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Sep. 9th, 2008


questions for Sarah Palin

The McCain campaign's plan to limit access to Sarah Palin worked far better than I expected: it's only increased the already high level of public interest in her (and taken the spotlight off McCain's sorta tired and leaden campaigning), and this success has pressured the media into allowing the campaign to strongarm them in an effort to not harm their chances of getting access to Palin. ABC was jubilant about their anchor Charlie Gibson winning the first interview but, as Josh Marshall details, the interview is set up to ensure it's not too tough or, you know, interesting.

ABC put out a call for interview questions, and that combined with the certainty among the press corps that few more interviews will be forthcoming has led to a curious journalistic sub-genre: lots of lists of very detailed questions the McCain campaign has no intention of allowing Palin to answer. I've seen a bunch, but here are some of the most interesting:

  1. The 20 questions we would ask Sarah Palin, from the editors of Foreign Policy Magazine (h/t Tomas). Personally, I think these questions should be asked of all the candidates, and Bush and Cheney besides. There's a few gotcha questions in here, but the questions about nonproliferation and terrorism are completely fair, if tough.

  2. At the other extreme, the editors of the Anchorage Daily News have 9 questions for Sarah Plain, most of which deal with issues especially germane to Alaskan politics and Palin's performance as governor. Just reading the questions is educational.

  3. A very thoughtful list of questions about domestic policy (focusing particularly on GLBTQ, feminist and minority concerns) by WOC, PhD.

  4. Firedoglake has a more cynical set of questions, which accurately reflects how I feel about the whole tired circus.

  5. A raw dump of the questions posed by the public at large on ABC's blog (with some context).

  6. The very serious Citizens for Legitimate Government give their very serious assessment of the very serious questions they imagine Gibson will ask.

In reality, the whole thing is going to be stage-managed into utter sterility, and ABC will be so psyched about the ratings tsunami the interview will bequeath unto them that they'll just roll over and take it. I would love to be proved wrong, but I'm not going to get my hopes up.

Obama: objectively pro-prostitots and pro-gigglehos!

According to the McCain campaign, Obama wants to forcibly recruit the nation's kindergartners into lives of sodomy and vice. McCain & Palin and their campaign staff will throw any old bullshit at the Democrats at this point just to see what'll stick, and get away with it because the media won't point out the obvious overarching pattern: McCain and Palin are not only liars, they're bad liars, and their lies are getting very desperate very quickly.

Of course, the people I really worry about are the otherwise nice, wholesome people who believe these kinds of ads. What does it say about us as a society that the McCain campaign thinks this kind of ad will be credible to potential voters? Just how poisoned has our discourse gotten that people will believe that a fundamentally decent, nerdy and deeply moderate policy wonk like Obama wants to debauch their tiny, vulnerable children? Bah!

Sep. 8th, 2008


public service announcement

If you're curious about how Obama and McCain are doing in the polls, please ignore the newspapers and cable networks. The pundits and commentators are cherry-picking poll data like mad in an effort to drive reader and viewer interest, and the results are likely to make obsessive election-watchers hyperventilate. Single-instant poll results are meaningless, especially given the way that the major polling organizations are hedging the polls (last night's USA Today / Gallup tracking poll that showed "likely voters" picking McCain over Obama 54-44% is especially questionable – tell me, do you know what a "likely voter" is?).

Instead, check out 538 politics. It performs the same sort of statistical modeling, what-if analyses, and poll aggregation that RealClearPolitics used to, only it's explicitly Obama-focused instead of being a vaguely crypto-Republican platform for stalking horses like RCP has become. Today's article about "Shy Tories" is especially good reading.

The time may yet come when it's time to start freaking out about Obama's chances in November. But it's useful to remember that McCain and Palin will probably be polling about as high as they ever will this week, and now is when Palin starts revealing the true depth of her qualifications on the national stage. (Today's example: Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae had to be taken over because they'd "gotten too big and too expensive to the taxpayers." Given that she's still working from a script, this was an unforced error. There will be more.) And, of course, polling is an art and not a science, so it's best not to let it affect your thinking too much either way. As my esteemed colleague tensegritydan pointed out last week, the critical factor is going to be who gets out the vote, and that shouldn't depend on who's doing better in the polls. It's going to be a very close election either way.

UPDATED for great(er) justice.

UPDATED II: fuck me.

