"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
December 31, 2007
BLOG: Best of Baseball Crank 2007
I've been writing on the web since 2000 and blogging since 2002, and in all those years, 2007 has been perhaps the toughest in terms of being satisfied with my ability to produce consistently new and interesting content for my readers - so with things a little quiet here over the past week or so and probably staying that way for the next few days, I hope you will indulge me here if I run a retrospective look back at my best work from this year, or at least the posts I enjoyed the most. For newer readers, it's a chance to catch up on things you may have missed. Posts are grouped in three subjects and listed chronologically within those. As you can see, the 2008 presidential election is somewhat overrepresented here, while the baseball postseason is underrepresented.
Baseball's most impressive records. Probably my favorite post of the year, and definitely my favorite baseball post.
Politics, War and Law
The Libby pardon. I'm not even sure if I still agree with this post, but I did put a lot of thought into it.
Why Fred Thompson needed to get specific. (He since has).
Pop Culture and Other Fun Stuff
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:14 AM | Baseball 2007 | Blog 2006-13 | Politics 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
December 28, 2007
BLOG: Under Attack
I seem to have suffered some sort of server attack that has wiped out everything (posts & comments) posted to the site since Christmas Eve. My apologies. If anybody happens to have a blog-reader or other cache-type service that still contains the text of any of my posts for 12/25-27, it would be great if you could copy & paste and email them to me at:
baseball_crank at yahoo *dot* com
UPDATE: Got 'em, thanks to reader Dave S.
December 27, 2007
WAR/POLITICS: Not Ready for Prime Time
BASEBALL: The Tablesetters
FYI, I left Amos Otis out of the article because I wasn't sure where to classify him. Otis was sort of neither fish nor fowl, not exactly a slugger or a tablesetter but, as Bill James has noted, one of the most well-rounded players in the game's history, doing well at almost everything. Anyway, Otis' translated stats for the 10 years of his prime (age 23-32, 1970-79) rates him at .285/.477/.351* in 623 plate appearances for a "Rate" of 104.1, with 30 SB and 7 CS and 11 DP per year.
* - The THT folks switched all my Avg/Slg/OBP numbers to Avg/OBP/Slg, which still looks wierd to me but has become the convention in the last 10 years or so, I guess.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:43 AM | Baseball 2007 | Baseball 2008 | Baseball Studies | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
December 26, 2007
BLOG: It's Expensive To Not Look Cheap
POLITICS: Glenns Greenwald Miss The Obvious
Glenns Greenwald get bent out of shape - as only Greenwald can - about the fact that Mike Huckabee got lots of bad press for using - allegedly, intentionally - a subliminal cross in an overtly Christian campaign commercial, while John McCain got nothing but good press for his ad, an emotionally powerful ad in which McCain relates a Christmas story from his captivity in Vietnam:
[T]he reverent reaction to McCain's ad could not have been more different than the one provoked by Huckabee's. Chris Wallace said: "That McCain ad is so powerful. You find yourself tearing up when you see that, obviously." Obviously. A clearly moved Fred Barnes concurred with the only word that was needed: "Indeed." Mort Kondracke gushed: "I think it was a great ad, and it had a religious overtone to it. . . . it should remind religious [voters] that there is another candidate in the options besides Huckabee."
Why does the Republican establishment think that Mike Huckabee should be barred from the use of Christian symbols while John McCain -- and, for that matter, George Bush -- are to be cheered when they do? Especially on this day, that strikes one as a deeply unfair standard.
Now, I was in the camp that thought Huckabee's ad was pushing the limits a bit, but hardly anything to get agitated about - but whether you liked Huck's ad or not, Greenwald misses the most obvious point of all: McCain was relating a story from his own life experience, and one that relates to the central narrative of McCain's career. Now, it's true enough that the media has had a long love affair with McCain, but Greenwald, who sneers at the emotional content of the ad, simply fails to comprehend - or finds it convenient to dismiss - the inspirational drama of McCain's experiences as a POW.
BASEBALL: You Gotta Have Grit
The grittiest ballplayers ever, proven statistically! Thanks to a couple of readers for passing this along, it's really a must-read.
December 24, 2007
WAR: There's Still A War On. But For Now, It's Going Pretty Well.
The good guys aren't the only ones who have problems with former supporters turning on them:
One of Al Qaeda's senior theologians is calling on his followers to end their military jihad and saying the attacks of September 11, 2001, were a "catastrophe for all Muslims."
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As some of those experts point out:
The author of "Inside Al Qaeda," Rohan Gunaratna said in an interview this week, "There is nothing more important than a former jihadist as important as Dr. Fadl criticizing the jihadist vanguard." Mr. Gunaratna, who acts at times as a consultant for American and Western intelligence, described the reformed theologian as "both an ideologue and operational leader, but he was primarily an ideologue."
StratFor had an analysis the other day making a similar point; I'll excerpt one key paragraph here:
It ... is clear that al Qaeda is feeling the weight of the ideological war against it -- waged largely by Muslims. Al-Zawahiri repeatedly has lamented specific fatwas by Saudi clerics declaring that the jihad in Iraq is not obligatory and forbidding young Muslims from going to Iraq. In a message broadcast in July, al-Zawahiri said, "I would like to remind everyone that the most dangerous weapons in the Saudi-American system are not buying of loyalties, spying on behalf of the Americans or providing facilities to them. No, the most dangerous weapons of that system are those who outwardly profess advice, guidance and instruction …" In other words, al Qaeda fears fatwas more than weapons. Weapons can kill people -- fatwas can kill the ideology that motivates people.
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December 23, 2007
POP CULTURE: Ernie and Bert
December 20, 2007
POP CULTURE: Stairway, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah
POLITICS: George Romney, Martin Luther King and Mitt Romney's Recovered Memory
In his much-heralded and well-received speech on "Faith in America," Mitt Romney claimed as an example of his parents' moral example to him that "I saw my father march with Martin Luther King." On Sunday's Meet The Press, Gov. Romney repeated the same claim to deflect questions about his church's exclusionary policies - for context, I'll reprint the full Q&A with Tim Russert:
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MR. RUSSERT: You, you raise the issue of color of skin. In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court, Brown vs. Board of Education, desegregated all our public schools. In 1964 civil rights laws giving full equality to black Americans. And yet it wasn't till 1978 that the Mormon church decided to allow blacks to participate fully. Here was the headlines in the papers in June of '78. "Mormon Church Dissolves Black Bias. Citing new revelation from God, the president of the Mormon Church decreed for the first time black males could fully participate in church rites." You were 31 years old, and your church was excluding blacks from full participation. Didn't you think, "What am I doing part of an organization that is viewed by many as a racist organization?"
Well, it turns out that this is not accurate. An investigation by the Boston Phoenix, a left-leaning independent newspaper, turned up no evidence that the elder Gov. Romney ever marched with Dr. King, and Romney's campaign now says this wasn't intended to be taken as, well, fact:
On Wednesday, Romney's campaign said his recollections of watching his father, an ardent civil rights supporter, march with King were meant to be figurative.
Like so many things Romney, this is a new one from Mitt:
Nor did Mitt Romney ever previously claim that this took place, until long after his father passed away in 1995 - not even when defending accusations of the Mormon church's discriminatory past during his 1994 Senate campaign.
