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Saturday, November 15, 2008

that's the ticket

Wow a lot's been happening, but I just wanted to throw a few things out...

McCain's VP choice may well be shaping up to be a complete disaster. It's increasingly clear that the McCain campaign did not vet Palin and her selection was a last minute gamble by McCain. This says a lot. About where the campaign stands and about what kind of a decision maker McCain is.

As Billmon puts it:

It's already clear that Palin offers an embarrassment of riches for the Obama campaign, and a wealth of embarrassments for McCain's.

So take a minute and look at what we're learning about our mystery candidate here, here, here and here.

At this point I would not even rule out the possibility of McCain dropping her from the ticket, as hard as that is to imagine. (If so, can I copyright the phrase "Forgetting Sarah Palin?" and the Village Voice would owe me big-time!)

In that last link Steve Benen closes by saying:

Even cursory vetting would have turned up some of these basic details of Palin's record. Indeed, her career in public office is so brief, this should have been extremely easy for even incompetent researchers. McCain, one assumes, would have demanded extensive background information before making a decision of this magnitude. Except, he didn't.

So, what are we left with here? John McCain met Sarah Palin in person once, for 15 minutes. Months later, he then talked to her on the phone for five minutes. Four days later, without a thorough background check, he invited her to be vice presidential nominee of the Republican Party.

Sensible people of sound mind and character simply don't do things like this.

That's the main take-away, in my view. Now, in terms of the revelations themselves I think the issue with the greatest likelihood of torpedoing McCain's campaign is the "troopergate" scandal. The investigation is scheduled to release their findings right before election day. Josh Marshall at TPM (they've been on top of this story for many months) provides a capsule summary of the scandal here.

So did everyone see Obama's speech on Thursday?? That was something to behold. Reviews and commentaries are in vast supply, so I'll just pick a couple.

Here is (the often annoying, but rarely boring) Andrew Sullivan's reaction to the speech:

It was a deeply substantive speech, full of policy detail, full of people other than the candidate, centered overwhelmingly on domestic economic anxiety. It was a liberal speech, more unabashedly, unashamedly liberal than any Democratic acceptance speech since the great era of American liberalism. But it made the case for that liberalism - in the context of the decline of the American dream, and the rise of cynicism and the collapse of cultural unity. His ability to portray that liberalism as a patriotic, unifying, ennobling tradition makes him the most lethal and remarkable Democratic figure since John F Kennedy.

What he didn't do was give an airy, abstract, dreamy confection of rhetoric. The McCain campaign set Obama up as a celebrity airhead, a Paris Hilton of wealth and elitism. And he let them portray him that way, and let them over-reach, and let them punch him again and again ... and then he turned around and destroyed them. If the Rove Republicans thought they were playing with a patsy, they just got a reality check.

He took every assault on him and turned them around. He showed not just that he understood the experience of many middle class Americans, but that he understood how the Republicans have succeeded in smearing him. And he didn't shrink from the personal charges; he rebutted them. Whoever else this was, it was not Adlai Stevenson. It was not Jimmy Carter. And it was less afraid and less calculating than Bill Clinton.

Above all, he took on national security - face on, full-throttle, enraged, as we should all be, at how disastrously American power has been handled these past eight years. He owned this issue in a way that no Democrat has owned it since Kennedy. That's a transformative event.

I've said it before - months and months ago. I should say it again tonight. This is a remarkable man at a vital moment. America would be crazy to throw this opportunity away. America must not throw this opportunity away.

Know hope.

And here's Frank Rich on the speech, the media and the Palin pick:

As has been universally noted, Obama did what he had to do in his acceptance speech. He scrapped the messianic "Change We Can Believe In" for the more concrete policy litany of "The Change We Need." He bared his glinting Chicago pol's teeth to John McCain. Obama's still a skinny guy, but the gladiatorial arena and his eagerness to stand up to bullies (foreign and Republican) made him a plausible Denver Bronco. All week long a media chorus had fretted whether he could pull off a potentially vainglorious stunt before 80,000 screaming fans. Well, yes he can, and so he did.

But was this a surprise? Hardly. No major Obama speech — each breathlessly hyped in advance as do-or-die and as the "the most important of his career" — has been a disaster; most have been triples or home runs, if not grand slams. What is most surprising is how astonished the press still is at each Groundhog Day's replay of the identical outcome. Indeed, the disconnect between the reality of this campaign and how it is perceived and presented by the mainstream media is now a major part of the year's story. The press dysfunction is itself a window into the unstable dynamics of Election 2008.

At the Democratic convention, as during primary season, almost every oversold plotline was wrong. Those Hillary dead-enders — played on TV by a fringe posse of women roaming Denver in search of camera time — would re-enact Chicago 1968. With Hillary's tacit approval, the roll call would devolve into a classic Democratic civil war. Sulky Bill would wreak havoc once center stage.

