"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
Politics 2008 Archives
February 9, 2012
BLOG: Links 2/9/12
I should do roundups like this more often of the stuff I do on Twitter.
-Jose Reyes' hair sells for $10,200 in charity auction. The hair will play SS for the Mets.
-The one thing that's really booming in this economy - despite the best efforts of liberal activists and the Obama Administration to the contrary - is domestic oil and gas production. Frack, baby, frack!
-Yeah, sure, and being against Nazis is just what Elie Wiesel does to feel young & virile again. It is true that older people overestimate recurrence of the troubles of their youth. Ascribing this to "testosterone" is juvenile.
-Yet another "better Romney argument than Romney is making" column, this one with good ideas from Jim Pethokoukis. Call it a Prospectus for America.
-Then: "core symbol of right-wing radicalism" Now: Democratic mainstream. We always knew a lot of the anti-war stuff was just partisanship. Of course, unlike Greenwald, I regard this as a good thing for the country.
-Elvis Andrus focused on getting better. This seems like a unique goal to have.
-I'd forgotten that, for idiosyncratic reasons, Reagan actually won the popular vote in the GOP primaries in 1968.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:05 AM | Baseball 2012-13 | Blog 2006-13 | Politics 2008 | Politics 2012 | War 2007-12 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
December 30, 2008
POLITICS: Detroit Is Still Burning
The marvelous Matt Labash has a lengthy profile of Detroit that's both hilarious and heartbreaking. (H/T) On a macro level, conservatives tend to laugh at Detroit as being the Zimbabwe of American cities, a place where all of the worst pathologies of political, economic and cultural liberalism have been allowed to run wild for decades with predictably ghastly results, yet the city's incompetent and kleptocratic political class is perpetually insulated from accountability by an impenetrable wall of race-mongering. The Reagan Revolution, the reformist governorship of John Engler, the Gingrich/Clinton welfare reforms, the economic booms of 1983-89, 1995-99, and 2003-06...all of these helped put temporary brakes on the downward spiral at times but none did anything to alter the fundamental dynamics that have kept the city stuck in a permanent reverse gear. Detroit's residents, like Chicago's, truly have the government they want and deserve.
And yet, as is often true of the truly wrecked places of the world, on an individual level the human tragedies of the place are still worthy of our pity even as they overwhelm even the most optimistic among us (Detroit is almost certainly too far gone to be revived by a Rudy Giuliani or Bobby Jindal type, not that any is on the horizon). Labash combines horrifying statistics with heart-rending anecdotes to bring home precisely how bad things have gotten, and to pay tribute to the Detroiters who still battle the blaze. It's a must-read.
December 29, 2008
BLOG: Dave Barry Does 2008
The annual year in review column, always a must-read. January alone contains the most concise summary ever of the Obama campaign, while May contains a concise summary of how John McCain spent the months between wrapping up the nomination and the end of the Democratic race.
December 21, 2008
POLITICS: King Arthur's Daughter
I am torn on the issue of Caroline Kennedy being appointed to the U.S. Senate to fill out Hillary Clinton's term. On the one hand, as a New Yorker, I'm appalled. On the other hand, as a Republican, this is the best thing that could possibly happen short of Gov. Paterson deciding he likes the ring of "Senator Spitzer."
Kennedy is one of scores of wealthy Democrats in this state who have never held public office or accomplished really all that much in the public or private sector; all she has is her family name. That the Democrats are even considering her tells me that they've basically fallen into one of two dangerous delusions:
(1) That it's the 1930s again and all you need is a D next to your name to win;
I don't think much of David Paterson, but I'd have thought he has more backbone and independence than to let Kennedy's base (the media and the Obama camp) bully him into choosing such a poor candidate rather than the other available options, all of whom have more political experience and, frankly, all of whom would pay more (public) political dividends to Paterson, himself an accidental Governor who has yet to receive a mandate from the public.
Now, it is far too late in the game for either party to object on principle to political dynasties, given the scores of political families in this country (few states are without at least one major one). Nor is it wholly a bad thing - we accept politics as a family business for the same reason why we accept Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey jr., Jakob Dylan, Ben Stiller, Kate Hudson...every business is a family business, and the children of the pros do often learn things early. But of course, legacy politics has also given us more than its share of brain-dead empty suits like Bob Casey and Linc Chaffee who could never, ever have gotten elected to public office on their own. And this is still a democracy; even if we're willing to vote for second or third generation politicos, they still need to prove that they can run the gauntlet of seeking public approval first (George W. Bush, for example, cut his teeth working for his dad's campaigns but had no public office until he was elected to one by the people of Texas). The idea of just handing office to a 51-year-old who has never, so far as I can tell, accomplished anything in the practice of law or in politics simply because of her famous name is repugnant.
On the other hand, the GOP actually has a pretty strong candidate in Pete King, and Kennedy is about the worst possible matchup to a pugnacious Long Island Irishman with a blue-collar edge. She has no separate and distinct geographic or ethnic base, other than perhaps her gender, and it's sad that modern feminism's political icons seem to be women who only got jobs because of who their husbands or fathers are. She can't match King's long record in office and his many years sparring on the political talkers, nor his common touch. Kennedy would start out with pole position against King purely on party identification, but from there that's all she has - her nomination would be the ultimate example of what we have seen a lot of the last month, the hubris of Democrats who think they can never lose what they only just won.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:04 AM | Politics 2008 | Politics 2010 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)
December 15, 2008
POLITICS: Planned Unparenthood
POLITICS: So Much For New York's Famously Low Taxes
Via Shannon Bell: David Paterson is planning to join the roll of tax hiking Democratic governors with $4 billion in new tax hikes, including consumption taxes and, less objectionably, raising fees for government services, but, to Paterson's credit, not hiking income tax rates. On the spending side, Paterson is proposing some tough cuts - to Medicaid and education - but also expanding other areas of state spending like welfare and health insurance:
The most significant move was a proposed increase to welfare grants for the first time in 18 years, though more money would not be made available until the beginning of 2010. The administration plans to seek a 30 percent increase over three years, with the eventual cost of the increase exceeding $100 million a year.
As the NY Times notes, Paterson will likely come under pressure from Democrats, especially in the Assembly, to add income tax hikes on the same New York taxpayers also being targeted by Democrats at the national and city levels, and to drop the spending cuts.
December 8, 2008
POLITICS: Obamises Watch - The Economy
Flip - October 7, 2008:
Brokaw: Sen. Obama, time for a discussion. I'm going to begin with you. Are you saying to Mr. Clark (ph) and to the other members of the American television audience that the American economy is going to get much worse before it gets better and they ought to be prepared for that?
Score - November 4, 2008:
Flop - December 6, 2008:
MR. BROKAW: On this program about a year ago, you said that being a president is 90 percent circumstances and about 10 percent agenda. The circumstances now are, as you say, very unpopular in terms of the decisions that have to be made. Which are the most unpopular ones that the country's going to have to deal with?
If you had "32 days" in how long that one would last past Election Day: time to cash in. Funny thing about this "new politics": it seems so...familiar.
December 5, 2008
POLITICS: Malkin Talks Sense
Quote of the day, from Michelle Malkin:
I believe Trig was born to Sarah Palin. I believe Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. I believe fire can melt steel and that bin Laden's jihadi crew - not Bush and Cheney - perpetrated mass murder on 9/11. What kind of kooky conspiracist does that make me?
December 4, 2008
POLITICS: Life Matters
Ross Douthat looks at why the pro-life cause is doing well among younger voters, and specifically why it's doing much better than opposition to same-sex marriage, which started in a much stronger position and still commands a majority even in liberal states like California.
Of course, if you ask social conservatives which battle they'd rather win, it's no contest; both issues are important to the future functioning of society, but only one of the two is an issue of life and death. If the same-sex marriage fight has sometimes burned brighter in recent years it's only because the battle lines have been more fluid and the assault from the left more intense.
POLITICS: An Offer You Can't Refuse
My RedState colleague Jeff Emanuel looks at the health insurance industry's effort to get Congress to make it mandatory to buy their product. Matthew Continetti notes that the corporatist involvement of the industry is a key difference from the landscape that confronted HillaryCare in 1994 (it's much more like the conditions that gave us Bush's Medicare Part D plan in 2003).
Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:57 PM | Politics 2008 | Politics 2009 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
November 25, 2008
POLITICS: New York Senate Shuffle
So, assuming Hillary Clinton is, in fact, leaving the Senate to become Secretary of State (and assuming, see here, here and here, that she can Constitutionally take the job), that sets off the next round of political merry-go-round for New York: who will be appointed by Governor David Paterson to replace her?
Recall the setting. Hillary was re-elected in 2006, defeating Yonkers Mayor John Spencer; her term would be up in 2012, but Gov. Paterson gets to nominate a replacement, who would then face the voters in a special election in 2010. Gov. Paterson was elected Lieutenant Governor in 2006 and took over as Governor earlier this year after Eliot Spitzer resigned in disgrace. Meanwhile, Chuck Schumer is up for re-election in 2010, meaning that all three major statewide offices will be on the ballot in 2010, two of the three filled with incumbents who would be facing the voters for the first time, an unusually fluid situation.
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First of all, one thing that seems certain is that this alignment will result in Chuck Schumer running unopposed for re-election. Paterson and the new Senator, as well as the newly elected State Senators who have given the Democrats a majority in the State Senate, will all be juicy but expensive targets to take on in a state that tilts heavily Democratic; the NY GOP can only spare so many resources, and even in a good year for Republicans (as 2010 is likely to be), and Schumer is nearly bulletproof unless he goes the way of Spitzer.
Second, I don't think Bill Clinton will be interested in the job. Hillary, frankly, is apparently jumping at being Secretary of State to escape the dull anonymity of the Senate (bear in mind that Democratic Senators lacking seniority and committee chairmanships will now be expected to fall quietly in line with the Obama agenda no less than his Cabinet members) for the world stage and never have to campaign in Rochester and Buffalo again. I don't see Bill wanting to become a freshman legislator.
Third, while David Paterson is a protege of Charlie Rangel, Rangel's powerful position as Ways and Means Chairman means he won't be much interested in a "promotion" to the Senate. Likewise, Louise Slaughter would have been the logical choice among upstate Congresspersons, but Slaughter is 79 and chair of the House Rules Committee; like Rangel, she's too powerful and too old to leave her House slot and start over.
So who does that leave? There would appear to be five logical contenders.
(1) Andrew Cuomo is the logical favorite, for reasons of naked self-interest (Paterson fears, justifiably, that the State Attorney General and former HUD Secretary may challenge him for the nomination for his dad's old job). Cuomo has no particular regional base in the state - his father was from Queens, but Andrew has spent years in Albany and Washington - but has statewide name recognition and has won statewide election. Brian Faughnan suggests that the camera-hungry Schumer may be opposed to Paterson picking the high-profile Cuomo. Of course, Cuomo's tenure at HUD will sooner or later lead to tough questions about his role at the creation of the housing crisis. A Cuomo appointment would also set off a second round of musical chairs, as the AG job is a powerful one with many open investigations.
(2) Kirsten Gillibrand - I agree with ironman at Next Right that Gillibrand is a strong contender. Paterson is a black urban liberal from Harlem (if that's not redundant); to win statewide, he needs to draw support from upstate and reach out to white and/or Latino voters. Tabbing Gillibrand has the hallmarks of the classic ticket-balancer: she's relatively young (42), telegenic, Catholic, a mother of two young children and represents a traditionally Republican district she won in 2006 from the excessively hard-partying John Sweeney. Gillibrand might want to get out of Dodge - her district is sooner or later going to give her a tough re-election battle (in 2008, Gillibrand and her self-funding opponent combined to raise more money than the combatants in any other Congressional district in the country), and as Clyde Haberman notes, New York is likely to lose Congressional seats by 2012, so Democrats in marginal upstate districts will be scrambling to hold on.
The downside? Egos (of which New York politics has a perennial surplus) would be bruised if Gillibrand leapfrogs over more veteran lawmakers, including her old boss Cuomo (who she worked for at HUD). Democrats could well lose her House seat. And liberals may not be happy with picking a member of the Blue Dog caucus who has a 100% rating from the NRA, opposed Eliot Spitzer's plan to give drivers' licenses to illegal aliens, is a sponsor of the SAVE Act and of employer verification of legal status of workers and, supports making the Bush tax cuts permanent. (I'd expect her to drift leftward in the Senate, but if you're a Democrat looking to install someone in a safe seat, you might want someone more reliable).
(3) Nydia Velazquez - Another NY City arch-liberal (she voted to investigate President Bush for impeachment proceedings over the Iraq War), Congresswoman Velazquez - the chair of the Hispanic Caucus and the first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress - would cement Paterson's ties with Latino voters. There's speculation that she may prefer running the Hispanic Caucus, which makes little enough sense to me, and I'm not sure how well she would play in a statewide election. Wikipedia notes that "During her  campaign for the House seat, her medical records, including documented clinical depression and an attempted suicide [in 1991], were leaked to the press. She quickly held a press conference and said that she had been undergoing counseling for years and was emotionally and psychologically healthy." (This 1992 NYT report discusses the suicide attempt.)
(4) Byron Brown, the Mayor of Buffalo and a former State Senator. Brown is African-American, a mixed blessing for Paterson if he's looking to expand his appeal across racial/ethnic lines, but he's also the mayor of a key upstate city. Brown's record as an executive means he's less immediately identifiable along hot-button voting lines.
(5) Brian Higgins, a Congressman also from Buffalo, first elected in 2004. Higgins claims to be a New Democrat but is a much more conventional liberal than Gillibrand.
As for the GOP side, it remains to be seen. Mayor Bloomberg, now an Independent, has twisted many arms in the City Council to remove term limits so he can run for a third term in 2009; I assume that means he's staying put in 2010. Rudy Giuliani probably couldn't win a statewide election for the Senate at this point, but would be a very strong candidate for Governor if he was more motivated than during his disappointing presidential campaign; if the voters are unhappy with Albany, well, lots of politicians run on "change" but no living political figure has a record of bringing about as dramatic change as Giuliani did as Mayor of New York. Combative, maverick Long Island Congressman Peter King has talked about running for the Governorship as well, but King would probably be the GOP's strongest candidate for the Senate seat, depending who Paterson picks.
It's going to be an interesting two years here in the Empire State.
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November 24, 2008
POLITICS: Bizarro World
Meanwhile, expect some interesting questions for Eric Holder.
POLITICS: The Old Deal
POLITICS: This Week In Weed
Apparently, marijuana-selling cafes near schools are too much even for the Dutch, and indeed there is broader concern that the cafes are, predictably, bad news:
The Dutch coffee shop policy has come under fresh criticism after the Dutch cities of Bergen op Zoom and Roosendaal, located near the Belgian border, said they will close all their shops within two years to combat drug tourism and crime.
Is this the last hurrah for the land of the Hemp Festival? Perhaps not, as apparently the inevitable result of the continuation of the legal-pot policy is on the way: the government becoming the nation's monopoly dope dealer:
HOLLAND is pioneering cannabis plantations to supply the drug to coffee shops in a bid to cut out criminal gangs.
Marijuana policy is a slippery thing to get hold of; there's a libertarian case to be made for letting people waste their lives getting high on a drug whose ill effects are more similar to those of booze and cigarettes than to those of crack or meth or heroin, and of course there's the fact that enforcement against such a widely-used and easily-grown substance tends by nature to be arbitrary, invasive, cost-ineffective and shot through with hypocrisy. But legalization, as the Dutch have had time to experience, nonetheless presents its own perils. Personally, I tend to think the issue ought to be left to the most local governments possible, and the Dutch experiment reminds us that a local-control regime can lead even the most libertine communities gradually to wake up and smell the potheads.
November 22, 2008
POLITICS: Church and School
Sally Quinn of the Washington Post has a recommendation for the Obamas to choose the National Cathedral as their place of worship that is practically a parody of liberal attitudes towards religion:
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Washington National Cathedral also transcends politics and even the separation of religions. Though nominally an Episcopal church, it welcomes everyone. It is at once deeply Christian and deeply interfaith. The Episcopal Church has a long history of inclusiveness. The first black bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, John Walker, presided there. Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first female presiding bishop in the Episcopal Church, was inducted there. And Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson of the Diocese of New Hampshire was the first openly gay bishop in Christendom. "We are a place that welcomes people of all faiths and no faith," says Lloyd, echoing Barack Obama's words of two years ago. "Whatever we once were," Obama said then, "we're no longer just a Christian nation. At least not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation and a Buddhist nation and a Hindu nation and a nation of nonbelievers."