Now, in fairness to Romney, he seems to have had some basis for believing that this had happened, though that doesn't explain how he thinks he saw it happen:
Romney's campaign cited various historical articles, as well as a 1967 book written by Stephen Hess and Washington Post political columnist David Broder, as confirmation that George Romney marched with King in Grosse Pointe in 1963.
This latest unforced error is, however, precisely the problem I identified as Romney campaigning like a Democrat: candidates who feel compelled to demonstrate their authenticity by reference to their own biography, rather than by citing a consistent set of principled stands on the issues, invariably fall into the temptation to stretch that biography to cover things that never actually happened. We saw this repeatedly with Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry - remember Clinton's fables about watching non-existent church burnings in Arkansas? - and we Republicans rightly lambasted them for it.
If we nominate Romney and he walks into more traps like this in the general election campaign, we can't say we weren't warned.
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December 19, 2007
POLITICS: Yes, Hillary Will Win The Nomination.
We've all heard the whispers, we've all seen the signs, we've all read the polls: Hillary Clinton is trailing Barack Obama in Iowa, her lead is in single digits in New Hampshire and within the margin of error in South Carolina. Youth and idealism will triumph. The Power of Oprah will turn the tide. Everybody's saying she could suddenly be vulnerable; lots of people are saying out loud that she could lose. All of our expectations could be unsettled; we could be facing Obama after all, an opponent who brings a wholly different set of strengths and vulnerabilitites to the table.
Don't believe it.
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Sure, it's tempting to think the Democrats will have a real race on their hands, and perhaps for a time they will. But fundamentally, primary elections are dominated and decided by partisans - people who identify with a party and go to the effort of registering and showing up to vote in intraparty elections. People who feel strongly about their side, in short. And when you consider the psychology of the typical partisan on either side, and apply it to the situation of Democratic voters in 2008, it becomes quickly apparent why it will be impossible for a critical mass of such partisans to be convinced to vote against Hillary.
Bill Clinton has been stumping for his wife on the Iowa hustings, framing the election as a referendum on his tenure as president. . .
Why is this important? Because it explains why Democrats who vote in primaries simply cannot pull the lever against Hillary: it would mean admitting that returning the Clintons to the White House would not be the greatest of all possible things. It's inconceivable. (And yes, Democrats of all people are very practiced at refusing to understand what that word means). Sure, left-wing ideologues and activists may be willing to do that, especially those who ground their teeth for 8 years and viewed the Clintons as little more than moderate Republicans. But not the rank and file of the party.
We Republicans have had 5 Presidents in the past 40 years; we can retain some perspective on their respective weaknesses. Besides Carter, who ended in defeat so ignominious that nobody but maybe Chris Matthews defends him on any grounds other than being well-intentioned, Clinton is all Democrats have, and his Administration must therefore be held up as All Things Good. And if you are emotionally invested in the idea that Clinton was a great president and all criticisms of him were manifestations of right-wing mania, right-wing racism, right-wing conspiracy, right-wing-being-threatened-by-powerful-women, and right-wing latent homosexuality (the Sid Blumenthal theory, I kid you not), it is nearly impossible to construct a justification for refusing a third helping, unless you are morally convinced that she cannot win in November. And the Clintons' prior record of electoral success, for a party that has lost so many national elections, stands as a barrier to that argument as well.
As Jim Geraghty has noted, this is doubly the case because of how hard rank and file Democrats dug themselves in against the scandals of the Clinton years:
Whitewater, the cattle futures, the disappearing and reappearing billing records - on every scandal, most grassroots Democrats came to her defense, and insisted she was the blameless victim of a partisan witch hunt. When health care reform went down in flames, they had to overlook her faults. Chinese fundraising? Renting out the Lincoln Bedroom? Time and again, they looked at emerging facts - or perhaps the proper metaphor is closed their eyes - and declared, "it is not her fault, she has done nothing wrong."
Goldberg underlines how this would play out if Hillary is repudiated by her own party:
[I]f Hillary Clinton loses the race for the nomination -- heck, even if she just loses the Iowa caucuses -- I hope to see this headline somewhere, perhaps in the New York Post: "America to Clinton(s): We're Just Not That Into You."
Heck, Rush Limbaugh would enter the Guiness Book for schadenfreude. Can you imagine Rush's reaction? I tell you this, somewhere in their heart of hearts, Democrats all across this land of ours will enter the voting booth with that miniature Voice of Rush playing somewhere in the back of their heads, laughing and laughing and laughing, and they will tell themselves that Obama is young and it's not his turn yet. And they will pull the lever for Bill's wife.
Remember: no matter what else we may think strategically about 2008, if Hillary were rejected by her own party, every one of us would do The Jig To End All Jigs over her defeat. That's a sound Democratic primary voters simply cannot hear.
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POLITICS: The Trouble With Mitt Romney (Part 5 of 5)
The fifth and last installment of a five-part series on why Republicans who are serious about winning the White House in 2008 are wasting our time on Mitt Romney. For background, check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and, from February 2007, my explanation of why I'm with Rudy and my take on Mike Huckabee.
V. The "M" Word
A. Why It Shouldn't Matter
At long last, after 12,086 words of turning the Eye of Sauron on Mitt Romney, we come to the delicate matter of Romney's religion. A few preliminaries are in order. First, I will admit that, perhaps naively after seeing how Ted Kennedy cynically used it as a wedge against Romney in 1994, I was initially dismissive of early concerns that Romney would face unusual electoral problems due to his Mormon faith. Second, I myself would vote with great enthusiasm for a Mormon president if he's otherwise a good candidate (i.e., Orrin Hatch - yes. Harry Reid - no.). As I have said before, I was behind Romney in 1994 and 2002. Sure, there are some things Mormons believe in, theologically speaking, that seem downright bizarre to me, but other people's religions often look like that from the outside. Short of a politician espousing a religious doctrine that leads to actively dangerous policies, I'm fine with having a President I disagree with on matters of faith - after all, 41 of the 42 men to have the job weren't of my faith (Catholic), and the one who was wasn't exactly a saint, nor is the nominal Catholic I'm supporting this time around.
Moreover, there is a lot to be said for sticking religious bigotry in a box where we never take it into account. Especially when, as The Wall Street Journal put it:
The Mormons seem the very embodiment of "family values," and you couldn't invent a religious culture that lived more consistently with Biblical messages. Broadly speaking, most Mormons have, and come from, big families; they're regular churchgoers and give to charity; they don't drink, smoke, gamble or engage in premarital sex. On the scale of American problems, the Mormons don't even register.
And, one would add, Mormons are just about the most solidly Republican group in the nation. I would hate to see Mormons come away from the 2008 primary process feeling like their guy didn't get a fair shake because of his religion. In fact, some people have even advocated supporting Romney for that reason alone, while others contend that Romney would draw strength from the inevitable bile hurled by the left at his church. So it's with a fair amount of trepidation that I even get into this topic, given the very long list of legitimate reasons to oppose Romney's nomination that I dealt with in the first four installments.
