Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Tyrant Sun

I really don't see the point in the McCain campaign's strategic shift into ugly mode. It just paints Sen. McCain as an angry old man. At this point, when his campaign is pulling out of states like Michigan, going negative is a desperate attempt to pull Sen. Obama down without making the case for Sen. McCain himself. Plus, if Sen. McCain expects to rattle Sen. Obama in the remaining debates he's in for a surprise. Sen. Obama took on the Clinton machine, the smears and underhanded attacks on his character, the subtle use of race to instill fear, and the complaints of a biased media. He took those on and still won the primary.
This is another point where the establishment candidate tries a strategy that worked in the past but just slides off Sen. Obama. Again, Sen. Obama isn't running the typical campaign with a strategy based on making the opposition's ideology obsolete and the primary tactic of the rope-a-dope design to wear down opponents until they have nothing left. If Sen. McCain really believes that he can use the same attacks the Clintons did then clearly he hasn't paid attention for the last nine months of campaigning. Nearly every major media organization and dozens of Republican bloggers have dug into the senator's past and came up with nothing. The negative approach just hasn't worked.
What's more, while the McCain campaign throws more money into ad buys, the ground game Sen. Obama laid out during the summer will come to fruition. Personally, I don't know the reasons why Sen. Obama went in this direction, but he did decide to use his campaign's resources to go door to door and build a new base. I mean, when you have superstars like Jay-Z holding concerts for voter registration drives you know Sen. Obama has thought this out long in advance.
It's that ground game that will do more to nullify Sen. McCain's negative turn. Having Obama supporters going around, talking with people and explaining how and why the McCain ads are wrong is a strong defense. Moreover, the McCain campaign doesn't have the resources to counter such a ground game. To continue the use of football analogies, the McCain campaign relies on its quarterback to make the long passes while the Obama campaign constantly runs the ball, wearing down the defense and making the occasional short pass. It reminds me of the early 90s Dallas Cowboys who would have the opponent's defense exhausted by half-time.
The worse thing that can happen right now is Sen. McCain to go into a debate, trying to keep his contempt for Sen. Obama bottled up, and letting it loose. An unrestrained John McCain is a serious force, but I doubt if it will suddenly turn Sen. Obama into the angry black man the McCain campaign so desperately wants. Instead, I think you'll see a half-crazed Sen. McCain going up against an unnaturally calm Sen. Obama. Getting mad and showing it doesn't help support the argument that Sen. McCain has the right temperament for the presidency; it does just the opposite.
The whole strategic shift is short-sighted and true stupid. It means Sen. McCain is reacting to Sen. Obama, not the other way around. And a month before the election is not when you want to go on defense.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The VP Debate

I missed the first half of the debate so all this talk about how manic Gov. Palin was comes after the fact. What I did see though was a pretty boring debate between a senator who knows his stuff and a governor reading from her cliff notes. The longer I watched, the more mangled Gov. Palin's responses became. There were a few times I wondered if my beer had been poisoned because what came out of Gov. Palin's mouth was a string of words that everyone has generously called a 'sentence'.
What really struck me though was the feeling I had heard all of this boilerplate before; not in this election, but in 2004 during the presidential debates. While there were a few references to present events, it was as if McCain's advisors had lifted President Bush's talking points directly from his campaign. Sen. Biden kept plugging away with his arguments while Gov. Palin could do nothing but recite talking points. And her faux-Minnesota charm didn't do much to cover her obvious lack of material at the end. With the bar set so low for Gov. Palin and the expectation of a typical Bidenism, of course a lot of people came away from this debate with a more favorable impression of her.
I thought she had this debate in the bag until she threw herself on a funeral pyre--she started talking about how hard it is to raise a family in today's America. Now I'm not one for seeing men cry or get choked up. My grandfather instilled a sense of stoicism in me that doesn't allow for such things. But then my step-grandmother died of cancer two years ago. My grandfather had been with this woman for 20 years; they married two years after the death of his first wife of 50 years, also due to cancer. There's a certain quality to such emotions provoked by those memories that no one, not even God, can deny a man. Sen. Biden had one of those moments of emotion and it's an emotion Gov. Palin has never experienced. And she glibly passed it by. That's going to stick I think, particularly when her running mate cheated on his first wife and then divorced her to marry the mistress.
The other point that I think stands out was Gov. Palin's line of attack that attempted to contrast Sen. Obama's message of change and future-thinking with his campaign's constant associations of Sen. McCain to President Bush. First, it made no sense. Why talk about change and future-thinking if the recent past was all grand and keen? Now you can talk about the need for change and future-thinking, but the evidence backing up that argument lies in the past. The Bush presidency and its attendant problems (Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebannon, the entire cabinet, the economy and tax policies) are the past.
Thus, the second part: Sen. McCain is a member of President Bush's party. He's gone on record supporting the president on many occasions over issues Sen. Obama thinks differently on. Sen. McCain's proposals if elected president are similar to those of President Bush, if not more so. If Sen. Obama is running on a platform of change from the policies of President Bush and Sen. McCain wants to continue many of those policies, then it only makes sense to connect the two. What's so hard about this? The logic is pretty easy to follow for Sen. Obama. And yet McCain's advisors decided that attacking Sen. Biden on talking about the past if he's the running mate to a change candidate made sense. Of course, when you try to articulate it, it doesn't make sense, but there's an example of the McCain campaign's logic for you.
Overall, I don't think this debate changes much. If Gov. Palin's crass attitude toward Sen. Biden's dead wife sticks then it does hurt the McCain campaign. And if the McCain campaign continues with the line of attack that a change candidate can't talk about the recent past then it only makes them look ridiculous to independent voters. I think it's a wash; neither VP pick screwed up seriously or in an obvious way. All the debate has done is assuage the decided voters.