The cathedral sponsors programs on interfaith dialogue with Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Bahais and people of other faiths. Former president Mohammad Khatami of Iran attended a Christian-Muslim-Judaic conference there in 2006. Twice a year, there is an Abrahamic roundtable with Bishop John Chane, Rabbi Bruce Lustig and professor Akbar Ahmed of American University's School of International Service. Last spring, a "Lighting to Unite" event concluded the centennial. The theme: "One Spirit among many nations." With a background of sound and lights, the festival drew believers and nonbelievers from all over the country. "We wanted them to experience their humanity," says Lloyd, "to have the sense that they shared a common life with each other."
Now, peaceful civil relations between people of all faiths, or no faiths, is a good thing. Governmental recognition that we are a nation of people of all faiths, or no faiths, is a good thing. But this is pretty much the worst possible way to choose a church, the purpose of which is precisely the promotion of a single faith in the belief that it is the true path to God. You don't feed the body by browsing the supermarket; you pick food and eat it. You don't house the body by roaming the neighborhood; you pick a home to sleep in at night. Quinn's recommendation that the Obamas settle for spiritual homelessness is bad for their souls and, ultimately, bad for the nation if we are to be led by a lost soul. And it's even bad politics; a city as overwhelmingly African-American as Washington would be deeply offended if the nation's first black president chose, for reasons other than denominational compulsion, to turn up his nose at the District's many black churches. Quinn is, whether she realizes it or not, patronizing Obama by assuming that he has no particular faith, an attitude common to liberal opinions about Obama's faith. (It's likewise similar to the media's bafflement, in dealing with Sarah Palin, at the idea that she would pray for divine guidance in considering whether to run for president in 2012.
Meanwhile, the Obamas have already made a significant life-in-Washington decision by choosing to send their daughters to Sidwell Friends, one of the capital's most exclusive private schools, rather than sending them to one of the city's crummy (and largely black) public schools. I won't criticize this decision; it's undoubtedly the best educational option for the girls, and the Obamas' entry into politics doesn't forfeit their children's right to the best education their parents can afford to give them. But it would be nice if President Obama uses his influence to give the parents of other DC children more choices in getting their children into better schools. As I've said before, being a hypocrite may be bad, but making bad public policy is worse. If a little fear of the hypocrisy charge gives Obama pause in thinking about whether other DC families should have more educational choices, then his decision about where to educate his daughters will pay benefits for more than just the new First Family.
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November 21, 2008
WAR: Anti-U.S. Protest In Iraq
Peaceful protest. Which says it all, really, about how Iraq has changed since the days of Saddam; the fact that this is Sadr's people doing what people in democracies do also tells us how far we've come in the last 2-3 years.
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"You have reached the position of president, and a heavy legacy of failure and crimes awaits you. A failure in Iraq to which you have admitted, and a failure in Afghanistan to which the commanders of your army have admitted," the message [from Zawahiri] said.+++
On the subject of Iraq, the message said that while "evidence of America's defeat in Iraq appeared years ago, Bush and his administration continued to be stubborn and deny the brilliant midday sun."
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POLITICS: Media Shocked To Discover How Farming Works
In a perfect emblem of (1) how insular the media really is and (2) the national spotlight that will continue to focus on the Governor of Alaska wherever she goes, Sarah Palin did one of those typical silly ceremonies politicians across the country get asked to take part in, and went and pardoned a turkey in advance of Thanksgiving. But while the President has a turkey brought to him, Gov. Palin went to the turkey, handing down the pardon from a barnyard in Wasilla, then giving a news conference to reporters.
Why did this end up in the national news, including a sneering report on MSNBC? Well, the turkey farm went on with its usual business this time of year of slaughtering turkeys for Thanksgiving tables, and cameras caught a farm employee doing just that in the background while Gov. Palin talked to reporters:
The NY Daily News pronounced this a "shocking video" (you can catch the longer video of the whole pardon ceremony from the NY Post, although the Post's video - via the Anchorage Daily News - has to keep panning away from Gov. Palin to follow the guy slaughtering turkeys).
Folks, this is how farming works: you raise animals, then you kill them and eat them. Here in New York City, we don't get much exposure to the business end of that process, but people across the country who have farmed or hunted know that it's part of life, and has been as long as human beings have been eating animals. It's not a bad thing to have some people in public life who aren't shocked by where our food comes from.
November 20, 2008
POLITICS: Freezer Burn
Quin Hillyer tells the inspirational story of Joseph Cao, a Vietnamese immigrant who rose up from his youth in re-education camps after the fall of Saigon and lived to survive the decimation of his community in Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of his house in Hurricane Gustav, and is now the Republican challenger to William Jefferson. Cao has an uphill battle; we'll see if the voters in that District are willing to give honest government a chance or if they'll stick with the old loyalty to Jefferson.
POLITICS: Keep Counting Until You Win
If you want an illustration of why Republicans are so mistrustful of Democratic efforts to recount and recount and keep counting until they can overturn the Election Day results (and then immediately stop counting) - as Al Gore tried unsuccessfully to do, and as Christine Gregoire succeeded in doing in the Washington Governor's race four years ago, look no further than Minnesota and Al Franken's effort to pick off the 59th Democratic Senate seat by invalidating Norm Coleman's Election Day victory.
I haven't covered all the twists and turns of this lawyer-intensive effort, but a few to give you the flavor. Franken has been pressing to have all "undervotes" by Obama voters counted as votes for Franken on the theory that they are Democrats who undoubtedly meant to vote for Franken. The Orwellian name "undervote" aside, these are ballots where there's no vote marked for the race Franken was running in. It was silly to suggest, in 2000, that it was impossible for voters who voted Democrat in other races to have decided they really didn't want to vote either for Bush or for Gore - certainly plenty of voters found both candidates unsatisfactory, and if some of them accidentally forgot to vote, it was possible they meant to vote for Nader (or Buchanan - hey, if people could vote for both Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2008, they can surely vote for any number of odd combinations). But it's positively ludicrous to make this argument in this race. First of all, we heard all year about Obama's "historic" appeal and whatnot...now we are supposed to believe that it's impossible that anybody would vote for Obama and not be equally enamored of Al Franken? Second, even losing the state by 11 points, John McCain won 44% of the vote in Minnesota (1.275 million votes) - more than Franken or Norm Coleman, who each got 42% (1.211 million votes). Obviously, a fair number of people on both sides of other races were not as enthused about the two Senate candidates. One reason was that there was a serious third party challenger in the race - Dean Barkley, who got 15% of the vote. A truly accidental undervote could just as easily have been a Barkley voter. This is why it makes sense to count only actual votes as votes.
Now, after all that recounting, resulting in improbably large but not sufficient gains for Franken, what's his response? "the Franken campaign said the race starts over today tied 'zero-zero, with 2.9 million to go.'" In other words, no count matters except a count that gives the race to Franken. Repeat as often as necessary to create an excuse to have the count resolved not by Minnesota voters but by the Democratic majority of the U.S. Senate.
On a humorous note, Erick notes that "Franken said that he was 'cautiously optimistic' that he would prevail in the recount," and contrasts that with this quote from one of Franken's books:
Cautiously optimistic? That's not good. That's an optimist's way of saying, "We're screwed." I've instructed my wife that if a doctor ever tells her that he's "cautiously optimistic" about my test results, she is to pull the plug immediately.
Pull away, Al.
November 17, 2008
POLITICS: Rove's Road Out
I'm pretty much in agreement with all of Karl Rove's thoughts on rebuilding the GOP, and in fact a fair amount of it overlaps with my Obama Administration Survival Guide. Obviously, Rove's list isn't comprehensive, but it's a start.
POLITICS: Saluting History
Yes, this is the actual picture gracing the back cover of the NY Daily News' "Man of History" special edition:
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He really should stop doing that. (UPDATE: Here, too).
If you are wondering, November 2 was the last time the Daily News didn't have Obama's picture on the front page.
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November 14, 2008
POLITICS: The Kiddie Porn Party?
Honestly, I read things like this post at Ace, and it makes me wonder how Republicans ever manage to win elections. Ace notes two stories about aides to Democratic Senators getting arrested for possession of child porn. My reaction to reading the story about the aide to Barbara Boxer this morning was to think that this was something we Republicans could run with. But really, I couldn't get my head around making this a partisan issue with a straight face. And Ace, who is certainly not above bare-knuckles partisanship, can't really either:
Personally I don't think it's a trend, or indicative of Democratic sexual habits, either. Some people are wired wrong, and it really doesn't matter what philosophy such people embrace -- if they get off on child porn, they're going to get off on child porn.
And therein lies our problem. Most of your major conservative bloggers and pundits are going to point to this sort of thing as a media bias story rather than going for the jugular by accusing the Democrats of all being a bunch of perverts. Because that's exactly how the Left side of the blogosphere plays this sort of game - think of the Mark Foley or Ted Haggard stories in 2006, in Haggard's case a guy most conservative bloggers had to go Google because we'd never heard of him. All you heard was how these particular screwups were emblematic of something larger. People lingered over this stuff, writing about the stories again and again and again. Foley got replaced in Congress with Tim Mahoney, who turned out to have a horribly messy sex scandal of his own involving payoffs to his mistress. We didn't get 24/7 media saturation with Mahoney the way we did with Foley, not even the media looking into what the Democratic House leadership knew and when they knew it. Partly that's because the national media doesn't want to go there, but maybe, in some sense, because our hearts weren't really in making it so. And until that changes, we're still going to have a serious online activism deficit on the Right.
POLITICS: The Budget By The Numbers
Time for some hard numbers to follow on this post discussing "fiscal conservatism" and provide some historical perspective on the GOP's successes and failures in controlling taxes and spending. Here's the budget presented as a percentage of GDP since 1947, along with the partisan control of the three elected branches. The fiscal year numbers generaly refer to the year after the budget was passed, as discussed below the fold - thus, for example, Reagan was elected in 1980, took office in 1981, and his first budget was Fiscal Year 1982. Given the ongoing nature of appropriations, 2008 and 2009 are still estimated numbers. I left off the estimates for beyond that, since those will be Obama's budgets and nobody knows yet for certain what his budgets or the economy will look like, and anyone who makes any sort of fiscal projections that far ahead has no clue what they are doing. In addition to revenues, spending and the deficit I added in the national debt and expenditures on interest to give some perspective on the impact over time on the budget of deficit spending.
I continue to believe that the number that matters most is spending as a percentage of GDP, which peaked over 20% twice under all-Democrat governance (the first time, on the eve of the GOP wave of the 1952 elections), started booming regularly above 20% after the Democrats got their post-Watergate majorities in Congress (Fiscal Year 1975, actually the budget the year of Watergate before those elections when the White House was prostrate, saw spending spike from 18.7% to 21.3% in a single year) and peaked at 23.5% in the second year of the Reagan defense buildup (and while the economy was still in recession), when the GOP held the White House and the Senate, and bottomed out in 2000, Clinton's second term, when the GOP held both houses of Congress and the economy was riding the dot-com boom. Spending under Bush - driven partly but not wholly by wars and entitlements - crept back up to pre-Gingrich levels, and looks to set new post-1994 highs since Pelosi and Reid took over. One of the lessons of which is the influence of Congress, and specifically the House, on the budget. We're creeping back towards 21% for the first time since the last time we had unified Democratic governance.
As to taxes, fiscal years 1998-2000 under Clinton were the all-time high watermark for the nation's tax burden, peaking at 20.9% of GDP and setting the stage for Bush to run on a tax cut platform. Taxes under Bush bottomed out in the first year of the full Bush tax cuts at 16.4%, the lowest share of GDP since 1951, but have been rising since then with economic growth through FY 2007 (unlike spending, taxes are directly linked to the economy, but the distribution of economic activity still impacts tax receipts). Obviously that will abate with the economy's decline this year.
The deficit, of course, is the number you're familiar with; it peaked the same year as federal spending (FY 1983), dropped by two thirds from FY 2004 to FY 2007, but is rising rapidly again since the GOP Congress left town. The national debt has never really recovered from its sustained growth from FY 1982-FY1996, but lower interest rates have made the costs of that debt much more tractable (which also means that if rates ever return to late-1970s levels, the federal taxpayer is doomed).
Where do we go from here? On spending, the item most directly under political control, I'll be very surprised if we're not above 22% by Obama's second budget (and that's assuming that the checks he plans to cut to non-taxpayers are not counted as "spending"). Tax revenues will probably drop in the next year or two, as the chaos in the financial and housing markets have slashed the tax base, and that's before we get to the impact of rising marginal and investment tax rates.
Anyway, the bottom line here is pretty much what you'd expect: Republicans have had better luck cutting taxes than spending; a GOP Congress and specifically a GOP House is more important to fiscal discipline even than a GOP President (this would be even more dramatic if we looked at the size of the GOP caucus in the House); and unified Democratic governance is a recipe for growth of the federal government across the board.
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The budget data is explained here, including this note on fiscal years:
The Federal fiscal year begins on October 1 and ends on the subsequent September 30. It is designated by the year in which it ends; for example, fiscal year 2007 began on October 1, 2006, and ended on September 30, 2007. Prior to fiscal year 1977 the Federal fiscal years began on July 1 and ended on June 30. In calendar year 1976 the July-September period was a separate accounting period (known as the transition quarter or TQ) to bridge the period required to shift to the new fiscal year.
I use 1947 as a starting point, as it's the first year after full demobilization from World War II; the war budgets were colossal - in Fiscal Year 1943, the deficit was over 30% of GDP. And before the New Deal, federal spending was generally less than 10% of GDP.
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POLITICS: No Way To Lose An Election
UPDATE: Mary Katherine Ham has more.
November 13, 2008
LAW: The Election and the New York Courts
POLITICS: "Fiscal Conservatives" Unclear On The Concept
The Washington Post, looking at the GOP rout in the Northeast, sells the hoary old myth that there is a large and coherent "fiscally conservative and socially liberal" faction that got ignored by the national party:
What happened, say some current and former Republican leaders, is that the national party moved away from the issues of fiscal conservatism, small government and lower taxes. As the base of the party shifted to the South and West, social conservatives and evangelicals moved to the forefront, and issues such as abortion, school prayer and gay marriage took primacy on the national party's agenda -- in the process turning off more moderate voters in this part of the country.
I'll leave aside for now the social-issue side of this argument (hey, when did Congress vote on school prayer?), the short answer to which is that smaller government and more federalism is the best way to reassure Northeastern voters that they can support social conservatives nationally without disturbing their own states' social policies at home, and focus on the problem with the use of the term "fiscal conservative": it has no fixed meaning.
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You can see this in the bold passages in what I quoted: you have some people saying fiscal conservatism is about low taxes, but then you have Chafee voting for higher taxes and opposing tax cuts proposed and passed by a Republican President and Congress, also on the theory of being "fiscally conservative." These people can't agree what they stand for.
The problem is that too many people have gotten locked into two notions peddled by the Democrats and their media allies: that balancing the budget is the be-all and end-all of "fiscal conservatism," and that spending cuts are impossible, so the only way to ever balance the budget is to raise taxes - and then, when spending keeps rising, raise them again. The WaPo, typically, simply assumes these premises.
No wonder voters who want lower taxes abandoned these people. And maybe if they'd made a concerted effort to beat back overspending, they'd have been listened to. It is a fair criticism of Bush and the GOP Congress that they failed to restrain federal spending, and even added a new and hugely costly entitlement by adding prescription drug coverage to Medicare. But where were the Northeastern "fiscal conservatives" when the spending battles were going unfought? Where were they when the GOP nominated a genuine spending hawk for President in John McCain and he couldn't even win New Hampshire? In fact, studies have repeatedly shown that the best spending records in the GOP come from people like Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint who are also rock-ribbed social conservatives. Even in the Northeast, the guy who's fought the toughest spending battles is Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri, a solid social conservative. (Cato, for example, gives Carcieri the best fiscal report card of any Republican Governor in the Northeast). The social liberals in the party, with precious few exceptions, haven't held up their end of the deal.
Consider two candidates. Candidate A promises that he'll spend 15 cents for every dollar you make, and tax you 12; he'll make up the difference by issuing Treasury bills. Candidate B promises you a balanced budget...he'll spend 22 cents of every dollar and tax you 22. If your interest is in smaller government and lower taxes, how can you favor Candidate B? How can you call Candidate B the "fiscal conservative" if you intend that term to have any meaning whatsoever?
I suppose if you play with the numbers long enough you can argue that excessive federal deficit financing leads to runaway growth in interest expenditures, but in the real world the federal government has the world's lowest borrowing rate and has rarely been close to as heavily leveraged (in terms of debt service as a percentage of annual expenditures) as the kinds of corporations that get themselves in serious trouble with too much debt. Some debt is healthy. And even if you are concerned about deficits, the cure is certainly not to let spending run free and just keep jacking up taxes; it's to bring spending in line with tax revenues. That's what living within your means is really about.
