Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Reject and Denounce?

You can't make this stuff up. Yes, it's the Democrats whose values are all screwed up.
A congressional candidate is defending his speech to a group celebrating the anniversary of Adolf Hitler's birth, saying he appeared simply because he was asked.

Tony Zirkle, who is seeking the Republican nomination in Indiana's 2nd District, stood in front of a painting of Hitler, next to people wearing swastika armbands and with a swastika flag in the background for the speech to the American National Socialist Workers Party in Chicago on Sunday.
I guess you could call him a values candidate.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Oh, and it's hard to imagine how saving a buck eighty on a ten-gallon fill-up is going to help consumers. Will anyone notice the difference between $36.50 and $34.70?

Fluff and Substance, God and Gas

I know the world turns on the words of Jeremiah Wright, and so the presidency, but I find it difficult to get very excited about any of this. Here's Obama on Wright, in case anyone cares:

(One comment is perhaps warranted. Though we can never speak of this issue--or at least not until Obama is president, there's a strongly racist slant to everything having to do with the Wright controversy. Many pastors say impolitic things. I have heard them. The Wright controversy isn't about a pastor's impolitic language; it's about a black pastor saying things that alarm whites. Whites say things that alarm blacks all the time--Wright has referenced them, ironically--but since blacks are in the minority, their outrage isn't mainstream. But Wright's words are fair game because they alarm whites. And the alarm whites feel is reason to roast Obama day after day, week after week. You see where it leads, don't you? To angry, embittered blacks, who say slightly unhinged things in church. And round and round we go.)

But how about substance?--McCain's gas-tax summer holiday. Hillary, now determined to Lieberman herself to power, has signed on. Obama rebuts:
This is the problem with Washington. We are facing a situation where oil prices could hit $200 a barrel. Oil companies like Shell and BP just reported record profits for the quarter. And we’re arguing over a gimmick that would save you half a tank of gas over the course of the entire summer so that everyone in Washington can pat themselves on the back and say that they did something.
Obama is right, of course. As our man Patrick Emerson details:
Let's start with the fact that refineries are essentially operating at capacity. In summer, when travel is at its peak, this is especially true. This translates to a completely inelastic supply curve. What does economics 101 teach us about taxes and completely inelastic supply curves? It teaches us that there will be virtually NO price effect at the pump. You will just be transferring the tax revenues to the oil companies. So the claim that this would stem the public's pain is absurd.
What it would do is reduce revenues (about $10b) that support infrastructure--and we know how bad our infrastructure already is.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Why McCain Can't Win

Posted earlier today at BlueOregon.

As we slog through the seemingly unending mire of the Democratic primaries, a meme has taken hold: the longer Obama battles Clinton, the more likely it is that McCain will win the election. Nonsense. McCain is a weak candidate in a year when Republicans are running against their own party. Barring some unforeseen catastrophe, there will be a Democrat in the White House come January. Take heart, ye who have suffered under Republicans for too long: change is coming. Here's why McCain can't win.

1. The economy

In 2004, the war and terror dominated people's priorities. When asked, 42% identified it as their number one concern. The economy was important, but substantially less so--only 26% thought it was the burning issue. In 2008, those numbers are reversed; 37% cite the economy, and only 29% cite Iraq and terror. Add the 20% who cite health care and gas prices as the paramount issues, and you have 57% of the public worried about pocketbook issues. McCain's response? A lame summer holiday from the gas tax, more privatization as the cure for health care, and making Bush's tax cuts permanent. His argument that cutting government waste can make up for lost revenues is poignant for being so wrong--and it's hardly convincing. McCain has said he doesn't understand or care about the economy. That ignorance will be fatal.

2. Women
Women vote in greater numbers than men and they typically lean toward Democrats. In 2000, women voted in favor of Gore 54-43%. And though they were a larger bloc in '04 (54-46%), women voted almost evenly for Bush and Kerry. Bush managed to swing this by appealing to evangelical women and the so-called "security moms." It is difficult to imagine a repeat of that pattern in 2008. Even if Hillary isn't the nominee, her election has brought a large number of women into the process. The issues this year are economic, not security, and the evangelical coalition is weakening, leaving women without a compelling reason to cross over from their natural allegiance. In current polling, Obama enjoys a 13-point advantage over women against McCain, and Hillary a 14-point lead.

