We had a good debate party here on First Hill last night, lots of folks, drinks, kids running around and chasing the cat, poor Jellybean, who hid most of the evening but responded well in the quiet afterwards. No ill effects at basically being the tiny Paul McCartney being chased by grasping and clomping Jellybeaniacs everywhere.
As for the debate itself, I thought both sides did well, but my guy — Barack, in case you haven’t been paying attention — did better. He was smart, articulate, tough but civil. He looked presidential. John McCain was rude and crotchety and refused to even look at his opponent. And while he demonstrated extensive foreign policy expertise, nothing he said, either about foreign affairs or the economy, indicated any change in the direction we’ve been going in, disastrously, for the last eight years.
So basically: Barack refuted the concerns that undecideds had about him (that he wasn’t up to the task) while McCain exacerbated the concerns that undecideds had about him (that, in terms of policy, he was an older and more crotchety version of Bush, and will offer nothing in terms of change).
- Andrew Sullivan’s live blogging of the debate
- Footage of a Fox News(!) focus group of independents that gave the debate to Barack
- An article on why and where Barack won. By a 62-32 margin, voters felt he was more in touch with their needs and concerns. But here’s the bigger number: “The CBS poll of undecideds has more confirmatory detail. Obama went from a +18 on “understanding your needs and problems” before the debate to a +56 (!) afterward. And he went from a -9 on “prepared to be president” to a +21.”
- Finally, Michael Seitzman over at HuffPost has a great post about what exactly it is that Barack is bringing that is so appealing and that we haven’t seen in national politics, or even national life, for so long: Grace.
NY Times Offers Lack of Leadership
Christ, the NY Times editorial did the exact same thing Gail Collins just did. They started off with a good, deserved swipe at Pres. Bush:
It took President Bush until Wednesday night to address the American people about the nation’s financial crisis, and pretty much all he had to offer was fear itself.
But then they say this about our absent leadership:
Given Mr. Bush’s shockingly weak performance, the only ones who could provide that are the two men battling to succeed him. So far, neither John McCain nor Barack Obama is offering that leadership.
Really? Both? Obama isn't offering leadership? So you keep reading and discover that the brunt of the article is about how badly McCain has handled things:
First, he claimed that the economy was strong, ignoring the deep distress of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have already lost their homes. Then he called for a 9/11-style commission to study the causes of the crisis, as if there were a mystery to be solved. Over the last few days he has become a born-again populist, a stance entirely at odds with the career, as he often says, started as “a foot soldier in the Reagan revolution.”
After daily pivoting, Mr. McCain now says that the bailout being debated in Congress has to protect taxpayers, that all the money has to be spent in public and that a bipartisan board should “provide oversight.” But he offered not the slightest clue about how he would ensure that taxpayers would ever “recover” the bailout money.
Mr. McCain proposed capping executives’ pay at firms that get bailout money, a nicely punitive idea but one that does nothing to mitigate the crisis. And that is about as far as his new populism went.
What is most important is that Mr. McCain hasn’t said a word about strengthening regulation or budged one inch from his insistence on maintaining Mr. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy.
Their complaints about Obama, meanwhile, are hardly complaints:
Mr. Obama has been clearer on the magnitude and causes of the financial crisis. He has long called for robust regulation of the financial industry, and he said early on that a bailout must protect taxpayers. Mr. Obama also recognizes that the wealthy must pay more taxes or this country will never dig out of its deep financial hole. But as he does too often, Mr. Obama walked up to the edge of offering full prescriptions and stopped there.
In other words, McCain is running around with his head cut off, flip-flopping and flop-sweating all over the country, while Obama offers exactly what we need but somehow doesn't go far enough, and this, in the NY Times' mind, equals a lack of leadership from both?
Somebody get me rewrite. Please.
Bush and the Hail Mary Candidate
Gail Collins has a great graf on Bush's speech last night:
There is, in a way, a kind of talent required to tell the nation that it’s teetering on the brink of disaster in a way that makes the viewers’ attention wander. Bush’s explanation about how the rescue bill would unclog the lines of credit made the whole thing sound less important than a Liquid-Plumr commercial.
Unfortunately, she then goes off and condemns both presidential candidates — as if Barack's level-headed response to this crisis somehow equalled McCain's frenetic and sometimes desperate (and now "hail mary") response. Not sure why she does this. Is she straining for objectivity? She's a columnist; she doesn't have to be objective. Besides, as I've said often and I'll keep saying until the MSM gets it, objectivity doesn't mean stupidity. It also doesn't mean that if one side is constantly and glaringly wrong that you search for some piddly little thing the other side got wrong to balance the report. Sometimes the report is unbalanced. Sometimes, so too is the candidate.
Movie Quote of the Day
"It would be the easiest thing for me as president to ask for a declaration of war. A man on a horseback is always a hero. But I wouldn't have to do the fighting. Some poor farmer's boy, or the son of some great family would have to do the fighting — and the dying. When I ask them to do that, I want to be very sure that what they're dying for is worthwhile."
— Pres. Woodrow Wilson (Alexander Knox) after the sinking of the Lusitania in Wilson (1944)
Movie Quote of the Day
"I often think of something Woodrow Wilson said to me. 'It is only once in a generation that people can be lifted above material things. That is why conservative government is in the saddle for two-thirds of the time.'"
—Franklin (Ralph Bellamy) to Eleanor Roosevelt (Greer Garson), in Sunrise at Campbello (1960)
Mark Antony in Oxford Town
Good, sad post byJoseph Romm on what people want to hear during the presidential debates and why the Dems always screw it up. It goes back to Mark Antony in the Roman Forum: "I am no orator, as Brutus is/ But — as you know me all — a plain blunt man."
Gourevitch on Palin
I assume Philip Gourevitch went to Alaska in July to write a piece about Ted Stevens' indictment and attempted comeback — a piece that was subsequently disrupted by the imbecilic vetting from the McCain vice-presidential selection committee. The result, which appears in the Sept. 22 New Yorker, is mostly about Sarah Palin.