The key to winning back voters disenchanted with the GOP as a steward of taxpayer funds is spending and the size of government; show we can cut those, and broader support will follow. I don't agree with all of P.J. O'Rourke's diagnoses but he's surely right that the GOP lost credibility by failing to deliver tangible progress in shrinking the federal footprint. The opportunity for the GOP's revival will come from the fact that the whole federal government is now in the hands of people who intend to expand that footprint like there's no tomorrow. Sarah Palin gets this, as several Republican Governors do, but of course, she and other GOP Governors who grasp the theory now have to go back and prove they can pare back their own state budgets in tough economic times. Because at the end of the day, holding the line on spending is the real test of fiscal conservatism.
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November 11, 2008
BUSINESS: Liar's Poker Folds
I've been waiting for Michael Lewis to write the definitive account of the credit crisis. This is an excellent start.
Here's a few of his vignettes on the housing market madness at the foundation of the crisis, although he has much more on how it worked its way through the financial system:
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There's a simple measure of sanity in housing prices: the ratio of median home price to income. Historically, it runs around 3 to 1; by late 2004, it had risen nationally to 4 to 1. "All these people were saying it was nearly as high in some other countries," Zelman says. "But the problem wasn't just that it was 4 to 1. In Los Angeles, it was 10 to 1, and in Miami, 8.5 to 1. And then you coupled that with the buyers. They weren't real buyers. They were speculators."
The juiciest shorts - the bonds ultimately backed by the mortgages most likely to default - had several characteristics. They'd be in what Wall Street people were now calling the sand states: Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada. The loans would have been made by one of the more dubious mortgage lenders; Long Beach Financial, wholly owned by Washington Mutual, was a great example. Long Beach Financial was moving money out the door as fast as it could, few questions asked, in loans built to self-destruct. It specialized in asking homeowners with bad credit and no proof of income to put no money down and defer interest payments for as long as possible. In Bakersfield, California, a Mexican strawberry picker with an income of $14,000 and no English was lent every penny he needed to buy a house for $720,000.
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BASEBALL: Holliday On The Road To Fremont
Now, we're starting to get some real activity in the baseball offseason. The big news is a projected, non-finalized blockbuster deal sending Matt Holliday to the A's for a package that reportedly includes Greg Smith, Huston Street and Carlos Gonzalez. I'll try to look at the on-the-field angle once we have a final report of the players involved, but this is an interesting deal from the perspective of analyzing the A's franchise, since it represents the A's doing the big-market thing and packaging young players for an established star, represented by Scott Boras, who is going to command a huge salary on the free agent market after the 2009 season (much like when they acquired Johnny Damon, who promptly had a lousy year and then left). It remains to be seen whether Lew Wolff is planning to pull the trigger on a big contract for Holliday now that the A's are heading for a new stadium and a new city.
On that subject, Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman ran for re-election as a supporter of finally bringing the A's to Fremont by 2012 (his opponent was against the plan), and Wasserman's victory is widely seen as a victory for the new stadium. Wolff sees it that way, and is still hopeful that the park can be ready by 2011:
Despite challenges to building a new baseball stadium, Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff said "we can get it done" in Fremont.
Wolff would change the team's name to the Athletics at Fremont, and the classic brick ballpark, scheduled for completion in 2012, would be named Cisco Field after the computer networking company.
Ugh. I suppose "at" conveys their transience better than "of" ... given the franchise's history, they may as well just call them the Traveling Athletics and be done with it.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:14 AM | Baseball 2008 | Politics 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: How To Tell The "Culture Wars" Are Not Over
Peter Beinart had an article in the Washington Post the Sunday before Election Day arguing that the culture wars are over; according to Beinart, Sarah Palin was failing to connect with voters because
Palin's brand is culture war, and in America today culture war no longer sells....Although she seems like a fresh face, Sarah Palin actually represents the end of an era. She may be the last culture warrior on a national ticket for a very long time.
Beinart is wrong - completely wrong. We can tell that the "culture wars" are not over because Democrats and liberals are still fighting them. We know culture warriors won't disappear from national politics because one of them just won the presidential election. And if Beinart means that conservatives are losing the culture wars, that's far from a certain bet, and one the Democrats would be ill-advised to take.
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I. It Takes Two Sides To Have A War
A. The False Narrative
At its core, Beinart's thesis is grounded in one of the familiar tropes of passive-aggressive liberal pundits: the idea that the "culture war" - political battles over cultural and social issues ranging from abortion to crime to immigration to racial preferences to same-sex marriage to guns to the role of religion in the public square - consists entirely of conservatives picking fights against liberals who just want us all to get along. In this narrative, two things are true: (1) that liberal positions on, say, economic issues are popular but liberal candidates keep losing elections over cultural issues that shouldn't matter in elections; and (2) that conservative positions on cultural issues are outside the mainstream and doomed by their unpopularity. Of course, it's logically impossible for both of these things to be true (unless liberals win all the time, and it will take more than two bad election cycles to prove that), but that's not really my point.
The point is this: we have political conflict over social and cultural issues because we have two sides that disagree on a broad range of issues, and neither is willing to change its position. If these issues were actually unimportant or indefensible, the side that was losing elections on them would throw in the towel and adapt its positions, as for example happened with the end of the political battles over segregation and Prohibition. And if cultural liberals disdained conflict, they would never start battles on these issues - yet they do so all the time. Indeed, abortion wasn't an issue in national politics until Roe v. Wade; the NRA wasn't a force in politics until liberal politicians pushed increasingly intrusive gun-control measures.
Pundits like Beinart like to frame these issues as a "war" promulgated by only one side because they can pander to the sensibilities of voters who think it's rude to fight about these issues. It's a political strategy designed to seize the moral middle ground. But Beinart and his ilk can't possibly be so insular as to believe that any of this this is true. Let's do a little thought experiment to show the unreality of this entire theme.
B. Imagine There's No Culture War. It Isn't Hard To Do.
Let's imagine that Beinart was right. Let's imagine that social and cultural conflict are political losers. Let's imagine that the wise Democrats who were just swept into power last week have no intention of using government power to alter the social and cultural landscape. Consider what things would be true if that were the case:
(1) Not only would Barack Obama make Supreme Court and other federal judicial nominations entirely without regard to how his nominees might handle hot-button issues like abortion, but Obama would face no significant pressure from interest groups on the Left to choose nominees who would uphold Roe v. Wade, roll back restrictions on racial preferences, etc. These issues simply would not come up at confirmation hearings. In fact, we know that the Democrats raised such hot-button issues in the confirmation hearings of numerous nominees for the Supreme Court and lower federal courts (probably the single Democrat who pressed these issues most frequently was Joe Biden), we know that Democratic candidates were quizzed on the issue throughout the primaries by liberal interest groups, and we know that there is absolutely zero chance that Obama would nominate a Supreme Court Justice who he suspected of being less than 100% committed to upholding Roe.
(2) The Obama Administration and the Democratic Congress would not seek to push change on social and cultural issues through new legislation and executive orders. Yet there is extensive evidence that they will do just that. Obama promised in 2007 that "The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing that I'd do" - and FOCA is all about abortion, sweeping and comprehensive new federal legislation to repeal the ban on partial birth abortion, preempt every single state law placing even modest limitations around abortion - "effectively nullify informed consent laws, waiting periods, health safety regulations for abortion clinics, etc." and remove legal protections for doctors and hospitals who refuse as a matter of conscience to perform abortions. Obama's people are talking about rolling out a battery of new executive orders that will go into effect immediately, including on stem cell research and federal funding for abortion providers overseas. (In fact, Obama has said in the past that he opposes the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of taxpayer money to subsidize abortions in the U.S.). The wish-list of "progressive" actions on social issues is likely to get a lot longer in the weeks to come, and every time you see an Obama Administration or Democratic Congress pushing new laws or new regulations or executive orders on these topics, ask yourself if the Democrats really aren't interested in a battle over the culture.
(3) Democrats would not run campaign commercials seeking to gain political advantage on social and cultural issues. Yet where they believed that they could gain advantages by doing so, they did. Obama was so eager to run ads attacking the GOP for its unpopular opposition to embryonic stem cell research (a big electoral winner for the Democrats in 2006) and attacking Republican opponents of immigration that he cut radio ads claiming that John McCain opposed stem cell research and was anti-illegal immigration *, in both cases the polar opposite of McCain's actual position. Obama ran, in some jurisdictions, ads about abortion, as did many Democrats nationwide (even in a State Senate race in my part of Queens).
(4) Speaking of Sarah Palin, Democrats would not have attacked her on cultural grounds. As Ramesh Ponnuru noted in response to Beinart:
[T]hat bit about Palin's brand is, I think, incorrect. It's not culture-war crusading that made Palin the most popular governor in America. And while it's clear that her being pro-life was a prerequisite for her getting on the ticket this year, I doubt McCain put her on it in order to fight the culture wars: He probably saw her pluses as 1) she's a fresh female face, 2) she's a popular governor, 3) she has a record of fighting corruption, including Republican corruption, and 4) she's acceptable to the party base. The resulting ticket has not done much to elevate the issues of same-sex marriage and abortion.
If you don't believe Ramesh, go back and read Palin's convention speech or her speech when McCain introduced her as his running mate and compare the amount of time she spent talking about hot-button social issues as opposed to economic issues, government reform and national security. It was Obama's supporters who pushed attacks on Palin over things like book-banning, the teaching of evolution, sex education and rape kits, none of which were things Palin set out to talk about in this race.
I'm not suggesting that Palin never engaged in cultural wedge politics, just underlining the fact that an awful lot of the social and cultural wedges driven over Palin came from her opponents, which would not have happened if the culture wars were over as Beinart imagines.
(5) The Democrats would not have picked a culture warrior of the Left as their nominee. Obama is the furthest thing possible from the kind of anodyne, Mark Warner-ish technocrat who is concerned only with economic issues and the functioning of government programs. Look back at Barack Obama's career, from the State Senate up through the Democratic primaries, and you'll see that this is a guy who put a disproportionate amount of his time and energy into issues like abortion, sex education, racial profiling, gun control, the death penalty, drivers' licenses for illegal aliens, racial preferences, and race-specific redistricting. His long affiliation with the divisive Jeremiah Wright was, plainly, an effort to play to the cultural sensibilities of his State Senate constituents. The millions of dollars he poured through Bill Ayers into things like "Afrocentric" public education in Chicago was certainly all about cultural politics. (This is aside from the extent to which Obama's "historic" campaign marketed Obama as one big walking racial-politics issue). As noted above, Obama picked as his running mate a guy best known to the country from the Bork, Thomas, Roberts and Alito hearings, and Obama himself voted against Roberts and Alito on strictly ideological grounds. The Democratic Congressional leadership is studded with culture warriors - there are many more Nancy Pelosis there than Harry Reids.
(6) The Left wouldn't have an active infrastructure for pushing its side on social issues in election campaigns. Yet we have, for example, TIME Magazine reporting with a straight face on the existence of a "Gay Mafia" (their term, not mine) pouring money into races over gay issues - "Among gay activists, the Cabinet is revered as a kind of secret gay Super Friends, a homosexual justice league that can quietly swoop in wherever anti-gay candidates are threatening and finance victories for the good guys." (I swear, these are actual quotes from the article). We have Emily's List, "dedicated to building a progressive America by electing pro-choice Democratic women to office." Heck, in North Carolina the Democratic Senate candidate accepted the endorsement of "Godless America PAC."
(7) The Left would accept its losses and move on. Instead, we have fierce battles to take to the courts whatever the cultural Left loses at the ballot box, most recently the lawsuits filed to enjoin Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban. A lengthy and concerted campaign also knocked the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, an anti-racial-preferences proposal, off the ballot.
There is simply no way to look at the Democratic Party as presently constituted, and the interest and pressure groups that support it, and argue with a straight face that they are disinterested in fighting a culture war. They have their positions, they'll fight to win, and they make political hay when they can. It's insulting to our intelligence to claim otherwise.
II. Is Beinart's Side Winning?
The alternative reading of Beinart's argument, which he's not quite willing to come right out and say, is that yes, his side is waging a culture war - and winning. Obviously in the aftermath of a decisive election victory by a candidate like Obama, with increasing margins for the Democratic majorities in Congress and in a number of state legislatures, that's a tempting claim to make. But I'd suggest that there are some cautions before the cultural Left engages in triumphalism here.
The first is the referenda - even if Republicans were quite unpopular on this Election Day, socially conservative positions did a lot better in referenda. Besides Proposition 8 passing a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in gay-friendly deep-blue California, you had similar ballot initiatives pass in Arizona and Florida. A ban on racial preferences passed in Nebraska and a similar measure lost only narrowly in Colorado. (Pro-life initiatives did less well in some places like South Dakota where they were poorly funded). These are not the results you would expect from a nation that has suddenly taken an abrupt left turn.
Second, while the Democrats are still intent on fighting a culture war, their behavior over the past 3-4 years suggests that they nonetheless recognize that there are serious downsides to them doing so. Even with the nomination of Obama, the national party has run away as fast as it can from its previously aggressive agenda on gun control, which is just as bad politics for the Democrats in most districts as stem cells is for most Republicans. Obama did try to avoid talking much about a bunch of the wedge issues he'd used throughout his career. And at the Congressional level, we've seen a lot of putatively pro-life, pro-gun, and even anti-illegal-immigrant Democratic candidates, a nuber of whom have been elected. Only time will tell if these rank-and-file Democrats will have any impact in muting the culture-warrior inclinations of the party's base and leadership, but the fact that they were supported by the party at all suggests that a more conservative stance on many social issues is still necessary to get elected in many parts of this country.
Third, Beinart's own analysis suggests that we shouldn't read too much into 2008:
In 2000, in the wake of an economic boom and a sex scandal that led to a president's impeachment, 22 percent of Americans told exit pollsters that "moral values" were their biggest concern, compared with only 19 percent who cited the economy.
Most analysts of politics and history would find bizarre Beinart's argument that social and cultural issues are off the table during times of economic stress (tell that to Jerry Falwell, who started the Moral Majority during the pit of the Carter years). But an economic crisis eight weeks before a national election is another matter. So social and cultural issues don't seem to have mattered much in this election - well, neither did national security, yet nobody would seriously argue that national security is no longer an issue in American politics. It just happened that we had a race unusually dominated by a sudden economic crisis. Democrats who build a long-term strategy on re-creating those conditions will end up disappointed.
Has the political landscape on social and cultural issues moved left? Certainly the Left is now empowered. But ironically, the status quo argument of pundits like Peter Beinart will become completely and openly indefensible if the next few years are characterized by broad-ranging efforts to use the federal government to impose change on the social and cultural landscape; voters who hate hearing about these issues may discover they're not fond of a party that wants to spend its first month in office pushing taxpayer funding for abortion. If the Democrats believed the culture wars were over, they'd leave them be. If they push their agenda and hit stiff resistance from the American people, they may find out that their side of the war isn't as popular as they'd like to believe. And ironically, their doing so may be the ticket back to the top for Republicans who lead the resistance.
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November 10, 2008
POLITICS: Score Another One For The Palin Critics
Except that the Senator in question, John Sununu, is pro-life.
And except that the other candidate wasn't running for the Senate (Newsweek may have missed this, but Sununu was up for re-election, so there were not two Republicans running for the job this year).
And except that she did do public appearances with both men.
But you know, other than getting basically every possible fact wrong, Newsweek's doing OK there.
POLITICS: Not Letting Up
For conservatives and Republicans tempted to follow Fred Barnes and lay low a while, just notice what sites like the Huffington Post are up to these days: the #1 topic over at HuffPo right now, by the frequency of tags used, is "Sarah Palin":
The Left will not let up its assault on Gov. Palin for any "honeymoon" period. We on the Right will indeed need both patience and perspective, as Barnes suggests, and elected Republicans will surely need to find some common ground with the new Administration. But we're all adults here; let us not pretend that calls for "unity" are intended to be mutual.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:13 PM | Politics 2008 | Politics 2012 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Palin Push-Back
As has often happened with Gov. Sarah Palin during the campaign, we've had a battery of headlines from a single report, putatively based on an unnamed source, and only later do we get the facts. Let's look at some of the McCain and Palin aides now going on the record to respond:
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Stapleton told ABC News the Fox News report on Africa and NAFTA was taken out of context. She explained that during a briefing session, someone asked Palin to explain the McCain-Palin stance on an issue, and as she was responding, "in the middle, she said 'country of Africa' and somebody instantly wrote it down and said, 'Oh, my God, she thinks it's a country.'"
Regarding the $150,000 worth of clothing, Stapleton claimed it was the campaign that said, "This is what you need as a VP candidate, and it was the campaign and/or the RNC [Republican National Committee] -- but it wasn't the governor -- saying this is what she needs."
Then we have McCain foreign policy adviser Steve Biegun:
He says there's no way she didn't know Africa was a continent, and whoever is saying she didn't must be distorting "a fumble of words." He talked to her about all manner of issues relating to Africa, from failed states to the Sudan. She was aware from the beginning of the conflict in Darfur, which is followed closely in evangelical churches, and was aware of Clinton's AIDS initiative. That basically makes it impossible that she thought all of Africa was a country.
