disagree with. I disagree with Cokie Roberts that Hawaii is an exotic place to visit, but, looking at a few facts, I think I can see why she thinks that.

Watching the clip, I don't think she was so much critical of Obama as she was worried about him. I think she doesn't want to him to vacation in Hawaii because that makes him look elitist and foreign. And she doesn't want him to look elitist and foreign because she wants him to win. She's probably been to Hawaii herself, but I'm guessing that she knows lots of people older than her, particularly back in Louisiana (she now lives in Maryland), who have never been to Hawaii, and for whom it really is exotic and foreign.

Just trying to smooth the waters here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Isaac Hayes 1942-2008

Isaac Hayes has passed away. Not a good week for cool African American men, with Bernie Mac preceeding him.

I just discovered this video of the theme from Shaft. When the John Singleton remake came out, I remember being disappointed, particularly because Shaft didn't have a lady friend. As a friend of mine asked rhetorically, "What do they think that song is about?"

Here's an interesting tidbit that I either forgot or never knew: Shaft was directed by Gordon Parks, the great photographer. I love Gordon Parks.

Videos of pre-MTV songs are very hit-or-miss (of course, so are many post-MTV videos). This one nails it.




Rest in peace, Chef.

MarketWatch: McCain isn't fit to lead

MarketWatch has one of the simplest and best critiques of John McCain's fitness to be president that I have read so far. Here's what's surprising: MarketWatch is affiliated with the Wall Street Journal. Maybe the ideological commitment to the Republican Party is limited to the WSJ. That's a pleasant thot. There are a lot of details about McCain that are floating under the radar and haven't gotten much press yet. This piece lays many of those out in a very clear and damning way:

Like the current occupant of the White House, McCain got his first career breaks from the connections and money of his family, not from hard work.

The son and grandson of Navy admirals, he attended Annapolis where he did poorly. Nevertheless, he was commissioned as a pilot, where he performed poorly, crashing three planes before he failed to evade a North Vietnamese missile that destroyed his plane. McCain spent more than five years in a prison camp.

If McCain had not been a POW, he would not be in this position. Everybody respects his service, particularly surviving torture. But surviving torture wins you respect; it doesn't win you the White House.

McCain talks a lot about a few issues: "honor" in foreign policy, fighting earmarks, campaign finance reform. Other than those few issues, however, he hasn't actually gotten much done. He was chairman of the Senate Commerce committee. I have no idea what he did in that position.

McCain hasn't accomplished much in the Senate. Even his own campaign doesn't trumpet his successes, probably because the few victories he's had still rankle Republicans.

His campaign finance law failed to significantly reduce the role of money in politics. He failed to get a big tobacco bill through the Senate. He's failed to change the way Congress spends money; his bill to give the president a line-item veto was declared unconstitutional, and the system of pork and earmarks continues unabated.

Campaign finance reform, the line-item veto, and earmarks are high-profile, low-impact issues. Campaign finance is important, but no one is ever going to stop money from flowing into campaigns - the best that we can hope for is to manage it. But it's an easy issue for the public to understand, and it makes for a great soundbite. I've always thot the line-item veto was a Presidential fantasy, completely worthless. It's profoundly unconstitutional. Railing against "pork" and "earmarks" is like taking on campaign finance - they are high-profile, low impact issues. One man's pork is another woman's desperately needed highway project. But these issues play well with the public:

McCain has done one thing well -- self promotion. Instead of working on legislation or boning up on the issues, he's been on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" more than any other guest. He's been on the Sunday talk shows more than any other guest in the past 10 years. He's hosted "Saturday Night Live" and even announced his candidacy in 2007 on "The Late Show with David Letterman."
Campaign finance, the line-item veto, and earmarks are also issues that are relatively simple legislatively. They can be defined in black-and-white, clearcut terms: campaign finance is good, earmarks are bad. They don't require much subtlety or nuance, like, say, international relations.