3. Democratic demographic shift
Even before this primary process, which has been a remarkable tool for bringing in Democratic voters, there was a huge shift in party identification. Four years ago, Dems had only a slight advantage, with a 33-29% edge. Last year, when Pew polled people again, that advantage had swollen to 50-35%. And if the primaries so far have been any measure, the GOP are not winning the crossover battle nor the turnout battle, and Dems will consolidate this lead at election time.

First of all, let's start with intensity. Take a couple of battleground states from back when the GOP race was still competitive. In New Hampshire, roughly 52,000 more people voted Democratic than GOP. In Missouri, a whopping 235,000 more turned out to vote Democratic than Republican--and that's in a state that voted for Bush by a 7-point margin. The pattern repeats itself even in states like Alabama (2004 result, Bush by 26%) where total votes on the Dem side were only 23,000 fewer than the GOP out of 1.1 million cast.

And the numbers of crossover voters isn't even close. In New Hampshire--the state that twice made McCain--125,000 independents voted Dem while only 86,000 voted GOP. In Missouri, 180,000 indies voted Dem, and only 135,000 voted GOP.

4. Splintering coalitions
The factions that kept Bush in the White House are not going to elect to put John McCain there. Bush's most reliable voters were Christian evangelicals. He picked up 61% of frequent church-goers, and won 79% of evangelical voters. Even more importantly, these were the foot-soldiers who got out the vote and gave Bush the largest total in American history. McCain has never been appealing to evangelicals, and his John Hagee debacle demonstrates how out of touch with this constituency he is. He may still win a majority of these votes, but in a year not animated by social issues, they won't be his free labor source and far fewer will show up to vote. (There's reason to believe he's got a closet full of skeletons that will further erode this faction.)

While Democrats don't understand why Republicans chafe at McCain's "maverick" ways, it's clear that his stand on immigration and campaign finance have put him in poor stead with two other reliable constituencies. These will further dampen the intensity of the base, a beleaguered lot who aren't excited about the election in the first place.

5. McCain's faults
The press loves to talk about what "flawed" candidates Obama and Clinton are, but the negatives for McCain are worse. For starters, he's 72, and that bothers more than a quarter of voters. In a year of change, a dinosaur is not the horse the GOP should be riding. His tendency toward anger, should it flare up in the debates again, will exacerbate fears about his age. Comics are already ridiculing his age, and if he turns into a cranky old guy, he could become a caricature by November.

And there are more substantive faults, too. His squeaky-clean image will be badly tarnished when more people learn about his history of marital infidelity and corruption. Cindy McCain earlier this year fiercely scolded Michelle Obama, but her history with John makes her a bigger liability:

McCain was still married and living with his wife in 1979 while, according to The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, "aggressively courting a 25-year-old woman who was as beautiful as she was rich." McCain divorced his wife, who had raised their three children while he was imprisoned in Vietnam, then launched his political career with his new wife's family money.

Cindy is, moreover, the heiress to a beer distributorship, and her money and family connections helped launch McCain's political career. He has kept his finances separate from hers, but in the general election, her wealth will become a major factor. What was the relationship between a powerful senator and a wealthy family? The calls for Cindy to release her tax records have begun, and they will only intensify.

Finally, there's the issue of corruption. McCain's history with the Keating 5 may be old history, but it will be brandished like a club whenever the GOP try to smear Democrats. There may be further evidence of double dealing; a recent example in Harper's Magazine, which detailed the money and people behind McCain's Reform Institute. And these kinds of stories will only increase in frequency.

6. The 45% barrier
All of these lead to a situation we can already document. Despite having the field to himself, with no scrutiny whatsoever, and a heated, poll-denting battle between Obama and Clinton, McCain still can't break 45% in the polls. These are McCain's salad days, before America hears about the scandals, starts thinking about his age, watches him melt down in debates, and sees constant attacks from the right and left. If he can't break 45% now, when exactly is he going to?

McCain is this year's Bob Dole, a loyal soldier the GOP have honored by nominating as their candidate. And he will surely suffer Dole's fate in November.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Changes Since '04

I am beginning to mount a case about why, barring Democratic meltdown or unforseen GOP-benefiting catastrophe, John McCain can't win in 2008. Looking back at some of the polling at election time, there have been some massive changes in public opinion. None of them benefit McCain. To wit:

Bush approval
Iraq a good idea
Iraq brought security
Economy good
Better off than 4 yrs ago
Worse off than 4 yrs ago
Right direction
Wrong track
Worried about terror
The effect of priorities on the election are less predictable, but here the number 1 priorities Americans cite in 2004 (aggregate of three polls taken in 2004 by NBC, Time, and ABC) and now (aggregate of four recent polls):

Health Care
Gas prices
"Moral issues"
As you can see, the fringe issues have changed. Now immigration has replaced moral issues as the cause of the right. It's unclear why pollsters have dropped education and taxes from their list. Also worth noting: while the health care numbers look the same, there's great volatily among polls. In the four recent polls I looked at, the percentage of Americans citing this as their biggest concern were 6%, 7%, 12%, and 18%. So that's one to watch.