Scheunemann suggested the Africa and NAFTA incidents were inaccurate.
"I was not present for all of her sessions, so I can't disprove that," he told ABC News. "I severely doubt that it is accurate. It's certainly not accurate in any of the sessions I had with her."
Steve Schmidt, the campaign's chief strategist, defended Mrs. Palin in an e-mail exchange with The Times concerning, among other articles, a Newsweek report that at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., Mrs. Palin had greeted Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Salter in her hotel room while "wearing nothing but a towel, with another [towel] on her wet hair."
(The Washington Times report has more quotes from people properly noting, in any event, that the informality suggested by that story isn't exactly unusual on the campaign trail).
Charlie Black, on the NAFTA and other specific stories:
"Answer to all of this is no, except she was victim of hoax perpetrated by Canadian talk radio re Sarkozy," Mr. Black said. "Even then, she said nothing wrong in the call. We think she did an excellent job and added a lot to the ticket. 'We' includes John McCain."
And here, of course, is Gov. Palin's own response:
Believe what you want, but in my book when you have multiple named sources standing by specific accounts, and on the other side you have reporters making vague allegations purportedly based on the word of unnamed and unidentifiable sources, the people going on the record and giving specifics have the better argument.
You can watch more of Gov. Palin's most recent press conference back home in Alaska here.
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POLITICS: Daley Thoughts
If you've read my Integrity Gap series on Barack Obama, or lengthier treatments like David Freddoso's book, you will be familiar with what was probably the most scandalously under-reported story of 2008, which is President-Elect Obama's deep and longstanding ties to machine politics in Illinois, most notably to the Daley machine in Chicago. You'll also recognize two other key themes: Obama's ties to politically well-connected housing interests ranging from slumlords like Tony Rezko to Beltway powerhouses like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to ACORN, and Obama's practice of providing official favors to his benefactors.
Last week we saw the first sign of these dynamics playing out in Obama's first staff hire, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, a Chicago pol and former "senior adviser and chief fundraiser" for Mayor Daley who made hundreds of thousands of dollars sitting on Freddie Mac's board during a time when the board was criticized by the SEC for failing to stop the company's accounting irregularities and shady campaign donations. * *
Now, the second act: Obama reportedly wants Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a/k/a "Public Official A" in the Rezko indictment, to appoint as his replacement in the U.S. Senate Valerie Jarrett, the co-head of Obama's transition team. Jarrett, of course, is a former Daley aide and Chicago housing developer who gave Michelle Obama her first big job working for Mayor Daley.
Let's recall Jarrett's involvement in Grove Parc Plaza, one of the conspicuous failures (at least from the perspective of the tenants, rather than the developers) among the housing projects built by Obama's friends:
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Among those tied to Obama politically, personally, or professionally are:
Campaign finance records show that six prominent developers - including Jarrett, Davis, and Rezko - collectively contributed more than $175,000 to Obama's campaigns over the last decade and raised hundreds of thousands more from other donors.
Jarrett, a powerful figure in the Chicago development community, agreed to be interviewed but declined to answer questions about Grove Parc, citing what she called a continuing duty to Habitat's former business partners....
Yet again, a reminder that Obama's "new politics" is just a new name for the oldest kind of politics there is.
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November 9, 2008
POLITICS/WAR: Joe Biden Was Right
...for the first time in decades, in fact, on foreign policy: within the first day after the election, Russia and Iran both rattled their sabers to start testing President-Elect Obama. And an Obama foreign policy adviser reacted immediately by backing down in the face of the Russian statement. (It will be good to have Obama start getting his advisers confirmed so we don't have to keep sifting through his hundreds of foreign policy and economic "advisers" trying to figure out which ones speak for him).
Welcome to the big leagues, Mr. Obama. The rest of us have been given no choice but to depend on you.
November 7, 2008
POLITICS: No Class
The President-Elect wasted no time kicking Republicans when they're down with his petty, graceless crack today (for which he had to apologize) at the expense of 87-year-old Nancy Reagan, last seen leaving the hospital a few weeks back with a broken pelvis:
Obama was asked at his press conference today if he'd spoken to all the "living" presidents.
As Ben Smith notes, Obama's left-wing talking points on this one weren't even accurate. But hey, I guess sneering at the Reagans is "in" again.
POLITICS/POP CULTURE: Crichton On The Rags
Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.
One of my recurring themes on the media is that the preference for liberal politics - big government, social liberalism, political correctness, disdain of conservatives and the religious - is really only the tip of the iceberg of what is wrong with the mainstream media. The state of sportswriting, business and legal journalism, pretty much anything that gets covered in the papers and on TV is subject not only to political bias but also to a whole host of other individual and institutional biases and prejudices and axes to grind, laziness, sloppiness, failures of substantive knowledge and logical reasoning...the blogosphere has no shortage of flaws of its own, but the fact that so many bloggers have had careers doing things (the law, the military, business, medicine, etc.) means in general that you get a class of people who have substantive knowledge and exposure to more rigorous disciplines than the typical journalist. Crichton, with his medical background, brought that same advantage to his craft as a novelist, and we were richer for his work (I read a whole bunch of his books; my favorites were The Great Train Robbery and Disclosure).
POLITICS: Never Right
Will Collier cautions that conservatives tempted to listen to David Frum should remember his history of making the same arguments - conservatism is doomed, we need to hand over more power from the grassroots to the elites, etc. - in the 1990s, including on the very eve of the great 1994 wave:
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Most famously, his tome Dead Right proclaimed the intellectual and electoral barrenness of conservatism in general and the GOP in particular, and offered Frum's own prescriptions for the renewals of both. The blurb on the original edition's cover read, "The great conservative revival of the 1980's is over. Government is bigger, taxes are higher, family values are weaker, and the Democrats are in power. What will the Right do next?"
Read the whole thing.
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POLITICS: The Honeymooner
It's rather poignant to watch the media love-fest over Obama's 'honymoon' period - the fawning over Michelle's pricey fashions, the breathless announcements of how wonderful everything will be as hope soars on clouds of euphoria - and wonder how the Bush presidency would have started if we'd been given a beginning like this, rather than the corrosive and unrelenting assault that consumed his presidency from Election Day 2000 onward. I don't think there's a better metaphor than the NY Daily News running front-page headlines about the Obamas bringing a dog to the White House while Bush's dog Barney bites a Reuters reporter. Victor Davis Hanson: "When I hear a partisan insider like Paul Begala urging at the 11th hour that we now rally around lame-duck Bush in his last few days, I detect a sense of apprehension that no Democrats would wish conservatives to treat Obama as they did Bush for eight years." H/T. Indeed, they expect that we won't; they count on it. Ace, unsurprisingly, is having none of the pleas for unilateral unity:
Sorry, folks. No frakkin' sale. We remember "Jesusland." And stuff like this. And if you have a few hours, scroll through Malkin's "Bush Derangement Syndrome" archive. We remember everything - being called racist warmongers, Christianist nutbags, racists, and all the rest of the vitriol you folks threw at us in your "AAAHHH CHIMPY MCBUSHITLER HALLIBURTON IS THE EVILEST" stage of political development.
I've already said my own bit on how the Right should respond. We certainly should not have any illusions that a good deed today will ever be repaid. And we can all enjoy a laugh at the whiplash on the other side. Goldberg: "Alas, that [dissent is patriotic] standard only works for liberals. When conservatives dissent it's called being 'divisive.'" Lileks: "I'm off to the Mall to sell razor blades so people can scrape off their 'Question Authority' bumper stickers."
POLITICS: Where His Bread Is Buttered
Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama's first and most important staff hire as Chief of Staff: on the wrong side of the credit crisis, but the right side for his own pocketbook. Shocking, I know. The good news about making his first pick a hyper-partisan Chicago pol with a scandalous financial past is that it does away with the whole "new politics" pretense right from the outset. Even the NYT notes that "Democrats are second-guessing one of his first and most important post-election decisions: Why is he asking Representative Rahm Emanuel - "Rahmbo," one of the capital's most in-your-face partisan actors - to be his chief of staff?" Obama will be coming for the GOP with the long knives, and Republicans will need to go into that with our eyes open. Washington never changes, after all; only the names change, and so far those aren't changing much either.
Then there's Rahm's plan for compulsory national service. And they said Republicans were the ones plotting to bring back the draft.
On the upside, Emanuel supported the Iraq War:
On Iraq, Emanuel has steered clear of the withdraw-now crowd, preferring to criticize Bush for military failures since the 2003 invasion. "The war never had to turn out this way," he told me at one of his campaign stops. In January 2005, when asked by Meet the Press's Tim Russert whether he would have voted to authorize the war-"knowing that there are no weapons of mass destruction"-Emanuel answered yes. (He didn't take office until after the vote.) "I still believe that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do, okay?" he added.
If that signals Obama sobering up on Iraq now that he actually has to govern, all to the good. The nation needs the Democrats to govern responsibly. It's not like the anti-war faction has anywhere else to go, after all.
November 5, 2008
POLITICS: Emanuel In Or Not In As Chief of Staff
The first major personnel announcement of the new Obama Administration is out, and the word is that Congressman Rahm Emanuel has been offered the post of Obama's chief of staff. The announcement didn't exactly go off smoothly, as this NBC report shows:
If you're reading tea leaves for what kind of Administration Obama will run, Emanuel does not exactly embody "new politics" and a "post-partisan" future. He's a Chicago Democrat who worked as a "senior adviser and chief fundraiser" (his words) for Mayor Daley and later worked in the Clinton White House, and he's known as a hardball-playing scorched-earth arch-partisan in the Tom DeLay mold. He's been widely seen as a possible future successor to Nancy Pelosi.
Will Emanuel take the job? If his spokesperson is publicly denying that he's taken it, that's basically a public slapdown to Obama's people for jumping the gun in leaking his name, and it's certainly a sign of initial dysfunction in the naming of what is probably the single most important staff position for a new president who will be facing a sharp learning curve as a new executive.
SECOND UPDATE: After the initial fumbling, Politico reports that Emanuel accepts the job.
BASEBALL/POLITICS: President Obama and the National Pastime
Lester Munson at ESPN has a long and interesting look at what Obama's election means for baseball and the world of sports in general, including his likely strong support for the 2016 Olympics in Chicago:
Japanese Olympic officials already have expressed their concern that Obama could turn the tide in favor of Chicago when the IOC votes in October.
(OK, I didn't have to include that paragraph about McCain, give me more than a day on that reflex...the irony is that the bribery investigation led to Mitt Romney taking over the Salt Lake City Games, which led to Romney's political rise - talk about your chains of unforeseen consequences).
Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:32 PM | Baseball 2008 | Other Sports | Politics 2008 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
POP CULTURE: Council of Elrond Reconsidered
Over at RedState yesterday a bunch of us had some Election Day fun with a little tongue-in-cheek geostrategy about the Council of Elrond. A good diversion from a discouraging day.
POLITICS: The 2012 GOP Field (First Call)
As promised, here's my initial thoughts on what the Republican field will look like in four years. Obviously, there are many variables along the way, ranging from how beatable Obama looks to the 2010 midterms; I'm just forecasting with the known knowns we have today. As usual there will probably be 10 or so candidates, but from where we sit today there look to be four slots from which to put together a credible primary campaign:
(1) The Populist Candidate: With its Washington leadership beheaded, the GOP is likely to become more of a populist and culturally conservative party in the next four years. Mike Huckabee showed this year the power and the limitations of a pure populist campaign, far exceeding expectations with nearly no resources or name recognition (although Huck was out of step with the populists on one of the major causes of grassroots frustration with DC, immigration). Against the backdrop of a tax-spend-regulate Obama Administration, a crucial challenge will be squaring populism with the GOP's need to appeal to economic and fiscal conservatives to expand out of the Huck-size niche. Realistically, the populist candidate is likely to end up as the most moderate serious candidate in the field.
As things stand today, Sarah Palin is the obvious populist candidate and, for now, the very-very-early frontrunner for the 2012 nomination, given her now-massive name recognition (the woman's every TV appearance is a ratings bonanza), amazing talents as a retail politician, appeal to the base, and the GOP tendency towards nominating the next in line. Granted, only two candidates in the part century (Bob Dole and Franklin D. Roosevelt) have won a major party nomination after being the VP nominee for a losing ticket (not counting Mondale, who'd already been VP), those two waited 12 and 20 years before doing so, respectively, and recent history has been unkind to those who tried (Edwards 2008, Lieberman 2004 - see also Quayle 2000).
I'll expand another day on the challenges facing Gov. Palin - the short answer is that inexperience is the easiest thing in the world to fix, but she'll have to face tougher budgetary times in Alaska in light of falling oil revenues, she'll have to withstand what is likely to be an ongoing national campaign by the Democrats to take her down or hobble her re-election efforts to cut off the likeliest threat to Obama, and she'll have to develop and sell her own, independent agenda and demonstrate a greater breadth and depth of knowledge on national politics than are required from the running mate slot. Upside in the primaries: the socially conservative, moose-hunting hockey mom could potentially be well-suited to the early GOP primary/caucus electorates in Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan.
(2) The Establishment Candidate: The GOP by tradition tends to fall in behind whoever is the candidate of the establishment - of country clubs and boardrooms and Beltway insiders. Part of being a Republican, of course, is having the maturity to understand that being the establishment candidate is not a bad thing. But an angry grassroots is going to take some serious persuading to pick another establishment figure.
The best establishment candidate should be Jeb Bush, for a variety of reasons, but four years won't be enough - if any length of time is - to rebuild the Bush brand within the GOP, let alone the general electorate. That leaves Mitt Romney as the logical next step; Mitt is currently out of office and thus less equipped to get more experience, but he'll have the money and energy to spend four years staking himself out as a consistent conservative voice and putting the distance of time between 2012 and the flip-flop charges of 2008. South Dakota Senator John Thune is also sometimes mentioned, but after 1964, 1996 and now 2008, the GOP has hopefully learned its lesson about nominating legislators for President, especially sitting Senators. Newly re-elected Indiana Governor and former Bush budget director Mitch Daniels (see here and here) will have his name come up but more likely as a VP nominee.
(3) The Full-Spectrum Conservative: The Fred Thompson role from 2008 but one that will pack a lot more potential appeal in 2012. Bobby Jindal is the best of the lot, but while he's already got an impressive resume, Jindal's so young (he's 37, which makes him the age Romney was in 1985), so he can afford to wait out several more election cycles; he's up for re-election in 2011, which makes running in 2012 very problematic; and he really and genuinely wants to stay in Louisiana long enough to make real changes in his beloved home state's legendarily corrupt and dysfunctional political culture. The other main contender for this slot is South Carolina's Governor Mark Sanford, now in his second term as Governor after 3 in Congress. SC is the most favorable turf for a candidate of this type among the early primary states, so with Sanford running as a favorite son he could basically block out any other challengers, and if he doesn't run for re-election in 2010 (offhand I don't know whether he's term-limited), he'd have a logistical advantage over Palin, who will presumably still be in office as governor of a geographically remote state.
(4) The National Security Candidate: After four years of Obama, there's also likely to be strong sentiment for adult leadership on national security. Traditionally, the GOP has tended to prioritize this issue (in 2008, both McCain and Giuliani ran primarily as national security candidates). But especially with Senators in disfavor, the supply of candidates with more national security credentials than a typical Governor is short - most of the Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld types in the party will be past their prime by 2012, and I continue to doubt that Condi Rice could be a viable candidate for a multitude of reasons. The name you're likely to hear is CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus, but Gen. Petraeus - who I assume will remain on active duty for another year or two, at least, and who President Obama dare not fire - has no political experience and no known domestic-policy profile (we don't even know if he's a Republican). My guess is that if we nominate a governor in 2012, Gen. Petraeus will be much in demand as a running mate. After that, I'm not sure who will even try to fill this slot in the primaries.
Sorry, but that's the list; the no-more-McCains sentiment among the base will make it impossible for someone like Tim Pawlenty to mount a credible campaign as a moderate, nobody will bother trying to re-create the crippling damage inflicted on Rudy Giuliani from running with a record as a social liberal, and no Ron Paul type candidate (especially Ron Paul) is ever going to make a serious dent. It's those four slots or bust.