McCain says he doesn't understand the economy. He's demonstrated that he doesn't understand the workings of Social Security, or the political history of the Middle East. He doesn't know who our enemies are. He says he wants to reduce global warming, but then proposes ideas that would stimulate -- not reduce -- demand for fossil fuels.
McCain's campaign is not about policy or ideas or even ideology. It's about "honor." Which, for McCain, means that it is about Vietnam. For him, our loss in Vietnam was a loss of honor. He takes this personally. Most of the rest of us, however, don't.

Most of the other high-profile politicians who fought in Vietnam -- Colin Powell, Chuck Hegel, John Kerry, and Jim Webb -- aren't stuck in the past, and they don't view the Iraq War as a chance to get Vietnam right.
Finally, here's a great description of the two kinds of presidents:

Successful presidents come from two molds: visionaries, or mechanics. The visionaries -- think Reagan or FDR -- see what others can't and say 'Why not?" to inspire the country. The mechanics -- think LBJ or Eisenhower -- know the ins and outs of government and are able to harness the power of millions of humans to accomplish great things, or at least keep the wheels from coming off.
Most unfortunately for McCain, Obama is both a visionary and a mechanic. He gives incredible speeches AND develops great strategies. AND he actually likes policy debates.

Even more unfortunately for McCain, his record of talking a lot without achieving much hasn't made him many friends in his own party:

To achieve anything as president, McCain would have to win over two hostile parties: The Democrats and the Republicans.
I don't think he's going to have a chance to try to do that.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Friday, August 8, 2008

Obama and the rope-a-dope

A reader at Talking Points Memo thinks that Obama is using a rope-a-dope strategy. For those unfamiliar, the "rope-a-dope" was a strategy that Muhammad Ali used as a boxer, most memorably against Joe Frazier and George Foreman. Basically, you let your opponent hit you hard, and let him tire himself out, and then, when he's exhausted, you hit him hard. This only works if you can take a lot of abuse yourself before hitting back. Ali could, so it worked for him.

I think this is probably an excellent description of Obama's strategy, with the caveat that I am not sure that it is conscious - I doubt if Obama himself would admit to using the rope-a-dope. But I'm going to use it, because it works, at least for now.

A key part of using the rope-a-dope in politics is not letting yourself get frustrated. McCain is clearly very frustrated at this point, and will only be getting more so as the campaign heats up. It takes a lot to get Obama frustrated.

This is why McCain keeps calling Obama arrogant. It's what the insecure call the self-confident when they can't get any traction. Obama's self-confidence drives the right nuts. Which, of course, is ultimately to Obama's advantage, because the crazier they get, the worse they act.

A key part of not letting yourself get frustrated is knowing that you have a great strategy, and having confidence in your team's ability to execute that strategy. This is a virtuous circle: the better your strategy, the better the people you will attract, and, as your strategy starts to pay dividends, the better your people will feel. As your team feels more confident, they will execute your strategy better, and, most important, they will feel less and less frustrated.

Obama is very confident in his own strategy and in his own ability to execute it. McCain is not as confident, in large part because he doesn't have as good of a strategy.

I think this is laying the groundwork for the rope-a-dope. At some point, McCain is going to be very frustrated, and he is going to start making mistakes. At least, bigger mistakes than the ones he is making now. At some point, he is going to make a very bad mistake. We don't know what it is, but I think he'll say something that he regrets very much, and which he can't explain or justify. Right now, he is still getting away with things like suggesting that his wife participate in a bikini contest at a biker rally. He's sort of getting away with negative ads. But he's losing his reputation as a "straight talker," and members of the press are starting to challenge him.

The rope-a-dope moment will come when the press is finally tired of the "maverick" schtick, and McCain says something that they cannot gloss over. At that point, Obama won't even have to do anything. He'll just have to be the guy who DIDN'T make that mistake, and hasn't made any serious mistakes over the course of this campaign. Obama will hit McCain very hard just by smiling.

John Edwards: It's not the sex, it's not the lying . . .

It's the denial of responsibility.

John Edwards admits what has been rumored for a while, that he had an affair. The usual questions and issues raise their ugly heads - is this a private matter? Should it just be between him and his wife, Elizabeth?

My answer is no. John Edwards made the decision to run for public office, which put him in the spotlight. He made the decision this year to run again for the White House, which requires asking millions of people to put their faith in him. That makes his conduct an issue for the public. If he didn't want his personal life to be a matter of public discussion, he shouldn't have run for office.

