"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
July 30, 2009
BLOG: Gone Fishin'
Not literally...will be away from the blog for about a week. Hopefully, I will be recharged when I get back.
July 29, 2009
BASEBALL: Trade Season Open Thread
Yes, been delinquent on the baseball-analysis front here lately, I know. Have at it on Holliday to the Cards, Cliff Lee to the Phillies, and Roy Halladay to maybe nowhere.
POLITICS: Department of Bad Photo Ops, Obama Edition
Well, it looks like whoever scheduled that disaster is still doing advance work for Obama:
The grocery meat aisle? Really?
BASEBALL: It's Been That Kind of Year
BLOG: Young and Stupid
Craig Ferguson nails it:
POLITICS: Repeating Failure
Hunter Baker looks at a few of the arguments against national health care. The federalism point is an important one: TennCare was a failure, RomneyCare has been a failure. Why should we expect better results in imposing a complex system on a nationwide basis?
Megan McArdle has a longer essay, which of course begs the question of why she voted for Obama, but it's worth reading. One of the particularly chilling ideas is that national health care in the US will help mask the failings of other national health care systems around the world, because there won't be a place left with a vibrant, relatively free health care sector to make the government-run options look bad.
POLITICS: Not Persuading
The health care fight is still fluid enough to make predicting the outcome a crapshoot, but Michael Barone has an excellent look at President Obama and why he has run into trouble on this issue:
We knew that day that Obama was good at aura, at generating enthusiasm for the prospect of hope and change....
On the major legislation considered this year -- the stimulus, cap and trade, health care -- the Obama White House has done little or nothing to set down markers, to provide guidance, to establish boundaries and no-go areas.
Obama's mental and political framework is built around the left-wing, community-organizer notion that there's a real majority out there that already supports all the things he believes in, if only you can get them to show up at the polls. (That includes not only the youth vote and low-turnout minority groups but also people who aren't eligible to vote - felons, illegal immigrants, etc.) Thus, the bulk of Obama's efforts are aimed at firing up the base, not at persuasion. (I should break in and note here that this is not so vastly different from the Bush/Rove strategy, which leaned heavily on getting non-voting evangelical Christians to the polls. I leave to the reader whether to take that as a compliment.)
The things he did do to try to reassure swing voters who flocked to his banner last fall after the financial crisis - promises of tax cuts and a net reduction in federal spending - are undetectable in his governing agenda. And Obama's long-term strategy, as I have noted repeatedly, is not to win over the electorate but to alter it by changing the political system.
Obama simply never deals with the arguments against his policies seriously, only caricatures them and personally demonizes his opponents (the worst knee-jerk response we have seen from him in this regard was the whole Henry Gates episode, in which Obama reflexively attacked the Cambridge police on racially divisive grounds without bothering to get the facts). That's an effective way to get things done when you have the public behind you already. But it also makes it very difficult to win back people once you lose them.
July 27, 2009
POP CULTURE: Swing And A Miss
You know, I love Bruce Springsteen, have for many years, and I've scarcely ever heard him do a bad cover, so I was fairly enthused when I saw on his YouTube channel a live rendition of the Clash classic "London Calling." But unfortunately, this just doesn't work:
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The major reason is that Bruce's voice is pretty ragged these days (it's a miracle he has any voice at all - he'll be 60 in September, and all those years of howling 3- and 4-hour arena shows are more punishment than almost anybody has put on their vocal chords. But he's still in better shape vocally than Dylan or Jagger, and he's probably lost less range to time than Bono or Billy Joel have). On his own material, that's less obvious, as he generally knows how to work the gravel in his voice to keep performing live, but this is a shouting song, and a classic young man's song at that, and Bruce just isn't up to it. The band just doesn't stomp enough on the main guitar and drum lines, either. Bruce does pull out a very impressive guitar solo around the 2:30 mark that makes the video worth watching all by itself (Bruce is a better guitarist now than he was in the 80s), but otherwise, thumbs down.
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July 24, 2009
BASEBALL: Everyone Will Be Doing It
Bill James has posted his intended-to-be-definitive take on steroids and the Hall (warning: link opens a PDF). You may or may not agree with it all - I can't say I agree with everything he says - but as always, James is wise, witty and thinking outside the box. Here's James in full futurist mode, on why the stigma attached to steroids is likely to fade with advances in technology:
If we look into the future, then, we can reliably foresee a time in which everybody is going to be using steroids or their pharmaceutical descendants. We will learn to control the health risks of these drugs, or we will develop alternatives to them. Once that happens, people will start living to age 200 or 300 or 1,000, and doctors will begin routinely prescribing drugs to help you live to be 200 or 300 or 1,000. If you look into the future 40 or 50 years, I think it is quite likely that every citizen will routinely take anti-aging pills every day.
And here is his take on how the explosion of sex on television illustrates the dynamic that drives the gradual erosion of standards:
[T]his happened without the consent and without the approval of most of the American public. It was never true that most people wanted to see more sex on TV. Probably it was generally true that most Americans disliked what they regarded as the erosion of standards of decency. But it was always true that some people wanted to see more sex on TV, and that was all that mattered, because that created a market for shows that pushed the envelope, and thus eroded the barriers. It was like a battle line that disintegrated once the firing started. The importance of holding the battle line, in old-style military conflict, was that once the line was breached, there was no longer an organized point of resistance. Once the consensus against any sexual references on TV was gone, there was no longer any consensus about what the standards should be - thus, a constant moving of the standards.
His point about the forgiving nature of history is also an excellent one, as is his view that there was never, in practical terms, a real rule against steroids in the game, in any sense that we understand the concept of rules and law:
It seems to me that, with the passage of time, more people will come to understand that the commissioner's periodic spasms of self-righteousness do not constitute baseball law. It seems to me that the argument that it is cheating must ultimately collapse under the weight of carrying this great contradiction - that 80% of the players are cheating against the other 20% by violating some "rule" to which they never consented, which was never included in the rule books, and which for which there was no enforcement procedure. History is simply not going to see it that way.