On the plus side, Gourevitch interviewed Palin before she entered (and then, like a skittish animal, was shielded from) the national spotlight, so he's got quotes that didn't have to be run by or through or into Rick Davis. Palin is surprisingly up front about earmarks, for example, the bete noir (except for You-Know-Who) of the McCain campaign:
“The federal budget, in its various manifestations, is incredibly important to us, and congressional earmarks are one aspect of this relationship. ... There isn’t a need to aspire to live without any earmarks. The writing on the wall, though, is that times are changing. Presidential candidates have promised earmark reform, so we gotta deal with it, we gotta live with it, understanding that our senior senator, especially—he’s eighty-four years old, he is not gonna be able to serve in the Senate forever."
Palin's Access: Beyond Disgraceful
Andrew Sullivan on the Republican vice-presidential candidate and the press:
The press is beginning to resist the incredibly sexist handling of Palin by the McCain campaign. There is a simple point here: any candidate for president should be as available to press inquiries as humanly possible. Barring a press conference for three weeks, preventing any questions apart from two television interviews, one by manic partisan Sean Hannity, devising less onerous debate rules for a female candidate, and then trying to turn the press into an infomercial for the GOP is beyond disgraceful.
Fight back, you hacks! Demand access. Demand accountability! It's our duty. If we cannot ask questions of a total newbie six weeks before an election in which she could become president of the country, then the First Amendment is pointless. Grow some!
Movie Quote of the Day
"There is no expert on the subject. I mean, there is no wise old man. There's... Shit, there's just us."
—Kenny O'Donnell (Kevin Costner) to JFK and RFK on the first day of the Cuban Missile Crisis, after Truman's Secretary of State Dean Acheson, despite what he sees as the inevitable consequences of the act, recommends bombing Cuba, in the movie Thirteen Days.
The Big Red Dog is Wanted Dead or Alive
Two days later, for the same article, I watched Thirteen Days, the 2000 account of the Cuban Missile Crisis starring Kevin Costner as Kenny O'Donnell, JFK's special assistant, and Bruce Greenwood in an understated and suggestive turn as our first telegenic president. (I should add that, for all the faults of the film, Timothy Bottoms did a fine job as Bush in DC 9/11.)
So it's early in the crisis and the joint chiefs are recommending bombing Cuba back to the stone age. Even former Secretary of State Dean Acheson is recommending same with a foreknowledge of consquences that is truly frightening: We warn, we strike, they strike back in Berlin, NATO kicks in. "Hopefully," he says, "cooler heads prevail." On the third day, General Curtis Le May gets into the act with this rationale:
"The big red dog is diggin' in our backyard and we are justified in shooting him..."
Afterwards, JFK and his advisors, who are looking for the alternative, which, of course, turns out to be the quarantine or blockade of Cuba, joke about the general's language — the reduction to homey metaphor of an act that might end the world — and I realized, for the zillionth time, that for the last eight years we've had the General Le Mays not only running things but giving rationales for our actions: "Wanted: Dead or Alive," etc. We've had no real leadership. We've had no one demanding more evidence and looking for alternatives. We've had no cooler heads. We've rushed in where angels fear to tread. Hell, the General Le Mays of the Bush administration have been the cooler heads.
So, as bad as things are, and they're pretty bad, thank God we didn't have Bush and his team in place in October 1962.
Why 'DC: 9/11' is the New 'Reefer Madness'
I thought of this while watching, DC 9/11: Time of Crisis, a Showtime movie from 2003, written and produced by British-born Hollywood conservative Lionel Chetwynd, which first aired, amid controversy, in September 2003.
I know. Life’s short, why waste two hours? Unfortunately I’m writing an article about presidents on film to coincide with the release of Oliver Stone’s W., and DC 9/11 is part of the price you pay.
But I quickly began to see the humor. SNL came to mind when Pres. Bush, on Air Force One, switches to commander-in-chief mode and starts barking orders at Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld: “Hike military alert status to Delta! That's the military, the C.I.A., foreign, domestic, everything! And if you haven't gone to Defcon 3, you oughtta.” He barks orders at a submissive Cheney. He tells everyone, over and over, that Osama bin Laden will pay:
- “We’re gonna hunt down and find those folks who committed this.”
- “Whoever did this isn’t going to like me as president.”
- “We’re going to kick the hell out of whoever did this. No slap on the wrist this time.”
But it wasn’t until Rumsfeld raises the specter of Saddam Hussein that I saw the true brilliance of DC 9/11. This is a movie that actually glorifies the worst foreign policy decisions we’ve ever made. It’s like finding a 1964 film celebrating the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. It’s like, dare I say, something by Leni Riefenstahl. Just not, you know, artistic.
Here’s the dialogue from the Sept. 13 cabinet meeting after Rumsfeld raises the question of Iraq:
Powell: The mission is the destruction of al Qaeda. Hussein isn’t your man.There are more meetings. Bush becomes more certain, more messianic. Rendition and domestic spying are implied. You’re either with us or with the terrorists. In the Sept. 15 meeting, Powell warns Bush that if we go after someone besides al Qaeda our allies may fall away and leave us isolated. Bush replies:
Rumsfeld: He is if we’re talking about terrorism in the broadest sense. We know he never stopped developing weapons of mass destruction...
Cheney: Al Qaeda lacks weapons. That’s why they used our own aircraft. You put Hussein and bin Laden together...?
Bush: Is that an immediate threat?
Cheney: The enemy is clearly more than UBL [bin Laden] and the Taliban. If we’re including people who support terrorists, that does open the door to Iraq. But unlike bin Laden, we know where to find them.
“At some point, we may be the only ones left standing. And that will have to be OK. That’s why we’re America.”Powell says bin Laden attacked us, not Saddam, and Wolfowitz replies:
“Only because he was unable. But he’s got the arms. He’s been developing everything from nuclear weapons to smallpox to anthrax. A whole range of weapons of mass destruction. ... All he’s lacked is the means to deliver those weapons to our shores. Well, UBL has shown him he’s got a system of delivery.”
Here’s what’s awful. The reason our foreign policy mistakes were disastrous are there in the script for anyone to see — and they were visible back then. 9/11 did require a new playbook. We were attacked by a loose organization that could hide, rather than a nation-state that couldn’t. Yet our ultimate response was to attack a nation-state because, in Cheney’s words, “We know where to find them.”