And I, for one, am definitely not committing yet to who I'll support as between Palin or a Sanford or Jindal run or maybe somebody else (obviously I'm not a Mitt fan). There's two long years ahead of us before that choice begins to arise.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Politics 2008 | Politics 2012 | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Obama Administration Survival Guide
The nation awakens today to a grim day (although less grim than it might have been, as the late Senate races come in and the prognosis for a decent-sized GOP resistance looks much better). But America has endured worse. Here's 12 ways I recommend that conservatives and Republicans prepare to face the next four years under President Obama (yeah, get used to that one):
(1) Oppose Obama, Not America: The absolute wrong way to react to life in the minority is ... well, what we saw from too many people on the Left the past 8 years: calling everyone from the President on down to individual soldiers and Marines war criminals, parroting the propaganda of our enemies, exposing classified national security secrets on the front pages of the newspapers, and generally doing whatever possible to stymie the national defense and convince the nation and the world that America is the bad guy. We're better than that. When Obama fails to act to defend America and its interests and allies, or violates the basic common-sense principles of national security and foreign policy, we will of course be unsparing in our criticism. But we should not emulate the Left; indeed, the day may even come when Obama needs defending from the Left for doing what needs to be done, and we certainly want to encourage him to take actions that provoke that reaction.
(2) No Chicken-Hawking: This is a corollary of #1: given his shaky draft history, Bill Clinton at times appeared afraid of criticism over deploying the military on grounds that he didn't serve. We should never make Obama feel that he should blanch at defending the nation simply because he never wore the uniform (fortunately, on that score, Obama's defining personality trait is hubris). We've had civilian leadership before, we'll have it again.
(3) Don't Question The Verdict: Was there voter fraud in yesterday's election? Were there other shenanigans both legal and illegal? I'm sure there were, and others who follow those stories will no doubt be expanding on them in the weeks to come. Chronicling specific instances of misconduct is an important service - to expose the miscreants and their connections to the Obama campaign, to punish and deter and provide a basis for someday preventing a recurrence (although don't expect the Obama era to see anything but massive resistance to taking even the most tepid steps against voter fraud). And likewise, of course, there is still plenty more to be examined in Obama's fundraising, to say nothing of the untruths he told to get elected and the really shameful behavior of the media.
But fundamentally, he got more votes where it mattered and he won the race. Supporters of Gore and Kerry who refused to accept those realities in 2000 and 2004 ended up doing a lot of lasting damage to public confidence in our electoral system. The step of challenging the results of an election is a grave one not to be taken without serious evidence. Let's not repeat their mistakes with conspiracy theories.
(4) Don't Blame The Voters: Yes, it's tempting to go off into the place where Democrats were fuming about "Jesusland" four years ago. And yes, Obama got a lot of votes for bad reasons or from vacuous people. Hey, there are a lot of stupid people in the world, and in America, and a fair number of them vote - they vote when we win, they vote when we lose. Winston Churchill was a great believer in democracy as the least-worst system of government, but he's also the guy who once said that the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.
For all that, it's counterproductive to lose faith in the collective wisdom of the American voting public over the long term. Even when the public makes a mistake, it usually has a reason - and while electing Obama will be clearly shown over time to have been a mistake, the GOP also has some serious introspection to do about how we let things come to the point of giving the public a reason to do what it did. And we need to retain faith that rebuilding our party around the principles that have succeeded in the past, and adapting those principles for the world of the next decade, will win them back.
(5) Don't Get Mad, Get Even: Yes, it's a cliche, but unfocused rage goes bad places. There's a lot of work to do to prepare the ground for the GOP to come back as it did in 1994, 1980, and 1966-68. The Left drew first blood on the Bush second term only a few weeks after the election, with the Bernard Kerik nomination. We'll have a target-rich environment to work with as the kind of urban machine politics the Democrats have made famous comes to the White House, and we'll have fun doing it.
(6) We Play For 2010, Not 2012: I'll be writing up shortly my early thoughts about the GOP presidential field in 2012, and plenty of others will too. Do it, get it out of your system, come to the aid of the people who will make up future presidential fields, but whatever you do, don't get into primary-season, my-gal/guy-or-the-highway mode again until we are through the 2010 elections. There will be a need in the party's future for Palin and Jindal and Sanford and Huck and Mitt and all the rest; we're all in this together.
(7) Prioritize: More on this later, but Obama and the Congressional Democrats are going to have a long list of issues they want to press, and we can't stop all of them. The GOP needs to divide issues into four buckets:
a. Things we are prepared to go to the mat to stop
(8) Watch Your Budget: We're all going to have to prepare for tougher economic times, plus the burden of Obama's tax hikes. Don't overextend your own finances.
(9) Grow A Thick Hide and Get Your Taxes in Order: Joe Wurtzelbacher won't be the last Obama critic to feel the weight of government intrusion for standing up to Obama. David Freddoso and Stanley Kurtz won't be the last conservative journalists to have their investigations stonewalled and campaigns organized to drive them off the radio. And get used to being called a racist, as everyone who gets in Obama's way is, sooner or later. Understand now that you will need to stomach all that and more, and you won't get rattled.
(10) Buy More Life Insurance: Well, at least if, like me, you live or work in a city that's a top terrorist target, and have roots too deep to leave. Our risk tolerance will have to go up.
(11) Pray: Well, this one speaks for itself. Pray especially for the unborn.
(12) Get On Living: Life is short and there's more to it than politics. We'll need committed activists, and as a whole our movement will need to be relentless - but thinking about politics too much is unhealthy, especially when you have a long wait ahead for any progress. For my part, starting tomorrow I'll be back to doing more baseball blogging. Take a break whenever you need one, spend more time with your family. And teach your kids that every minute of life is worth it even when the world seems to have gone mad. Many generations before us have done so in tougher times than these.
November 4, 2008
POLITICS: Karl Rove Has Been Vindicated
One of the most unambiguous conclusions from Obama's victory? Karl Rove was right.
For the past 8 years, we've had a debate over the best political strategy for approaching a national election. There were, in essence, two contending theories.
Karl Rove's theory - one he perhaps never explicitly articulated, but which was evident in the approach to multiple elections, votes in Congress, and even international coalitions run by his boss, George W. Bush - was, essentially, that you win with your base. You start with the base, you expand it as much as possible by increasing turnout, and then you work outward until you get past 50% - but you don't compromise more than necessary to get to that goal.
Standing in opposition to the Rove theory was what one might call the Beltway Pundit theory, since that's who were the chief proponents of the theory. The Beltway Pundit theory was, in essence, that America has a great untapped middle, a center that resists ideology and partisanship and would respond to a candidate who could present himself as having a base in the middle of the electorate.
Tonight, we had a classic test of those theories. Barack Obama is nothing if not the pure incarnation on the left of the Rovian theory. He ran in the Democratic primaries as the candidate of the 'Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.' His record was pure left-wing all the way. He seems to have brought out a large number of new base voters, in particular African-Americans responding to his racial appeals and voting straight-ticket D. As I'll discuss in a subsequent post, the process of getting to 50.1% for a figure of the left is more complex and involves more concerted efforts at concealment and dissimulation, but the basic elements of the Rovian strategy are all there.
John McCain, by contrast, was the Platonic ideal Beltway Pundit-style candidate, and his defeat by Obama ensures that his like will not win a national nomination any time soon, in either party. McCain spent many years establishing himself as a pragmatic moderate, dissenting ad nauseum and without a consistent unifying principle from GOP orthodoxy; McCain had veered to the center simply whenever he felt that the Republican position was too far. McCain held enough positions that were in synch with the conservative base to make him minimally acceptable, but nobody ever regarded him as a candidate to excite the conservative base.
Now, it's true enough that the partisan environment was terribly challenging for Republicans in 2008. That's why so many of us on the Republican side were willing to go with McCain in the first place. But here's the thing: if you believed the Beltway Pundit theory, that shouldn't matter. If a significant and reliable bloc of voters consistently preferred the moderate, centrist candidate over the more ideological and partisan candidate, in the same way that conservatives prefer the more conservative candidate and liberals prefer the more liberal candidate, you would have a base from which a candidate like McCain could consistently prevail against a candidate like Obama, and partisan identification would be trumped by moderation and proven bipartisanship.
But there is no such base. Centrist, moderate, independent, voters are generally "swing" voters, always have been and always will be. Among those who are at least modestly well-informed, they are a heterogenous lot - some libertarian, some socially conservative but economically populist, some fiscally conservative and socially liberal, some isolationist and anti-immigrant, etc. It's not possible to make of them a "base" - the only way to approach the center is to lock down the real base at one end or the other of the political spectrum, and then reach out to voters in the middle, understanding the real tradeoff that what appeals to one "swing" voter may be anathema to others.
Of course, the dismal approval ratings of the Bush Administration at the end of its days testify to the serious arguments over whether Rove and his boss chose the wrong mix of reaches out to the center as they built their "compassionate conservative" coalition; that's a separate debate. It is likewise a fair debate over the ways in which future conservative candidates can and should make compromises to get the GOP back to that 50.1%. But what's not open for debate, after tonight, is the sheer futility of trying to build a coalition from the center out. Because the center won't stand still for any candidate.
POLITICS: Welcome Back, Carter
Well, we have our answer now: at this writing, it's pretty clear that Barack Obama has won the Presidency, bringing back the Carter Administration with a vengeance. Needless to say, I'll have a number of postmortem posts on this, but don't expect them all in one gulp, as there's a number of angles to approach here over the next several days and weeks.
POLITICS: Optimistic To The End
I'm not making an electoral college prediction, other than to reiterate yet again that whoever wins Pennsylvania, wins the election. If pressed, my popular vote prediction would be Obama 52, McCain 48, but of course I remain hopeful things will go differently.
This, which I've seen linked in a few places, makes the argument for why Obama is toast, based in part on looking at where the candidates have been traveling. It may be right; I can't know (they gotta go somewhere). All I can say is, the people on the Right writing these things are going to look like either fools or geniuses in a few hours. (Although I think the comparison of the Kerry and Obama media strategies is spot-on either way, and I'm not endorsing his assault on Nate Silver - Nate has his obvious biases, but he's a data guy, and like Gerry Daly in 2004, he's working with the data, right or wrong. I've already had to eat crow once this year when I challenged the PECOTA system's projection that the Rays would win 88 games).
POLITICS: Palin Power
Unsurprising poll result of the year: Sarah Palin is more popular with Republican voters than John McCain. 71% of GOP voters say Palin was the right choice for VP, compared to 65% supporting McCain as the best choice for the Presidential nominee, 74% of Democrats who say Obama was the right choice, and 76% of Democrats who say Biden was the right choice. (It's perhaps unsurprising given the nature of primary battles that both parties' presidential candidates face more lingering doubters in the ranks).
POLITICS: "People who love their country can change it!"
Just in case you were wondering whether the Obama campaign's "change" slogan means changing the government or changing America...here's an actual SMS message received by one of my RedState colleagues today from the Obama campaign:
People who love their country can change it! Make sure everyone you know votes for Barack today.
Contrast John McCain:
My country has never had to prove anything to me, my friends...I've always had faith in it and I've been humbled and honored to serve it.
America remains, in Reagan's words, a country with a government, not the other way around. Let's hope it stays that way.
POP CULTURE: Personally, I'd Vote For Lando's Running Mate
See more funny videos at Funny or Die
Via Gabriel Malor at Ace's place. Amazingly, Billy Dee Williams was available.
The Weather Underground, the SDS, the anti-war movement...hey, what's a 60s radical reunion without the Black Panthers?
Just when you thought we were done with the 60s for good, too.
November 3, 2008
POLITICS: Gov. Sarah Palin Cleared In "Tasergate"
Ah, the death of a talking point...we have news from Alaska that the investigator for the State Personnel Board has issued a report - contrary to the findings of the Legislature's independent investigator - and concluded that Gov. Palin did not abuse her authority in the case of State Trooper Michael Wooten, the controversy over "Tasergate" or, if you prefer, "Troopergate."
Let's do a Q&A on the 263-page Branchflower report, which I read from cover to cover, and on the 125-page Petumenos report, which I have only yet had the chance to skim. I may return to this after the election when we have more time to walk through the evidence (win or lose tomorrow, Gov. Palin will continue to be an important figure in national politics).
First, the Branchflower report:
(1) A report was issued by one man, Stephen Branchflower.
(2) Branchflower was handpicked, and his investigation directed, by Hollis French - an Obama supporter who has a personal axe to grind in the facts under investigation. Branchflower, French and Walt Monegan, the chief witness in the case, all appear to go way back together in Alaska law enforcement circles.
(3) The only wrongdoing Branchflower could find was under a general statute that says public officials may not engage in an "effort to benefit a personal ... interest through official action" - he did not find a violation of any specific statute, rule or regulation. To conclude that Gov. Palin's actions were in her personal interest rather than the best interests of the Alaskan people and their government, you must believe that her actions were actually wrong.
(4) In order to find that Gov. Palin's actions were actually wrong, Democrats must be willing to argue that an irresponsible and abusive state trooper who made death threats against Gov. Palin's father and menaced her sister in her hearing and used a Taser on a 10-year-old is a good person to have wielding armed authority on behalf of the State of Alaska. Because otherwise they are making a technical legal argument that she did the right thing in the wrong way - yet they don't have any technical violation to hang their hats on.
Independent Counsel has concluded the wrong statute was used as a basis for the conclusions contained in the Branchflower Report, the Branchflower report misconstrued the available evidence and did not consider or obtain all of the material evidence that is required to properly reach findings.
Read More »
Q: What is this story about?
A: In broad outlines, two things. One, the Palin family had a long-running dispute - predating Sarah Palin's campaign for Governor - with Alaska State Trooper Michael Wooten, the ex-husband of Gov. Palin's younger sister Molly. Trooper Wooten remains employed as a State Trooper. Two, in July 2008, Gov. Palin fired Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, a Cabinet-level employee whose job includes supervising the State Troopers. (Technically, Monegan was demoted, not fired, but the point is that he was removed from his job, and chose to decline the reassignment). The issues are whether Gov. Palin acted improperly in seeking to get Trooper Wooten fired or in firing Monegan.
Q: So, what did the Legislature find?
A. Nothing. As Beldar explains, the Legislature's not in session, so it hasn't done anything, and neither has the 12-member bipartisan Legislative Council under whose authority the investigation was conducted. (As the Anchorage Daily News noted when the Council voted to release his report: "His report was released Friday by a 12-0 vote of the Legislative Council, with eight Republicans and four Democrats voting. Some members of the panel said they didn't agree with Branchflower's findings, however." This despite the axes to grind against Palin by both Republican and Democratic members of the Council) The investigative report by Stephen Branchflower, a retired prosecutor living in South Carolina, is entitled to no more and no less deference than previous determinations by Ken Starr, Robert Ray, Lawrence Walsh, Donald Smaltz, George Mitchell, and other investigative one-man bands. And to the extent that Branchflower shows his own work, you or I are perfectly qualified to second-guess his opinions - and so is Petumenos, the Personnel Board investigator.
Moreover, Branchflower's report is inherently one-sided, as he didn't have access to Gov. Palin, her husband, her sister or a number of other people supportive of the Governor. Obviously, that's due to the battles over the scope and authority of Branchflower's investigation, which in turn were driven by the McCain-Palin camp's justifiable concerns about the fairness of the investigation. Branchflower refused to reference or incorporate the written response by Gov. Palin to the Personnel Board's investigation or the sworn statements of Todd Palin and other witnesses who provided statements late in the game. He also does not appear to have interviewed Trooper Wooten, receiving only a written statement from him. (See Branchflower Report ("BR") 5, 7). But he did find time to interview Democratic Senate candidate Mark Begich, who was actually the first person he interviewed. BR 2. As such, his report should be considered only as one part of the story. Indeed, if you look at his crucial conclusion on page 67 of the report regarding the Palins' concerns about Wooten, Branchflower draws inferences against the Palins while admitting that "in the absence of an interview with either Governor Palin or Todd Palin, the specific answers to [his] questions [about the genuineness of their motives] are left unanswered," then goes about construing the remaining evidence against them on what, as I note below, is a fairly slender foundation. Gov. Palin has, of course, subsequently submitted to an interview that will be part of the conclusions to be drawn after the election by both the Legislature and the Personnel Board, in both of which Gov. Palin obviously has more faith than in Branchflower.
I should also note here that the meandering and repetitive 263-page report is only the public volume. There is also a confidential portion the public can't examine. We can only evaluate Branchflower's public work to see if it supports his conclusions. As discussed below, the public report simply does not purport to address many of the important issues.
Q: Who is Stephen Branchflower?
Branchflower has a longstanding working relationship with Monegan dating to Branchflower's time as a prosecutor in Anchorage, where Monegan was Chief of Police * (as does Branchflower's wife). Likewise, Democratic State Senator Hollis French is "a former prosecutor and colleague of Branchflower". * That's not all that surprising (it's a small law enforcement community), but obviously Branchflower was likely to be predisposed favorably towards Monegan and French, both of whom are aligned against Palin here.
Q: Who is Hollis French and what does he have to do with all this?
Branchflower was handpicked as the investigator by Hollis French (over the objections of the Alaska Attorney General, a Palin ally, who wanted a retired judge or other more objective figure), and French effectively controlled the investigation including the witness list. * (Alaska TV station KTVA describes French as "responsible for managing the case"; the Anchorage Daily News (ADN) calls him the investigation's "project director." *). Here is the basis for concluding that French was running Branchflower's witness list:
Rep. David Guttenberg (D.) asked Branchflower why he was requesting subpoenas for only those people attending the meeting and not Tibbles himself.