Him? Really? Never...

I'm willing to go on a little faith here since the background checks out so far (doesn't mean I'm unwilling to retract if this turns rotten). It's a situation where the letter in question is provided by second-hand sources. So take this with a grain of salt, but it doesn't sound too far out of character for someone like Sen. McCain:


It was just before John McCain’s last run at the presidential nomination in 2000 that my husband and I vacationed in Turtle Island in Fiji with John McCain, Cindy, and their children, including Bridget (their adopted Bangladeshi child).
It was not our intention, but it was our misfortune to be in close quarters with John McCain for almost a week, since Turtle Island has a small number of bungalows and their focus on communal meals force all vacationers who are there at the same time to get to know each other intimately.
He arrived at our first group meal and started reading quotes from a pile of William Faulkner books with a forest of Post-Its sticking out of them. As an English Literature major myself, my first thought was “if he likes this so much, why hasn’t he memorized any of this yet?” I soon realized that McCain actually thought we had come on vacation to be a volunteer audience for his “readings” which then became a regular part of each meal. Out of politeness, none of the vacationers initially protested at this intrusion into their blissful holiday, but people’s buttons definitely got pushed as the readings continued day after day.
Unfortunately this was not his only contribution to our mealtime entertainment. He waxed on during one meal about how Indo-Chine women had the best figures and that our American corn-fed women just couldn’t meet up to this standard. He also made it a point that all of us should stop Cindy from having dessert as her weight was too high and made a few comments to Amy, the 25 year old wife of the honeymooning couple from Nebraska that she should eat less as she needed to lose weight.
McCain’s appreciation of the beauty of Asian women was so great that David the American economist had to move his Thai wife to the other side of the table from McCain as McCain kept aggressively flirting with and touching her.

Needless to say I was irritated at his large ego and his rude behavior towards his wife and other women, but decided he must have some redeeming qualities as he had adopted a handicapped child from Bangladesh. I asked him about this one day, and his response was shocking: “Oh, that was Cindy’s idea - I didn’t have anything to do with it. She just went and adopted this thing without even asking me. You can’t imagine how people stare when I wheel this ugly, black thing around in a shopping cart in Arizona . No, it wasn’t my idea at all.”

I actively avoided McCain after that, but unfortunately one day he engaged me in a political discussion which soon got us on the topic of the active US bombing of Iraq at that time. I was shocked when he said, “If I was in charge, I would nuke Iraq to teach them a lesson”. Given McCain’s personal experience with the horrors of war, I had expected a more balanced point of view. I commented on the tragic consequences of the nuclear attacks on Japan during WWII — but no, he was not to be dissuaded. He went on to say that if it was up to him he would have dropped many more nuclear bombs on Japan. I rapidly extricated myself from this conversation as I could tell that his experience being tortured as a POW didn’t seem to have mellowed out his perspective, but rather had made him more aggressive and vengeful towards the world.