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B. Why It Does
For all of that, though, politics must be conducted in the real world. As a Rudy supporter, I've spent a lot of time arguing with people who would sit out the general election and let Hillary win rather than lift a finger for Rudy, mainly over his views on abortion. I've made my case as to why it doesn't make the slightest bit of sense. But the fact that he loses some such voters is a reality Rudy has to deal with, and is one of the main reasons why I've been giving a second look to John McCain and, to a lesser extent, Fred. Rudy's answer to that dilemma is that he's a great candidate who can bring in other people to the party to replace the voters he loses, in a way that works to his advantage on the national map.
Whether you buy that argument in Rudy's case or not, the simple fact is that in the real world in 2008, Romney has a similar problem - and with some of the same voters - due to his religion. If anything, it's become a bigger problem with religious conservatives as a result of Romney's history of recent and prominent flip-flops on social issues: Mitt has had no choice but to tell people to trust him in politics because of his religious convictions - while simultaneously telling them not to worry about the details of his religious convictions because all that matters is how he translates them into political convictions. If he had shown more consistent support for the political results Christian conservatives seek to bring about, he might not be in the same fix.
We have a lot of scraps of evidence - a poll here, an anecdote there - suggesting that there may be a bunch of people out there who just won't pull the lever for Romney for no other reason than his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Let's consider a few polling data points:
*A Pew Center poll from mid-2007 puts the numbers of those who are at least reluctant to vote for a Mormon at 25% of Republicans and 41% of regular churchgoing white evangelical Protestant Republicans.
*NPR collected six national polls from 2006 ranging from 14% to 53% having reservations about voting for a Mormon.
*Pollster Mark Mellman: "With polls measuring anti-Mormon sentiment anywhere from 20 percent to 60 percent, I'm not sure whether to despair more about our prejudices or the validity of our polls."
Romney's favorability ratings, where you might find prejudice against him to be buried, have been up and down depending on the poll, the date and the jurisdiction, but he has persistently shown higher unfavorability ratings than you would expect from a candidate with relatively low national name ID, and I believe it's only in the past six weeks or so has his favorability rating been regularly above his unfavorables.
And the anecdotal evidence, just to scratch the surface:
Now, fair-minded people can and do disagree about how much validity to give these polls, and I'm sure polls can be cited going the other way. I suspect that the number would shrink somewhat on protracted public examination of the issue (Mellman's Hill column notes that the number of people refusing to vote for a Catholic dropped in half between 1958 and 1960). But here's what worries me: people don't like to admit to their prejudices. Prejudice in the voting booth may be overstated, but we know enough of human nature to know that if X percent of people say they won't vote for a candidate of a particular faith or race or gender, the actual number has to be higher.
I can't for the life of me figure why the people who argue that Rudy is unelectable due to potential defections from Christian conservatives aren't similarly worried about Romney. And unlike Rudy, Romney isn't going to reach out and bring in a whole lot of people who didn't vote for Bush in 2004; he just doesn't offer anything all that new or different, and more blood can't be squeezed from the stone of Mormon voters - only in Nevada (6.96% of the population) and maybe Arizona (5.97%) is the Mormon bloc large enough to potentially make a difference in a swing state. So unless Romney can limit the potential losses from unease with his faith, he's in even worse shape than he'd be already due to his other problems as a candidate. I wouldn't let this concern over religion bother me if I thought Romney was a tremendous candidate, since he'd be able to overcome it. But when you start with the many flaws Romney already has, as discussed in the first four installments of this series, this is one more thing to worry about with Romney that we don't need.
All of which increasingly convinces me that Romney isn't Mormonism's JFK, but more like its Al Smith, the first Catholic nominee who lost to Hoover in 1928. Now, I can fully understand why members of Romney's own faith community may well want to see him nominated in the hopes of breaking down barriers, and may see it as preferable to run Romney and lose than get behind someone else. There's a real hunger out there to get that last stamp of legitimacy on the LDS community in this country, a hunger not dissimilar to what Hillary, Obama, Huckabee and Richardson are playing to in their own ways. But this election is too important, with too much at stake, to expect the rest of us to sign on to that venture. Send us a better messenger, and we'll carry that message then.
The trouble with Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate in 2008 isn't just any one thing; it's the whole package, and specifically the fact that he has a weakness to undermine every case that could be made for him. He can't run on his record; it's too sparse. He can't run on his principles, which are elusive and ever-shifting. He can't run on his personality, which comes off as overly programmed. He can't run on his faith, which is unpopular. He can't run on his biography, which starts with being born into a wealthy and influential family and encounters no particularly compelling adversity along the way. He can't run on his platform, which ranges from an immigration plan that was clearly designed just to get him through the primaries to a health care plan that, like Bush's prescription drug plan, is basically just HillaryCare Lite. He can't run on his fortune; the Democratic field can outspend anyone this year. He can point to his record as a businessman, but after 8 years of a CEO/MBA president, a CEO Vice President and a Cabinet stocked with CEOs from many different industries, it's hard to convince the average voter who is disaffected with Bush that what the Bush Administration really needed was more businessmen. What's left?
Romney has more than amply demonstrated that, however personally honest and decent a man he may be, he is a thoroughgoing political opportunist, and neither remotely good at hiding that fact nor possessed of counterbalancing virtues as a candidate. The transparency of that opportunism, combined with a thin resume of public leadership, minimal foreign policy experience, the lack of an identifiable core of beliefs or rationales for running, and a pronounced tendency towards the lamest sort of campaign gimmickry, not only raises questions about what kind of president he might in theory be, but also compellingly demonstrates that he would be a disaster as a general election candidate. If we nominate him, we will lose.
Argue all you want about which candidate is the best and who would benefit the most from a Romney defeat in the primaries, but of this I am sure: 2008 does not end with President-elect Mitt Romney. The endgame of Romney's strategy is the nomination, and we should give that nomination to someone who is better situated to do something with it. The sooner we get him off the stage, the faster we can focus on the candidates who are worthy of our time and attention. Romney has wasted far too much of both.
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POP CULTURE: Hobbitt 2: Bilbo Meets Jar Jar
The bad news: I gather the "sequel" discussed here will be set between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Rings, which means it will have nothing to do with Tolkein, who wrote very little occurring in that period, and nothing resembling a fully fleshed out adventure. The Silmarillion and other parts of the Tolkein canon, including the LotR appendices, provide more than enough material for pre-Hobbit storytelling; I have no idea why Jackson would want to do that other than a positive desire to make his own stuff up. I mean, I want to see the fall of Gondolin, the flight of the Noldor from Valinor, the fight of Morgoth and Fingolfin. If he wants to do a story with a lot of creative liberties, he could do a full film treatment of the Last Alliance or some of the battles in the earlier Third Age.
UPDATE: More than a few people are questioning whether the "sequel" is really going to be something other than doing the book in two parts. I hope it won't, and maybe I have heard incorrectly. When I get a chance, I'll look for more sources on this.
BASKETBALL: The Most Hated Figure In The History of New York Sports?
I have to wonder at this point if Isiah Thomas is the most unpopular sports figure in New York history. At least while in New York, that is; Walter O'Malley is still hated in many quarters 50 years after taking the Dodgers from Brooklyn, but O'Malley was only disliked for leaving town. Leo Durocher was hated by Dodger fans when he managed the Giants and Giants fans when he managed the Dodgers, but that's also not the same.