Hollis French isn't just a Democratic State Senator on the Legislative Council; as I note below, his de facto alliance with Monegan in the events that led up to Monegan's firing means that he's effectively involved in the facts under investigation, and really ethically should have recused himself from this entire process. But French is also a prominent Obama supporter whose testimonials are featured on Obama's own website * * *, and he had a job to do: provide what he promised would be an "October Surprise" for the McCain-Palin campaign. Speaking to Newsweek in early September, "French ... acknowledged that some of his public comments about the ongoing probe may have been out of bounds. 'I said some things I shouldn't have said'"...
Palin questioned French's impartiality from the time that "French was quoted in The Wall Street Journal [in early August] saying the governor could be impeached as a result of the [Branchflower] probe." (French argued that he'd been misquoted). * Here's how Beldar describes French's conduct:
Democratic state senator Hollis French, who's managing the investigation, is already jumping to conclusions, muttering about "impeachment" to the press, and yet simultaneously he's short-circuited any kind of basic due process by refusing to share with Gov. Palin or her counsel the historical evidence (e.g., emails) that the Legislature's investigator is collecting to use against her! At least one Alaska legislator has already called for French to step down, citing his obvious bias. French has already boasted to ABC News of his desire to "release his final report by Oct. 31, four days before the November election," as an "October surprise" that's "likely to be damaging to the Governor's administration."
John McCormack notes:
Hollis French is now managing the investigation into Monegan's firing, and French has already made partisan remarks about it to the press, saying to the Washington Post: "It undercuts one of the points they are making that [Palin] is an ethical reformer."
Amanda Carpenter notes that some press reports support the notion that Wooten's union, the PSEA (which as discussed below was at loggerheads with Palin in the dispute that precipitated Monegan's demotion) is also coordinating with the Obama campaign:
The same week PSEA filed their complaint, CNN reported that Obama campaign officials had been contacting Wooten's union, although Obama spokesmen have vehemently refuted CNN's report as well as one from the Wall Street Journal's John Fund that said more than 30 lawyers, investigators and opposition researches had been deployed to Alaska to dig up dirt on Palin.
As for Monegan's credibility, certainly Branchflower presents him as a respectable law enforcement figure, and his testimony seems reasonable on its face. That said, he obviously has an axe to grind against Palin. And Monegan himself was once subject to a domestic violence order of protection for making death threats against his now-ex-wife, so he may not be the most unbiased observer of Wooten's situation.
Q: Who is Timothy Petumenos?
I'm not, as yet, as familiar with Petumenos, though I am sure we will learn more about him and the Personnel Board. I assume, given that Gov. Palin submitted her own request for a Personnel Board investigation, that she felt it would be a more sympathetic venue.
Q: OK, that's all well and good, but let's discuss the merits here. Did Gov. Palin act improperly or illegally in firing Walt Monegan?
Branchflower says she had every right to fire Monegan - he exonerates the Governor on the totally obvious ground that she was entitled to fire such a high-ranking officer in her cabinet for any reason or no reason; Monegan serves at the pleasure of the Governor. (See Finding Number Two at p. 69-71 of Branchflower's report). As discussed below, Branchflower's only basis for complaining about Monegan's firing is that he believes that it was partly motivated or precipitated by the dispute over Wooten. In other words, all roads lead back to Wooten.
The evidence shows fairly overwhelmingly that Gov. Palin had legitimate policy-related reasons to want Monegan gone; in her written response to the investigation ("PR"), Gov. Palin refers to these as "good-faith disagreements about appropriate government policy." PR 4(paragraph 16). Monegan was insubordinate; he broke openly with Palin over her efforts to cut his agency's budget, siding instead with Hollis French, of all people, in a budget dispute tied to Palin's Administration's negotiations with the Troopers' union, the PSEA, whose contract was due up in June 2008:
* 12/9/07: Monegan holds a press conference with Hollis French to push his own budget plan.
In a July 7 e-mail, John Katz, the governor's special counsel, noted two problems with the trip: The governor hadn't agreed the money should be sought, and the request was "out of sequence with our other appropriations requests and could put a strain on the evolving relationship between the Governor and Sen. (Ted) Stevens."
Consider how even Andrew Halcro - a 2006 Gubernatorial candidate defeated by Palin and now the blogger who started this whole kerfuffle, and thus a person most ill-disposed towards Sarah Palin - described the budget battle:
the Palin administration wanted Monegan to go in another direction. They wanted him to cut corners on a budget that had already fallen behind over the last decade. Under Former Governor Murkwoski there was significant investment made to try and catch up with growing costs but Palin's budgets have again started to starve the agency.
Monegan and his department were getting too far out in front of Palin, acting in ways that were independent and contrary to the governor's wishes. Palin needed to replace Monegan with someone who would be seen but not heard while doing the governor's bidding.
Walt Monegan was fired because he fought too hard. Governor Palin fired Monegan because she understood too little and wanted a puppet as commissioner.
Regardless of whose side you took in the budget battle, the fact is, taking public sides against your boss' budget decisions is very close to the top of the list of ways to get yourself fired in politics. There's simply no way to gloss over the differences of policy and politics that led Monegan to get demoted. Branchflower really had no choice but to find that demoting Monegan was a legitimate exercise of Gov. Palin's authority.
Petumenos concurs that there was no impropriety in demoting/reassigning Monegan.
Q: So, if Gov. Palin had legitimate reasons to fire Monegan, what on earth is Branchflower complaining about?
It's all about Wooten.
Branchflower found that Gov. Palin "abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act," which provides:
The legislature reaffirms that each public officer holds office as a public trust, and any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust.
It's undisputed that Gov. Palin did nothing to act in her financial interest, so the question is whether she acted to benefit a "personal" interest. As noted above, it's undisputed as well that she had other legitimate reasons to remove Monegan, and no personal interest in doing so.
But let's assume for the sake of argument that the strongest case against Gov. Palin is true: that she pressured Monegan to fire Wooten, and that the degree of the pressure to fire Wooten is illustrated by the removal of Monegan from his position when he wouldn't do it himself. (This involves multiple leaps over gaps in Branchflower's evidence, but we'll go there for now for the sake of argument. I'm also glossing here over Branchflower's confused legal definition of what state of mind is required to "knowingly" violate the Ethics Act, although I would argue as well that as a legal matter, Branchflower really has no basis to argue that Gov. Palin "kn[e]w that ... her conduct [was] in violation of the Act," BR 51).
Branchflower's theory is that firing Wooten would be a "personal benefit" to Gov. Palin because it would benefit Gov. Palin's father and sister and that she wanted "to get Trooper Wooten fired for personal family reasons." BR 65, 67. Now, as a legal matter, Palin's lawyers note that there's pretty much no precedent in Alaska law for finding a violation of this provision of the Ethics Act in the absence of any financial interest. And of course in a material sense, as noted below, it's hard to see how getting him fired would benefit his ex-wife.
That said, obviously it's not hard to see why in the aftermath of a bitter divorce, and with child custody issues still open to revisiting, one could see a benefit to Gov. Palin's sister to ruining Wooten. Branchflower has no evidence of this, as a result of which it's improper for him as an officer of the State to jump to that conclusion, but leave that aside for now. The fact is, "personal interest" is at best vaguely defined (Beldar suggests as an example that it could possibly include such things as pardoning someone who could incriminate a governor).
To the extent the Governor is alleged to have sought a non-financial personal benefit from an attempt to have Mr. Wooten dismissed, that benefit would have been a benefit shared generally with the public -- namely, the benefit of a trooper force free from rogue officers who have been found guilty of acts of violence and recklessness against the public. The Ethics Act specifically permits state officials to act in such circumstances, and thus even if the allegations were true -- which they assuredly are not -- there would be not probable cause to pursue the claim in this matter.
Beldar has his own take on what a "personal interest" is (he notes that "Branchflower reads the Ethics Act to prohibit any governmental action or decision made for justifiable reasons benefiting the State if that action or decision might also make a public official happy for any other reason," which I suppose might be a useful rule where you have a clear-cut benefit like a financial interest), as does Paul Mirengoff.
Petumenos, at pp. 17-19, essentially agrees with the Governor's lawyers, and specifically notes that it would be problematic to construe the statute as broadly as Branchflower does - apparently without precedent in Alaska law - in a way that would act as a positive constraint against a Governor acting in the best interests of the public on a matter in which she has no concrete interest similar to a financial interest.
My own view is much the same: acting to get rid of a trooper who is a hazard both to the public and to the State Treasury (through the risk of lawsuits against the State if he misbehaved) is not just a defensible use of the Governor's authority, it's her job. It's illogical to find a significant ethical violation - as required by the precedents cited by Gov. Palin's attorneys - if the Governor reasonably and sincerely believed she was acting in the best interests of the people she was elected to represent. The Governor is, after all, the state's Chief Executive, with sole and really irreplaceable responsibility for public safety and the public fisc. If she had information causing her to believe that one of her subordinates represented a threat to public safety, there's really no good reason why she should have been precluded from doing everything in her power to remove that threat (this is especially true in a small state where people are more apt to know each other).
I just don't see how a legal prohibition on Gov. Palin acting for a "personal interest" - where she had no financial interest at stake - could be triggered if she reasonably and sincerely believed she was acting in the best interests of the public in the case of a trooper who was a menace to society. The fact is that if it is shown that she reasonably and sincerely thought that Wooten should not be a trooper, the benefit of removing him from that position would not be significantly greater for her - as the sister of his estranged and presumably embittered ex-wife - than for the average citizen. There should only be any sort of ethics complaint here if there's a reasonable basis for finding that her concerns about Wooten were pretextual and not supported by a reasonable and sincere desire to protect the public interest, in which case the personal aminus becomes a more significant element in the decisional matrix. As I discuss below, Branchflower does not come close to meeting that standard.
Q: Did Gov. Palin pressure Monegan to take action against Trooper Wooten?
Branchflower dedicates the bulk of his investigation to this question. As to Gov. Palin personally, the evidence suggests that while she repeatedly made clear to Monegan her grievances with Wooten as a trooper, she (1) never directly or indirectly instructed Monegan to fire Wooten and (2) took to heart Wooten's admonition early in her term that for legal reasons she should not talk directly to Monegan about Wooten.
On the first point, Monegan has been unequivocal:
"For the record, no one ever said fire Wooten. Not the governor. Not Todd. Not any of the other staff," Monegan said ... "What they said directly was more along the lines of 'This isn't a person that we would want to be representing our state troopers.'"
Now, Monegan admits that he was never asked to fire Wooten. He also admits that after he advised Gov. Palin early in her term (February 2007) that it would be unwise to discuss the employment of a particular trooper with him, she did not raise the issue again.
That said, and for today at least I'm skimming over some of the details here that were covered exhaustively in the reports, basically the investigators' conclusions turned on Todd Palin and some of the Governor's key staffers constantly pestering Monegan about what a bad trooper Wooten was.
The argument as to why this was improper is, mainly, that Monegan really couldn't fire Wooten - apparently, under the collective bargaining agreement (and possibly state law as well, I'm writing quickly here and can't recall offhand) since he'd already been investigated and given a slap on the wrist, there was no way to reopen his case.
Of course, (1) the Governor can change the law and (2) the collective bargaining agreement was open to renegotiation - it expired in June 2008. That's not to say in either case that Gov. Palin had imperial power to just rewrite the civil-service laws, but it's worth remembering that the rules here were not cast in stone forevermore, and in fact the example of how Wooten got away with the things he had done seems to have stuck in Gov. Palin's craw as an example of why she should be reconsidering the supervision of the troopers.
Q: Did Gov. Palin reasonably and sincerely believe that Trooper Wooten should not be a State Trooper?
I believe the evidence shows rather compellingly that Trooper Wooten's conduct, and specifically the conduct that the Palins complained about, demonstrates his unfitness to serve as a State Trooper and that his continuance in that position presented a risk to public safety as well as a liability risk to the State of Alaska. The record clearly supports that both Gov. Palin and her husband believed this to be true. Thus, to challenge the Palin family's complaints about Trooper Wooten, her critics must argue that Trooper Wooten is a good person to have exercising armed authority on behalf of the State, or, alternatively, that the Governor should not have done anything about him even though he was a menace.
And it's not just limited to dangers to the public. The evidence is also quite clear that Gov. Palin was concerned, repeatedly, about the possibility that Wooten could do something to a member of the Alaskan public that would open the State to the threat of a big-dollar lawsuit, a concern apparently triggered by public reports about other troopers whose conduct led to such judgments during the time period in question. If you know anything about litigation, you know that if the State continued to employ Wooten after the Governor herself knew that he was a 'ticking time bomb,' that would present elevated risks of a massive damages award in the hands of a skilled trial lawyer. New Governors are not required to check at the door the things they have learned in life outside government; there would be no way in such a lawsuit to keep it from coming out that the state's chief executive knew of an extensive history of Wooten's misconduct that rendered him unfit to carry a gun and a badge.
Consider Monegan's comments to the Washington Post, which support the conclusion that Gov. Palin was concerned that Wooten was a symptom of larger problems with the State Troopers that could lead to harm to the State:
Monegan said Palin mostly backed off, but kept raising the matter indirectly through e-mails. In the fall of 2007, Monegan said he alerted her to a bad jury verdict against a trooper in rural Alaska, and she replied by mentioning Wooten, but not by name.
Mike Gravel, who surely has no particular motive to side with Palin, thinks this is plenty of reason to want the man off the force:
This trooper should have been fired ... if the unions didn't want to step up to the plate. ...
"We had a lot of conversations about a guy who threatened my family and verbally assaulted my daughter. We talked about my concerns. We talked about Wooten possibly pulling over one of my kids to frame them, like throwing a bag of dope in the back seat just to frame a Palin," he said of his conversations with one Palin aide.
"I make no apologies for wanting to protect my family and wanting to publicize the injustice of a violent trooper keeping his badge and abusing the worker compensation system. The real investigation that needs to be conducted for the best interests of the public at large is the Department of Public Safety's unwillingness to discipline its own."
As I said, I have not had time to synthesize in a post all of the evidence here. Let's note the big one. In February 2005, as the marital dispute between Mike Wooten and Molly McCann was escalating, Sarah Palin (then a private citizen) was called by her sister to listen in on a big argument between Wooten and his wife (Palin noted in an August 2005 email that this particular altercation was precipitated by the revelation that Wooten had been cheating on his wife). Fearing for her safety in a heated argument, Molly called her older sister Sarah "in case I do need help," and Sarah stayed on one open line and had her son Track listen in with her. You can read the State Trooper investigator's interview 2 months later with Sarah Palin here (I'd block-quote at greater length but I can't copy and paste from these PDFs) - what they heard was chilling, and I wonder how Democrats can read her witness statement and take sides with Wooten as he storms in yelling at his wife in a rage (Palin notes that he's a very big guy, towering over his wife, and was likely wearing his service revolver) and tells her, "If your dad helps you through this divorce, if he gets an attorney he's gonna, he's gonna eat an F'n lead bullet. I'm gonna shoot him." and "I know people in all the right places, in high places. I know judges. I know attorney's [sic]. I have relationships with these guys. You guys are all going down." Palin got concerned enough that she had Track call Molly's neighbor, and Palin drove over to their house herself, eventually leaving when Wooten seemed to have calmed down. Palin noted in an August email the history of Wooten's "physical abuse of his wife." On April 11, 2005, Molly obtained a Domestic Violence Protective Order against Wooten.
Just for one example out of many, this, which also comes from an April 2005 report originating with Molly and Chuck Heath, should give a flavor of Wooten's menace:
Page also relayed that Inv. Wooten may be taking some kind of steroid supplement and having problems with alcohol and relayed a story where (nv. Wooten drove while intoxicated from the Mug Shot Saloon. Page said he had encouraged Molly and Heath to report this behavior to the troopers but they are scared. Page has personally observed Jnv.Wooten's behavior change over the last few months and described him as "disconnected."
Mike has also told Molly that he is taking a testosterone supplement that is illegal. He gets the substance from a friend he weight lifts with whose name she does not know. She cannot recall the name of the substance, just that it has a three letter initial name like MTD, and comes in small, blue pills.
(That's aside from the drinking and driving angle in that particular report).