Looking particularly at how the mood of the country has shifted from war and terror (29%) to the economy (37%), it's one of many suggestions that McCain is the wrong candidate this year.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


You have to hear this to believe it.
All Things Considered, April 24, 2008 · Linda Daves, chairwoman of the North Carolina Republican Party, talks with Melissa Block about how the party is poised to begin airing a controversial TV ad linking two gubernatorial candidates with Sen. Barack Obama and, by extension, Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Listen Now [5 min 27 sec]

Stop for a Minute

In about half a year, Americans could actually put a black man in the White House. This will be just short of revolutionary. In the moment-by-moment scrutiny, I sometimes forget to to stand back and consider this moment in history. Pictures like this bring it home:


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pennsylvania Ten Cent Recap

What I keep telling myself:

1. Penn was worse on demographics for Obama than Ohio, and six weeks ago, we figured he'd cut it to about ten points.

2. The kitchen sink strategy had no apparent effect. Obama suffered the worst six weeks of the campaign, and actually made small inroads on white working-class voters over Ohio.

3. Classy as always, Obama congratulated Hillary after her win (Clinton always ignores Obama on her losses).

4. Clinton will pick up in the neighborhood of 12 delegates, but will slide further behind in her effort to catch up. She also picked up 200,000 popular votes, but remains in the hole. Looking forward, the likelihood of her catching him in the popular vote looks remote (she'll win overwhelmingly in W VA and KY, but roughly tie in IN and lose in NC, OR, MT, and SD.)

5. Obama may have lost Pennsylvania, but by virtue of bringing so many new voters in, he's made it much more likely to be a Democratic state in November. Local politicians running for office owe him a huge debt for that and, since many are superdelegates, this will be a factor in the election.

6. Hillary has consistently won the oldsters. Almost a third were over 60 in Pennsylvania, and that was the difference. But Dems have to make a call--do they want to lure in the voters who can give them a governing coalition for the next generation, or those who will be dead in a generation? A crass consideration perhaps, but certainly one Super-D's are making.

Take a deep breath--we're right where we started.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pennsylvania Exits

Well, they're out. A rough first look makes me think Hillary's in good shape. She won the demographics with the larger numbers, such as:
  • Clinton won women (58% of the sample) 55%-44%.
  • She won oldsters 59%-41%, and they made up 38% of the sample. (Obama won the youngers, who comprised 37% of the sample, but by a slightly smaller margin.)
Other random tidbits:
  • Once again, Hillary won the donut hole of 25-29 year olds (just weird)
  • Ten percent of voters felt neither candidate was trustworthy. They overwhelmingly voted Clinton (77-22%).
  • Obama only barely won independents (though it's unclear what that means in a closed primary) by 50%-49%
  • Twenty percent of voters said race was important to them; 59% voted Clinton.
  • Obama won the protestants (55-45%, 41% of the total), but Hillary killed among Catholics (69-31%, 36% of the total). However, among the irreligious 10%, Obama won big (66-34%).
  • Of the 17% who decided in the past three days whom to vote for, 60% voted Clinton. (Apparently the undecideds did break to Clinton.)
  • The unions backed Obama, but union-members backed Hillary (58-42%).
Still no numbers...

Undecideds Reconsidered

Whoops, all that business about how the undecideds will break to Hillary? No longer operational:

On the last round of polls, however, the pattern that I highlighted has disappeared. ...On the last round of surveys, two important things changed. SurveyUSA, still finding very few "undecided" voters, showed the Clinton margin narrowing significantly, while PPP added a follow-up question asking undecided voters how they lean. PPP continues to show Obama with a slight lead, only with a much smaller undecided percentage. So the pattern of dots in the chart is now more circular, and the relationship between the size of the undecided category and the Clinton margin has all but disappeared (something Poblano also noticed yesterday).

So who knows what will happen. Weather looks nice in Pennsylvania, though.