(The absence of consent isn't as big a deal to me as it is to people with more emotional attachment to the players' union and the collective bargaining process, but James is right that the absence of collective bargaining gave the players good reason to believe there wasn't really any sort of enforceable rule).
Anyway, read the whole thing, as the excerpts cannot do it justice. My own view remains that, aside from the extreme Joe Jackson case of people trying to lose ballgames or conspiring with those who do, the Hall should not judge people who got away with things that were fairly widespread to win baseball games - the Hall has always honored the true ethos of professional sports, which is that it ain't cheating if you don't get caught, and it's 70-odd years too late to change that. And, more fundamentally, the Hall isn't for the players as much as it is for the fans, and a Hall without the likes of Bonds and Clemens (and Pete Rose) ceases to be a Hall worth taking seriously. Put them in, and let the arguments themselves be immortal.
POLITICS: Not A Sparrow Falls From The Sky.....
Buehrle explained after the call that Obama also "was taking a little bit of credit because he wore the White Sox jacket at the All-Star Game and I told him how surprised I was that he actually did it.
Yes, I know Obama was trying (unsuccessfully) to crack funny here, but in humor there is sometimes truth - of course, The One's first natural instinct in making a call of congratulations is, "how can I claim credit for this?"
(As Ben Domenech asks, "how many perfect games have you created or saved today?")
July 23, 2009
POLITICS: Obama's Health Care Strategy: Vote First, Sell Second
One of the most elusive concepts in politics is the notion of a mandate. Presidents love to claim them to bulldoze opposition ("the American people elected me to do this!"), but they can evaporate with astonishing speed, most famously in the case of the backlash against Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Court-packing" plan after FDR had won the most sweeping electoral endorsement for any party in a presidential election year since the dawn of the modern two-party system.
If there's one essential characteristic of a mandate, it's that the public support behind the president is solid because people know what it is they're supporting. That's how conservative presidents like Reagan and George W. Bush got mandates to cut taxes: they ran on a clearly articulated plan, everyone who cared to follow the race knew what the plan involved, and public support didn't change dramatically once they got into office and their opponents started hitting back with the same arguments they'd used against the tax cuts during the campaign. A corollary is that when Members of Congress voted for the tax cuts, they could do so knowing that the arguments on both sides had been fully ventilated to the public, and the voters wouldn't turn against them quickly for supporting the cuts.
Barack Obama is now pressing forward on health care on the theory that he was elected on a platform of doing something about "health care reform," and therefore he has a mandate. Bill Clinton thought the same thing; so did George W. Bush after winning not one but two elections while promising Social Security reform. One can argue about their assumptions (that both Obama and Clinton won because of the economy, and Bush in 2004 because of war, social issues and the economy), and of course it remains too early to predict whether Obama will succeed in getting a health care bill to his desk. But of this much we can be certain: even if he does, his legislative strategy is designed to ensure that the bill is passed without the controversial details being sold to the voters. And if Congressional Democrats follow Obama's lead, they may find next fall that they can't hide behind any sort of mandate to justify their votes.
From watching him approach the votes on the stimulus and cap-and-trade proposals and now health care, we have a pretty clear picture of Obama's modus operandi:
Step One: Lay out very general principles and trumpet the absolute urgency of immediate action on those principles. Obama is in favor of "health care reform." He wants to lower costs and insure more people. A high level of generality. There was more flesh on the bones of his campaign proposals, but not nearly at the level of covering all the bases, and in any event Obama has not even tried to insist that legislation be crafted around his campaign proposal. Yet he has insisted that even if he can't say what exactly is to be done, it has to be done quickly and without a lot of debate.
Step Two: Deflect all specific attacks by not having a single bill with transparent provisions. On the House side, we've had a bill coming together that's fairly detailed, and as recently as this morning, Speaker Pelosi was simultaneously insisting that she (1) has the votes to pass it and (2) was going to cancel the August recess to hold Members in town long enough to get the votes to pass it. At a minimum, there seem to be a fair number of nominally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats who might vote for the House bill if forced to but would really prefer to have a bipartisan compromise emerge from the Senate instead. The Senate side has been much murkier, with support as well for a liberal bill like the House version but also a number of Democrats who are balking at the House's rigid demands and a number of Republicans who won't sign on to the House version but have left the door open to something different. In any event, it's impossible to debate exactly what an "Obamacare" bill is at present, because there's no one bill the White House is willing to publicly stand behind. Much of the Administration's communications strategy has been based on deflecting criticisms by denying that this or that controversial provision has been set in stone, using (1) the shifting nature of the various bills and (2) those bills' ultimate vagueness in passing on key decisions to an amorphous, yet-to-be-established bureaucracy as cover to stay unclear on how the pieces of the puzzle will fit together.
Let's consider, just as an example, one of the most radical changes in national policy that may end up in the final bill - public funding of abortions. For three decades, the Hyde Amendment has codified the policy under which the federal government does not provide taxpayer money to subsidize abortions. This is the ultimate middle-of-the-road compromise (for pro-lifers, just refusing to subsidize isn't nearly enough), but it maintains the pretense that the federal government is pro-choice rather than actively pro-abortion (if you subsidize something, you're actively encouraging more of it). Repealing the Hyde Amendment as a stand-alone piece of legislation would require a major pitched battle and be an enormous flashpoint for putative moderate Democrats from districts with a lot of pro-lifers; instead, it may get done as part of a huge, sweeping overhaul that brings in scores of other dramatic changes (tax hikes, huge funding increases, changes in the way insurance, medical care and malpractice are handled) all at once.
So, how does President Obama respond to criticism that repeal of the Hyde Amendment is a step too far? Here's what he told Katie Couric:
Katie Couric: Do you favor a government option that would cover abortions?
If Obama is serious about getting a public mandate for his bill, this isn't at all an honest approach; either the final bill will continue to bar the use of public funds for abortions, or it won't. But so long as he's not defending any particular piece of legislation, he can keep doing this two-step.