Consider the elements that went into Isiah's unpopularity:
1. As a player, he was a hated rival of the team.
2. He came to town with a seemingly endless stream of controversies in his past, many of them racially charged.
3. His prior record as a coach, GM and league executive was an unbroken string of failures, including the collapse of the league he ran.
4. He took over in NY as both the GM and, subsequently, the coach, thus eliminating any competition (other than the owner who hired him) for the fans' hatred.
5. He assembled a roster that was unsuccessful, seemingly designed not to play well together to match the talents of the players involved, expensive, not young, and not full of hustling, aggressive players. After this failed, he basically turned that roster over for another one just like it.
6. This method of roster construction left the team unable to change its direction for the foreseeable future due to the salary cap, while competing teams found ways to acquire major stars on the market at the same time.
7. On top of the failures in constructing, motivating and managing the team, he managed to get himself embroiled in a sensationally ugly offseason sex scandal.
8. He is apparently in no danger of ever being fired.
It's reached the point where the Onion's satire seems plausible enough and Knicks fans are reduced to discussing assassinating the coach.
I've certainly seen unpopular people in NY before. M. Donald Grant comes to mind after the Seaver trade, Steinbrenner's been hugely unpopular at times, and of course there's Joe Walton. Plenty of failed players have found ways to expand their portfolio of unpopularity, like Bobby Bonilla. Going back further, I don't believe there was ever this kind of hate directed at the likes of Ralph Branca or Fred Merkle or Joe Pisarcik or even Charles Smith.
Unless someone has a compelling case for someone else, I'm going with Isiah.
BLOG: Quick Links 12/19/07
*TIME Magazine looked into Vladimir Putin's heart, too, and named him their Man of the Year for discarding the remaining constitutional breaks on dictatorship in Russia. Unlike President Bush, TIME can't excuse this as diplomacy.
*You'll shoot your eye out! Mike Huckabee may have a serious problem with granting too many clemencies to violent criminals, but Mitt Romney's refusal to grant any pardons or clemencies at all took him to the ridiculous length of refusing to expunge the conviction of a decorated Iraq War veteran who was convicted at age 13 of shooting a friend in the arm with a BB gun.
*Britney Spears' 16-year-old sister, who was supposed to be the responsible one, has announced that she is pregnant. At least she's keeping the baby.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:19 AM | Baseball 2007 | Blog 2006-13 | Pop Culture | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
December 18, 2007
POLITICS: Romney's Hidden Strengths
Unfortunately, given that he's my least favorite of the GOP's Big Five, Mitt Romney does seem to have the strongest path right now to the nomination; see Patrick Ruffini, Soren Dayton and John McIntyre.
We'll know a lot more after New Hampshire on January 8. If Romney loses both Iowa and New Hampshire, he's toast. Right now, if I had to predict, I'd say he finishes a close second in Iowa and wins New Hampshire - his lead in the polls there will be awfully hard for McCain to close in a short time, especially if McCain finishes fifth or sixth in Iowa, as is likely. Ironically, McCain's best hope is for a decisive Hillary win in Iowa, since the next two primaries (NH and MI) are open to independent voters (that's how McCain won those two states in 2000) who might vote in the Democratic primary if it's still a race.
Rudy, of course, is still banking on primaries after New Hampshire, so his campaign can't be fully evaluated until Michigan at the earliest.
At this point, I'm really in the Anyone But Mitt camp. If we nominate him, we will lose.
POP CULTURE: FrankTV
My wife and I have been watching some episodes of FrankTV lately on TBS. The show, if you're not familiar, is basically as low-budget a concept as you can get this side of a reality show: Frank Caliendo does sketches in which he plays nearly all the characters, and the sketches are broken up by Frank on a couch with a semi-randomly selected member of the studio audience.
The writing on the show isn't particularly good, but it's worth tuning in for an episode or two if you haven't seen Caliendo's impressions, which are uncanny. Longer term, of course, the show is yet another point in the evolution of original TV programming towards budget-consciousness. Even some scripted shows these days seem to be under pressure to make do with smaller casts and fewer sets. It's an economically rational response to the decline of mass-market ratings.
December 17, 2007
BASEBALL: Taking It ... Where It Should Not Go
This goes rather too far even for dedicated Clemens-haters.
In other news, somebody needs a hug.
POLITICS/LAW: Mr. Justice Clinton
Prof. Douglas Kmiec suggests that Hillary Clinton, if elected, could have her husband follow the footsteps of former President Taft by appointing him to the Supreme Court. Taft was, in fact, a very good Chief Justice after being a failure as President, a job for which he never had the talent or desire.
Prof. Kmiec gets right some of the obvious problems with this parallel: Clinton, unlike Taft, has no prior judicial experience and loves politics much more than the law; Clinton, unlike Taft, would presumably not be taking the Chief Justice job; and Taft, unlike Clinton, never had his law license suspended for perjury in a judicial proceeding.
What Prof. Kmiec misses is the showstopper* - even beyond losing him as a campaigner - that would prevent Hillary Clinton, especially, from considering this: confirmation hearings. Nobody in her right mind who was at all sympathetic to Bill Clinton would ever want to see the man testify under oath again. And given the tendency of modern confirmation hearings to delve into any and all scandals in the nominee's past, hearings with Bill Clinton as the nominee would be both exhaustively lengthy and acrimonious and potentially uniquely damaging to Hillary personally. Assuming the Democrats hold control of the Senate they could potentially try to quash much questioning at the hearings, but even Republicans who hold principled objections to filibustering judges would be on firm ground blocking a floor vote until the Judiciary Committee was willing to hold a full hearing on the nominee.
I suppose in theory, I could imagine Hillary pulling such a stunt as a deliberate provocation and/or for the express purpose of breaking the tradition of such hearings. But I think it far more likely that she would avoid at any cost the spectacle of William Jefferson Clinton being sworn in to testify anywhere ever again.
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* - I confess that I don't know whether there would also be legal problems with appointing a spouse to a federal judgeship, but since Prof. Kmiec refers to anti-nepotism laws precluding a Bill Clinton role in Hillary's Cabinet, I assume or at least hope he considered this angle.
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December 13, 2007
BASEBALL: I Hold In My Hand A Piece Of Paper Containing The Names...
I'm traveling on business today and so can't blog at length, but just to chime in quickly: we've all had a lot of amusement with the various unofficial and then official
Which is a shame, just as the shoddy and tendentious Dowd Report was a shame even though it was ultimately proven to be correct in its core conclusion. Fans and the game's posterity do deserve an accounting, not least because an unfair cloud of suspicion has hung over many players who likely did nothing wrong.
Maybe we will learn more - and I'll learn more when I have time to get a longer look at what has come out - but for now I'm not ready to hang anybody for their having been named on George Mitchell's list.
* - To the surprise of nobody who remembers Senate investigations from Mitchell's days as Majority Leader
December 12, 2007
WAR: Science Fiction Meets Ugly Reality
At first glance, the commercially available jet pack seems wonderful and Jetsons-ish, but while I hate to be a spoilsport, I have to think that suicide bombers will just love it:
1. Strap pack with tank of jet feul on back.
POLITICS: Huckabee Picks His Own Poison
As you have probably seen, a New York Times profile on Mike Huckabee includes comments about the Mormon faith that are likely to stir up passions over religious differences between Evangelical Christians and Mormons - two faithful parts of the GOP coalition - that are best left untouched.