It's also a matter of lying about the actual affair. Lots and lots of politicians all over the world, throughout human history, have had affairs. But that still doesn't make it OK.

Politicians are human. They will screw up. We cannot expect them to be perfect.

But we can expect them to take responsibility for their mistakes. When Bill Clinton admitted, at the start of the 1992 Presidential campaign, that he and Hillary had had "problems in their marriage," he was admitting that he had been unfaithful, but he was also taking responsibility. So he was forgiven by enough voters to win the Presidency. We knew he was a player. But we made an implicit bargain with him: keep your pants on for eight years, and all will be fine. He didn't, and then lied about it. It's not the sex, or even the lying - it's the denial of responsibility.

There are ways to deal with this kind of thing that do not involve denying responsibility. The Mayor of LA, Antonio Villaraigosa, separated from his wife a while ago. But he held a press conference and basically admitted it upfront. He also moved out of the Mayor's mansion. And he has been mostly forgiven by the public. It's awkward to talk about taking a "classy" approach to adultery, but insofar as that is possible, that's what he did.

The implications of Clinton's affair should have made Edwards particularly wary. It's entirely possible that Al Gore would have won in 2000 if not for the lingering anger over Monica Lewinsky. Personally, the prospect of seeing Bill Clinton back in the White House was a big reason for my reluctance to back Hillary, before I committed to Obama.

Au revoir, Mr. Edwards. Hope you like that nice big house.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Democratic Platform

Marc Ambinder has a copy of the current version of the Democratic Platform. He also quotes a few key passages. I am assuming it will go through a few more revisions before it's actually official (which, I'm guessing, is one of the things that will happen at the convention), but this should be pretty close. The theme is "Renewing America." I participated in a platform brainstorming session with some of my Obama campaign friends. It was fun shooting the breeze about politics for a couple of hours, pretending that we were having an impact. I like to think, or perhaps dream, that someone actually read what we came up with.

Senior moments from the Drama Papa

My chiropractor refers to McCain as the "Drama Papa." My chiropractor has a great sense of humor. TPM put together some clips of the Drama Papa's "senior moments."



At some point, McCain is going to say something that he won't be able to recover from, something that will define his campaign.

Funky business on Intrade - Obama-Hagel

Mark Nickolas at HuffPost noticed something interesting on Intrade.com on July 20: someone bought 20,000 contracts for Obama to choose Chuck Hagel as his VP. That's beyond bizarre. The total contracts for Hillary to be Obama's VP are currently just over 5,000. So Hagel traded four times as many contracts in ONE DAY as Hillary has ever traded.

What's particulary bizarre about this is that the price of the contract didn't really move much, despite massive demand. Whoever bought the Hagel contracts paid $0.675, and Hagel is currently trading at $0.51.

Another twist is that there are still over 1,000 bids for Hagel, including one block of 889. That's unusual - the only other candidate I could find with that kind of bidding is Hillary, who also has a huge block, 865. Both of those could easily be aggregations of orders, or they could be mostly one person.

One thing that Nickolas doesn't mention is that for someone to buy that many contracts, someone else had to sell them. I'm fairly certain that Intrade has someone to make a market in these contracts, i.e. someone has an agreement with Intrade to buy contracts, to get things going. Whoever has that would have massive amounts of capital available. So maybe somebody decided to blow a wad on Chuck Hagel, and the market maker swooped in and decided to take the bet.

Nickolas asks if whoever bought these contracts knows something that we don't, i.e. do they have a source inside the Obama campaign, or are they actually inside the Obama campaign. It's a good question, and it's entirely possible - trading on inside information is pretty much a given on Intrade. But it's also highly unlikely. I haven't heard any buzz about Hagel anywhere else, and so much activity on one day suggests one or maybe two buyers - a handful, at most. I also seriously doubt that it is from someone inside the campaign - that would be embarassing for Obama.

And I just don't think Obama choosing Hagel makes that much sense. He's got solid foreign policy/military credentials, but socially, I understand he's a standard conservative. Plus he's a Republican. As much as Obama likes to talk about being bipartisan, I think that would be going a little far.