Monday, April 21, 2008

MSM Debate Bias

This is interesting: Nico Pitney compared ABC's debate to three others to see whether the scandal questions did in fact occupy more of George and Charlie's attention. They did:

Policy Non-Policy Scandal
CNN (1/31) 31 3 1
CNN (2/21) 23 5 2
NBC 24 17 5
ABC 32 14 13

But wait!--it gets more interesting. Of the 21 questions focused on ginned-up "scandals," what percentage would you imagine were directed at Obama? 81%--or 17 of the 21. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is exactly why black Americans get a tetch conspiracy-theory-y from time to time.

Pennsylvania Polling (and Poll)

Finally! It feels like we've been trapped in some version of hell these past six weeks as everyone tried to manufacture news from the mutterings of candidate surrogates. It's like a breath of fresh air to actually focus on voting again. So what to expect tomorrow? Here are the recent poll numbers in PA (aggregate of seven polls taken between 4/18-20):
Obama: 43.7%
Clinton: 49.1%
Average undecideds: 6.1%
But, as you know, the aggregates fail to tell the full story. You can tell more by what the trend is. So, for recent polls, here's what the movement looks like:
PPP: Clinton +8%
Zogby: Clinton +4%
Rasmussen: Clinton +2%
Quinnipiac: Clinton +1%
Strategic Vision: Obama +2%
ARG: Obama +7%
SurveyUSA: Obama +8%
All of those include debate before and afters, so it captures an important spread. I think the thing to look at are the undecideds. Based on what the Pollster brains believe, they're likely to favor Clinton. This corresponds to what we have seen recently, particularly in Ohio and Texas. Franklin believes it's because undecideds skew older, which is good evidence.

On the other hand, the big question is: have the pollsters weighted their numbers correctly? Pennsylvania is a closed-primary state, so pollsters have been adjusting for Clinton's strength among Dems. But wait! There was a huge rush of new voters (200k+) who are likely disproportionately Obama voters. How disproportionate? How much will the Obama ground game affect turnout?

Here's my guess. Let's call Clinton's lead six points. She will pick up another two points from late-deciders. Obama will offset that with new voters and a better ground game--though since Hillary has had six weeks to prepare, his advantage will be less. Give him 2-3 points back, and I see Hillary winning a 5%-6% vote.

(That, of course, creates a morass in the primary, with neither candidate able to claim an outright win. But Hillary will pick up just a few delegates and perhaps 150,000 popular votes, both of which put her further in the hole.)

But that's just one blogger's opinion. What thinks you?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Obama News Dump

I know that it's mainly just Mom reading this blog now, but she may have missed some of these stories, and anyway, I don't write often enough. Hi Mom!

Gallup's has been tightening (this week it started at 11, went to 8, 7, and three today), but this is rather shocking: a Newsweek poll has Obama absolutely hammering Clinton.

Here are the numbers, compared with the last Newsweek poll finding a statistical dead heat in March:

Obama 54% (45%)

Hillary 35% (44%)

One key finding with regard to the debate: The poll was taken on April 16th and 17th -- which is to say, on one day before the debate, and on one day after. And the Newsweek pollster says that there was no real shift in support from one day to the next.

The Thin Blue Line
Within active police officers, the "thin blue line" is the unspoken word of brotherhood that prevents one cop from ratting out another. Or anyway, that's how it works on teevee. There's a similar, but less acknowledged line in journalism. Working journalists are loth to talk smack about each other. I think the reason is because reporting is a high-wire act. Sometimes you get things wrong, and whenever you commit your words to the story, there's a certain anxiety of getting it wrong. Reporters also know that the majority of the information they collect can't and won't go into a story. So when a bad story comes out, there are a number of reasons why the rest of the press goes mum.

All of which is why this petition is so remarkable. It was written by working journalists, and something like forty have signed it.

We're at a crucial moment in our country's history, facing war, a terrorism threat, recession, and a range of big domestic challenges. Large majorities of our fellow Americans tell pollsters they're deeply worried about the country's direction. In such a context, journalists moderating a debate--who are, after all, entrusted with free public airwaves--have a particular responsibility to push and engage the candidates in serious debate about these matters. Tough, probing questions on these issues clearly serve the public interest. Demands that candidates make pledges about a future no one can predict or excessive emphasis on tangential "character" issues do not. This applies to candidates of both parties.

Neither Mr. Gibson nor Mr. Stephanopoulos lived up to these responsibilities. In the words of Tom Shales of the Washington Post, Mr. Gibson and Mr. Stephanopoulos turned in "shoddy, despicable performances." As Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher describes it, the debate was a "travesty." We hope that the public uproar over ABC's miserable showing will encourage a return to serious journalism in debates between the Democratic and Republican nominees this fall. Anything less would be a betrayal of the basic responsibilities that journalists owe to their public.