Which is the very reason we shouldn’t have attacked them. That was the old playbook. It’s still the old playbook. And we still don’t get it.
DC 9/11 is either so funny it’s sad or so sad it’s funny. It should become a cult classic like Reefer Madness: a propaganda film that, through its over-the-top idiocy, proves its opposite. It’s also a good reminder of what once constituted conservative spin. Remember Bush as action hero? As cowboy? “[Saddam] is surely developing WMDs,” Bush says. “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” Bush says. We’re going to “rid the world of evil,” Bush says. “This will decidedly not be another Vietnam,” Bush says.
"You want to see a REAL liberal media, Otis?"
Nicholas Kristof's column this morning on how well the Republican slime machine is working — 13 percent of registered voters think Barack Obama is Muslim, while the "End Times" people literally think he's the anti-Christ — brought back that New Yorker cover controversy from two months ago. I'd argue my post back then wasn't prescient but historical; anyone who paid attention in '04 knew it would happen. Since then the New Yorker has given us their anti-John McCain cover: He's rich, playing Monopoly; his wife carries a glass of wine. So in one cover they dress up Barack and Michelle Obama as what they aren't (America's enemies) and in the other they dress up John and Cindy McCain as what they are (rich bastards) and call it even. Barack becomes who Americans want to kill, McCain who Americans want to be. Thank you, liberal media.
Seriously, everytime I hear that phrase, "liberal media," I want to deck somebody. I think of Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor in the original Superman, talking to Ned Beatty's dimwitted Otis: "You want to see a liberal media, Otis? You want to see a REAL liberal media, Otis?" Imagine that. The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, the network news, CNN, all as politically motivated as FOX News and Rush Limbaugh.
As it is, this media, the corporate kind, is still being played by the Republicans, who slime the entire process until you just want to retch. But hold onto these facts:
- Republican stupidity and arrogance got us into Iraq.
- Republican greed and mania for deregulation got us into our current fiscal crisis.
- The Republican slime-machine is destroying our political process.
Hold onto these facts and please wake the @#$%&!!!! up.
Maybe it's because it's Friday and I'm tired after the long week, or maybe it's the idiocy of the presidential campaign finally getting to me (I'm looking at you, John McCain), or maybe it's my age (I'm looking at you, Erik Lundegaard), but after the long day and the short bikeride home, I found, in my pile of mail, the latest Entertainment Weekly with Anne Hathaway on the cover. Their head and subhead?:
ANNE HATHAWAY: A PRINCESS NO MORE: Post-scandal, she bounces back with an edgy new role. Is Oscar next?
I looked at it for a second and thought, “This is the kind of thing that just makes me want to stop living.”
Tom Toles is Genius
He's got a good one today on the 180-degree flip-flops of the McCain campaign, but it's the editorial cartoon yesterday, particularly the coda, that got me. Brilliant. Our country in a nutshell:
Things to Read Before the Next Great Depression
A few bits and pieces collected from the Web:
- Chris Kelly has another so-funny-it's-sad piece about the current level of our political debate: specifically, John McCain, who implies the other guy thinks he's messianic, saying he will put an end to both evil (War on Terror) and now greed (banking crisis, uncapitalized thus far). "John McCain will not only take on special interests and Washington insiders, he'll fundamentally alter human nature. ... Or maybe he's just a desperate shell of a man, babbling glorp."
- Please read Bob Cesca's piece on why, given the collapse of our foreign policy, our economy, our status in the world, this race is still close. Before I read Cesca, I would've assumed the race was still close becaue of race, but he's got a better point. There's a lot of noise in the right-wing media that never reaches my ears, but that noise is constant and overwhelming and unaccountable. It says what it wants. And right now it's saying some pretty nasty shit. Also known as lies. Often about race.
- David Brauer has a piece on MinnPost about my hometown newspaper, and the paper my father worked at for 30 years, that's sad but indicative of the current state of newspapers. Strib editor Nancy Barnes sent staff an e-mail about political coverage, a warning to remain objective, but then added this: "If you are involved in a political story, please look at it from several different perspectives and ask yourself: 'If I were running, would I find this fair and balanced?'" Brauer rightly adds, "I doubt the last thing Ben Bradlee said to Woodward and Bernstein was, 'Ask yourself:"'If I were president, would I find our Watergate coverage fair and balanced?''" Exactly. Being objective doesn't mean being stupid.
We've Been Down
My Name is Erik Lundegaard and I Approve of This MessageTuesday September 16, 2008
Literary Quote of the Day
"People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster."
— James Baldwin, from the essay "Stranger in the Village" in Notes of a Native Son. He wrote it about America in the 1950s, and I first read it in the 1980s when it seemed truer than in the 1950s. Today it seems truer still.
Who is Barack Obama? Atticus Finch
For most of the year, Republicans have tried to negatively define Barack Obama. They compare him to the most empty aspects of our own society and the most violent aspects of global society. They twist everything, and lie about anything, and in doing so reveal exactly who and how desperate they are.
In the face of these attacks, Barack has remained calm, articulate, resolute. His anger, when it comes, is not the anger of a man with a hair-trigger temper, like John McCain, but the righteous anger of someone who knows that not only he, but our entire system, is being wronged.
And it got me thinking about who this reminds me of.
We know how John McCain defines himself — as a maverick — but anyone who’s been paying attention knows how empty that slogan is. He’s a follower at this point. He’s following the lead of Steve Schmidt, his campaign manager, who once followed the lead of Karl Rove. Whatever smear works, whatever lie works, no matter how sleazy, that’s what they’ll do. So regardless of what John McCain once was, he has now been reduced to the role of a not very bright man surrounded by extremely malicious people. The same malicious people, I should add, who have surrounded another not very bright man, George W. Bush, for the last eight years.