Another possibility is that a Hagel supporter bought all these contracts as a way of generating buzz for the good Senator from Nebraska. I think that's the most likely scenario. They paid $13,500 (plus commissions), which is one hell of a lot cheaper than buying advertising in any national media. And, if it pays off, it would be one hell of an investment (it would pay off $200,000, assuming this was all one person buying the contracts). This buy took place on July 20, when Obama and Hagel were in Afghanistan. So maybe it was timed to generate buzz around that event.

An interesting thing to watch, that's for sure.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

MoDo Gets Her Groove Back

Finally, another great Maureen Dowd column. I was starting to wonder about one of my formerly favorite columnists recently - her writing for the last few months has been listless, unfocused, petty. Maybe she was torn writing about intraparty Democratic fighting. Now that the Obama-McCain tussle is heating up, her pen is once again sharper than a sword. She nails the problem of the old guard's jealousy of Obama. Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Jesse Jackson: they're all getting caught up in their own insecurities vis-a-vis the new guy, who's a better politician than any of them. I used to think Bill Clinton was the best politician of his generation. That may still be the case, but, of course, a new generation is on the rise, and Obama is clearly the best of the new gang.

But McCain's green-eyed monster is, of course, the real problem.

"For McCain, being cool meant being a rogue, not a policy wonk; but Obama manages to be a cool College Bowl type, which must irk McCain, who liked to play up his bad-boy cool. Now the guy in the back of the class is shooting spitballs at the class pet and is coming off as more juvenile than daring."

McCain is the prankster who gets away with graduating at the bottom of his class because everyone knows that he really is a good guy. He's the guy who has a reputation for being cool because he says what everyone else is thinking but doesn't want to verbalize.

But McCain has managed to get by on charm and grit, rather than his smarts. Obama, on the other hand, automatically has outsider status, has McCain's charm plus a whole lot more, and has the smarts to boot.

McCain has no problem looking smart next to Bush. He also compares well with Bush Sr., because he's a "maverick" and not a preppy WASP. McCain even compares well with Reagan, because he has real combat experience, and he doesn't come across as a little confused and in need of a nap.

But against Obama? No wonder he's jealous.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Paris Hilton's energy policy

From Funny or Die (via Daily Kos):

See more funny videos at Funny or Die


As if there was any doubt that the Britney Spears/Paris Hilton ad from McCain was a horrendous mistake. This is now part of our cultural lexicon, like the Willie Horton ad or the Swiftboating. Somehow I don't think it occurred to anyone on the McCain campaign that Paris Hilton would absolutely love the publicity.

What's particularly funny about this is that the policy that she's espousing is basically Obama's plan.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The contradictions of John McCain

John McCain says that he wants to run an honorable campaign. I, personally, would very much like to believe him. He clearly takes her personal sense of honor very personally. However, some people are starting to have doubts.

I think McCain is caught on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, he wants to run an honorable campaign. But part of being honorable, for him, is saving the country. He believes that he is the best person to be President, the best person who can save us from the threat of Islamic terrorism. So for him, the honorable thing to do is to win the presidency and save us all.

But now the question is, what is winning the presidency conflicts with his own sense of honor? At this point, Obama has a number of clear advantages. Which is more important to McCain, running an "honorable" campaign, even if it means losing the presidency, or doing whatever it takes to win the campaign, even if it means doing some things that are not all that pleasant?

One way for McCain to resolve this contradiction is to run negative ads, accuse Obama of ridiculous things like "playing the race card," and yet keep telling himself that he is doing the honorable thing. I suspect that is where we are now. McCain is desperate to win this campaign, so he is starting to run negative ads, but he's telling himself that he is still doing the honorable thing. Hey, total self-delusion worked for George W. Bush!

I think the facade will crumble long before the election. I think McCain will crack. He is not always graceful under pressure. As an Obama partisan, I want him to have every advantage. And sometimes I allow myself a little schadenfreude.

But I think McCain does have the best of intentions, and I do not look forward to him losing it, if he does. I'll probably figure out a way to blame Bush.