Huckabee's camp responded to the initial leak from the NYT by pleading for context, as well they should:
In fact, the full context of the exchange makes it clear that Governor Huckabee was illustrating his unwillingness to answer questions about Mormonism and to avoid addressing theological questions during this campaign. "Governor Huckabee has said consistently that he believes this campaign should center on a discussion of the important issues confronting our nation," said Senior Advisor, Dr. Charmaine Yoest, "and not focus on questions of religious belief. He wants to assure persons of all faith traditions of his firm commitment to religious tolerance and freedom of worship. Governor Huckabee believes that one of the great strengths of our nation lies in its diversity of thought, opinion and faith."
Now, the full article is online, so we can get the context that was missing from the teaser. Unfortunately, we can see from the context that Huck went and volunteered his thoughts on this point, even after admitting that he's not well-versed in LDS theology. Perhaps, as a man trained and experienced as a guider of souls, the former Baptist preacher couldn't resist the temptation to evangelize, just a little. But as a presidential candidate, he really should have known better than to go there. But he went there anyway:
Huckabee is, indeed, a discreet fellow, but he has no trouble making his feelings known. He mentioned how much he respected his fellow candidates John McCain and Rudolph W. Giuliani. The name of his principal rival in Iowa, Mitt Romney, went unmentioned. Romney, a Mormon, had promised that he would be addressing the subject of his religion a few days later. I asked Huckabee, who describes himself as the only Republican candidate with a degree in theology, if he considered Mormonism a cult or a religion. "I think it's a religion," he said. "I really don't know much about it."
The problem is obvious: while Romney is clearly having some troubles with voters who are uncomfortable with the doctrines of his church, the last thing in the world Huckabee should be doing, morally or as a matter of political strategy, is inflaming sectarian divides within the GOP. He shouldn't have gone there...but he just couldn't stop himself. And he will have nobody else to blame for Romney using this slap to attack Huckabee for doing exactly what Romney pleaded with his countrymen not to do to him.
PS - The Times profile is long, interesting and by no means entirely unsympathetic, and it makes good reading. Key graf:
Huckabee has almost no money or organization. He has no national finance chairman, no speechwriters and a policy staff of three. His "national field director" is his 25-year-old daughter, Sarah. Huckabee does have a pollster, Dick Dresner, but so far there hasn't been enough cash to take any polls. "I think we can go until the beginning of the year," Dresner told me. "If we start by then to raise some money, we can begin to acquire the trappings of a campaign. Which, at the moment, we don't really have."
BASEBALL: Goose, Dawson and the Hall of Fame Debate
I participated in a roundtable discussion of this year's Hall of Fame ballot over at Armchair GM, arguing in favor of Gossage and against Andre Dawson. David Pinto, Dayn Perry, Matt Sussman, and Rich Lederer also participated (no points for guessing who Lederer argues in favor of). Go check it out, along with the other fine submissions.
December 11, 2007
WAR: Estimating Iran
A few thoughts on last week's announcement of the National Intelligence Estimate, which estimates that Iran ceased its nuclear weapons program in 2003:
1. As Reagan used to say, trust, but verify. U.S. intelligence has historically been lousy regarding other nations' WMD programs, especially police states, going back as far as the USSR and Red China getting The Bomb. The errors haven't even all been in one direction: threats have been underestimated at least as often as overestimated. And if the post-9/11 bureaucratic imperative was to avoid charges of failing to 'connect the dots,' the post-Iraq War imperative is to avoid charges of overestimating WMD threats. So this may well be yet another case of fighting the last war. Taranto's column last Wednesday collected some good analyses, of which there are many more. At a minimum, the NIE should not be taken at face value as holy writ. There's a reason they call these things "estimates."
2. Iran is certainly not disarmed, as Alan Deshowitz explains:
[The NIE] falls hook, line and sinker for a transparent bait and switch tactic employed not only by Iran, but by several other nuclear powers in the past.
Read the whole thing. H/T (Dershowitz is an arch-liberal, but a Jewish arch-liberal of an age to remember when being pro-Israel was a liberal priority).
3. That said, if nothing else, the NIE's conclusions, if true, suggest that we at least have a little more time to deal with the threat. As Dershowitz suggests, this may be part of the Bush Administration's slipping into "legacy watch" mode, i.e., concluding that it can't really solve any more problems in the time remaining and instead trying to make them look solved so problems down the road get pinned on the next President (this is a tried and true formula across many policy areas; Bush didn't invent it and neither did Clinton). Even so, the preferred solution on the Right for handling Iran has been to pursue a multi-pronged strategy aimed at destabilizing the regime from within and keeping it sufficiently harrassed from without to limit its ability to make trouble; almost nobody actually wants war with Iran, for a variety of reasons. The urgency of dealing right now with the Iranian problem has largely been driven by two things: the nuclear threat, which once accomplished would take most of our other options off the table in addition to creating its own hazards, and the continuing Iranian meddling in Iraq (and to a lesser extent Lebanon). Those aren't the only problems the Iranians present (there's the longstanding issue of Iranian support for international terrorism, for which Iran has justly headed the list of state sponsors of terror for decades), but they're the ones that have demanded the most immediate response. If Iran is 'keeping its powder dry' on the nuclear front, along with improving conditions and a more aggressive U.S. posture in Iraq, that may give some real, and not just perceived, breathing room in dealing with the problem.
4. Of course, as Taranto and others have noted, if Iran really did downshift its nuclear program in 2003, even as a matter of sending it further under cover, it requires some fairly severe contortions to pretend that this was not a direct result of the Iraq War, combined with the general perception that Bush was a trigger-happy warmonger who had Iran next on his list.
POLITICS: Huck Amok
On Iran, Huckabee is at his most troubling. He accuses the administration of "proceeding down only one track with Iran: armed confrontation." This is false, and the kind of rhetoric you'd expect from DailyKos bloggers, not a Republican presidential candidate. Huckabee thinks it has been a lack of diplomatic engagement that has soured our relations with Iran: "We haven't had diplomatic relations with Iran in almost 30 years, my whole adult life and a lot of good it's done. Putting this in human terms, all of us know that when we stop talking to a parent or a sibling or a friend, it's impossible to accomplish anything, impossible to resolve differences and move the relationship forward. The same is true for countries."
Read the whole thing, and this as well by Clarice Feldman, and this by Ace. I'm warming to Huckabee's electability; he's a likeable guy and a great speaker. One could make the case that his ardently pro-life convictions matter, in the grand scheme of things, more than his un-conservative approach to economic issues and the size of government. But any president's Job #1 is being the Commander-in-Chief and "decider" in foreign affairs. And the more I see of Huckabee's views on foreign policy, the more he looks like a guy who has no business doing the most important part of the job.
You can read reams and reams of discussion by people who like Huckabee without ever once running across foreign or national security policy (this is true to a lesser extent of Romney; both of them seem to have teleported here from the 2000 or 1996 primaries). And I wonder: is that large a segment of the primary electorate just disinterested in the fact that there's a war on? If so, that certainly is bad news for Rudy, who more than anyone is the candidate whose appeal is to 'Jack Bauer' voters who want the guy who will most relentlessly and remorselessly take on the bad guys. Rudy's whole appeal and whole career both before and after September 11 has been based on being the guy who takes it to the bad guys of every variety - from the Mafia to Marc Rich, from Al Qaeda to Arafat, from insider traders to squeegee men. If we are re-entering a period of national hibernation - and real good news from Iraq coupled with phony good news from Iran, Palestine and North Korea suggests we are - Rudy will not go anywhere (nor will McCain, the other candidate who relies heavily on his credibility on national security).