Sep. 4th, 2008


letter to my family

Sent after receiving a link from my brother to the video of Palin addressing her church.

You know what?

My problem with Palin is not that she's a staunchly pro-life, creationist, climate-change denying, polar bear hating, Rapture-believing hard-right ideologue. In an ordinary election cycle that would be enough to turn me off, but after all, she's a VP pick, not a presidential one, and her main job is to be a benchwarmer against the possibility that something bad happens to McCain. Let's assume that (per Lieberman's urging on the teeve tonight) McCain remains hale and hearty throughout his theoretical presidency.

Furthermore, I think Bristol Palin's pregnancy is an irrelevant sideshow, aside from a little snarky schadenfreude about the limitations of abstinence-only education. I spent enough time in Montana to know that teen pregnancy just isn't as big a deal in places like Montana and Alaska, and if Bristol thinks she's ready to have a kid, that's her deal and more power to her. I think the Republicans have been dangling that story as bait in front of the dumber elements of the left, and to its discredit, a lot of douchey dudes on the left have gone for the bait with gusto. Same goes for Palin being a working mom. I'm all in favor of her dude taking care of the kids while she does her job.

Let's even leave aside the sad, pathetic spectacle of Steve Schmidt claiming that Palin's titular leadership of Alaska's National Guard somehow meaningfully amounts to experience useful on a global stage. And Cindy McCain's game but eyeball-rolling claims about Alaska's proximity to Russia (which, you know, gives Palin immigration experience too -- don't forget the Bering Land Bridge!). Let's just take them at their words that her "executive experience" is somehow more authentic than Obama or Biden's.

Here's some of what does really bother me (and you can ask Ali, it bothers me a whole lot): Sarah Palin ran for mayor of Wassila on an explicitly ideological platform, bringing in all kinds of culture-war baggage and Rovian campaign tactics. Seriously, imagine that a candidate for mayor of, oh, Aloha ran on a pro-life, evangelical platform and painted the opposition in starkly Manichean terms. It makes no sense. Culture-war ideology has nothing to do with the pragmatic, local concerns relevant to the governing of a smallish suburban community.

Then, once she was elected, she immediately set about purging the city government of people she felt were insufficiently loyal to her cause -- including the city librarian (for being hesitant to support Palin's effort to ban books) and the well-liked local chief of police. She explicitly said she was looking for personal loyalty from city workers. She was forced to partially back down on the purge after citizens rallied to the librarian's defense and (separately) started a recall effort. This all foreshadows Troopergate (which I'm guessing y'all have already heard about) pretty neatly.

Not to mention that she promised to cut waste while campaigning, but took a balanced city budget and left the Wassila government in hock to the tune of over $20M. The most expensive project she started was an athletic center on land with a murky title, and it's still not built (and already waaaaay over budget) today. And then campaigned against her own mother-in-law when she was term-limited out.

Then, of course, there's the way she's run the state as governor, which is better documented in the mainstream media. It's pretty clear to me that saying she's not corrupt by Alaskan standards is both strictly accurate and damnation by faint praise; she's on the record as supporting all kinds of earmarks that McCain explicitly opposed, and, among other things, used to run one of Ted Stevens's 527 organizations. The Alaskans I'm reading are pretty much derisive of her gas pipeline project, saying that she's devoted a ton of time, (other people's) money and energy to a project which is going to end up going nowhere. It's true she's made lots of enemies within the Alaska GOP, but that's largely because she strategically used her whistle blowing to further her ambitions, not because she was an anti-corruption paladin.

Not only that, there's the association with the Alaskan Independence Party. I know the RNC has documentation of her party affiliation throughout the 90s, but it's also documented that her husband was a member, and she did deliver a video address to their convention just this year. The AIP are lunatics, and do not differ in any substantive way from the Freemen and black-helicopter militias who were so entertaining and terrifying in Montana near the end of my time there. The very most charitable way to interpret Palin's flirting with the AIP is that she's dedicated to doing well for Alaska (especially the Wasilla Valley -- the only earmark headed for her home town that she's nixed as governor is a recycling center, which I find an amusingly telling detail) -- an interpretation that is boundlessly supported by almost everything Palin has said in public before about a week ago.