On TV, each of these hot-air balloons was inflated nonstop right up to the moment they were punctured by reality, at which point the assembled bloviators once more expressed shock, shock at the unexpected denouement. They hadn't been so surprised since they discovered that Obama was not too black to get white votes, not too white to win black votes, and not too inexperienced to thwart the inevitable triumph of the incomparably well-organized and well-financed Clinton machine.

Meanwhile, the candidate known as "No Drama Obama" because of his personal cool was stealthily hatching a drama of his own. As the various commentators pronounced the convention flat last week — too few McCain attacks on opening night, too "minimalist" a Hillary endorsement on Tuesday, and so forth — Obama held his cards to his chest backstage and built slowly, step by step, to his Thursday night climax. The dramatic arc was as meticulously calibrated as every Obama political strategy.

His campaign, unlike TV's fantasists, knew the simple truth. The New York Times/CBS News poll conducted on the eve of the convention found that the Democrats were no more divided than the G.O.P.: In both parties, 79 percent of voters supported their respective nominees. The simultaneous Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll also found that 79 percent of Democrats support Obama — which, as Amy Walter of National Journal alone noticed, is slightly higher than either John Kerry and Al Gore fared on that same question (77 percent) in that same poll just before their conventions.

But empirical evidence can't compete with a favorite golden oldie like the Clinton soap opera. So when Hillary Clinton said a month ago that her delegates needed a "catharsis," surely she had to be laying the groundwork for convention mischief. But it was never in either Clinton's interest to sabotage Obama. Hillary Clinton's Tuesday speech, arguably the best of her career, was as much about her own desire to reconcile with the alienated Obama Democrats she might need someday as it was about releasing her supporters to Obama. The Clintons never do stop thinking about tomorrow.

The latest good luck for the Democrats is that the McCain campaign was just as bamboozled as the press by the false Hillary narrative. McCain was obviously itching to choose his pal Joe Lieberman as his running mate. A onetime Democrat who breaks with the G.O.P. by supporting abortion rights might have rebooted his lost maverick cred more forcefully than Palin, who is cracking this particular glass ceiling nearly a quarter-century after the Democrats got there first. Lieberman might have even been of some use in roiling the Obama-Hillary-Bill juggernaut that will now storm through South Florida.

The main reason McCain knuckled under to the religious right by picking Palin is that he actually believes there's a large army of embittered Hillary loyalists who will vote for a hard-line conservative simply because she's a woman. That's what happens when you listen to the TV news echo chamber. Not only is the whole premise ludicrous, but it is every bit as sexist as the crude joke McCain notoriously told about Janet Reno, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton.

On Palin's supposed appeal to Hillary supporters Ann Friedman adds:

It's clear that Republicans believe that what made Hillary Clinton such a good candidate was her gender, not her political experience or positions on the issues. And McCain's decision to pick Palin shows he took this message to heart and chose to add her to the ticket primarily because of her gender. In so doing, McCain has turned the idea of the first woman in the White House from a true moment of change to an empty pander.

Why is this a pander? Because Palin is not a woman who has a record of representing women's interests. She is beloved by extremely right-wing conservatives for her anti-choice record (fittingly, she's a member of the faux-feminist anti-choice group Feminists for Life). Palin supports federal anti-gay marriage legislation. She believes schools should teach creationism. Alaska is currently considering spending more on abstinence-only sex education. And when it comes to a slew of other issues of importance to women, such as equal pay, she's not on the record.

Reacting to the hubbub over Palin's daughter's pregnancy Ann at makes a good point about one of the McCain camp's talking points:

Now today comes the news that Palin's 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant. In the news release, the McCain campaign made sure to state that:

Bristol Palin made the decision on her own to keep the baby, McCain aides said.

While it's obvious why they made this statement to assure the public that Bristol was not coerced into keeping the baby (after all, she does have a parent who is a staunch opponent of the right to choose and is currently on the Republican presidential ticket), as my significant other pointed out, there's some serious hypocrisy at play here. I mean, John McCain and Sarah Palin don't believe women have a right to choose. It's absolutely absurd for the campaign to emphasize the fact that Bristol "made this decision," and then push for policies that take away that choice.

In reality, Bristol's actual "choice" was probably not whether to terminate the pregnancy or carry it to term, but whether raise the child herself or put it up for adoption. But the reason that the McCain campaign chose to emphasize Bristol's agency in this decision was to reassure the public that this pregnancy is not coercive. They know the public wants to feel secure in the knowledge that it was Bristol's choice to keep the pregnancy. And coming from the McCain campaign, which opposes a woman's right to choose, that statement is disgusting. As Kate Sheppard wrote in In These Times recently, during the 2000 primary McCain said that if his daughter got pregnant it would be a "family decision":

"The final decision would be made by Meghan with our advice and counsel," McCain said, referring to himself and his wife, Cindy. When reporters suggested that this view made him, in fact, pro-choice, McCain became irritated. "I don't think it is the pro-choice position to say that my daughter and my wife and I will discuss something that is a family matter that we have to decide."