December 7, 2007
POLITICS: The Trouble With Mitt Romney (Part 4 of 5)
The fourth of a five-part series on why Republicans who are serious about winning the White House in 2008 are wasting our time on Mitt Romney. For background, check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, my explanation of why I'm with Rudy, and my take on Mike Huckabee.
IV. Campaigning Like A Democrat
In this installment, I'd like to discuss yet another of the major problems I have with Romney: his style of campaigning, which in my view is too much like a Democrat-style campaign that often ends up insulting the intelligence of the voter - because it proceeds from the assumption that the voters are stupid.
Now, let me preface this by saying that it would be foolish, especially after 2006, to assume that Democrats are somehow congenitally unable to win elections; there's obviously a long history of highly effective Democratic campaigns. And it would be silly to pretend that Republican campaign tactics are without sin.
But I do contend that there is a distinctive style of campaign, with a number of identifiable traits, that has been adopted primarily by Democratic candidates and far fewer Republicans. It's a style that can be effective in state and local races, where there are limits to the attention span and resources of the voters and the media (consider Bob Shrum's record of success at the state level). But it has proven repeatedly to wilt under the hot glare of a national campaign that affords the media and the voters alike months of attention to a candidate's every move and utterance. Romney and his campaign team seem to illustrate too many of these distinctive traits, and that not only repels me but concerns me deeply about his viability in a national election.
Read More »
A. 11th Commandment? What's That?
Although this first point isn't so much a "campaigning like a Democrat" issue as one of campaigning unduly against his fellow Republicans, it set the tone early for Romney's campaign approach: his tendency to focus his fire on his own side.
The personal attacks against me during the primary finally became so heavy that the state Republican chairman, Gaylord Parkinson, postulated what he called the Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican. It's a rule I followed during that campaign and have ever since.
Now, politics isn't beanbag; negative campaigning works in primary elections just as it works in general elections, and in the past month or two each of the major GOP candidates has increasingly opened both barrels on the others in the field (I'm not exactly adhering to it in this series). Still, Republicans have, since Reagan, held up what has come to be called Reagan's Eleventh Commandment as an ideal to aspire to for a few related reasons: because we don't want to see the eventual nominee made radioactive, either by suffering brutal attacks or by building a reputation for undue negativity (which the media is quick to hang on Republicans anyway - look what they did to Bush after South Carolina in 2000); because a candidate ought to be able to articulate a better rationale for running than that other Republicans are worse; and because the best test of a general election candidate's ability to throw a punch when necessary is to articulate attacks on the Democrats that can be honed for the general election (I've said repeatedly that I liked how Rudy focused early and often on attacking Hillary, before the other Republicans caught on, just as McCain did in 2000). And one of the things that got to me early on in this primary season was that Romney not only repeatedly attacked his fellow Republicans, and did so far earlier in the race than the others, but seemed focused on defining himself by attacks on his primary opponents rather than on the Democrats. Even Reagan himself wasn't safe, as Romney falsely claimed that the Gipper was once "adamantly pro-choice" as California governor a charge Mark Kilmer has dismantled in detail.
To pick one concrete example of how Romney has built his message around his primary opponents instead of a strategy that can be usefully converted to the general election, Romney has been going on and on about "sanctuary cities" that don't report illegal immigrants, and that give them government services. But as I discussed previously, Romney never said boo about the issue as governor, nothing in his record or career suggested a man who gave two hoots about the point, and it wasn't an early theme; instead, he's been pounding the issue almost entirely as a thinly-veiled (if that) attack on Rudy Giuliani's immigration policies as New York Mayor. Does anyone seriously believe that if Rudy wasn't in the race, Romney would be talking about sanctuary cities?
Meanwhile, aside from a few well-placed jabs at Barack Obama, Romney hasn't really shown a similar stomach for combat with the Left. When Democrats raised a dishonest attack on Rush Limbaugh for denouncing "phony soldiers" who fabricate tales of U.S. atrocities and falsify their own war experiences, Romney denounced Rush. Romney also piled on Gen. Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when Pace was attacked for saying that homosexuality was immoral.
B. An Instinct For The Lamest, Most Self-Defeating Attacks
Romney's taste for negativity might be forgivable if he was truly a gifted two-fisted brawler, in the way that Rudy and McCain are. Instead, his style of negative attack shows a consistent instinct to go for the capillary, endlessly repeating attacks that are lame, misguided and/or self-defeating. In particular, his assaults on his opponents' conservative bona fides tend consistently to focus on things he himself is guilty of, or on areas in which his opponent has a better story to tell than Mitt does.
As a tactic, attacking the other guy on your own weak spots can sometimes be successful, even audacious as a way to muddy the water. But like so many things, Romney - like the Kerry and Gore campaigns - mistakes a sometime tactic for a strategy and overuses it. Examples:
*This American Spectator piece collects a number of examples, including Romney attacking John McCain's record since 2000 on abortion, stem cell research and campaign finance reform even though Romney was pro-choice during much of the period in question (and didn't oppose all forms of embryonic stem cell research) and supported campaign finance reform, Romney attacking Rudy for taking essentially the same position Romney had taken on the Federal Marriage Amendment (more here on Romney and civil unions), and Romney ripping Rudy on guns while ignoring his own support for the Brady Bill.
*Romney's campaign attacked Fred for supporting ENDA, the bill to create workplace-discrimination rights for gays, in 1996. Problem one: Fred voted against it. Problem two: Romney supported the bill at the time.
*Romney attacked Rudy over Rudy's opposition to eliminating the commuter tax paid by non-NYC residents who work in NYC; the problem with this pinprick attack is that Rudy has a much stronger overall record as a tax-cutter, and Rudy - true to form - responded with a press release staging a much broader counterattack on the candidates' two records on the issue, leaving Romney looking like the guy who brought a knife to a gunfight.
*Romney sent out a flier attacking his rivals for not supporting the Human Life Amendment, ignoring Huckabee's support for the HLA (on the grounds that he was not a "major" candidate), ignoring Fred's issuance of a statement clarifying that he supports the HLA, and ignoring that Mitt himself was not supporting the HLA as recently as March 2007 (more here, on Romney's supporters misrepresenting this position), instead stressing the federalist aspects of his approach. (More here). None of Mitt's positions were inherently problematic in themselves, but the incoherence of this attack as a whole was staggering.
*Romney's camp took shots at Sam Brownback, probably the living Republican officeholder most prominently associated with the pro-life movement, on the theory that Brownback hadn't always been pro-life (and on fairly flimsy evidence, to boot); this from a man who snapped at one early debate that "I get tired of people that are holier than thou because they've been pro-life longer than I have."