But they keep pumping out the myth. The chest-thumping, Paul Fistinyourface myth of the stupidly aggressive American. In a magazine interview, John McCain even compared himself to TV hero Jack Bauer of “24,” until he was reminded that Bauer’s main (and suspect) means of gathering information — torture — is what John McCain suffered under for five years. But I guess torture is good as long as we’re the torturers. I guess bullying is good as long as we’re the bullies. That’s what half the country seems to think anyway.
Barack, it’s true, is no bully. Here he is after the Republicans mocked him for his community service:
And here’s his response after Gov. Palin suggested that habeas corpus and the U.S. Constitution don’t matter:
Barack Obama is tough but ethical. He’s someone who can make friends out of our enemies rather than — as the Republicans keep doing — enemies out of our friends.
So who does Barack remind me of? He’s a civil rights lawyer who taught Constitutional law and is bringing up two girls the right way. When bullies gather, he stands up for what’s right, he stands up for the rule of law, he stands up. He’s an honorable man running an honorable campaign.
You’ve already read the headline so you already know my answer. Barack Obama reminds me of Atticus Finch, the hero of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and, according to the American Film Institute, the greatest hero in American movie history.
Here’s Scout on Atticus: “There just didn't seem to be anyone or anything Atticus couldn't explain.” Here’s Atticus to Scout: “If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”
This is the very lesson that chest-thumping Republicans have mocked for the last seven years. And where has it gotten us? Wasting billions pursuing the wrong people in the wrong places.
Republicans aren’t interested in understanding. They’re not even interested in talking. You can almost imagine this bit of dialogue between Atticus and Scout taking place between Obama and a certain Republican vice-presidential candidate:
Atticus: Scout, do you know what a compromise is?
Scout: Bending the law?
Atticus: Um, no. It’s an agreement reached by mutual consent.
We’re still in this midst of our own mythic internal struggle, aren’t we, between the violent and often lawless aspects that John McCain represents, and the tough but ethical rule of law that Barack Obama represents. I would’ve thought this battle was over by now. I would’ve thought rule of law triumphed long ago. Apparently not.
Even Atticus, that great hero, lost his case. He proved his case but the trial was rigged from the start by our own overwhelming prejudices, by our need to see things as they are not, by our need to buy into the lie.
Are we a better country now? Or do we still need to see things as they are not? Do we still need to buy into the lie?
Up to you.
OK, Everyone Read Andrew Sullivan
Everyone. The full piece is here. This is merely the overture:
For the past two weeks serious commentators and columnists have been asked to take the candidacy of Sarah Palin for the vice-presidency of the United States seriously.
Formerly sane people have written of the McCain campaign’s selection of this running mate as if it represents a new face for Republicanism, an emblem of can-do western spirit, a brilliant ploy to win over Clinton voters, a new feminism, a reformist revolution, and a genius appeal to the religious right.
I’m afraid I cannot join in. In fact I cannot say anything about this candidacy that takes it in any way seriously. It is a farce. It is absurd. It is an insult to all intelligent people. It is a sign of a candidate who has lost his mind. There is no way to take the nomination of Palin to be vice-president of the world’s sole superpower - except to treat it as a massive, unforgivable, inexplicable decision by someone who has either gone insane or is managerially unfit to be president of the United States. When, at some point, the hysteria dies down, even her supporters will realise that, by this decision, McCain has rendered himself unfit to run a branch of Starbucks, let alone the White House.
Movie Quote of the Day
"His lack of political knowledge, c'mon fellas, just makes him seem more a man of the people."
Palin: Worse than We Thought
Perhaps restoring my faith in the mainstream media, The NY Times has a front-page story today on the style of politics Sarah Palin has practiced both as mayor of Wasilla and governor of Alaska. It ain't pretty. It's actually worse than we thought. She fires professional people for personal reasons and hires unqualified friends in their place. Her cronyism makes George W. Bush look like a stern judge of character. Examples:
- When there was a vacancy at the top of the State Division of Agriculture, she appointed a high school classmate, Franci Havemeister, to the $95,000-a-year directorship. A former real estate agent, Ms. Havemeister cited her childhood love of cows as a qualification for running the roughly $2 million agency. Ms. Havemeister was one of at least five schoolmates Ms. Palin hired, often at salaries far exceeding their private sector wages.
Ms. Palin chose Talis Colberg, a borough assemblyman from the Matanuska valley, as her attorney general, provoking a bewildered question from the legal community: “Who?” Mr. Colberg, who did not return calls, moved from a one-room building in the valley to one of the most powerful offices in the state, supervising some 500 people. “I called him and asked, ‘Do you know how to supervise people?’ ” said a family friend, Kathy Wells. “He said, ‘No, but I think I’ll get some help.’ " The Wasilla High School yearbook archive now doubles as a veritable directory of state government.
Last summer State Representative John Harris, the Republican speaker of the House, picked up his phone and heard Mr. Palin’s voice. The governor’s husband sounded edgy. He said he was unhappy that Mr. Harris had hired John Bitney as his chief of staff, the speaker recalled. Mr. Bitney was a high school classmate of the Palins and had worked for Ms. Palin. But she fired Mr. Bitney after learning that he had fallen in love with another longtime friend. “I understood from the call that Todd wasn’t happy with me hiring John and he’d like to see him not there,” Mr. Harris said.
The mayor quickly fired the town’s museum director, John Cooper. Later, she sent an aide to the museum to talk to the three remaining employees. “He told us they only wanted two,” recalled Esther West, one of the three, “and we had to pick who was going to be laid off.” The three quit as one.
In 1997, Ms. Palin fired the longtime city attorney, Richard Deuser, after he issued the stop-work order on a home being built by Don Showers, another of her campaign supporters.
And this doesn't even get into the firing of Wasilla's Police Chief, Irl Stambaugh, because he intimidated her, nor the 'Troopergate' scandal currently being investigated in Alaska, in which Palin and her husband allegedly pressured state officials into firing a state trooper who was divorcing her sister.
Some woman of the people.