New Attack Ad

The trouble just keeps coming on the elitism front. Now Obama is under fire for the words of the Boss.

Robert Reich Endorsement

Reich, who initially met Bill Clinton when they were Rhodes scholars together in the 60s, has endorsed Obama. I mention this because Reich has always been one of the most impressive and likable people in Washington. Not surprisingly, he did it on his blog. Also not surprisingly, his seems to be more an endorsement of possibilities than policy:
[Obama] also presents the best chance of creating a new politics in which citizens become active participants rather than cynical spectators. He has energized many who had given up on politics. He has engaged young people to an extent not seen in decades. He has spoken about the most difficult problems our society faces, such as race, without spinning or simplifying. He has rightly identified the armies of lawyers and lobbyists that have commandeered our democracy, and pointed the way toward taking it back.
All right--happy friday.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Penn Debate, Continued

In no particular order...

ABC's Failure, Objectively
It is rare when you have a situation as clear as this one. Generally media bias or stupidity is one critics have to make by inference or by drawing together a series of threads--which can look a little conspiratorial. But here it's not a close call. In a debate between Democratic candidates, ABC's journalistic duty was straightforward: give viewers a sense of which candidate best serves their interests. By going so far off the reservation into the Bizarro World of GOP talking points, ABC can't begin to defend this as a service to voters. Last night, we peeked behind the curtain.

[See also: Naill Stanage, Will Bunch.]

Stephanopoulos and the Conflict of Interest
Since the first 45 minutes of the debate were essentially an Obama gang tackle by Gibson, Stephanopoulos, and Clinton, it's reasonable to bring up the point of George's conflict of interest. The debate is on. Personally, this isn't a close call, either. Since the ABC brain trust decided to spend the first 45 minutes hectoring Obama--in the dubious but journalistically defensible act of attacking the front-runner--they needed to put someone out there without a direct link to one of the candidates.

The effect was one in which the moderator and one candidate, former colleagues, were battering the other candidate. Hard to look at that and not feel a little queasy.

Yes, Yes, Yes
In every debate, two hours of talk gets reduced to a sound bite. In the flow of the two hours, it's really hard to predict what that sound bite will be--but it has the effect of characterizing the entire debate, like a boxing match where the only thing you show is the one knock-down. So it's extra-super bizarre that the "yes, yes, yes" sound bite may be the lasting memory from Pennsylvania. Clinton's entire argument comes down to this: "Yes, Obama has won more states, more votes, and more delegates, but you have to vote for me because I am more electable in the fall." So when George asked her if Obama can beat McCain in the fall, her answer was surprising and perhaps devastating. If she not only thinks Obama can win, but enthusiastically, remind me again--what is the raison d'etra of her campaign?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pennsylvania Debate

In brief: one of the greatest travesties of political journalism I've ever witnessed. Says Republican water-carrier Jonah Goldberg:
I'm no leftwing blogger, but I can only imagine how furious they must be with the debate so far. Nothing on any issues. Just a lot of box-checking on how the candidates will respond to various Republican talking points come the fall. Now I think a lot of those Republican talking points are valid and legitimate. But if I were a "fighting Dem" who thinks all of these topics are despicable distractions from the "real issues," I would find this debate to be nothing but Republican water-carrying.
More from the Corner:
And the winner is... [Mark Hemingway]

...McCain by a landslide!
The Corner is interesting reading, actually. Everyone there clearly fears him ("Mr. Cool actually looks angry and flustered. "), and it reads like a Hillary blog. They know this guy is super bad news--ironic given Hillary's constant theme throughout the first 45 minutes was that he can't survive the attacks. Obviously it's she who has the biggest targets--witness the near unanimity on the right in support for her.

Liveblogging all over if you care for that kind of thing: Sullivan, Ambinder, Josh, Smith


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

81 Mayors Shy of a Load

Q: When are 19 mayoral endorsements a bad thing?

A: When they are the only ones to show up at your "100 Mayors for Hillary" event.

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Turnout at the "100 Mayors for Hillary" rally was a little under 20 percent.

Only 19 mayors of Pennsylvania cities showed up for Tuesday's rally in the Rotunda of the Pennsylvania Capitol. Other mayors' names were listed on placards supporting Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Ready on Day One.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Campaign Lexigraphy (Campaignspeak)

Campaignspeak, as inspired by Hertzberg's inspired comment. Call this the first edition.