The list of controversial issues goes on, almost endlessly. Much of the controversy focuses on the effects of various plans on existing private health benefits. And Obama can claim a strong mandate....against tampering with anybody's existing health care. When John McCain proposed eliminating the favored tax treatment of employer-provided plans, Obama flooded the airwaves with ads hammering McCain for putting any sort of tax on anyone's current health care. Obama may argue now that the various proposals are different - the main liberal plans don't tax health benefits, they just use a variety of squeezes to try to drive them out of existence, but Obama's (laughable) pledge to make his hugely expensive proposals "deficit-neutral" leaves the door open to the possibility that a final deal may incorporate any number of as-yet unspecified tax hikes (also in violation of other of his campaign promises). But then, McCain's proposal also offset the taxes on employers with individual tax credits, and Obama pounced on him anyway, and ended up drawing substantial public support from people who - whether they knew that or not, having heard his barrage of ads - concluded that McCain would tax their health benefits and Obama would leave them in place. If proposals that tax or otherwise pressure existing benefits out of existence end up in the final bill, it will be quite a surprise to a lot of people who took Obama's campaign ads and rhetoric seriously.
Step Three: Keep as many things on the hopper as possible. For much of the year, Obama has sought to simply overwhelm the Republican opposition by pursuing so many different things at once - the above-mentioned legislative agenda, the continuing parade of bailouts, the Sotomayor nomination, the overhaul of intelligence and detention policy - that undermanned, underfinanced and disorganized Republicans simply couldn't get a hearing on all of them at once, and things could get done in Congress and the Executive Branch without a lot of scrutiny of the details. The apex of this strategy was the cap-and-trade vote that was buried in the news by the death of Michael Jackson.
This part of the strategy has broken down somewhat at the moment, as the President himself has now taken to talking almost entirely about healthcare. And that, in turn, has raised the political stakes, with Republicans openly declaring that health care is Obama's Waterloo. From here out, it will be increasingly difficult for Obama to ram through a vote under cover of other events.
Step Four: Rush to get the bill into concrete form and passed with as little time as possible elapsed from Step Two. We saw this dramatically with the stimulus bill, which got passed without anybody in DC having read the whole thing and with hardly anyone having a firm grip on exactly what was in the bill that might later prove embarrassing to have supported. And predictably, the stimulus package is much less popular now than it was when it passed.
The rush to passage is effective for muting opposition. Pelosi's desire to hold the House over August to vote would not only allow a rush to a vote, but would insulate her Members from spending a month in their districts hearing from voters while there's a proposal on the table they have some chance of understanding. But it also means the Members vote before they have sold the public on the bill and everything in it. Even if you think that's an appropriate way to make law in a democracy, as a matter of pure politics, it can be toxic later on. Even if the whole thing passed by the end of August, Republicans would have a year and a half to hammer on particular provisions of the bill ahead of the 2010 elections, and Democrats who voted for it could be caught offguard if they never spent a day guaging how individual parts of the bill would play in their states or districts.
Obama's not worried about that - he can run for re-election on his personal popularity and the historic nature of his historic presidency. But Congressional Democrats won't have that luxury - if you're a white male supposedly moderate Congressman running for re-election in a district in Indiana or North Carolina where a majority of the voters are still old enough to remember when and why they voted for Bush in 2004, you need to be able to defend the actual policies you voted for.
Which may be why Obama's hurry-up offense is at risk of a serious slowdown, with Harry Reid announcing today that unlike Pelosi, he's not going to cancel the August recess or have a vote before then. Congressmen and Senators are nothing if not self-interested, and with Obama having burned a lot of political capital to get them signed on to the stimulus, the bailouts, and the cap-and-trade bill, and with polls showing sinking support for health care reform, many of them may be ready to decide that a full and open debate on the particulars of a particular bill, and some serious time discussing those particulars with the voters, may be necessary to get their votes on a final package. And that's an outcome that can't warm the heart of the White House.
July 22, 2009
POLITICS: Our Incurious, Insular President
If we were told one thing by the media from the 2008 campaign, it's that telling Katie Couric you do not read a lot of newspapers is an absolute disqualifier for the presidency. (This is aside from how the media reacted to President Bush saying he didn't pay much attention to the newspapers). So, when Couric confronted President Obama with criticisms in an uncharacteristically O-negative David Brooks column, what was his response? In the President's own words:
Katie Couric: President Obama, there was a stinging column in the New York Times today written by David Brooks. He says Democrats are losing touch with America because, quote, "The party is led by insular liberals from big cities and the coasts, who neither understand nor sympathize with moderates. They have their own cherry-picking pollsters, their own media and activist cocoon, their own plans to lavishly spend borrowed money to buy votes." He goes on to say that you have, basically, been co-opted by Nancy Pelosi. And you've differed to the, what he calls, old bulls on Capitol Hill.
Gee, could it be that chief executives actually have important jobs to do that preclude them from spending a lot of time reading newspapers? (Judging from circulation numbers these days, they're not the only ones).
Obama's supporters who made a big deal out of Bush and Palin saying basically the same thing owe some serious apologies. But of course, they were just point-scoring; nobody apologizes for doing that.
July 20, 2009
WAR: No Friend Of Mine
Christopher Badeaux at TNL looks at the Obama Administration's coldness towards India - one of the most important of the many bilateral relationships that grew and thrived under President Bush - and how it fits into the Administration's foreign policy:
[P]roblem states get deference, offers of dialogue, pushes for American recognition in those all-important international fora, and not infrequently, large gobs of American money. They also get American rhetorical help with states that can make problems worse. If you’ve been paying attention lately, you know that usually means India and Israel.
Read the whole thing.
BASEBALL: Not Their Halladay
This just in via Jon Heyman
First of all, that's basically the whole farm system at this juncture. Second, I don't think Halladay helps them a whole lot this season - he's great, of course, but the point of bringing in another guy to lose games 2-0 and 3-1 is questionable. The offense is just too weak.