The picture that emerges is of an incredibly ambitious politician with a paranoid, defensive governing style, who prizes loyalty over competency, who does everything in her power to wield all the power provided by a unitary executive and then some, who is nearly totally parochial in her interests and seems to be seeking the vice presidency as much to bring home the bacon for her home town / state as anything else. And is, on top of that, someone with whom I disagree ferociously on pretty much every ideological and political issue that matters.

We've already had a vice president like that. For the last 8 years. His name is Dick Cheney. Palin is pleasanter, far less tempered by realpolitik, and less likely to tell you to go fuck yourself (or shoot you in the face), but I have no desire whatsoever to live in a country with another paranoiac control freak rampaging around the vice president's office, doing who knows what. If McCain and Palin win (assuming Palin lasts until November), I'm going to seriously start looking at Vancouver and Toronto again. And Ali (who I'm CC'ing on this) feels pretty much the same way.

That said, I think she was a disastrously bad pick for McCain for anything other than political reasons, and I'm reasonably confident (non-evangelical) voters will eventually figure out that the things she brings to the ticket have more to do with getting McCain elected (most notably by appeasing the evangelical hard right) than with making up a solid Republican government. I think this election's going to be a nail biter, but I'm pretty sure McCain and his team are going to make a few more fuckups like this (and make no mistake, this choice demonstrated that McCain is impulsive and reckless to a near-astonishing degree) and Obama and Biden will win.

Mar. 22nd, 2008


case in point

Here's a great example of where using moral language in a political context not only unhelpfully muddies the debate, but makes James Carville look like a pompous assclown at the same time. I remember when I admired Carville. It's embarrassing to have to admit that I did.


Politicians: plz stop using "evil" kthxbai

While I'm on the subject of John McCain: the use of "evil" in a political context is rarely edifying, and everybody needs to knock it off. "Evil" is a moral, not political or ideological, term, and to introduce it into political discourse is to cast the discussion in stark, Manichean terms. True, it is an antonym to "good", but since "good" is a heavily overloaded term, it has many antonyms. By definition, evil is "profoundly immoral and malevolent", and when we, for example, brand Iran's president as such, all we do is preclude the possibility of diplomacy. You can't negotiate with evil, you can't contain evil, you can only annihilate it.

Bush's speechwriters famously inserted "evil" into the mass political consciousness of America through the introduction of those infamous supervillains the Axis of Evil. By dint of sheer repetition we've all forgotten how impossibly stupid it sounds, and how it makes the US look like it's governed by a bunch of 8-year-olds. In effect, it's become another phrase on the Godwin's Law blacklist, because any mention of evil in a foreign policy discussion is sure to be followed by a heated and completely useless argument over how much people who are against eradicating the evil must have loved Hitler.

The United States has many real, dangerous enemies, and the geopolitical environment is fraught. The discussion of the whos and hows and whys of this enmity, and the danger it entails, is a proper debate for politicians and presidential candidates to be having. Tossing around stark and (by definition) immutable moral judgment stifles that discussion and drains it of nuance. The US needs to have a debate about our duties and responsibilities in the rest of the world. That's not going to happen if we're viewing the world outside our borders in terms of angels and devils.


Remember McCain?

John McCain had a bad week, although you'd never know it from reading the New York Times. His position on the Iraq War is ignorant and wrong, and every time he opens his mouth to talk about foreign policy, he reveals a new, startling and dangerous facet to his oddball and pitifully incomplete understanding of geopolitics.

Hillary Clinton's use of McCain as a comparative pillar of strength in foreign policy allows the Republicans to control the parameters of the Democratic nomination fight, which makes this strategy on her part even more contemptible. McCain's a dangerously ungrounded hawk with anger management issues, and he's no more qualified by his experience to be Commander in Chief than either Clinton or Obama.

I don't think McCain is a bad man. For a career politician he's taken a lot of risks in the service of noble ends, he's a sincere patriot who eschews blind jingoism, and he has given more for his country than almost any other public figure in America. But Clinton or Obama supporters who oppose the war but still claim they're going to vote for McCain if their candidate doesn't get the nomination are doing themselves, and the nation, no favors. Bush and Cheney have done serious damage to the rest of the world, and the world's perception of our place in it. Electing another Republican will cement that damage, and make it nearly impossible to get accountability from any of the people responsible. Keep that in mind the next time an Obama or Clinton supporter says something infuriating and stupid.