Misspeak (per Hertzberg) - (v) the act of telling a very large lie; alternately the explanation for a gaffe that demonstrated the candidate didn't know her ass from a hole in the ground. (First modern use, 1973 by Nixon's press secretary Ron Zeigler)

Day One (n) - the day a candidate will start behaving like an adult and demonstrate the ability to lead in a way wholly belied by the months of campaigning that preceded day one; purportedly the day the candidate takes office.

Hope (v) - what a candidate resorts to long after the prospects of victory vanish.

Wrong Signals (n, pl) - the euphemism a candidate employs in an overt attack on an opponent in an effort to distance himself from the ugliness of the attack.

Disappointed (adj) - the emotion a candidate claims to feel about an opponent just before delightedly bashing said opponent.

With All Due Respect - translated roughly back out of campaignspeak and into English: "normally what I'm about to say would appear dangerously unhinged, so I'm letting you know at the outset that it's just, you know, politics that drives me to say it..."

Regular Americans (n, pl.) - a fictitious group of people politicians and media elites purport to know or, more ostentatiously, be one of. Uniformly broad caricatures akin to the Noble Savage stereotype of the 19th century.

Main Street (n) - Where Regular Americans reside.

Experience (n) - A substance that is uniformly in abundance in the candidate speaking, and uniformly deficient in the candidate being spoken of. No correlation to a candidate's background.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Bitterness Kabuki

Obama blew it.* Not catastrophically, not in the Tuzla manner, but he did screw up. He will now spend seven months watching himself describing working-class whites clinging to guns and god. But Hillary has her Tuzla debacle to watch, and McCain his Shi'ite-al Qaida axis (among so many others). But what he blew was a matter of emphasis, not reality. He made the mistake of crudely voicing the truth (poor whites are angry, and they are in a defensive crouch). Clinton and McCain will now depend on poor whites to forget it again, and vote for the aristocrat who can most effectively pantomime redneck "authenticity" despite the knowledge--held by both voter and candidate--that the act is kabuki, that the candidate will continue to screw the poor. (I no longer place bets at this table--so far, I'm on a helluva losing streak.)

The good news is that the press are sharks, and so they won't hammer this point. Moreover, voters are distractable--if they ever paid attention at all--and they won't remember his comments a week from now. But that aside, there's this: Obama could actually turn it back against Clinton.

In her clumsy (vicious, petty) attack back, Clinton has stupidly made it about "bitterness," not clinging. She's handing out "I'm not bitter" bumper-stickers in North Carolina. But of course, people are bitter. (Now that Penn has left, perhaps she has no one to tell her 81% of people think we're on the wrong track.) Obama may have sloppily diagnosed the cause, but not the disease. And now, even before the Monday news cycle picks up again, he's running with the bitterness argument, too:
Barack Obama understands us. He's got it right, we are frustrated -- frustrated with polices that enable businesses to leave our community, pensions to be stripped, health care benefits to be taken away and homes foreclosed. Unlike his opponents, who have been part of the Washington establishment that are out of touch with us, Barack Obama will change Washington. It is policies that hurt us. He will take on the special interests and fight for us.
Robocall from the mayor of York, PA
I'm going to make a bold prediction here: I think this helps him in Pennsylvania. Not enough to win, but enough for Democrats to fall in line behind him after the election and start calling for her to step down. She went all-in on this gambit, and I think it's going to backfire.

(See predictive record above.)

Obama on Friday: "You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Memoir of a Half-Life: 1968, Descent into Fear

This is a continuation of my slowly-unfolding Memoir of a Half-Life. A description of the work is here. Earlier segments: introduction and 1968 (Part 1).

In the 36
years that preceded 1968, the modern United States was born. Nearly every feature of society that we think of as characteristically "American" happened in this span. Our freedoms, our collective national wealth, our diversity, our international influence, our innovation--all of it followed the crash in '29 and the election of FDR. (To be sure, roots extended back before him; but it was the Democratic consolidation in this period that made it law.) And it wasn't just the individual accomplishments themselves--it was the shocking accomplishment of them as a collective. Individually, they were monumental; together they were revolutionary: defeating the Nazis, labor reform, Soviet foes, the ascendence of t he middle class and accompanying market revolution, civil rights, the space project, the Great Society.

These produced a dramatic psychology of optimism, generosity, ambition, and fearlessness that pervaded the collective consciousness. All of this is relevant, of course, because '68 is when it ended. For my generation, a new national mood was born, along with me, in 1968.