Look, I'd love to get Halladay, but it mostly comes down to whether the Mets think Halladay is worth the money - even if you're writing off 2009, as seems prudent to do, you're getting him for 2010 as well, and if you could lock him in for a few more years at a price you can live with, he's a decent bet to give you more value than those four guys, talented as they are. If you're not willing to pay the money, that's a hugely expensive rental.
POLITICS: Same Old Shell Games
Jeff Emanuel looks at Obama's deficit two-step on health care. I can't pretend to be at all surprised at this, and realistically it's hard to imagine anyone willfully naive enough to believe that the health care plan, if passed, won't massively increase government spending, resulting in (1) large tax hikes, (2) large increases in the deficit and national debt, or most likely (3) both. It's wasted energy on all sides to conduct the debate without frankly acknowledging this.
July 16, 2009
POLITICS: Race To The Bottom
Leon Wolf rounds up here and here the latest battery of incidents reflecting how white Senate Democrats - the same people who blocked Miguel Estrada's nomination to the DC Circuit out of fear that the GOP would put a conservative, highly qualified Latino on the Supreme Court - really think about African-Americans. Combined with this, the overall picture is an ugly one indeed. The logical inference here is that they feel essentially immune from the possibility of consequences, serene in the confidence that anything racially divisive helps solidify their political position, no matter how ghastly the underlying attitudes it reveals.
PS - On the second of the two Durbin exchanges, I love Sam Brownback's utter incredulity at what Durbin was saying.
POP CULTURE: Down At 30 Rock
Is 30 Rock really a ripoff of....well, go see.
July 14, 2009
POLITICS: Sarah Palin and the Scum of the Earth
If there is a lesson to be learned from Sarah Palin's withdrawal from public office, it is this: if you want to take out a female politician, you go after her children.
There is likely no one and single reason for Palin's withdrawal, and she cited a bunch of them in her disorganized "you won't have Sarah Palin to kick around anymore" speech. But two things seem to explain most logically Palin's behavior: she was ground down by the unusually vitriolic campaign waged against her, and the aspect of that campaign that did the most damage was the attacks on her children. As Palin put it in her speech:
In fact, this decision comes after much consideration, and finally polling the most important people in my life - my children (where the count was unanimous...well, in response to asking: "Want me to make a positive difference and fight for ALL our children's future from OUTSIDE the Governor's office?" It was four "yes's" and one "hell yeah!" The "hell yeah" sealed it - and someday I'll talk about the details of that...I think much of it had to do with the kids seeing their baby brother Trig mocked by some pretty mean-spirited adults recently.) Um, by the way, sure wish folks could ever, ever understand that we ALL could learn so much from someone like Trig - I know he needs me, but I need him even more...what a child can offer to set priorities RIGHT - that time is precious...the world needs more "Trigs", not fewer.
All national politicians take their share of potshots; it comes with the territory, and anybody who can't take the heat, as Harry Truman famously said, should get out of the kitchen. And with that heat inevitably comes some spillover onto a politician's family members - especially if those family members are politically outspoken adults, Washington lobbyists, or businesspeople involved in shady practices. But some grief will come as well to soft-spoken spouses and minor children. It's the nature of the business.
But no politician in modern memory, not even Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, has faced the sort of ferociously personal assault that greeted Palin from the instant she set foot on the national stage, in many cases before her detractors even knew anything about her besides that she was female, attractive, pro-life and pro-gun. And while the pervasive crude sexual references to Palin were horrible, the assault on her family was the worst of all. Palin has worn many hats in her life - Vice-Presidential candidate, Governor, Mayor, Oil & Gas Commissioner, City Councilwoman, sportscaster, point guard, runner, beauty queen, moose hunter - but it's clear that the role that defines her is her role as the mother of five children. And as James Taranto put it, "If you've never met or had a mother, the thing to know about them is that they tend to be very protective of their children."
There is fairly widespread public and media agreement that criticizing, mocking or making more than glancing political use of President Obama's two daughters is an absolute no-no. For the media's part, the effort to spare the President's children dates back to the Clinton years. Yes, there were mean-spirited jokes told at the expense of Chelsea Clinton, but Republicans who did so (John McCain, Rush Limbaugh) almost always immediately apologized, and Saturday Night Live eventually eased off on Chelsea. There was also regular vitriol from the left, mainly in the blogospehere, aimed at Jenna and Barbara Bush, and no apologies of any kind. But much of that was under the public radar. (John Kerry and John Edwards both bringing up Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter in the 2004 debates wasn't, but at least Mary Cheney is an adult). We have simply never seen anything like the targeting of Palin's children, under a variety of flimsy pretenses that no mother would ever accept as a basis for going after her kids.
One must attribute at least part of the vileness of these attacks, among left-wing blogs, to how very few of the leading left-wing bloggers have children of their own - were conservatives tempted to mock Obama's daughters, they would at least have to face their own daughters and sons at the end of a day of doing so. A political movement of the childless has no empathy for children. Empathy for other human beings requires human decency, and decency breeds hesitation - a hesitation the Online Left has never displayed. Were any of these people capable of shame, they would be feeling it. Instead, they have been gleefully dancing on Palin's political grave ever since. It is worth considering what the "New Politics" has looked like when applied to Sarah Palin, because it presents a cautionary tale for Republicans with families.
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The most egregious example was posted on Daily Kos on Sept. 12, 2008 by Paul Lewis Hackett III, a trial lawyer and U.S. Marine Corps veteran of Iraq, who ran in 2005 for a vacant seat in the House from Ohio's second congressional district, losing narrowly in a district President Bush had carried easily just a year earlier.