My final encounter with McCain was on the morning that he was leaving Turtle Island. Amy and I were happily eating pancakes when McCain arrived and told Amy that she shouldn’t be having pancakes because she needed to lose weight. Amy burst into tears at this abusive comment. I felt fiercely protective of Amy and immediately turned to McCain and told him to leave her alone. He became very angry and abusive towards me, and said, “Don’t you know who I am.” I looked him in the face and said, “Yes, you are the biggest asshole I have ever met” and headed back to my cabin. I am happy to say that later that day when I arrived at lunch I was given a standing ovation by all the guests for having stood up to McCain’s bullying.

Although I have shared my McCain story informally with friends, this is the first time I am making this public. I almost did so in 2000, when McCain first announced his bid for the Republican nomination, but it soon became apparent that George Bush was the shoo-in candidate and so I did not act then. However, now that there is a very real possibility that McCain could be elected as our next president, I feel it is my duty as an American citizen to share this story. I can’t imagine a more scary outcome for America than that this abusive, aggressive man should lead our nation. I have observed him in intimate surroundings as he really is, not how the media portrays him to be. If his attitudes toward women and his treatment of his own family are even a small indicator of his real personality, then I shudder to think what will happen to America were he to be elected as our President.

Mary-Kay Gamel

Professor of Classics, Comparative Literature, and Theater Arts

Cowell College

University of California, Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz, California 95064

831-4*9-2**1 (office); 831-4*9-8**3 (home)

The email address is legit from what I can tell. So next time you hear someone talking about how wonderful Gov. Palin is and Sen. McCain's wisdom in picking her for the VP slot, just remember how one woman saw his attitude toward women.

An Apology

Sorry for the blip in blogging. My ear drum and allergies are collaborating against me.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why Am I So Tired?

Once again I am confirmed in my culling of Megan McArdle from my blog reader. This time, Yglesias takes her to task for her political "analysis". Considering who brought the goods and who played the most partisan politics, I'd think one would hold the House Republicans to blame first. Of course, Rep. Pelosi's pre-vote speech was tasteless for that moment, even if it was true. And blaming Sen. Obama? Where the fuck does that come from? He didn't go flying back to Washington with the air of some knight in shining armor. Nor did he try to make the issue a critical part of his campaign message, aside from using the financial crisis to bolster his argument for tax reformation. McArdle's analysis is one based on the last couple of weeks of political history, not the last decade. For someone who claims to have knowledge of an economist, McArdle is showing some massive short-sightedness.

Intellectual Rigor Mortis

Sullivan quotes the late Tim Russert today in relation to Gov. Palin's seclusion from open press conferences:

"[After] all my discussions with presidents, both while in office and after they left, and their advisors, while in office and after they left, and in my reading of history, particularly presidential history, I am ever more convinced that a leader cannot make tough decisions unless he or she is asked tough questions. It is the only vehicle that brings them to closure, that forces any sense of intellectual rigor, that forces them to find a way to reconcile the political advice or the political pressures brought to bear. It will not be enough in a democratic society to simply have those on the left or right who are the pamphleteers and unwilling to challenge the views of people they support. Tough questions need not be the loudest or most sensational or the most theatrical, but rather probing and, hopefully, incisive."
Damn right.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Gamin' tha Capital Capitol

So after spending the afternoon trying to pull myself out of a Congressionally-funded funk I've sat down to read the blogs and educate myself a little. The topic of choice? Capital gains, of which my father claims no other nation in the world has, of which I call bull-shit. Apparently one of the ideas floated by House Republicans (who, when they put Congress against the wall when the revolution comes, should be shot at by the geriatrics who lost their life savings in the market) is to temporarily suspend capital gains taxes. With my newly minted knowledge I can confidently call that idea fuck-all wrong.
It's not hard to figure out really. If a capital gains tax is a tax on basically positive dividends from stock sales (that's really dumbing it down, but I'm really that dumb) then what good does suspending the tax do? Chances are good that most long term investors would look at such an idea as a great way to get what's left of their portfolio profits. Rather the opposite effect of what I think the House Republicans are looking for. There's no incentive to invest, but rather to devest. What's more, only the people who have a good deal of money invested in the market would take that route. So, I again call the idea fuck-all wrong.
I honestly have little clue as to what Congress should do, aside from putting forth regulatory bills with mighty incisors and/or reviving the old idea of corporations needing renewable charters. What I do know is the middle class has suffered the effects of an unsustainable economy for the last decade so not much has changed there. Plus, the worse the economic situation looks the better the chances of Sen. Obama winning the presidency. That's all I got for ya.