More bad news. She "puts a premium on secrecy and loyalty" and "is overly reliant on a small inner circle that leaves her isolated" and unavailable. Again, she's out-Bushing Bush here:
- Rick Steiner, a University of Alaska professor, sought the e-mail messages of state scientists who had examined the effect of global warming on polar bears. (Ms. Palin said the scientists had found no ill effects, and she has sued the federal government to block the listing of the bears as endangered.) An administration official told Mr. Steiner that his request would cost $468,784 to process. When Mr. Steiner finally obtained the e-mail messages — through a federal records request — he discovered that state scientists had in fact agreed that the bears were in danger, records show.
And this is the woman John McCain thinks is good enough to be a heartbeat away from the most important job in the world?? At a time when we need the smartest, most open and most diplomatic person possible to steer us through the various crises, both domestic and international, the Bush administration is leaving us??? You talk about bad judgment.
Let's hope the American electorate's judgment is better.
Movie Quote of the Day
"I was running. I was always running. I was trying so hard to make the team that I was always offsides."
—Phillip Baker Hall as Richard M. Nixon in Robert Altman's underrated one-man show, Secret Honor, from 1984.
Fallows on the Toxic Traits of Palin/Bush
Here's a great post by James Fallows on why Gov. Palin's ignorance abou the Bush Doctrine could have dire consequences for this country. Highlights:
Sarah Palin did not know this issue, or any part of it. The view she actually expressed — an endorsement of "preemptive" action — was fine on its own merits. But it is not the stated doctrine of the Bush Administration, it is not the policy her running mate has endorsed, and it is not the concept under which her own son is going off to Iraq.
How could she not know this? For the same reason I don't know anything about European football/soccer standings, player trades, or intrigue. I am not interested enough. And she evidently has not been interested enough even to follow the news of foreign affairs during the Bush era.
A further point. The truly toxic combination of traits GW Bush brought to decision making was:
2) Lack of curiosity
That is, he was not broadly informed to begin with (point 1). He did not seek out new information (#2); but he nonetheless prided himself (#3) on making broad, bold decisions quickly, and then sticking to them to show resoluteness.
We don't know for sure about #2 for Palin yet -- she could be a sponge-like absorber of information. But we know about #1 and we can guess, from her demeanor about #3. Most of all we know something about the person who put her in this untenable role.
Lies, Damn Lies and John McCain
Like the Best Show Ever
My friend Craig, below and in the New York Times, discusses how most Americans reacted to 9/11 as if it were just something that happened on TV, which, for most of them, is exactly what it was. We seem to be reacting to the presidential election in the same way. As if it’s just a show. As if there’s no connection between us and these characters except in how they entertain us.
The Biden pick? So boring. We saw that coming. Yeah, six terms in the U.S. Senate. Yeah, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But he talks too much, doesn’t he? That’s kind of funny. Let’s make a joke about that. Otherwise get him off stage.
The Palin pick? How exciting! Boy, did that jazz things up! Did you see how everyone was against her, and saying shit about her experience and all, and then she gave that speech and showed them? Wow, that was great! Such twists and turns in the storyline. It’s like “Lost,” you know? I gotta keep watching to find out what happens. And her family? Who knows what’s going on there? We can talk about them forever.
That great line she had about selling the plane on e-Bay? What do you mean it was a lie?
And how she fought the Bridge to Nowhere? What do you mean she supported it?
Wow, this woman will say anything to stay on! I gotta keep watching.
And now this interview thingee with Charlie Gibson. Yeah, she didn’t know what the Bush Doctrine is. Who does? Yeah, when she sent her son off to war, she said 9/11 was responsible for Iraq or whatever. But how cool was that when she started talking about a war with Russia! Like, a real war! Take those commies, man. I mean, Obama’s all blah-blah-blah about the Constitution and shit, but she kicks ass!
Seriously, I thought they were gonna kick her off the show weeks ago, and now she might even win it? This is like the best show ever.
My Friend Craig
The new play of my friend Craig Wright, who has written for “Six Feet Under,” “Brothers & Sisters,” and is now the creator/producer/writer of “Dirty Sexy Money” on ABC, is reviewed today in The New York Times by Anita Gates. I'd call it a rave. Excerpts:
Mr. Wright’s earlier play “The Pavilion,” set at a high school class reunion, never touched the heart of nostalgia. The tremendously moving “Lady,” about three childhood friends on a hunting trip, says much more about the nature of change and distance and truth....
The director, Dexter Bullard, who directed Tracey Letts’s “Bug,” does thoughtful things with silence and stillness, and guides three finely detailed performances. Mr. Shannon delivers an almost unbearably touching death-bed-side speech, which primes us for the ensuing emotional battle.
“Lady” has considerable humor (commenting on medical marijuana, answering-machine messages and Hannah Montana, for instance), but it’s laughter to escape the pain and despair. In the end all the characters can do is bury their dead.
Even better: Go to the Times link above and check out the multi-media presentation halfway down on the left. It's Craig talking about his play and life in these United States in general: “I'm also interested in the American fascination with violence,” he says, “and also with the ease with which we accept the idea that so much time is spent ingesting media.”
He goes on to talk about some of the themes of this play and another, “Recent Tragic Events,” which concerns, he says, “What it was like to experience 9/11 as something on TV. And guess what? Here's the bad news. The voters of America have treated the response to 9/11 as if it was something they saw on TV. I believe if New Yorkers were the only people who were allowed to vote for what to do next as a country, we might have done things quite, quite differently, and I'd probably be a lot more in favor of what we did. But unfortunately the nation watched 9/11 happen on television, for the most part, and they voted, and they supported our response to it as if it were a movie on TV. And we're living the costs of that bad decision every day.”
John McCain and Steve Schmidt are going to burn in hell for all eternity
Did you read this?
Did you see the new McCain ad?
It's called “Education” and it slams Barack Obama for not doing enough about education; then it delivers the whopper. In the real world, in Illinois, Barack Obama supported legislation to educate kids about pedophiles. The McCain ad calls this “sex education for kindergartners.”
From Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton:
“It is shameful and downright perverse for the McCain campaign to use a bill that was written to protect young children from sexual predators as a recycled and discredited political attack against a father of two young girls — a position that his friend Mitt Romney also holds. Last week, John McCain told Time magazine he couldn't define what honor was. Now we know why.”