TIME Magazine noted that back in August, "National Enquirer sent four reporters to Alaska, hoovering up gossip about drug use by her older children and long-ago marital infidelity"; stories were run on drug use by her oldest son Track, who was serving in Iraq and thus, ironically, unavailable to defend himself. Cannon noted how Trig Trutherism forced the story of Bristol's pregnancy into the fore, and how differently it was handled than crackpot conspiracy theories on the Right:
Also, it's important to remember why the Palin family even acknowledged Bristol's pregnancy: Because a thousand "liberal" Web sites, led by Daily Kos, the favored site of leftist Democrats, filled cyberspace with off-the-wall theories that Trig Palin was really Bristol's child and that Sarah had faked her own pregnancy. This was truly ugly territory, and nutty besides. It's not terribly different from the Obama-is-a-secret-Muslim-not-born-in-this-country stuff, with one crucial distinction: The Obama Muslim stuff was either debunked or ignored by the media --not the conspiracy theories about Trig Palin's birth. In some quarters of the evolving new media - The Huffington Post and Bill Maher's HBO program, to name two - the Palin pregnancy hoax was repeated. Some traditional outlets, including Vanity Fair and, most inexplicably, The Atlantic blog written by Andrew Sullivan, kept hammering away at it after it was proven false by photographic evidence and by Bristol's own pregnancy.
Taranto noted the bile spewed specifically at Palin's infant son Trig:
Palin-haters have been unusually uninhibited in their cruel mockery of the governor's children, particularly Bristol and Trig. HotAir.com's "Allahpundit" notes that Palin's resignation moved one Erik Nelson to write a Puffington Host post titled "Palin Will Run in '12 on More Retardation Platform." (Trig Palin has Down's syndrome.)
Daughter Bristol Palin's relationship with her baby's father, Levi, has been ripped open for public consumption in the aftermath as he's appeared on "The Tyra Banks Show" to discuss his sexual experiences with her and was seen shirtless in the pages of GQ magazine. When Bristol attempted to become a spokeswoman for abstinence, based on her experience as a teenage mother, she was pilloried as a hypocrite and mouthpiece for her power-hungry mother.
Ben Voth drives home the point about the church-burning in particular - the culprits for which have never been apprehended - which led Palin to apologize to her fellow congregants for the negative attention her career brought down on them:
A public figure openly called for Palin to be raped during the campaign. Months after the losing campaign was over, a major comedian joked about the fictitious rape of one of her daughters. Immediately after the election, her church was burned. It's fairly difficult to reconcile this 'heat' as something conventional in politics. In fact, there might be some good reason to collectively indict Palin critics for their silent complicity.
Paparazzi regularly stalked the family, once ambushing Bristol Palin when she arrived with her newborn and her father at the Beehive beauty salon. Mr. Palin was forced to wait for her in the car with Bristol's baby, Tripp, whose image was fetching a particularly high tabloid bounty.
Then, of course, there was the highly-publicized flap with David Letterman:
During his opening monologue on CBS' "Late Night" Monday, Letterman poked fun at Palin's visit with her family to a New York Yankees game this past weekend. "There was one awkward moment during the seventh inning stretch," Letterman said. "Her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez."
Presumably, Letterman thought it was OK to make sex jokes about Bristol - really, does she deserve that? would you feel the same way if she was your daughter going through young single motherhood after a teen pregnancy? - but he misfired badly, as Palin was accompanied by 14-year-old Willow at the game. (Letterman also took the kind of potshot no liberal politician would be forced to endure, cracking that Palin "was in New York to pick up some 'slutty flight attendant' lipstick."). Palin, predictably, went nuclear, and ultimately forced an apology from Letterman, but once again she was off spending time defending her daughters from the national media.
Here are lessons of the Sarah Palin experience, for any aspiring politician who shares her background and her sex. Your children will go through the tabloid wringer. Your religion will be mocked and misrepresented. Your political record will be distorted, to better parody your family and your faith. (And no, gentle reader, Palin did not insist on abstinence-only sex education, slash funds for special-needs children or inject creationism into public schools.)
As the TIME profile notes, Palin closely followed and insisted on a response to every attack hurled her way. It's the polar opposite of George W. Bush's attitude, which for 9 years (including the 2000 campaign) was to ignore criticism almost entirely. The upside of Bush's approach was confident and steady leadership; the downside was a complete abdication of the field of public debate to his enemies, and an emboldening of them (if no charge would be answered, there was no downside in making the most inflammatory or spurious of charges). Palin's push-back-on-everything view, however, has its own costs, as it entangles the leader herself in personally absorbing every body blow. A more logical division of labor is for the candidate to hire people who do the daily work of fighting back, as long as they're given enough information to fight back with.
The second prong of the attacks that brought down Palin was the abuse by left-wing bloggers of Alaska's wide-open system (previously supported, ironically, by Palin herself) allowing almost anyone to file an ethics complaint against the Governor that would automatically trigger a costly and distracting investigation. Martin A. Knight has looked in detail at how this system was gamed by left-wing bloggers, sometimes pseudonymously, and the more than $500,000 in legal bills it imposed on the Palin family, in addition to the costs to Alaska taxpayers as the Governor's legal staff was swamped by the assault. The ethics charges against Palin were all unsuccessful and generally frivolous, but that wasn't the point; the effort to taint her good name and bankrupt her financially was. As TIME noted:
Since the election in November, Palin has been hit with at least 10 ethics complaints for such alleged offenses as allowing her picture to be used to promote Alaskan fisheries and wearing a logo on her snowmobile gear. One complaint was filed under a pseudonym borrowed from a British soap opera. Most were quickly dismissed. And yet, Palin says, she arrived at the conclusion that there would always be more and that the complaints would consume her remaining time as governor.
Followers of Palin's Twitter feed in recent months would have to notice that her most enthusiastic posts involved the dismissal of these various complaints. The ethics complaint machinery was even used to block Palin from accessing funds raised to defray her legal expenses:
While the defense fund has raised more than $250,000, according to its trustee, the money cannot be spent pending resolution of an ethics complaint that contends that the contributions could amount to improper gifts.
That financial strain, unknown to most national politicians, put hardship on her family as well:
Her husband, Todd, her most trusted adviser, was spending less time at her side both because they needed money from his oil industry job, friends say, and because questions had been raised about whether he had been too involved at the Capitol.