So far as I can tell, nobody but Wooten himself seriously disputes that Wooten made the threats in question. Wooten "told troopers he never said anything like that about his father-in-law," but the state troopers' investigation did not find in his favor on the facts, concluding only as follows:
Molly McCann, Sarah Palin and Track Palin allege that on February 17, 2005, Investigator Wooten made a comment to Molly McCann that he would shoot her father if he hired a Iawyer for her. McCann advised that Investigator Wooten made this comment to her, and that Sarah and Track Palin who were listening over an open telephone line overheard it. Investigator Wooten was questioned about the comment and denied ever making the statement. Although McCann, Sarah Palin and Track Palin all recalled hearing the statement, a statement 'or implied threat to a non-present third party is not a crime. Although McCann and Sarah Palin felt that their father's life was in danger by the statement, neither mentioned the threat to their father for several weeks. Nevertheless, a statement of this sort by a trooper reflects badly on [Alaska State Troopers].
Newsweek cites subsequent comments by the divorce court judge asking Palin and her family to cool the jets on their complaints about Wooten and eventually dissolving the domestic violence protective order, but those are steps, as Beldar notes, that are fairly common for a divorce court looking to put the family dispute behind everyone, and they don't really address whether the death threats are consistent with believing that Wooten is a menace to public order as a State Trooper. Certainly the Washington Post's characterization of his remarks suggests a concern for something other than getting to the bottom of whether Wooten was a bad Trooper:
Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Suddock reviewed the complaints filed by Palin and her family. At trial on Oct. 27, 2005, the judge expressed puzzlement about why the family was trying to get Wooten fired, since depriving the trooper of a job would harm his ability to pay family support to Palin's sister.
(See also BR 53-54). Branchflower mainly concluded that concerns over Wooten must be pretextual because the Palins dispensed with much of their security detail...but that's a logical non-sequitur; you could believe that Wooten is a dangerous guy with a hair-trigger temper who has no business in law enforcement and still not think he would hunt down and kill the governor of the state. At the same time, Branchflower's report makes clear that Gov. Palin expressed not wanting to have Wooten at events she was attending.
There's a whole bunch of other problems with Wooten I lack the time here to fully explore (including a number of findings against him by a state police internal investigation) - some minor, some more serious, but collectively giving the impression of a guy who drank too much, was very confident that he was above the law, and had little respect for rules - a bad combination indeed. The most notorious is the time he Tasered his 10-year-old stepson (he "offered" to do the same to Palin's daughter Bristol, who witnessed this lunacy). Wooten himself - who has been married four times - tries to minimize the Taser incident but nonetheless admits it was terrible judgment:
He said that he was a new Taser instructor, and his stepson was asking him about the equipment. "I didn't shoot him with live, you know, actual live cartridge," Wooten said.
This is a guy the state was supposed to trust with deadly force?
Q: What did Petumenos find?
Here's his summary of findings:
1. There is no probable cause to believe that Governor Palin violated the Alaska Executive Ethics Act by making the decision to dismiss Department of Public Safety Commissioner Monegan and offering him instead the position of Director of the Alaska Beverage Control Board.
We can pick over as we go the debates about the details here, but the argument that there's somehow a formal and uncontested finding that Gov. Palin acted unethically is now unsupportable.
MORE READING: The
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POLITICS: Say What He Will
H/T. As I have said over and over: vote for the left-wing Democrat machine politician, if what you want is a left-wing Democrat machine politician, no more and no less. But really, if he wins, don't expect anybody, a year from now, to take seriously the idea that he was ever anything else. The two-steps like this are just about concealing who he is and what he stands for.
POLITICS: Stay Classy, Wonkette.com
POLITICS: Just A Reminder
No outrage, but no surprise either - the Democrats don't care so much about campaign finance reform when they are raising and spending more money.
WAR/POLITICS: The Missing Victory
There's been a strange silence lately in the Presidential election: silence about victory in Iraq.
Number of U.S. combat fatalities in Baghdad this October? Zero, for the first time in the war. It's part of a larger trend:
Thirteen deaths were reported during October, eight of them in combat. The figures exactly match those of last July and reflect a continuing downward trend that began around Sept. 2007. October 2007 saw 38 deaths reported (29 combat); in October 2006 there were 106 U.S. deaths (99 combat) and in October 2005 there were 96 (77 combat).
U.S. deaths in Iraq fell in October to their lowest monthly level of the war, matching the record low of 13 fatalities suffered in July. Iraqi deaths fell to their lowest monthly levels of the year....The sharp drop in American fatalities in Iraq reflects the overall security improvements across the country following the Sunni revolt against al-Qaida and the rout suffered by Shiite extremists in fighting last spring in Basra and Baghdad.
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Perhaps the most tangible sign of victory in Iraq is the removal of the security walls in Baghdad; one would have to be positively churlish towards the war effort to resist being moved by the sight of those walls coming down, and what they mean to life in the Iraqi capital. And it's not just walls of concrete crumbling as the counterinsurgency "surge" pays its dividends:
On Oct. 1, the Sunni-dominated Awakening movement, widely credited with helping restore order to neighborhoods that were among the most deadly, passed from the American to the Iraqi government payroll in Baghdad. There is deep mutual mistrust between the new employer and many of its new employees, many of whom are former insurgents.
Have we gone so far along the path to victory that even Barack Obama couldn't screw it up? Not so fast:
U.S. commanders are also worried that security could worsen if the Iraqi parliament refuses to approve a new security agreement by the end of December, when the U.N. Security Council mandate under which the coalition operates in Iraq expires.
December, of course, is still on George W. Bush's watch, but nobody doubts that the President-elect will have real influence on that process, let alone on the U.S. military's ability to keep faith with our allies in Iraq going forward. But while an Obama Administration may still present a threat to victory in Iraq, the declining public interest in the conflict and the prominence of economic issues at home has basically made it politically impossible to make the case against Obama's wartime leadership, even as he plainly and inarguably got one of the two most important decisions of his time in the U.S. Senate - his opposition to the surge - as wrong as possible (on the other, preventing the financial crisis, he did no better).
Republicans in the 1990s tasted the bitter fruit of electoral irrelevance of one issue after another on which conservative policies had been implemented and succeeded - the Cold War, crime, welfare. (The Democrats don't have this problem). If John McCain loses, it may be because he really did prefer losing an election to losing a war. Certainly many Iraqis would prefer to see McCain win. It will be too bad if American voters don't see things the same way.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:18 PM | Politics 2008 | War 2007-12 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Making It A Long Night
I mostly agree with Allahpundit's view that McCain could be dead and buried early, given some of the poll-closing times:
7 p.m. Indiana, Virginia 7:30 p.m. Ohio, North Carolina 8 p.m. Pennsylvania, Florida, Missouri
Granted, there's been talk that Ohio may not be call-able until very late (traditionally, Indiana and Virginia get called pretty quickly, but that may not be true in IN this year), but if McCain's winning the states he needs to stay in the game, I doubt very much that he loses either Ohio or Florida, at least unless something really...wrong is happening in Ohio, a possibility I'm trying to keep out of my mind right now. In fact, I tend to agree with Erick that "if McCain wins Pennsylvania, he's the President. If McCain loses Pennsylvania, he is not the President. It's that simple."
If McCain pulls out PA, even if he loses NH and longer shot 2004 blue states like MN and WI, he can afford to lose IA, VA, CO, and NM out of the 2004 Bush states and still win the election (go here; that gives him a 273-265 lead). If he doesn't take PA, he really does need to hold the line in most of the Bush states besides IA (in which he's been doomed all along due to the politics of ethanol).
Anyway, if McCain is still in the game at 9:30 or 10pm, it will be time to get optimistic, and not before.
POLITICS: Speaking of Obama's Unexamined Past
Business International, Obama's first employers out of college had substantial ties to SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), the radical (but nonviolent) Sixties group that gave birth to the Weather Underground (Bernadine Dohrn was one of the heads of SDS before joining the WU). H/T. This longer article pretty well covers the waterfront (including established fact, informed speculation and links) of why this should not surprise us and why there's a shroud of secrecy around Obama's life in the early 80s.
POLITICS: Change, The Mainstream, and Content-Free Politics
Stepping away for a moment from the right/left axis, there are fundamentally two worldviews of American politics that will, in theory, face off tomorrow.
One is the notion of the Mainstream. Basically, the Mainstream view of American politics is that there's a center to our politics, that things best get done when the two parties work together and marginalize the ideological extremes. This view holds that the real impediment to progress is the resistance of the Right and the Left to compromise. Pretty much by definition, the candidate of the Mainstream is John McCain, the man who practically embodies this view of Washington.
The opposite pole is the idea of Change. This view holds that Washington is at its worst, not its best, when the two parties conspire together against the general population. The Change view notices that Washington has long tended to chew up and spit out grand ideological schemes and idealists and impose a moderating pull towards the inherently corrupt center. The ideal Change candidate must be made of sterner stuff - must be willing to stand sometimes alone against misguided bipartisan consensuses, calling out the whole rotten edifice of favor-sharing and back-scratching. And of course, as I've been through repeatedly in this space, the Change candidate as well, by any sane reckoning, must be John McCain, given the contrast between his dogged pursuit of reform and Obama's business-as-usual attitude towards the corrupt machinery of government.
So given that we have two basically competing visions and one candidate represents both, how is that candidate not obviously winning?
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At the end of it all, there remain only three arguments for voting Obama that are not built entirely on willful ignorance or willful deceit regarding his record:
(1) The partisan argument: if you are determined to vote for a Democrat, any Democrat, Obama fits the bill. He's a member of the Democratic Party.
(2) The ideological argument: if you really and truly want to see the left wing take over, then the argument for voting Obama is basically the same as the argument for voting for Howard Dean or Dennis Kucinich. He will, in fact, move the government to the left as much as he is able to do.
(3) The race argument: if you think the nation ought to vote for Obama because of the color of his skin, well, you're going to vote for Obama no matter what. (I disagree with Moe Lane's reading of this WaPo profile of an Obama supporter - I think the really distressing thing is her apparent sole fixation on Obama's race. But if, as Moe argues, that also renders her vulnerable to being used for Obama's political purposes, well, there's that too). This should not be confused with the argument that Obama would somehow be good for race relations as a whole in this country; to the contrary, the relentless effort by Obama and his supporters to play the race card against any and all criticism is a difficult instinct to turn off once it is activated, and is almost certain to have a corrosive effect over the next four years. Remember, people once thought electing David Dinkins would be good for race relations in New York City, too.
But that's pretty much it. Everything else that's been trotted out as a basis for voting Obama requires a willing suspension of disbelief. Instead, we get compelling political arguments like this one:
I'm not convinced that Obama's going to win. I'm convinced that he's significantly more likely than not to win, but of course by now we've all been through the reasons to question the polls, and for McCain supporters to refuse to submit to media efforts to declare the race over. But win or lose, certainly the GOP will need to do some serious thinking about how we got to the pass in which a candidate like Obama became thinkable, in which the illusions on which his candidacy has been based have never really been effectively punctured. In the event of defeat, certainly there will be much fun to be had exploiting the gulf between the Obama of his record and the Obama of his image, as it will be impossible for him to govern as both even if he is able to summon the executive competence and fortitude that he has never in his life had reason to display. But the nation should never have had to contemplate being punished with an Obama Presidency.
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POLITICS: A Confident Prediction About Barack Obama
I will make now a prediction about one thing we will see in the event of an Obama Presidency, and stick by it: Obama will never be free of his past.
During the 8 years of the Bush presidency, we have heard relatively little new information about his pre-presidential career, with the exception of the 2004 effort to dig further into his Texas Air National Guard service to contrast him with John Kerry. There's a reason for this: when Bush ran for President in 2000, the media crawled all over whatever they could find, most famously culminating in the story of his 1976 DUI arrest that broke the week of the election.
Much the same was true of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. The press dealt mostly with their tenure in office, having already fully vetted them prior to their elections. We have seen in recent months the same process for Sarah Palin, with every aspect of her life being turned over by investigative reporters. And of course, John McCain as well.
Contrast the Clinton Administration - during the Clinton years, we had a steady stream of stories, often starting either with legal processes or with reportage by conservative media outlets, bringing us new information about the Clintons' past, ranging from Hillary's 1978 commodities investment (which was fully concealed during the 1992 campaign by concealment of the Clintons' tax returns) to the ins and outs of the Whitewater investigation to Paula Jones and Juanita Broaddrick to things like the Mena airport saga that came out gradually.
Not all of the stories about the Clintons' past were blockbusters (the Mena story never amounted to anything that really connected all that directly to the Clintons), and obviously the credibility of the he-said-she-said stories of women like Jones and Broaddrick remains in the eye of the beholder (as for Whitewater, the New York Times did a single story on it during the primaries in March 1992 and then promptly dropped the issue). But voters should have had the opportunity to evaluate them before giving Bill Clinton the job, and certainly would have, if he'd been a Republican; and if the media had done its homework, these would all have been old news by 1993. The most egregious case was the commodities deal, which came out in 1994 (see here and here), and which probably would have been the one scandal too many to sink Clinton if it had been properly ventilated at the time. Obviously some of this was due to concealment by the Clintons rather than just media lassitude, but politicians don't get a pass for concealing things if the media wants them dragged out.
Anyway, that said, I will predict with great confidence that if Obama is elected, we will not by a long shot have heard the last of new information about his past in Chicago politics. So much of Obama's early years remains a cipher, due to the destruction of his State Senate papers, his refusal to release scores of other types of documents (as Jim Geraghty relates here, here, and here), to say nothing of the many "missing witnesses" (noted here) who can't be located or won't speak to the media. All those dams can't hold forever. While Republicans and conservatives will, if Obama wins, have plenty to do exposing his activities in the White House, at the end of the day, Obama's past remains a fertile field with many areas of investigation that have yet to be exhausted. We will not have heard the last of it. He will carry his past in the White House like Jacob Marley's chains, precisely because the media has not made him face it all on the trail.
BLOG: This Week's Schedule
1. Baseball content, and in general a more normal balance of content, should resume around Thursday.
2. Sadly, I never did get to the end of my list of posts to write up before the election. I'll be rolling a few more things out if I have the time.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:45 AM | Baseball 2008 | Blog 2006-13 | Politics 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
October 31, 2008
POLITICS: Big Money
Just to tie up a loose end from yesterday's post on Obama's money machine: only a quarter of his donations are from under-$200 donors, compared to 31% for Bush in 2004 and 37% for Kerry in 2004. So the myth that Obama's enormous financial advantage comes from small-dollar donors is just that, a myth.
October 30, 2008
POLITICS: The Credit Card Fraud Campaign
I have not spent nearly enough time on this issue, but given the centrality of Barack Obama's amazing internet fundraising machine to everything he's been able to accomplish in the primary and general elections, it's been staggering to discover the extent to which his website has been deliberately designed to permit donations without the safeguards other campaigns and online businesses use. A lot of credit goes to Kenneth Timmerman of Newsmax (more here) for beginning the serious investigation of Obama's sources of funds - Newsmax has run a lot stories over the years that have contributed to its devalued credibility as a source, but on this one it was dead-on, as subsequent investigations have confirmed. The Washington Post had a piece yesterday giving an overview of the various types of illegal fundraising that the structure of the website enables:
Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign is allowing donors to use largely untraceable prepaid credit cards that could potentially be used to evade limits on how much an individual is legally allowed to give or to mask a contributor's identity, campaign officials confirmed.
In recent weeks, questionable contributions have created headaches for Obama's accounting team as it has tried to explain why campaign finance filings have included itemized donations from individuals using fake names, such as Es Esh or Doodad Pro. Those revelations prompted conservative bloggers to further test Obama's finance vetting by giving money using the kind of prepaid cards that can be bought at a drugstore and cannot be traced to a donor.
The Obama team's disclosures came in response to questions from The Washington Post about the case of Mary T. Biskup, a retired insurance manager from Manchester, Mo., who turned up on Obama's FEC reports as having donated $174,800 to the campaign. Contributors are limited to giving $2,300 for the general election.
If you are keeping score at home, that's five different kinds of illegality that can come from reduced security on the web:
(1) Donations by foreign nationals
Moreover, it appears that - as has traditionally been true of voter fraud - it will be exceptionally difficult to follow the trail to apprehend the real donors, precisely because of the use of false or stolen identities. In fact, it may take some time to even get a handle on the scope of the problem.
How'd the campaign do this? RedState's tech guru, Neil Stevens, walks through some of the technical changes that had to be made to the standard website credit-processing system, a subject that has produced something of a cottage industry in the right side of the blogosphere in the last week or two, and which I haven't adequately covered in the links above - more here (with a roundup and explanation of methods, most notably disabling the Address Verification System), here, here, here, here. It's quite clear not only that the campaign has not had adeqaute safeguards in place but that routine ones were deliberately disabled, and their vague response has basically been "trust us." New politics, indeed.
Remember: Obama's campaign is itself his only executive experience (he has claimed it as significant experience himself), and fundraising is the single most impressive thing his campaign has done, the core operation from which everything else flows. And at the core of his web-money machine (as Mark Steyn notes, the web has done two-thirds of Obama's fundraising in September) is a deliberate effort to permit evasion of the law. Whether Obama personally authorized that or not, it is very much relevant in evaluating how he has conducted his campaign. After all, if he's elected, a lot will happen on his watch without his express permission. And the people inside his campaign are likely to be the same ones holding jobs in his Administration.