The Pony in the Taxes

I always get this warm feeling when people I respect come up with similar ideas to mine, particularly when they're solutions to widely known problems. Yglesias just did that with his post on Irish corporate taxes. It's a common complaint among corporate types and the pundits who argue for them that corporate taxes are too high. As those who watched the presidential debate Friday noticed, while Sen. McCain held up Ireland as an example of a successful (albeit going into a recession) Western nation with low corporate taxes, Sen. Obama noted that the actual taxes paid by corporations in the U.S. are similar due to loopholes, subsidies and other tax breaks.
For about a year now I've had this notion of eliminating every tax break, loophole, subsidy or other form of a tax cut that's not called a tax cut. At the same time corporate taxes would fall dramatically across the board. No one gets left out and a clear tax rate and tax code would transform the debate over corporate incentives. Yglesias seems to have a similar notion as well but believes that a simple universal tax cut wouldn't accomplish its aims of boosting economic growth while increasing tax revenues.
Such an idea is closely related to the flat income tax idea. Both would simplify the tax code dramatically (reducing the paperwork and thus making the IRS more efficient) while giving a clear tax rate to everyone. All the loopholes, deductions, tax havens, capital gains breaks and other forms of tax avoidance would close while the tax rate for all would, theoretically, come down.
Of course, both Yglesias and I know that such a proposal is a magic pony. Corporations and the ultra-wealthy want those loopholes. It makes for a great talking point as members of either party are typically backed by such people. Lobbyists and congressional members can argue that the rich are taxed too high despite all the loopholes that lower their actual taxation to a generally fair level. Thus getting a bill passed that called for such a reform of the tax code would never happen. It probably wouldn't even make it to a sub-committee meeting.
Hence the problem with great ideas like these. They sound wonderful but enacting them is nigh impossible due to the nature of how legislation is passed. It's unfortunate but that's the reality of things.

Palin's Handicap

TPM reports that the McCain campaign has said Gwen Ifill will have a lot to answer for if she pushes too hard on foreign policy during the Vice Presidential debate. At this point, I hope both Sen. Biden and Ms. Ifill rip into her like lions on a gazelle. If Gov. Palin can't handle ninety minutes with Joe "7-11" Biden then she exactly the fool we saw during the creampuff interview with Katie Couric. I want to see blood spattered all over that debate floor.

The Promise of King

Sullivan passes along this anecdote from a reader describing the meeting of an elderly white guy and two gangster-styled black men. Whitey was canvassing for Sen. Obama and asked the black guys some questions. Once he finished and began to walk away he was politely thanked by one of the black men who, incidentally, had the words "hate" and "pain" tattooed on his chest (apparently the man was shirtless). As an anecdote of white support for Sen. Obama such a story is heartwarming.
What gets me though is this isn't a singular occurrence. The last track off the latest Nas album is titled "Black President" and includes some audio clips of Sen. Obama, specifically the powerful words he said after the Iowa caucus: "They said..." Coming from one of the stalwarts of gangsta rap is this song of sheer hope. Never is Sen. Obama referred to as 'nigga'. Far from it, Nas treats the senator with the upmost respect. If such moments are signs of what the black community in America will think if Sen. Obama wins then we might see a resurgance of black pride and perhaps a turnabout in the black belief that one cannot succeed in America without either occupying a street corner or rejecting one's blackness to play the white man's game.
I want Sen. Obama to win, not just because he stands as an example of hard work bring positive results, but because he proves that in a viceral way to black America. He's no King but he's part fulfillment of King's promise to America.
Alright, I'm done waxing poetic. Time to step on some kittens and kick an old lady.