The bogus ethics complaint machinery has rolled onward, as witness her attorney's statement on the 18th and 19th ethics complaints filed against Palin:
When Governor Palin announced that she would be resigning, in part, because of the unusual number of frivolous ethics complaints burdening the state of Alaska, that was not intended to be an invitation to file more frivolous ethics complaints. Not everyone got the message. As if to underscore the Governor's point, two more frivolous complaints were filed this week.
All of this is on top of the campaign of innumerable falsehoods flung at Palin daily through the campaign, such as when Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times reported falsely that Palin had belonged to an Alaskan third party without bothering to consult voter registration records showing that she's been a registered Republican since being old enough to vote. The Left keeps up the campaign of deliberate smears even now, inventing a story that Palin was resigning under an FBI investigation, which an FBI spokesman unequivocally denied:
"There is absolutely no truth to those rumors that we're investigating her or getting ready to indict her," Special Agent Eric Gonzalez said in a phone interview Saturday. "It's just not true." He added that there was "no wiggle room" in his comments for any kind of inquiry.
The FBI story was spread with deliberate malice by many left-wing blogs; it had no basis in fact, but who cares? And no line of attack was too petty; when Palin Tweeted that Todd "left fishing grnds to join me this wkend; but now he’s back slaying salmon & working the kids @ the site; anxious to join ‘em!," left-wing Washington Post writer Greg Sargent, his sensibilities strained to breaking by the thought of salmon fishing, sniped that she was "looking forward to spending more time with my family killing animals." Perhaps the most amusingly baroque theory was a radio caller to Al Sharpton's show who suggested that Palin was dropping out because she had murdered Michael Jackson. Sharpton called the theory "interesting."
Naturally, the Palin camp suspects that the blog and media assault is more coordinated than it appears:
"A lot of this comes from Washington, D.C. The trail is pretty direct and pretty obvious to us," says Meg Stapleton, a close Palin adviser in Alaska. Awaiting a flight back to Anchorage from distant Dillingham, Stapleton adds that the anti-Palin offensive seems lifted straight from The Thumpin', which describes the political strategies of Rahm Emanuel, who is now the White House chief of staff. "It's the Sarah Palin playbook. It's how they operate," Stapleton says.
Regardless of the source, at the end of the day, all of this presents something of an ethical conundrum for the Right: whether to find a way to disarm these kinds of assaults, or failing that, to imitate them. Either way, it won't stop until the other side has a downside for continuing in this vein. The history of national politics suggests, unfortunately, that the latter is more usually the path taken: after absorbing years of harrassing Independent Counsel investigations and a bogus sexual harrassment flap, the Right turned those same weapons on Bill Clinton. After Newt Gingrich mastered the machinery of House Ethics complaints to bring down Speaker Jim Wright, the same machinery was used to help topple Newt. The Right will have a decision to make: whether to make like villians on "24" and adopt the war of personal attrition against family members used by the left-wing blogs, or accept that some punches should not be thrown and some playing fields simply can't be leveled. Neither choice is an appealing one, and for now at least the fact that the Right lacks the paid online 24/7 resources of the Left suggests that it is not even capable of the former. But in time, that worm may turn, and it's hard to see how anything in the world of politics will be improved as a result.
As for Palin herself, she remains a galvanizing figure who commands attention with every move, and we have almost certainly not heard the last of her. There are many ways for her to contribute to the public debate - op-eds, TV appearances, maybe a TV or radio show, book deals - and most of them are not fettered by Alaska's Lilliputian ethics system, while staying outside of public office and formal campaigning may make it easier to shield Palin's children from further abuse. Ironically, less time spent governing Alaska may give her more time to study and reflect on national politics. Only a fool would count her out of the political scene entirely, especially in today's volatile populist climate. But it's hard to see her as a serious presidential contender in the future. Presidents have to put all other things aside for their jobs, even their families. Maybe Barack Obama has broken the mold of requiring presidents to have some relevant experience, and maybe her primary opponent in 2012 would be a one-term Governor (Mitt Romney), but at the end of the day, a one-term governor who didn't even finish her term is not a credible presidential contender.
My reaction to Palin's decision, the more I think about it, is in some ways the opposite of my reaction to Mark Sanford. Palin has been a deep disappointment politically - she could have accomplished a lot more. Those of us who saw in her toughness, combativeness and joyful presence on the campaign trail a possible President are inevitably disappointed, as we've been disappointed again and again by Republicans - Sanford, Rudy, Fred, McCain, Romney - who one way or another always seemed to lack the fire to take the battle to the other side day in and day out for the cause. But as a human being, she walks away a success in a way that few people in Washington can contemplate, and few of her detractors could ever relate to. The salmon are biting, the sun is shining, the kids are playing, and the road is rising before her, and she's going where she's needed. If that's the epitaph for good, decent mothers in politics, well, we're a smaller, meaner nation for it.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 AM | Politics 2009 | Politics 2012 | Comments (119) | TrackBack (0)
July 11, 2009
BASEBALL: The French Reclamation
The most important take-home lesson from the Mets' deal of Ryan Church for Jeff Francouer is that the team is rebuilding. Church is not a great ballplayer, but he's a useful one; Francouer, right now, is not. Offensively, he does nothing: hit for average, hit for power, draw walks, steal bases. Francouer is, like Oliver Perez in 2006, a complete recalamation project, a talented athlete who needs to relearn from square one how to play baseball. In the present tense, his only actual strengths are his durability and his great throwing arm in right field.
That's not to say that Francouer, like Perez in the 2006 NLCS, might not have a well-timed hot streak, or might not, like Richard Hidalgo, have a good first month as a Met. But over the 2008-09 seasons, Francouer has posted a .243/.290/.357 batting line over 976 plate appearances, which is a serious problem for a catcher or a shortstop; for a right fielder, it's death.
If there's a hopeful parallel for Francouer, it's Jose Guillen, a similar player who showed some flashes of hitting talent but no plate discipline at age 21-22 (assuming Guillen is his reported age, that is), then proceeded to bat .252/.310/.381 while playing for four teams over four seasons from age 23-26. Guillen eventually found his swing, batting .286/.343/.489 and averaging 100 RBI per 162 games from age 27-31. Francouer could certianly do the same - but betting on him to help the Mets in 2009 is not something anyone committed to winning in the present tense would do (in fact, anyone who wants to finish ahead of the Braves would never have relieved them from the gaping wound Francouer represented in their lineup, much less given them in return a hustling player with an enormous grievance against the Mets for his treatment by the team's Keystone Kops medical staff).