If a novelist were to include the events of 1968 in her story, critics would deride them as preposterous, overwrought. With the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and the subsequent election of Nixon, the metaphor was too obvious--we exchanged light for darkness, hope for paranoia. But this was the reality, and it was more than a metaphor: in 1964, Barry Goldwater's campaign offered up a marker that Americans cashed in 1968. We killed the man who had brought the races together, we killed the man who had fought corruption and offered a vast vision. And then we elected Richard Nixon, the personification of darkness and fear. His spirit, paranoid, divisive, and corrupt has been the spirit that animated the next 40 years--and, sadly, my lifetime.

I don't think I was alone in thinking the world was doomed. I lived in a suburban enclave of Boise, Idaho, and a pack of us ran around the alleys and open fields of the neighborhood. That this was it, that the world was certainly doomed to a future of nuclear war, was our working assumption. As I started to get old enough to think about driving--at ten, say--I recall discussions with friends about how we'd never actually live that long. We not only felt doomed, but doomed in an immediate way. This was during the Carter years, which were suffused with lament and loss. Children don't have sophisticated critical apparati at that age, but I was well aware (if only generally) that things were bad.

All eras have challenging events, but in the 1970s, so many of ours came from the inside. Nixon was a national embarrassment and made us wonder about our government's moral core. The fading economy brought shame to families like mine, where my father bounced from job to job, business to business. My father had three successive business failures in the 70s. It's bad enough to struggle to make ends meet, but add failure on, and it takes a little of your soul. No doubt my sense of this was greater than others, but with the gas crunch and stagflation, it all seemed to be of a piece.

Then came the Iran hostage crisis, which was external. But Carter's approach, coming amid the difficulties of the decade, seemed to highlight America's impotency. (In retrospect, with the wisdom of the Bush doctrine having been fully tested, it may not have been such a bad policy.) Three-mile island, declining wages, the Olympic boycott--everything just seemed to confirm our decline.

The reaction to 9/11 was instructive. The US--not just the political class or the GOP, but everyone--slid into a defensive crouch. The events of the past six years have been the fruit of the collective spirit of this era--fear. Although I was unaware of them at the time, there were other currents in American life at play: reaction to Roe v. Wade, the rejection of the civil rights movement, the nascent plan to unite fundamentalist Christian doctrine and market-based right-wing politics.

When I pick this up again, I'll get a little more personal and describe how it felt to grow up in this United States, and how all of this personally affected me--not unusually, I think.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Obama Errata

Some random odds and ends floating around. First, Beinart's piece from the Post yesterday highlights something I've been thinking (though he may make the case too strongly, but still):
Presidents tend to govern the way they campaigned. Jimmy Carter ran as a moralistic outsider in 1976, and he governed that way as well, refusing to compromise with a Washington establishment that he distrusted (and that distrusted him). Ronald Reagan's campaign looked harsh on paper but warm and fuzzy on TV, as did his presidency. The 1992 Clinton campaign was like the Clinton administration: brilliant and chaotic, with a penchant for near-death experiences. And the 2000 Bush campaign presaged the Bush presidency: disciplined, hierarchical, loyal and ruthless....

Of the three candidates still in the 2008 race, Obama has run the best campaign by far. McCain's was a top-heavy, slow-moving, money-hemorrhaging Hindenburg that eventually exploded, leaving the Arizona senator to resurrect his bankrupt candidacy through sheer force of will. Clinton's campaign has been marked by vicious infighting and organizational weakness, as manifested by her terrible performance in caucus states....

At the top, in fact, the campaign is quite hierarchical. There's no question who's in charge: David Axelrod, a grizzled Chicago street-fighter whom Obama has known since he was 30. Axelrod and his subordinates believe their guy represents a new kind of politics, but they're not above using old-school, hard-ball tactics -- even against his own supporters -- to help him win. Last spring, for example, when the Obama campaign realized it couldn't control a popular Obama page on MySpace, it persuaded the company to shut the page down.

It is this remarkable hybrid campaign, far more than Obama's thin legislative résumé, that should reassure voters that he can run the government. As president, he'll need to keep his supporters mobilized: It will take a grass-roots movement, breathing down Congress's neck, to pass universal health care. But in dealing with those very supporters, he'll also have to be ruthless so as not to get caught up in the kind of side skirmishes, such as gays in the military, that weakened Bill Clinton early on. Obama's experience whipping up support on MySpace while simultaneously tamping it down is exactly the kind he'll need in the Oval Office.
Pennsylvania polling is tightening up, with the exception of yesterday's SurveyUSA results, showing Clinton up by 18. Throw that one out and look at all the others that have been conducted since April 1, and Obama's trailing by a very modest 3.6%. Include the outlying S-USA and it's 5.7%. But what to make of the S-USA poll, which has been the most accurate in the primaries so far? The mood in the blogosphere is to give S-USA its credit and split the difference--put it at about 10%. Dunno, but the Obama team is playing it right--driving down expectations and predicting a double-digit defeat. If he can close to within single digits, it could be a huge blow to Clinton.