Rolling on the Ropes

Really, Ezra Klein has to stop doing this. I mean, honestly, who told him that he could make good, intelligent points? It's not just that Klein exposes the perception gap between the tv pundit class and the general public. It that Klein notes how that gap occurred with this past Friday's debate: Sen. McCain played to the pundits while Sen. Obama played to the electorate. In an age when most people are told to regard the media with suspicion why would Sen. McCain focus his attention on winning over the media? This is an election by (mostly) popular vote. If Sen. McCain can't win over the public then he has a problem. Moreover, if Sen. Obama continues to show cool determination while facing his opponent and keeping his focus on the public then how can Sen. McCain keep his campaign floating? At this late date Sen. Obama is still able to sway undecided or potential switch voters. That's not a good sign for Sen. McCain.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Love Lockdown

I've had YE's new track in my head most of the weekend. After the debate Friday night it trickled into my ears. Now Sunday rolls around and Andrew Sullivan tosses out at couple of posts on the new McCain ad and a blurb from James Fallows on the two presidential candidates' understanding of strategy versus tactics. So to use Kanye as an example, the strategy is the love lockdown while the tactics are how YE goes about doing that.
Stepping away from thinly stretched pop culture metaphors, I think Sen. McCain screwed himself when he lingered on the 'surge' and then put out an ad showing moments when Sen. Obama agreed with him on point. It shows a deep misunderstanding of what strategy is and someone like Sen. McCain should know the difference. Yet his entire campaign has shown a lack of strategic thinking. Instead, Sen. McCain seems to lurch from one tactic to another with no clear, overarching platform. From his flip-flopping to the Palin pick and the sudden message shift away from experience to one of change and then the literal implosion of his head Sen. McCain lacks a strategy for winning the presidency, or at the very least, beating Sen. Obama.
On the other end of this misunderstanding is Sen. Obama. He's had a clear strategy in mind since the beginning and where his campaign has taken hits has been in tactics. It's something few political bloggers and even fewer pundits have understood themselves. Michael Gerson wrote and op-ed piece for the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago on the 17th arguing that the Obama campaign is nothing but a reactive body with no strategy. This is immediately after Gerson points to Sen. Obama's own vision and steady hand. Gerson uses the cover of attacking the Obama campaign to attack the senator directly. It's not terribly well-hidden nor is it all that logical or thought through.
Coming from a former speech-writer for President Bush, I'm not surprised with Gerson. He, like many many others including Sen. McCain, have consistantly failed to see the strategy and the tactics of Sen. Obama. Sen. Clinton suffered defeat in the primaries due to the same lack of understanding. The whole campaign package is devilishly simple but one that few politicans could ever try.
The basic tactic Sen. Obama has relied on is the political version of the rope-a-dope. Ali used the rope-a-dope to wear down his opponents while conserving his strength. The result is a tired and usually demoralized opponent who keeps going back round after round, throwing his best and watching the punches seemingly slide off. By the end of the fight one boxer is slow, tired, and dopey while the other is ready to open up. At that point it doesn't take much to knock out the dopey boxer. Without being specifically told, the tactic goes unnoticed. It's genius in its simplicity but hard on the boxer using it. The rope-a-dope results in multiple hits to the torso that few boxers can take. Politically however, it's a brilliant tactic. It lets your opponent waste their energy punching away with their standard tactics, throwing money and people in all the ways that have worked before. Except in Sen. Obama's case few of the punches connect.
This is where Sen. Obama's strategy shows his own brilliance. He understands that the only way to kill an idea or beat an ideology is to supercede it--to make the old tactics and strategy obsolete. Sen. Clinton never got that and Sen. McCain clearly doesn't either. Both have tried to pull the campaigns down into a street brawl whereas Sen. Obama isn't a brawler and he knows that. In a position like that, you look for alternatives. Sen. Obama is fighting a guerrila campaign against the conventional warfare of Sen. McCain. The McCain campaign can shift tactics as much as they like. Until they recognize that they're using the wrong strategy then Sen. Obama will continue to inch further along in the polls. Sen. McCain will fall under the thousand small cuts Sen. Obama has put in him. The combination of a strategy that makes the old ideologies look like a Commadore 64 and tactics that slowly suck the life away from its opponent is winning for Sen. Obama.
Why so many people haven't gotten this is beyond me. But the longer they remain in the dark the better the chances of Sen. Obama winning are.