Meanwhile, the Mariners have dumped Yuniesky Betancourt on the Royals for prospects. Betancourt is basically the same player as Francouer, a good athlete with a great arm and no plate discipline who has regressed since his early 20s as a hitter. Of course, Betancourt is a shortstop....I understand what Seattle and KC are both trying to accomplish: the Mariners are trying to make a point and add smarter, more dedicated ballplayers and discard the apathy of the past few seasons, while the Royals, their sights set perpetually low and their shortstop (Mike Aviles) having Tommy John surgery, are looking to buy low on a guy who plugs a hole and might help them just a little if he ends up being just marginally more dedicated to self-improvement than Angel Berroa was.
July 10, 2009
BASEBALL: Just This Once
Cool list of things that have only been done once in baseball history. H/T Some of these are familiar, others less so, and of course a few of them are gags or gimmicks.
You could make a longer list. Offhand, the obvious one to add would be Ed Reulbach in 1908 being the only guy ever to throw shutouts on both ends of a doubleheader (with bonus points for doing it in September of one of the game's most heated pennant races).
July 8, 2009
POLITICS: Yes, We .... Told You So
Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress have already increased tobacco taxes - which disproportionately hit the poor - to pay for extending health coverage to 4 million children in working low-income families.
H/T This is beyond the colossal taxes incorporated in the "cap-and-trade" bill. As the AP notes and others have noted lately, the explosive growth of current and future spending under Obama is basically designed to force tax increases down the line.
Yes, we told you so.
POLITICS: You Can Check Out Any Time You Like
It remains a fierce competition between California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Massachusetts as to what state has the worst, most dysfunctional government. California's budget disaster is a tough one to top, but then again it hasn't had anything to match New York's out-to-lunch State Senate or Illinois' Blagojevich saga.
Such are the joys of blue-state government.
BASKETBALL: Hide and Dunk
I remember when LaBradford Smith lit up Michael Jordan in a game for 37 points....Jordan didn't hide. He got even, made a point to absolutely smoke Smith the next time out, dropped something like 50 points on him. That is how it's done.
BLOG: Cost Cutting Comes To Local TV News
BASEBALL: Dead in the Water
I was out at Citi Field last night, and the Mets looked as lifeless as I have ever seen them, which is saying a lot, since I remember August 1991. With Wright slumping and all the other top hitters gone, there's just no offense to speak of. Sheffield's been a great pickup and all - he hasn't grumbled, and he's been surprisingly energetic on the bases - but you can't make an offense from Sheffield at this stage of his career. And everyone else is a supporting player at best.
It didn't help that Pelfrey was working behind in the count, which he can't get away with doing. Probably the highlights of the game were (1) Ryan Church making a sliding catch in center that Beltran would have made standing up without breaking a sweat and (2) Alex Cora faking out a Dodger baserunner by pretending to turn a double play on a ball hit to the warning track in left field.
The Mets were in good shape about a week ago when they were hanging one game back, but suddenly they look like a team that could drop completely out of contention before they get Beltran back, let alone Reyes.
July 7, 2009
BASEBALL: Not Getting It Done
177 players have at least 250 plate appearances thus far this season (if you're keeping score, roughly 6 per team). Daniel Murphy, playing first base for the Mets, is 159th in OPS in that group. Surprisingly, he's not even the worst 1B/corner OF in baseball (by far, that's been Brian Giles, and Jeff Francouer has also been significantly worse than Murphy.
Also notable is quite how far the top 4 guys stick out from the rest of the crowd.
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POLITICS/FOOTBALL: The Moralizers Were Right
My initial reaction, besides horror, to the shooting death of former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair was to try to hide from the story. I was always a fan of McNair, and will never forget the heartbreak of the Titans' just-a-yard-short drive against the Rams in the Super Bowl. Like Kirby Puckett, McNair was a guy whose virtues on and around the field of play were such that I'd prefer to remember him only as he was in uniform.
That said, the saga of McNair's death at the too-young age of 36 is the proverbial train wreck you can't look away from, and the details are ugly: McNair was involved with a 20-year-old mistress while he was married to his wife of 12 years, with whom he had four children. From what we can tell, his mistress thought he was leaving his wife, and his wife didn't know about the mistress. McNair's death has been ruled a homicide, and while the police haven't wrapped up the investigation, it appears that the mistress shot him and turned the gun - which she had purchased days earlier - on herself. The motive for the killing is likewise murky, but the obvious likely explanation is that McNair's deceptions in one sense or another caught up to him.
The McNair story brought me back yet again to the downfall of Mark Sanford and a basic point that the cultural Left, with its pervasive hold on our culture, has fundamentally wrong. You will recall that the main criticism of guys like Sanford from the left is that they are "moralizers" - i.e., speak out on behalf of traditional sexual mores and 'family values,' such as not shacking up with a woman not your wife, especially if you are already married. The argument, sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit, is that the real sin of political and cultural leaders is not cheating on their own wives but telling other people that cheating on your wife is a bad thing.