Begala and Willis to Media: Just State the Facts, Jack
Paul Begala on the media's he said/she said problem. When it comes to facts, demonstrable facts — i.e., Gov. Palin supported the bridge to nowhere, she was up to her ears in earmarks as mayor — it's part of the media's job to state these facts. It's not a matter of partisan debate.
Or, if you want, we can go back to the John McCain-has-no-genitalia discussion. That was a fun one.
Obama to Palin: “Don't Mock the Constitution”
I’m the editor of several Super Lawyers publications around the country, including those in Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Wisconsin, Illinois, Washington, D.C., and New York — and in the New York issue, which comes out later this month, we’ve written profiles of three of the big civil liberties lawyers in the city: Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Arthur Eisenberg of the NYCLU and Manuel Vargas of the Immigrant Defense Project. The piece, written by Jessica Centers, mostly focuses on their work post-9/11. The various attacks on civil liberties that they’ve fought. The attacks that they keep fighting. So I’ve been immersed in this stuff, at an editorial remove, for a few months now.
Which is why Sarah Palin’s line in her acceptance speech about how Barack wants to “read terrorists their rights” really pissed me off.
At first I didn’t get it. What was she talking about? Then it hit me. Oh my god, she’s talking about the Guantanamo Bay detainees. She’s talking about how the Bush administration, and apparently Gov. Palin herself, or at least her (former Bush) speechwriters, feel it’s OK, and in fact demand, that the U.S. military have the right to grab any foreign national, in any place, put them in military prison, and deny them the right to meet their accusers: To know why they’ve been grabbed. To know why their life has been reduced to a life inside a small box.
In a perfect world this wouldn’t matter, because everything would be perfect: The suspects would be the right suspects, the military would make no mistakes, everything would be fine, And America would be safer.
But it’s not a perfect world, and this entire fiasco is making America less safe.
Today Sen. Obama struck back, as eloquently as ever. First he said that to read terrorists their rights, you have to catch them first, and the Republicans haven’t been very good at that.
Then he launched into a defense of habeas corpus, which has been around at least since the Magna Carta. From the Washington Post:
Calling it “the foundation of Anglo-American law,” he said the principle “says very simply: If the government grabs you, then you have the right to at least ask, 'Why was I grabbed?' And say, 'Maybe you've got the wrong person.'”
The safeguard is essential, Obama continued, “because we don't always have the right person.”
“We don't always catch the right person,” he said. “We may think it's Mohammed the terrorist, but it might be Mohammed the cab driver. You might think it's Barack the bomb-thrower, but it might be Barack the guy running for president.”
”The reason that you have this principle is not to be soft on terrorism. It's because that's who we are. That's what we're protecting,“ Obama said, his voice growing louder and the crowd rising to its feet to cheer. ”Don't mock the Constitution. Don't make fun of it. Don't suggest that it's not American to abide by what the founding fathers set up. It's worked pretty well for over 200 years."
God, I love this man.
Boys are Back in Town
Basically it revolved around the short shelf-life of a Hollywood career, how you’re only as good as your last flick, and for Vinnie Chase, who is the star of the biggest box-office hit of all time (presumably Aquaman), his career is shaky after the Cannes disaster of his Pablo Escobar biopic Medellin. Indeed, the episode begins with an “At the Movies” drubbing of the film by Richard Roeper and Michael Phillips, and the main drama involves luring Vinnie from his Mexican hideaway for a lunch with a producer...who, it turns out, just wants the meeting so the star he really wants for his picture, Emile Hirsch, will lower his price.
What’s ironic about this? The critics who did the drubbing, Roeper and Phillips, have been replaced on “At the Movies,” while Emile Hirsch’s career is not as hot as it once was after the critical and box-office disaster of Speed Racer.
It almost makes you think they did this intentionally.
McCain: Reckless, Nutty, Irresponsible
Check out Andrew Sullivan's piece for the Times online. Highlights:
There is one reason the job of vice-president exists. In a system with a single executive, you need someone to fill in if the president is incapacitated or dies. ...The pick is also the first presidential-level decision a candidate has to make. You learn a lot about the candidate...
In Joe Biden, Obama revealed his core temperamental conservatism. It was a safe choice of someone deeply versed in foreign policy, and with roots that connected to the working class white ethnics he needed. It wasn't flashy; and was even a little underwhelming; but it was highly professional.
What we have learned about John McCain from his selection of Sarah Palin is that he is as impulsive and reckless a decision-maker as George W. Bush. We know this not because of what we have learned about this Pentecostalist populist since she exploded on the scene last Friday morning (and God knows we have learned more than we ever wanted). We know it because of how McCain made the decision. He wanted his best friend, Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic vice-presidential candidate for Al Gore. That pick would have been remarkable for its bipartisan nature, would have impressed independents, and signaled a centrist presidency centered on foreign policy. It would have been bold while not being rash.
But McCain is in charge of a party that is now, at its core, religiously motivated. Joe Lieberman, for all his political talents, is Jewish, pro-choice on abortion, gay-inclusive, and domestically liberal. McCain faced an insurrection in his party base if he picked him. Without the evangelical base, he wasn't going to win.
So last week, McCain picked someone he had only met once before. I repeat: he picked someone he had only met once before. His vetting chief sat Palin down for a face-to-face interview the Wednesday before last. It's very hard to overstate how nutty and irresponsible this is. Would any corporate chieftain pick a number two on those grounds and not be dismissed by his board for recklessness?
The Easily Intimidated Sarah Palin
But the brunt of the article is her clash with Wasilla’s Chief of Police, Irl Stambaugh, who created Wasilla’s police department a few years earlier. Stambaugh was in favor of two things that got him into trouble with Palin:
- He backed an ordinance requiring Wasilla to close their bars at 2:30 a.m. (weekdays) and 3 a.m. (weekends), instead of the usual 5 a.m., because folks in nearby Anchorage, where the bars closed at the earlier hours, often drove to Wasilla to keep their buzz on, and drinking and driving, as we know, don’t mix. The Wasilla City Council rejected the ordinance by a 3-2 vote. Palin, then with the Council, voted with the majority.