*Romney's camp walked into a buzzsaw when Romney supporter Paul Weyrich accused the National Right to Life Committee of having been essentially financially bought off by Fred Thompson, drawing this stinging rebuke from Fred:
Gov. Romney is new to the pro-life movement and his campaign clearly has a few things to learn about it. First, they should understand that despite their campaign's every effort, groups like the National Right to Life Committee's PAC (NRLC-PAC) cannot be bought. . . It is unseemly for the Romney campaign and its supporters to suggest that NRLC-PAC's coveted endorsement is based on a bribe. Second, this unfounded accusation is as outrageous as it is ironic, given the Romney campaign's long history of spreading money around to anyone who will take it.
*Even when Romney has attacked across the aisle, he's had trouble explaining how he can criticize Hillary Clinton's mandate-heavy HillaryCare approach when Romney's own healthcare proposals also rely on "universal coverage" mandates.
If the combination of frequent but weak attacks with a lack of a central organizing theme reminds me of anyone in the GOP, it's the ill-fated 2000 Senate campaign of Rick Lazio, who launched lots of increasingly lame attacks on Hillary Clinton, many of them about campaign process issues. Lazio was, like Romney, a pleasant, clean-cut guy, and Hillary cleaned him like a fish. To go toe-to-toe with the Clinton machine, you need to know how to land punches, not just throw them wildly.
C. An Overly Reactive Approach
Even hyper-partisan Democrat Josh Marshall has noted the tendency of Democratic campaigns to panic and shift their approach at each day's news cycle, a tendency I consider emblematic of deeper problems with their steadiness as leaders and one that's consistent with the inability to distinguish tactics from strategy.
Now, as it happens, Mitt has not been as guilty of this as many Democratic campaigns; he hasn't repeatedly fired his staff, we haven't been treated to repeated interviews by staffers telling us that we are finally going to see the real Mitt Romney, etc. But Jay Cost, I think, hits the nail on the head as to why Romney's lack of a central defining theme and overreliance on negative attacks has led to constant shifts in Romney's message:
His candidacy has been the most transparently strategic this cycle. McCain is up? Go after McCain. McCain is down? Leave McCain alone. Thompson enters the race and seems a threat? Take a cheap shot about Law and Order. Thompson fades? Ignore him. Rudy is up? Go after Rudy. Huckabee is up? Go after Huck. You need to win a Republican primary? Make yourself the most socially conservative candidate in the race. And on and on and on.
That's a problem, and like many of the problems noted above, it will manifest itself in new ways in the general election. A campaign needs consistent and coherent messages of its own, or voters will see its aggressiveness as the steak, not the sizzle.
D. Whining and Identity Politics
Another of the famous failures of the national Democrats in recent years has been the overreliance on identity politics/biography as a substitute for defending their positions on the merits. As I said after Kerry lost what may well - we will never know for sure - have been a winnable campaign (certainly 2000 was winnable for Gore):
[A]ll candidates use their biography when possible to shore up both the strong and weak points in their images. But what we've seen increasingly from Democrats is efforts to use biography as a shield to cover the candidate's policy positions. Get asked about gun control? Don't talk about the issue - go hunting! Get asked about war? Talk about your service record!
I discussed in the last installment, Romney's ridiculous and wholly Kerry-esque effort to deflect questions about his past gun control positions by exaggerating his (nearly non-existent) record as a hunter bought lock, stock and barrel into this approach, and led him into precisely the same ditch: reporters flayed him for his exaggerations, NRA voters weren't fooled about his record, and in time Mike Huckabee was given a golden opportunity to steal a march to Romney's right by talking passionately about his own genuine background as a hunter from a rural state. The worst thing is, because this was one of the precise issues that had tripped up Kerry and Gore, Romney should have seen it coming a mile away; somehow, he didn't.
A related issue is the Romney camp's recent and wildly unsuccessful effort to cast Romney as the victim of religious bigotry by competing campaigns. Mitt's response to the now-infamous "push poll" about his faith is yet another example of a Democrat-style approach leading to a fiasco. Democrats, of course, love to complain about "below the radar" things like push polls that are hard to prove or disprove and impossible to trace; the whining charge of dirty or racist politics, whether or not true, can stick, but can also blow up in the attacker's face.
Romney's camp did two things: they rushed to attack Romney's rivals over the poll (in fact, the 'voters' who they produced complaining that they had received the poll calls were local Iowa Romney campaign staffers - not the first time Romney's camp has sent paid staffers to talk to the media as if they were disinterested bystanders), and they did so without knowing who was behind it. When connections turned up to people with ties to the Romney camp, all of a sudden Romney had to fight off the charge that his people were complaining about a hit job from their own camp. True, the evidence connecting the poll to Romney's people was far from conclusive and at least some of it dissolved on closer inspection - we still don't really know where the poll came from - but that's not the point. The point is that Romney's people, by making a big issue of the poll, set themselves up to be damaged by revelations beyond their control, and over the pettiest of issues.
E. Candidate in a Can
Yet another of the unappealing traits that Romney has in common with recent Democratic candidates - and again, he's not as bad at this as Kerry or Gore or Hillary, but it does concern me - is an overly-programmed approach that makes him sound...well, as Jeff Emanuel puts it,
[I]t's as if the powers that be simply reached into the fridge, grabbed a can of "generic candidate, one each, no sugar or flavor added" and popped the top. . . . I'm still waiting for the day when my first reaction to any speech, statement, quip, quote, joke, laugh, or chuckle on the stage or the stump is not "Wow, I wonder how many times he rehearsed that one."
Thomas linked to this video back in August - go to about 9:20 in the video, and especially a minute later when they go off the air, and watch Romney discuss the subject that he's been grappling with again this week, religion in public life:
On the one hand, this glimpse into a fiesty, combative, unscripted Romney looks and sounds like a much better candidate than the one we have seen in the debates, and often on the stump - not canned at all, in a way that makes you wish (just as Gore's and Kerry's supporters often publicly wished) that this guy would just try being himself. On the other hand . . . well, as Thomas pointed out, you just have to wonder if this is Al Gore all over again - just as Gore's father's political career ended when he got too far to the left of his voters, leading Al to spend years trying to be someone he wasn't (only the traumatic defeat in 2000 finally freed Gore to be himself), Mitt's father was destroyed politically and branded in the history books by a gaffe, a poor word choice in an interview. Combine that with (1) his efforts to run as a moderate-to-liberal Republican in Massachusetts, (2) his efforts to run as a conservative in the primaries and (3) the way Romney stresses the distinctions between his faith and the public sphere and you have to wonder whether this is a guy who has spent so many years staying on script and separating his political positions from what he may or may not actually believe that he is just unable to be a credible advocate for any set of ideas, because he always seems to be selling something.
The canned-candidate approach might also be understandable if Romney actually was a strikingly mistake-proof candidate on the trail. But if anything, and unsurprisingly given his relative political inexperience, he's had at least as many blunders as anybody in the GOP field. As Jay Cost put it, "[i]f somebody asked me which candidate on the Republican side has won just a single election (in a year that his party did very well nationwide) -- I would answer Mitt Romney, even knowing nothing about anybody's biography."