Now, of course any system of moral values, and any discussion of right and wrong in government policy, inherently involves religion, as the foundation of pretty much everyone's moral thinking is their religion or irreligion. That being said, it can't be stressed often enough that when our leaders speak out against things like marital infidelity, what they are doing is not just abstract moral philosophy but rather bringing to bear the prudence and wisdom of human experience. Which is where McNair comes into the picture. We know, from many thousands of years of human experience, that cheating on your wife opens up a whole world of hazards and complications and deceptions, and that many bad consequences flow to everyone involved that could otherwise have been avoided. If Mark Sanford hadn't cheated on his wife, he'd still be a presidential candidate. If Steve McNair hadn't cheated on his wife, he'd still be alive. If Eliot Spitzer hadn't cheated on his wife, he'd still be Governor of New York. And on and on and on throughout the ages. The story is all the sadder when men like Sanford and McNair, who had been models of integrity and professionalism in their professional lives, throw it all away over such foolishness. Promiscuous sex, sex among teenagers, prostitution, divorce...we know, and we see, the costs of these things played out again and again and again, and the job of adults, wise in the world by virtue of experience, is to impart to others those lessons, to impart knowledge that comes from human experience and acts as a restraint on the most common of impulses. When the leaders of our society, government and culture speak out on these issues, they are performing that valuable service. Would that someone had gotten that message through at some point to Steve McNair; would that Mark Sanford had listened to his own advice. And shame on anyone who wants to drive the wisdom of experience out of the public square.
The usual rejoinder at this point is to complain that of course it's all well and good for people to teach morality in the privacy of their own homes, but that people in politics and government have no business getting involved in private matters. As I have noted repeatedly over the years, that's an easier argument to make when government is small and less intrusive, and laughable coming from people who want to make it larger and more intimately involved in everyday life, but besides that, the very fact that things like adultery are largely beyond the reach of the law is precisely why they remain properly within the reach of the culture, and why it's a good thing to have prominent people speaking out on such issues.
Maybe McNair, and Sanford, and Spitzer, and so many, many others would never have listened. Human beings are sinful by nature, and desire is strong. But the whole point of civilized society is to make a concerted, collective effort to pass on what we have learned over human history about the restraints we must place upon our instincts if we are to avoid similar tragedies, if we are to act as reasoning moral agents rather than animals driven only by impulse. Being a 'moralizer' about those restraints may not be the popular path, but it's the path of wisdom and maturity. We should be happy for anyone still willing to do that job.
POLITICS: Out of the Game
Consider this something of an open thread on the Palin saga; I'm planning on writing something more extensive later.
Short answer: yes, she is finished as a presidential candidate, at least unless we get an even more bizarre series of events than the ones that took Richard Nixon from "you won't have Dick Nixon to kick around" in 1962 to the presidency in 1968. I hate to be quick to declare political obituaries, and as with Mark Sanford I could picture her having a second life as a Senator under the right circumstances, but not a serious presidential candidate.
July 2, 2009
POP CULTURE: How To Sing About You Now
Longtime readers know that - as discussed here - I'm a very big fan of the Saw Doctors, the great Irish pop/rock band, who in a just world would be international musical superstars. Anyway, here is a study in contrasts for you: among their more recent releases, which hit the top of the Irish pop charts last fall, is a cover of "About You Now," originally recorded in the U.S. by the Sugababes, but translated into something rather different by the Saw Doctors (a cover tune is a departure for a band that typically writes their own stuff, but this one was originally done to raise money for a cystic fibrosis charity...and yes, writing that made me think of Dean Barnett again). Check out three versions of the song. First, we have the Sugababes' decidedly R&B flavored original, which I will confess is not at all to my taste, here. Second, a version by teenybopper singer Miranda Cosgrove, here, which is basically the same thing but slightly less funky and more...well, for lack of a better word, white. Then we get the Saw Doctors' guitar-driven version, which of course is more rock n' roll and also, naturally, less girly and more wistful:
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One side note: I think I mentioned on Twitter that I learned when assembling the Kelly Clarkson profile quite how much of today's pop music is written by the same handful of people regardless of who the singer is, especially female singers. This tune is no exception, having been co-written by Cathy Dennis and Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwald, who between them have been involved in numerous hit singles by Clarkson, Britney Spears, Pink, Katy Perry, Avril Lavigne, and the Spice Girls, among many, many others. In a way, everything old is new again: the concept seems alien to people who came of age in the 70s and 80s (although the name "Burt Bacharach" may come to mind), but if you go back to the days of Elvis and Motown, stables of professional songwriters who worked with large numbers of different singers were quite common.
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July 1, 2009
BASEBALL: Something Brewing
A couple of thoughts on the Brewers as they move in for the sweep of the Mets and surge into first place.
1. This team is pretty good, but man do they have deplorable starting pitching aside from Gallardo - they seriously miss Ben Sheets. Looper, Suppan, Bush and Parra have been healthy enough that the Brewers have given just 3 starts to pitchers outside their front five, but the results are ghastly: a 5.60 ERA, with mediocre K/BB numbers (3.65 BB/9, 6.00 K/9), and more importantly 1.6 HR/9. It's hard to see a whole lot of room for improvement there, although if Parra (7.62 ERA) can get straightened out and throw strikes, they'd be in less of a hole. They're still going to need a #2 starter eventually.
2. Trevor Hoffman having the second-best ERA of his career is definitely a surprise. Before the season I'd thought he needed to be restricted to a ROOGY role, but he's held lefties to a manageably soft .300/.364/.300 while slaughtering righthanded hitters at a .116/.130/.163 clip (he's faced about a 50/50 mix). The main reason for the low ERA is that he hasn't been taken deep yet this season; his other numbers are good but not exceptional.
3. Mike Cameron is a textbook example of a guy who transformed from a talented underachiever to a respected veteran simply by doing the same thing every year for enough years. He's always been a guy who would give you some power and speed, great defense and a little plate patience, strike out a ton and hit for a low average. As a young player, people focused on the whiffs and what he could accomplish if he made more contact. At 36 and still striking out at a clip of 140-160 times a year, he is what he is.
4. I have JJ Hardy on one of my fantasy teams, and for the fantasy owner, Hardy is maddening because he's so incredibly streaky that you hate to bail on him even though he's batting .233/.308/.368. Last season, for example, Hardy was batting .242/.319/.343 on June 10; by July 7, he was batting .296/.364/.493. In 2007 it was a hot start; he batted .323/.371/.628 through May 16, but finished at .277/.323/.463.
Needless to say, he's just as frustrating for his real owners/fans, although in Milwaukee's case there's no serious thought to be given to replacing him; they just have to grit their teeth and wait for him to catch fire.