- Stambaugh opposed an NRA-backed state legislative proposal that would allow concealed weapons in banks and bars. He called the proposal (which was vetoed by then-Gov. Tony Knowles) ridiculous. “Bars, guns and booze don’t mix,” he said.
So did Palin fire Stambaugh at the bidding of the NRA? Probably not. The article implies that she fired him for a more troubling reason: He intimidated her. He’s 6’2”, 240. He always tried to sit, and use a soothing voice, when talking with her, but when he finally got canned, this was part of her official rationale:
“When I met with you in private, instead of engaging in interactive conversation with me, you gave me short, uncommunicative answers and then you would sit there and stare at me in silence with a very stern look, like you were trying to intimidate me.”I hope voters realize that if she feels intimidated by Putin, or Ahmadinejad, or new Pakistani President Zardari, all of whom won't try to use a soothing voice around her, firing them won’t be an option.
McCain: Rash and Not Bright. Sound Familiar?
As always, Frank Rich is worth reading and today he focuses on the haste with which John McCain makes his decisions and declarations. Here’s the money graph in easy-to-read list form:
- In October 2001, he speculated that Saddam Hussein might have been behind the anthrax attacks in America.
- That same month he out-Cheneyed Cheney in his repeated public insistence that Iraq had a role in 9/11 — even after both American and foreign intelligence services found that unlikely.
- He was similarly rash in his reading of the supposed evidence of Saddam’s W.M.D. and in his estimate of the number of troops needed to occupy Iraq. (McCain told MSNBC in late 2001 that we could do with fewer than 100,000.) It wasn’t until months after “Mission Accomplished” that he called for more American forces to be tossed into the bloodbath. The whole fiasco might have been prevented had he listened to those like Gen. Eric Shinseki who faulted the Rumsfeld war plan from the start.
“Often my haste is a mistake,” McCain conceded in his 2002 memoir, “but I live with the consequences without complaint.”
Rich then asks, as if it needed asking, "Well, maybe it’s fine if he wants to live with the consequences, but what about his country? Should the unexamined Palin prove unfit to serve at the pinnacle of American power, it will be too late for the rest of us to complain."
"I Believe in Al Pacino"
But before the next round of political talk, here’s a snippet from an interview with Javier Bardem in today’s New York Times. Good stuff:
You grew up in Madrid, loving American as well as Spanish films.
That’s true: I don’t believe in God but I believe in Al Pacino. The other day I was watching Dog Day Afternoon again, and I see a man who is so true, so interesting, and I understand more about the world from his performance. And you go, “C’mon, it’s only acting.” Well, wouldn’t you say that a good book or a good painting allows you to see the world in a different way? When I see a great performance, I feel more alive.
How Palin was for Obama before she was against him
Interesting piece by Philip Gourevitch on an interview Sarah Palin gave two weeks ago...back when her name had dropped off the list of potential veep candidates and she was freer to speak her mind.
Overall, her talk is less doctrinaire and more bipartisan than the speech (written by former Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully) she gave Thursday. She talks about how she's fine with the fact that Barack Obama was doing so well in Alaska, how his campaign themes echoed hers, and how she "always looked at Senator McCain just as a Joe Blow public member, looking from the outside in." She's still a hard-right Republican — pro-life even in the case of rape or incest — but she's somewhat open-minded on other issues.
Now a lot of people are saying that it doesn't matter that Gov. Palin didn't write her own acceptance speech — that that's how politics works, and has worked, for decades. But here's the difference. Professional speechwriters tend to tailor speeches to the tastes and beliefs of the politician they work for. The politician usually has a hand, sometimes a firm hand, in what's being said. One gets the feeling that didn't happen with Palin. All you have to do is compare her open-mindedness two weeks ago with the Rove-like nastiness in her acceptance speech to realize that, with the exception of her personal story, she was basically a broadcaster, broadcasting someone else's words, on Thursday night. It wasn't her.
It's almost a cliche now, particularly in political circles, but you gotta ask: Which is the real Sarah Palin?
Drill Now! Drill Now! Drill Now!
Here's a link to Andrew Sullivan's live-blogging of McCain's speech last night. It's good stuff. These entries in particular:
10.39 pm. His speech makes me feel a lot better as a depressed old-fashioned conservative. But it's striking how all the things that make me feel good seems to go down flat with this crowd.
10.46 pm. Drilling for oil gets the biggest applause. This is why I can't feel at home in this party. I mean: I'm actually open to this policy and agree with McCain on the all-of-the-above approach, including nuclear — but this obsession with more domestic oil just seems weird to me. I guess I'm a cosmopolitan.
I'm also reminded of their flat reaction to McCain's comment near the end about how, knowing war, he hated war. They seemed disappointed. For all their supposed hatred of Hollywood (huglely misplaced), they wanted the Hollywood ending. Good guy triumphing amid blood and guts. Instead he handed the audience a flower. What a downer.
The Shakers (Hopefully Not the Movers)
Sen. McBush/Gov. Earmark
First, R.J. Eskow has a good piece on "The 15 Counterpunches" to the various lies and hypocrisy of the RNC. The key elements:
2. She's Pork Barrel Palin. She's always been an expert in draining earmark money off the hardworking taxpayer. She submitted $197 million in earmarks — more per person than any other state — in her current budget. And the citizens of her little town got fifty times as much federal pork as the average American! How'd she do it? She hired a DC lobbyist. That's right: A K Street shark to fill her Main Street coffers — and advance her career in the bargain. ... If you don't like the way Washington does business, you don't like her. What's the difference between Sarah Palin and an old-style GOP crony? Lipstick.
5. McCain's economy will be more of the same. If you like the economy we've got, vote McCain. Every time a Republican runs for office he pretends he'll do things differently. Bush said the same things in 2000. Look at McCain's voting record. Wonder what McCainonomics would look like? In the words of the old ad, you're soaking in it right now.
I also like John Seery's piece, same site, about Sarah Palin's speech. The key thought:
What I saw on that stage was the personification of small-minded smugness, an utter lack of humility, a kind of self-righteous entitlement based on little more than puffed-up narrowness. She struck me not as plucky but, rather, as stunningly immodest — to the point of arrogance...