Penn: bad for Obama. What's the old adage? When your opponent is busy committing suicide, just get out of the way. On the other hand, we probably put far too much weight into the importance of campaign functionaries. Almost no voters know Mark Penn. I doubt seriously they're watching the campaign and thinking this version of Hillary is radically different from the impression they already have. So why is it all Penn's fault?

Finally, this bit of satire is circling the internets, justifiably. A woman after my own heart:
In a move that's sure to be seen as controversial, Hillary has contacted the NCAA Board of Directors to argue that Memphis is actually better qualified to be National Champion.

Ms. Clinton stated that Memphis, while losing the game, had actually shown more ability to act like a National Champion on Day One. She argued that Memphis had passed every test during the game, including scoring more points than Kansas for 38 minutes. For 38 minutes they had shown the experience necessary to be National Champion. "Just because some team comes along in the last minute and scores more points than the other guy doesn't mean they're necessarily able to be National Champion on Day One."

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Portland, April 2008

Windows running with condensation, the
collected breath of strangers
Outside, coal morning, barely in possession
of the energy to shine into the bus
Not winter, appearances to the contrary
Look outside and you can see blossoms dripping off trees
sodden frosting
In order to appreciate this variety of beauty, the
beholder requires rare sight
In the rain, head down, making quickly for cover.

Class War

The Clinton tax returns turned out to be a yawner, more or less. There were some interesting dealings in there, but surely standard fare for anyone earning $109 mil. Big money deals interestingly, and although it's obscene if you look at it from the perspective of the two-jobs, no-health-care, wage-earner from Altoona, it's legal in Bush's America. But what struck me was the tax rate the Clintons paid--$33 million on the $109 earned. That's a total rate of 30.3%.

Now, I'm not a two-job, no-health-care wage-earner from Altoona, but I have a fairly standard income for an American--more than the $26k that is the single-earner median, but not quite enough to put me in the mid-quintile, either. And in 2007, I paid 27.5% of my income in taxes. I make .2 percent of the Clintons, yet I pay only 2.8% less of my income in taxes.

This is the effect on wealth re-distribution of 28 years of GOP rule. To compound matters, median incomes are flat, the services we need to get buy--health care and education--are far, far more expensive, and thanks to Bush's Folly in Iraq and his tax cuts, we have inherited debt substantial enough to keep us all well-taxed through our lifetimes. Oh yeah, threre's also gas prices and their damage to the pocketbook and inflation, Bush's second recession of his regime, and a collapsing housing market--Americans' last source of liquidity. Hey, at least no one can declare bankruptcy anymore!

As always, seeing stats like these make me want to hoist a baseball bat and head into some board rooms. What is it about Americans that makes us so lax in our protest--or even simple recognition--of these facts?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

"Yeah, pretty much" (aka "Let them eat cake")

As a follow-up to my memoir post below--actually, sort of a lead-in to the next installment, here's George Will from Sunday's roundtable on This Week with George Stephanopoulos:
"I think this is a center-right country and [McCain's economic] proposal was a center-right proposal. Mr. Obama correctly said, 'McCain is offering us a 'You're on your own society.' To which John McCain should say, 'Yeah, pretty much.' We believe we are the party of individual responsibility and individualism."
The topic was bailouts, of mortgage-holders and financial corporations, and Will demonstrated a stunning level of contempt for bilked ARM-holders. He observed, derisively, (paraphrasing) "it's right there in the title, adjustable rate."

This is where we are in 2008, a party led by men (mostly, and almost uniformly white, and probably cigar smokers to boot) who feel contempt for the middle class and poor. They are getting worse about disguising the fact, as their populist rhetoric about God and gays--a fig leaf that covers the real agenda--no longer fans the flames of passion. It was inevitable: as the imbalance of wealth shifted ever more precariously to the top 1%, eventually poverty would affect enough of the bottom end to force a political correction. Whether that correction happens this year, as I expect, or later, this kind of comment makes it ever more likely.

You can only tell the poor to go Cheney themselves for so long before they Emma Goldman the rich.