Mar. 16th, 2008



  1. Winner-takes-all Uno match.

  2. Bake-off.

  3. Best show goat at the Clackamas County Fair.

  4. Hot-dog eating contest.

  5. Tag-team ladders, tables and chairs match with each candidate paired with one of the Brothers of Destruction (ed. note: potentially profitable after pay-per-view receipts).

  6. Trivial Pursuit – All Star Sports Edition.

  7. Skeet shooting competition in John McCain's back yard.

  8. Marathon Monopoly game, original rules with no exceptions (ed. note: no claiming Free Parking money).

  9. Beer pong.

  10. "Through the Fire and Flames" on Expert in Guitar Hero III. If neither contestant makes it to 2 minutes, nomination is awarded to current highest scorer on YouTube who can prove they're not a dirty cheater.

Mar. 13th, 2008


(no subject)

The Democratic generational divide, in full effect, can be seen over on NPR's news blog. Point and counterpoint from the Clinton and Obama campaign spinners!

In the last few weeks, questions have arisen about Obama's readiness to be president. In Virginia, 56% of Democratic primary voters said Obama was most qualified to be commander-in-chief. That number fell to 37% in Ohio, 35% in Rhode Island and 39% in Texas.

Only the Clinton campaign could cherry pick states like this. But in contrast to their logic, in the most recent contest of Mississippi, voters said that Obama was more qualified to be commander in chief than Clinton by a margin of 55-42.

So the late deciders -- those making up their minds in the last days before the election -- have been shifting to Hillary Clinton. Among those who made their decision in the last three days, Obama won 55% in Virginia and 53% in Wisconsin, but only 43% in Mississippi, 40% in Ohio, 39% in Texas and 37% in Rhode Island.

If only there were enough late deciders for the Clinton campaign to actually be ahead, they would really be on to something.

If Barack Obama cannot reverse his downward spiral with a big win in Pennsylvania, he cannot possibly be competitive against John McCain in November.

If they are defining downward spiral as a series of events in which the Clinton campaign has lost more votes, lost more contests and lost more delegates to us ... I guess we will have to suffer this horribly painful slide all the way to the nomination and then on to the White House.

Read the whole thing. It's funny!

Mar. 12th, 2008


Obama as black man

Obama has undoubtedly gotten some extra attention because he's black, but his race wouldn't have helped him were it not for the many other ways in which he's a distinctive candidate. His race is inextricable from the larger story of his public character: his optimism; his recognition that America is still not the nation it ought to be without being bitter, reactionary, or beholden to traditional identity politics; his personal history and how it amplifies the message of his campaign. He's a unique candidate, a cynosure of a large spectrum of the American populace who want to believe in a certain idea of America that he represents.

Ferraro is still wrong, though. Whether Obama would have had the same kind of political style and persona if he'd grown up white is moot; what's important is that he's here now and his message is resonant with a large number of people for whom his race is a secondary concern (I think it's impossible to seriously claim that there's any natural-born American for whom his race is not at all a concern. Race is always a concern). Make him white, make him a little less populist and give him a single-payer health care plan and he's John Edwards – I'm certain that more Edwards supporters are now supporting Obama than Clinton.

Ferraro is self-aware enough to have turned the lens on herself. She's said she wouldn't have been a candidate for veep if she hadn't been a woman. I can't read her mind, so I don't know if she thinks this lets her off the hook for saying similar things about Obama, but if so, she's completely wrong. The selection of vice-presidential candidates is purely a function of electoral and political calculation, and not subject to the popular will. Even if she's right (and, for the record, I think she is. Her political career has not been particularly distinguished, even if she does represent New York), there's no equating the two situations – she was chosen by Mondale and the DNC, Obama has to be chosen by the Democratic party en masse.

Finally, it should be self-evident that both racism and sexism are alive and well this campaign season, and that whomever of the two wins the Democratic nomination is going to be getting splattered with all manner of bigoted mud as soon as the convention ends. Any advantage gained in the nomination race will just make it harder for the Democrats in the general campaign. I can't think of a clearer example of the Prisoner's Dilemma in politics, at least recently. Both Obama and Clinton need to be vigilant about this kind of pernicious bullshit, whether it's coming from a soi-disant "outsider" to their campaign or as official campaign strategy. It could just be me, but I'm suddenly hearing a lot more people saying they're just going to stay home if Clinton gets the nomination. If McCain wins because the Democrats have disgusted and alienated too many of their potential voters, that will be a real tragedy.

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