Finally, from Oliver Willis' excellent site, there's this reader comment regarding Barack's response (see below) to the various right-wing attacks on his "community organizer" background. It really hits the nail on the effin' head:
All smart responses to dumb attacks. And we need to return Smart to the White House.
The Community Organizer
This is great. This is exactly what he should be saying. Comments came during a speech to factory workers in York, Pa.:
"You wouldn't know that this is such a critical election by watching the convention last night. I know we had our week, and the Republicans deserve theirs, but it's been amazing to me to watch over the last two nights.
"You're hearing a lot about John McCain, and he's got a compelling biography as a prisoner of war. You're hearing an awful lot about me, most of which is not true. What you're not hearing is a lot about you.
"The thing that I'm insisting on in this election is we can't keep playing the same political games we always play where we attack each other and we call each other names. They've had a lot of speakers. And if they had a bunch of ideas, you'd think they would have put 'em out there by now. And so the question is, what's their agenda? What's their plan?"
Things to read and watch while the culture wars start up again
If you need to laugh at the hypocrisy of the Republican party, The Daily Show is there for you.
Also Gail Collins has a good column on Palin's speech.
And just came across this guy: Oliver Willis. Here's his 10 Things You Need to Know about John McCain. No. 7 is particularly scary:
Many of McCain’s fellow Republican senators say he’s too reckless to be commander in chief. One Republican senator said: “The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He’s erratic. He’s hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.”
Meanwhile, a reminder of Barack's original rationale for opposing the Iraq War in 2002, and why we need smart back in the White House:
“I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world and strengthen the recruitment arm of al Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.” – Barack Obama, 2002
Talkin' RNC Blues
Sounds like a great show last night at the Parkway Theater near Lake Nokomis in South Minneapolis. My friend Jim Walsh hosting Billy Bragg, Tom Morello, Ike Reilly, others. David Carr taking notes. Read about it here. I'll post Carr's stuff when it arrives.
UPDATE: As promised, Dave Carr's piece.
Who's Whining Now?
So the McCain camp says that criticisms of Sarah Palin are sexist. Here.
So John McCain pulls out of a CNN interview with Larry King because earlier CNN anchorwoman Campbell Brown asked McCain spokesperson Tucker Bounds about Palin's command experience, and kept pressing when he didn't answer, and McCain felt this was "over the line." Here.
Quick question: When did the GOP begin to exhibit all the traits they've publicly deplored over the last three decades?
Talk about a nation of whiners.
Movie Quote of the Day
KOAT radio reporter: And now Mr. Federber. What is your reaction to this wonderful job being done here?
Mr. Federber: I think it's...wonderful.
--from Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole, a 1951 indictment of a reporter, Kirk Douglas, who manufactures a media circus involving a man trapped in a mine. The KOAT reporter isn't Douglas; he's just another bad reporter. Mr. Federber, the first tourist on the scene, is played by Frank Cady, who, in the 1960s, would play Sam Drucker on "Petticoat Junction," "Green Acres" and "The Beverly Hillbillies."
The Smart Candidate
Here's the bad news: the experts agree that you can’t patrol it all. They live in fear of the nightmare scenario, “The Armageddon Test,” for which the second part of the book is named: Terrorists exploding a nuke in a large western city. The Brits have their experts trying to prevent this, the U.S. has theirs. One gets the feeling that an undue burden has been placed on these men while the rest of us dick around. Never have so few done so much for so many watching “American Idol.”
At one point, Suskind interviews Saad al-Faqih, a surgeon from Saudi Arabia, who is on the U.S.’s list of those who have provided material support to al Qaeda, and who says that the goal of 9/11 was “always to create deep polarization between America and the Muslim world,” and that 9/11 mastermind Ayman Zawahiri “understood precisely the cowboy passions of the American establishment.” Another money graph:
Of course, not everything went as planned. The swift fall of the Taliban and the elimination of nearly 80 percent of al Qaeda’s manpower in Afghanistan surprised both bin Laden and Zawahiri, who expected America to fall into a quagmire as the Russians had in the 1980s. By the middle of 2002, they were both dispirited, on the run, living in caves, with their top lieutenants scattered. “Which is why Iraq was the greatest gift,” Saad says. “It proved to the world that it was, in fact, always America’s mission to get Muslims, especially when your stated reasons for that invasion were shown to be hollow.”As for the future? Al Qaeda’s goals include what Zawahiri calls “the pacification stage,” where the U.S., disconsolate, withdraws from the world. Suskind doesn’t really buy the possibility of this, although the U.S. has always had its isolationist elements; then he asks himself this key question: “I wonder what bin Laden and Zawahiri are hoping the United States won’t do?”
Exactly. What is the smart response? So far, our response hasn’t been smart at all.
Which leads me to the “60 Minutes” broadcast last night. Steve Kroft interviewed Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Kroft came at them, and specifically at Barack, with a lot of frivolous questions — beer and bowling — and then he came at him with some frivolous but volatile questions. Was he tough enough for the job? Why didn’t he mention that he was black during his acceptance speech? Shouldn’t he be further ahead in the polls than he is? For this last, Obama said:
This is gonna be a rough, tough battle. The Republicans don't govern very well but they know how to campaign. And, you know, what I would expect is that it's gonna take-mid-October before a whole lot of people start making up their minds. And there's nothing wrong with that. This notion that somehow this should be a cakewalk and I should just walk into the election with a 10, 15 point lead, I think doesn't give the American people enough credit. They wanna get this thing right.To the black question:
Yeah, I think people noticed that.As for tough enough?:
The fact that I don't go out of my way to call people names, or try to take cheap shots, and that I try not to throw the first punch, but to see if I can find a way to work together with people, sometimes leads people to underestimate what I've got. I think it's fair to say that if I couldn't not only take a punch, but occasionally throw one, I wouldn't be sitting here.And I came away thinking: This man is so smart. No matter what Steve Kroft threw at him, he turned it into a smart response. Which is exactly what we need. During the next four years, when the worst elements of the world throw what they can at us, we need the smart response, instead of the response, full of cowboy passions, that plays right into al Qaeda’s hands.
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