Probably the worst example of Romney just putting his foot in his mouth was his answer to questions about his sons choosing not to join the military, in which Romney tried to equate their service for his campaign to service of the nation at war. (A particularly odd statement given that Mitt himself was in France while his own dad was running for President). Of course, the question is an obnoxious one, but Romney could scarcely have picked a worse way to handle it. We also had the "Battlefield Earth" wierdness (Jim Geraghty discusses that and some other bizarre stuff here). Ana Marie Cox collected a "top 11" Romney gaffes, and while several of these are silly (unsurprisingly, given the source), others are further proof that Romney hasn't prevented himself from stumbling. Romney's had other amateur-hour productions ranging from overhyped endorsements that got retracted, to using images in ads without permission, to some of the odd people around his campaign, to the recent and largely poorly handled flap about Romney's landscapers. As I said, none of this is all that remarkable in itself, but it goes to show that what Romney has lost in authenticity, he hasn't necessarily made up for in reducing his vulnerability to the vicissitudes of the trail.
Like I've said from the beginning: if we nominate him, we will lose.
Coming in Part V - and don't get ahead of me, I'll deal with it then - the question of Romney's faith, and a wrapup.
« Close It
December 6, 2007
BASEBALL/LAW: And He's Cheap, Too
Of course, this begs the question of who is familiar with these negotiations that is blabbing them to the press.
December 5, 2007
BASEBALL: Back to Square One
A few thoughts on the big Marlins-Tigers trade of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis for Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Mike Rabelo and minor league pitchers Eulogio De La Cruz, Dallas Trahern and Burke Badenhop:
1. Is This A Good Return For These Two?
It's a good package - Maybin and Miller are high-upside prospects; Rabelo seems like a typical backup catcher type who will hit .250-.270 but do little else. It's tough to get a read on Miller, who has thrown 74.1 innings in the majors and 83 in the minors after a storied college career, but he could easily be an ace in the making, and Maybin is just 20 and has tremendous tools and a fine minor league record. Trahern has thrown over 500 minor league innings striking out less than 5 men per 9, so he's a non-prospect. Badenhop seems to have great control, but really I don't know much more about him or De La Cruz.
Straight up for Cabrera, as huge as Cabrera's value is, this seems like a solid package of prospects. Still, it has to be a sign of how far Willis' market value has fallen that you couldn't get more by dealing them separately.
2. Is This A Good Deal For The Tigers?
Absolutely. They're a contending team and they surrendered no proven major leaguers and got one of the three or four best hitters in baseball in return, who is young and durable and still reasonably priced. Cabrera presents challenges given his weight and poor glove, but if Renteria holds up at short, they won't have the same problems the Marlins had of Cabrera's weaknesses being exposed by combination with Hanley Ramirez. And Detroit can move him to DH in a year or two if they have to. As for Willis, you have to think there's at least a chance that a change of scenery and better defensive support could help him, but I'd bet on him spending some quality time with Dr. Andrews before long; his downward spiral seems more likely the result of injuries leaching his effectiveness than just a funk.
3. Does The Marlins' Business Model Make Any Sense?
If you start with the assumption that you had to deal these guys because they were getting expensive and needed to get prospects in return, this trade makes some sense. But I question the underlying assumption that Florida can't bring in enough revenue to afford keeping a home-grown superstar like Cabrera - an assumption that also implies that three or four years from now, they will be dealing Maybin and Miller as well (in fact, if that's your business model, Maybin being 20 years old is a minus, since it means he'll be free agent ready before he hits his prime). Granted, the Marlins have managed to win two championships, but the frustration of these continual firesales probably costs them more in fan loyalty than it saves in salary. It's not like South Florida is a sparsely populated area or filled with people unfamiliar with baseball, after all; a commitment to building a consistently competitive team that hangs on to its players would stand a fair chance of being rewarded. With the death of the Expos, the Marlins have become the prime example of what Joe Sheehan has called anti-marketing, i.e., a franchise that is more interested in convincing the fans that they can't afford to compete - so as to panhandle for a new ballpark - than in doing the contrary to put fans in the seats.
December 3, 2007
POLITICS: Quick Links 12/3/07
Arno Herwerth, a 21-year veteran of the New York Police Department, said he requested the "GETOSAMA" plates earlier this month to send a political message. He said he was surprised to hear, after receiving the plates, that the DMV wanted them back.
Oh, really - offensive to whom?
*Of all the planted-question issues with the debates (see here, here and here), this video of Obama unwittingly giving away that he knew a questioner is perhaps the funniest.
Clinton closed out her Sunday with an appeal to voters in Bettendorf to caucus for her, but earlier in Cedar Rapids, she took Obama to task over his health care plan and disputed his claim he doesn’t take lobbyist money.
For those of us old enough to remember the Clintons and their surrogates arguing incessantly that character is wholly irrelevant to the presidency and that campaigning on such issues is a sign of being defeated on the issues - heck, go back and watch "The American President," their propaganda movie devoted to this theme, albeit while re-casting the facts in the most favorable possible light - this is hilarious, as is this:
Clinton said she wanted to win the caucuses — and, next year, push the state into the Democratic column in the general election.
WAR: Some Things Even Hugo Can't Fix
Venezuelan voters reject Hugo Chavez' effort to get an electoral mandate to be president-for-life and impose wholesale socialism on the nation (as opposed to the creeping socialism and dictatorship he's been working at for years).
Liberty is good. People tend to resist when the question of surrendering it entirely is put to them quite that directly.
December 1, 2007
BASEBALL: Lastings Out The Door
The Mets' deal of Lastings Milledge for Brian Schneider and Ryan Church is a pretty classic example of a deal I didn't love but didn't hate at first glance, but quickly started hating the more I thought about it. Let's go through the lessons of this deal:
1. There's no such thing as a mistake you only pay for once. This deal is the wages of Omar letting Jesus Flores go in the Rule V draft; Flores now becomes the Nats' starting catcher, and had the Mets still had Flores, they would not have felt that the catching position was a need to be filled.
2. Short term, this deal may not hurt the Mets that much, as it brings in two everyday players of some use. Schneider is a great defensive catcher, probably the best in the game; he's probably good enough to be worth carrying his weak bat, which at 31 isn't going to get better. And Church is a solid player, a career .271/.462/.348 hitter (.279/.484/.355 on the road), albeit one who doesn't hit lefties real well; he's 29 and could have a bust-out year getting out of RFK. My guess is that Chuch will still be a better hitter thah Milledge in 2008. Then again, I'm not sure I want the inevitable Alou injury being the only thing standing between us and Church/Chavez/Gomez holding down the corners.
3. However, dealing Milledge, one of the system's crown jewels, for this pair almost certainly means no deal for a top starting pitcher, as Milledge was constantly mentioned in potential packages for the likes of Danny Haren or Johan Santana.
4. More to the point, long term, we could easily regret this big-time. At 23 next season with great athletecism and no real weakness other than immaturity and sporadic glovework, Milledge still has definite star potential. Add him to the list of young hitters abandoned by the Mets - sometimes for something of value, sometimes not - and while he is less accomplished than some, he's moreso than others and among the youngest:
I don't think you could really say Milledge has less upside at this stage than any of those guys at the time they left the Mets.
5. I assume this also means the Mets will non-tender Johnny Estrada. Estrada's not as much better as Schneider with the bat as he seems, given that Scneider gets on base more and has also suffered from RFK, but he's a pretty useful guy to just give away for nothing.
6. Along with the departure of Lo Duca, Glavine and Mota, this smacks of housecleaning, although actually we have not seen as many guys cleaned out as you might expect.