In other words: My family and my daughter deserve a choice, but no other woman can be trusted with this decision. This fits nicely with the narrative on both Palin's decision to carry her Down's syndrome child to term and her daughter's decision to carry her own pregnancy to term. Their decisions are seen by the antichoice Republican base as affirmation that Palin shares their values. But the underlying message that each woman had a choice is a validation of pro-choice values.

I think if Democrats could make this (admittedly tricky) distinction in an easily understandable way it might be possible to neutralize the abortion issue. Even my Mom, who is supposedly "pro-life," questions if government intervention is appropriate, instead saying we need to "change people's hearts." This, in my view, is a pro-choice position. But easier said than done: many Dems have tried to explain their pro-choice, anti-abortion beliefs (Kerry, Pelosi, etc) only to be accused of employing tortured logic. (sigh...)

Back to the Palin pick, Ezra Klein makes a point that Jimbo actually made to me the other night over the phone (but since Jimbo doesn't have a blog I'm linking to Ezra haha):

What you can't say about Sarah Palin is that John McCain sat down and asked himself, "what if I die?" No one -- literally, no one -- has actually argued that Palin would be the answer McCain would venture to that question. But McCain, a serious public servant, should have asked himself that question. Part of the maturity demanded by leadership is a willingness to think through what would happen in your absence. Picking Palin, McCain declared himself stubbornly unwilling to entertain the possibility. And on a gut level, I'm deeply sympathetic to that superstition. But I'm not running for president. John McCain is a 72-year-old man with a history of cancer. He probably won't die, but it is a possibility -- just as it is for any leader. In that context, there's something about picking Palin that's reminiscent of the mindset that refuses life insurance because it implies the possibility of death. McCain chose a vice president on the premise that she would never be needed. Hopefully, she won't be. But presidents aren't supposed to bet the fate of their country on the unknowable hand of their health.

Excluding Obama's (amazing!, incredible!) speech I'd say the best speech of the Dem Convention came from, of all people, John Kerry. Here's a description from Matt Yglesias:

The case that McCain is a flip-flopper is one that needed to be made, but no other prominent Democrat was stepping up to the plate. Kerry launched the rhetorical equivalent of a kamikaze attack. He lit into John McCain, observing that "candidate McCain now supports the very wartime tax cuts that Senator McCain once called irresponsible." He contrasted McCain's immediate eagerness to leap from 9-11 to Iraq with Barack Obama's view that Iraq offered nothing more than "an occupation of undetermined length, with undetermined costs and undetermined consequences."

Borrowing a phrase from Matt Welch's excellent book, he assailed "the myth of a maverick" and introduced the public to the reality of a politician who's abandoned every heterodox position he once held in a breathtaking sell-out to his party's right wing. He observed that McCain the candidate has denounced his own bills on climate change and immigration -- "talk about being for it before you're against it."

It sounds like a strange thing to say about a political attack speech, but last night Kerry showed the moral courage that made him famous in the first place. Freed from the curse of his own predestination for the White House, one of the politicians most-loathed by the press assailed the media's favorite son. Unlike the other speakers, Kerry put the needs of the party over his own desires in order to get the job done. Yet, thanks to the stupidity of cable news producers, few will have seen it -- the broadcast networks didn't cover that hour of the convention, and CNN, MSNBC, and Fox saw fit to broadcast talking heads talking about the convention rather than Kerry's speech. But for those of us who watched it on C-SPAN or PBS, was not just a great speech but a redemptive one. It offered the vision of a post-presidential Kerry playing a continuing and vital role in the progressive movement.

So we have another Democrat who finds his voice, after losing the election. Better late than never? It was an enjoyable speech anyway.

This is old, but I enjoyed this take on Biden's tendency to put his foot in his mouth:

Biden's the sort of fellow who'll make a wildly inappropriate and suggestive comment about your wife. To your face. On your wedding day. But he'll do so in such a guileless fashion free from any hint of malice that, dash it and almost half despite yourself, you forgive the silly old fool. He was, you realize, probably trying to say something complimentary.

Politically, of course, it also seems smart to pick a running-mate who is, for all his faults or eccentricities, obviously human. This is doubly so given Obama's slightly aloof bearing.

Even Biden's malapropism today was brilliant. I mean, "Barack America"? That's genius.

The good news, then, is that the election just became much more entertaining.

That was written before McCain's pick, which has undoubtedly provided more entertainment value. Actually so far Biden's been doing a great job I think. I'm also glad to see that the Obamas and the Bidens seem to be getting along famously.

That's all for now. Who knows what tomorrow might bring!

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