October 29, 2008
Jonathan Last on Obama's informercial: "Never before have I noticed how wonderful commercials are. It's not until you're forced to go without the Geico cavemen for 30 straight minutes do you realize how much you appreciate them."
For those of you, like me, with no desire to watch the thing, sit back and watch the master at work in the same 30-minute ad format - here he is on the October 27 before Election Day 1964, then a 53-year-old private citizen standing in to make the case his party's presidential nominee had been trying and failing for months to get across to the American public, the "A Time For Choosing" speech:
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The text of the speech is here, and while the precise challenges of the present day have changed, so many of the principles Reagan talked about then (especially the segment on the soft, slow slide towards socialism starting around 18:20) is still vital to today's election.
Notice three things. One, this predates the happy-warrior Reagan - he's tough and uncompromising. Two, you won't get lost in a fog of generalities - Reagan was pithy and philosophical, but as always he also came loaded for bear with statistics and specifics to back up his points. And three, I had seen clips of that speech before but this is the first one that showed the crowd.
It's instructive to compare Reagan's stark choices to Obama's "Closing Argument" speech on Monday in Ohio. There's a bunch of interesting and telling tropes in that speech, but just to touch on two of them - the speech may as well have been entitled "A Time For Not Choosing," because a core theme speech was the idea that hard tradeoffs are, in fact, not really tradeoffs at all:
We don't have to choose between allowing our financial system to collapse and spending billions of taxpayer dollars to bail out Wall Street banks.
The choice in this election isn't between tax cuts and no tax cuts. It's about whether you believe we should only reward wealth, or whether we should also reward the work and workers who create it....
When it comes to jobs, the choice in this election is not between putting up a wall around America or allowing every job to disappear overseas. ...
When it comes to health care, we don't have to choose between a government-run health care system and the unaffordable one we have now. If you already have health insurance, the only thing that will change under my plan is that we will lower premiums....
When it comes to giving every child a world-class education so they can compete in this global economy for the jobs of the 21st century, the choice is not between more money and more reform - because our schools need both....
And when it comes to keeping this country safe, we don't have to choose between retreating from the world and fighting a war without end in Iraq....
Both Reagan and Obama do a play on the "this is not right vs. left" argument, but Reagan argued that "left" is really "down" to a socialist future, while "right" means America's traditional liberties:
You and I are told increasingly that we have to choose between a left or right, but I would like to suggest that there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down--up to a man's age-old dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order--or down to the ant heap totalitarianism, and regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.
Obama, by contrast, does the same thing - but while Reagan insisted, into the teeth of an electoral disaster, that his ideas could stand the test of history, Obama uses the "no left, no right" meme to disguise his Great Society big-government liberalism behind an updated version of Michael Dukakis' "competence, not ideology" slogan:
Understand, if we want get through this crisis, we need to get beyond the old ideological debates and divides between left and right. We don't need bigger government or smaller government. We need a better government - a more competent government - a government that upholds the values we hold in common as Americans.
Not exactly the words of a man confident that he can openly proclaim a "progressive" ideology and survive. To the very end, Obama will refuse to admit what it is that he is selling. A time for choosing, indeed.
« Close It
POLITICS: Robbing Peter To Pay Peter
"Our hope is that the leadership of both parties will be able to confer and come back after the election, and see what we can do to provide assistance to our local and state governments, as we have been able to do for our banking and finance industry," Rep. Rangel said at the outset of a committee hearing Wednesday on stimulus discussions.
This is nonsensical.
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I was a grudging supporter of the Paulson Plan (a/k/a the "Wall Street bailout") on the theory that it was absolutely necessary at the time as a policy matter to restore confidence and liquidity in the financial markets, which have ripple effects for pretty much the entire rest of the world economy. One of the main policy arguments in favor of the Paulson Plan was that it was relatively minimalist and not really going to be a long-term money-loser for the government. One of the sounder political arguments against the plan was that casting it as a "bailout" of the unpopular financial industry would lead to a long procession of pretty much everybody else coming to Washington to ask to be bailed out of whatever was ailing them, at large expense and without any analogous hope that the taxpayers would get their money back. This has come to pass quickly, and the Rangel proposal is its reductio ad absurdum. Consider:
Q: Why Does New York State Need A Bailout?
A: Because it can't pay its bills.
Q: If New York Does Not Cut Spending or Get A Bailout, How Will It Pay Its Bills?
A: Raise state/local taxes on New York taxpayers.
Q: So, Who Will Pay New York's Bills If There Is A Bailout?
A: Federal taxpayers.
Q: Aren't Those The Same People?
A: Basically, yes. If states and cities aren't bailed out in equal proportion to the tax money they send Washington, then it's not precisely the same, it's a "spread the wealth" transfer. So it's possible that New York will get to soak the taxpayers of some other state, especially with Rangel chairing the committee; then again, the high cost of living in NY means that the state's taxpayers generally pay a high per-capita share of federal taxes and will pay a much larger share if Obama gets in and passes his tax plan. But in the aggregate, the burdens of state and local taxpayers are being relieved by ... those same taxpayers' federal tax dollars.
Q: What Is The Purpose Of This Shell Game?
To diffuse responsibility. If Gov. Paterson or Mayor Bloomberg raises taxes or cuts spending, they take the blame. But if the same dollars get laundered through the colossal federal budget, it's easier for the impact to get lost. The purpose is thus to ensure that taxpayers do not directly see where the money is coming from, and get to imagine that somebody else is paying it.
Of course, they could consider cutting spending. Presumably Gov. Paterson is asking for help because he has wholly eliminated non-essential spending from the New York State Government, right?
Obviously the other way to do this is, have the federal government use borrowed money, since the feds can borrow at a lower rate and with fewer state-law restrictions on borrowing. But the accountability point stands. Politicians should not spend money they can't afford to raise from their own constituents.
« Close It
POLITICS: The Integrity Gap, Part III of III: John McCain and Joe Biden
III. John McCain: The Zeal of the Convert
Given the length and public nature of John McCain's career on the national stage, I won't go here through his record in the depth that I explored those of Gov. Palin and Sen. Obama. But I will lay out a number of examples that show the sharp contrast between McCain's approach to situations calling for integrity and Barack Obama's.
Senator McCain's former, false friends in the media used to paint him as some sort of secular saint, a man who infused politics with a unique brand of noblity that elevated the grubby business of Washington to a higher plane of bipartisanship, reform and self-sacrifice. St. John the McCain was always a myth; we should put not our faith in politicians, and nobody gets as far as McCain has in national politics wholly unsullied by politics and all that comes with it. But if McCain the saint is a myth, McCain the public servant is nonetheless an admirable figure who has passed many tests of fire (in some cases, literally). McCain looks more rather than less impressive when we view him through the justifiably jaded eye that should be cast on any politician.
McCain has been, in his words "an imperfect servant" of this country; I will not try to convince you otherwise, and will deal up front with the two major and deserved blots on his reputation. I will not try to convince you that over 26 years in politics he's been above consorting with lobbyists, accepting endorsements from unsavory people, pandering to constituencies, or changing positions when it suits his needs. But however you define the negative features of "politics as usual," we expect our Presidents to have that quality that allows them to rise above it - perhaps not every day on every issue, but often enough, and forcefully enough, and in spite of enough slings and arrows that we can have confidence that they can be trusted to stand up for us even when it's hard to do so, even at great cost.
There is no question that McCain has shown, over and over and over again, his ability to do just that. He's publicly called out waste and corruption, even in his own party. He's taken on powerful vested interests on the Left and the Right - not just wealthy and well-connected ones but grassroots interests as well. McCain may not fight every battle that needs to be fought, but he will always be fighting, and he will not be afraid to take on targets that can hit him back.
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(1) McCain The Faithful Warrior
John McCain is a professional soldier by birth, upbringing and career. We have had war-hero candidates in several recent elections - George H.W. Bush, John Kerry, Bob Dole - but these men were fundamentally citizen soldiers, men who left behind the world they grew up in to meet their country's call of duty. They were men who were asked to be heroes and discovered that they had it in them. John McCain was raised to be a hero.
That doesn't make the professional soldier more or less noble than the citizen soldier; for most of our nation's history, we have depended upon the ability to meld professional warfighters with citizen soldiers to create an armed force that greater than the sum of its parts. It just means that we have to remember that McCain's internal code of conduct is much more expressly military - a code that places honor, the keeping of one's word and one's loyalty to country and comrades above all else and against all perils.
I won't recount here in any detail the most famous of all McCain stories, his refusal to accept early release as a POW in Vietnam, at the cost of solitary confinement and torture that left him with permanent injuries. But recall that what McCain was doing in that episode was all about the POWs' code of conduct and code of honor. McCain saw the other men around him suffer greatly for that code of honor, and he refused to betray them by betraying it. Indeed, when McCain speaks even to this day about the episode in which he finally broke one night under torture and signed a false confession, you can hear in his voice that he has never forgiven himself even for that moment of wholly understandable weakness. But when morning came, he still refused to go home. He established then and there that when McCain perceives that an issue of his honor is at stake, he will not yield no matter what he must suffer.
(2) McCain The Unfaithful Husband
McCain's code of honor does not, unfortunately, extend to every aspect of his life; most famously, he failed at what most of us regard as the most solemn vow a man can take. His first marriage collapsed in the late 1970s due principally to McCain's serial infidelity to his first wife, who like McCain had suffered serious injuries during his imprisonment, in her case in a car accident. Under all the circumstances - their long time apart, the hardships of war, the burdens of their physical disabilities - we may find it understandable that the marriage fell apart; but that doesn't in any way justify McCain in cheating on his wife and eventually leaving her to marry a younger, healthier, wealthier woman.
It's beyond the time and space I have available here to fully explore the relevance to a public official's career of purely private sins such as marital infidelity. I would briefly digress to suggest the following points, and apply them to McCain:
First, character does matter, and matters more for executives than for legislators due to the nature of the job and the broad discretion executives enjoy. Elections are never just about "the issues," given the broad range of unforeseen circumstances that can arise and given the serious questions voters must always ask about whether a candidate will keep his or her promises on the issues. That's why I'm writing this series, after all. I never bought the argument made by the Democrats throughout the 1990s that character is wholly irrelevant.
Second, private character is not irrelevant. We know that private problems can become public ones if, for example, a philanderer has an affair with, or sexually harrasses, a subordinate employee (Clinton, Foley), gets busted for hiring prostitutes or soliciting sex (Spitzer, Craig), puts unqualified lovers on the public payroll (McGreevey) or has to negotiate or regulate public business with an ex-mistress (Corzine, Frank). While it is true that men will do things for sex they might not do for other temptations, the weakness of character still tells us something about the man, and I am not at all convinced that strength of character can be so subdivided as to make private failings irrelevant to predicting public behavior. (This is aside from issues of deceit and recklessness involved when a public official dares the press to catch him when he knows he's guilty (Hart), chases skirts after he has been caught before (Clinton), engages in illegal activities to cover up an affair (Clinton) or lies directly to the public, to his supporters and to his closest aides (Clinton, Edwards)). Finally, a man with private sins may feel unduly and improperly constrained by his own glass house, and may let the fear of a hypocrisy charge frighten him away from standing up for virtue when it is appropriate or necessary to do so.
Third, however, character is not a series of yes/no questions. It is the test of the whole man, and the test of a lifetime. We understand that all our leaders have sins. Some are more serious than others (surely, marital infidelity is one of those), and some are more recent and current than others, but we are well-advised to judge the whole man, the whole record. A 24-year-old DUI conviction did so much damage to George W. Bush in the week before the 2000 election because, relatively speaking, he did not have a long, countervailing record of positive proof of his character when he ran for president. The same is true of rookie candidates like Obama and Edwards and Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin - having less by which to judge them, each incident and each failing grows larger in proportion. And a character flaw becomes more serious when it reinforces negative impressions about a candidate's public career. For conservatives, at least, Bill Clinton's serial infidelity and pervasive dishonesty about the matter was troublesome because it was so completely consistent with the public Clinton.
McCain comes to us with an exceptionally long public career and many, many incidents that have called upon him to show us his character and what he has made of. He has passed many tests, sometimes tests few living men have been exposed to. He has taken many stands. He is, in short, the ultimate known quantity; he is not going to be anyone in office but the John McCain we already know so well. Nor is there any real fear that McCain will get himself into similar messes in office - this is 30 years ago, and he's been happily and steadily married ever since. He is, frankly, 72 years old; he's not 42 anymore.
Do we see patterns of McCain's infidelity in his public life? Well, I suppose you could argue that we have, in the sense that he's been less than faithful to the Republican party over the years. As you can see from the examples I cite below, McCain obviously does not see loyalty to political ideas or institutions as covered by his code of honor, and so he can be tempted away from his loyalty to them. But on the fundamental question of whether the government should serve the general public interest or more narrow interests - even when those interests are the interests of large or influential groups - and on those issues, such as national security, that he plainly regards as matters of honor, McCain's military code of honor does, in fact, compel him to take stand after stand by the light of his conscience even when it's not obviously in his own best interests. We can trust him to do the same in office because we have been watching him do it all these years.
B. The Keating Five
I referred previously to Sarah Palin as an unlikely source for political reform, and in his own way, so is John McCain. Befitting his background, McCain came to Congress as a defense hawk who sought a place on the key national security committees; nothing in his background suggested a guy who would be a leading voice on domestic policy. But you can't really tell the story of John McCain's career as a Washington gadfly of reform without its origins in the "Keating Five" scandal of the late 1980s (McCain's so old even his scandals are ancient). While some of McCain's reformist streak predates the scandal, virtually every account of his career notes that having his honor called into question was the deepest cut McCain could possibly suffer, and one that motivated many of his later forays into cleaning up the ethical morass of Washington as a form of personal redemption.
Here's how the Arizona Republic describes the genesis of the scandal:
It all started in March 1987. Charles H Keating Jr., the flamboyant developer and anti-porn crusader, needed help. The government was poised to seize Lincoln Savings and Loan, a freewheeling subsidiary of Keating's American Continental Corp.
Despite his history with Keating, McCain was hesitant about intervening. At that point, he had been in the Senate only three months. DeConcini wanted McCain to fly to San Francisco with him and talk to the regulators. McCain refused.
After the meeting, McCain was done with Keating.
You can read the whole thing for an accounting of McCain's longstanding relationship (financial and political) with Keating and the blow-by-blow of the meeting. The five Senators - four Democrats, including John Glenn, last seen stumping for Obama, and McCain - got reprimanded by the Senate Ethics Committee under the Democrat-controlled Senate in 1990:
In the end, McCain received only a mild rebuke from the Ethics Committee for exercising "poor judgment" for intervening with the federal regulators on behalf of Keating. Still, he felt tarred by the affair.
McCain owns up to his mistake this way:
As Adam Clymer of the New York Times noted in 1995, partisan politics was behind even the tepid reprimand McCain received:
During the Keating Five scandal, committee Democrats resisted dropping the case against John McCain, the Arizona Republican, because that would have left only Democrats accused of improper dealings with Charles Keating, the savings and loan executive.
Basically, McCain's self-assessment is correct: like Glenn, he exercised terrible judgment in associating his good name with Keating, benefitting Keating in his dealings with the regulators. Neither McCain nor Glenn was as culpable in the scandal as DeConcini, Cranston or Riegle - fundamentally, all they really did was show their faces at a meeting - but they were wrong to do even that much. It's a lesson McCain shouldn't have had to learn, but learn he did.
C. The Maverick
We've now assembled the essential picture of John McCain as he stood nearly two decades ago, as a first-term Senator in his mid-50s: war hero who suffered greatly for his code of honor in Hanoi; philanderer who wrecked his first marriage, trying to make better on the second try; legislator tarred by scandal for his association with a crook and burning with a desire to reclaim his reputation for honor. I will freely admit that if McCain had run for President in 1992, at the stage of his career that Obama is at now, he would have had difficulty extricating proof of his honor and integrity from the wreckage of the Keating Five, and would have lacked much in the way of a record. But McCain has walked many miles since then to earn our trust; let us review the portrait that emerges:
(1) Party Disloyalty
The list of issues on which McCain has fought powerful interests inside and outside his own party is too long to recount here. Let us start with McCain the un-party man. For example, Gamecock has rounded up a fairly comprehensive list of McCain's deviations from conservative orthodoxy, including national security issues like interrogation policy. Jonathan Chait has described McCain's apostasies during Bush's first term:
It is no exaggeration to say that, during this crucial period, McCain was the most effective advocate of the Democratic agenda in Washington.
As Chait recognizes, McCain's stands on these issues is not really about ideology; it's McCain going his own idiosyncratic way. Some of these issues, of course, smell to conservatives like media or populist grandstanding. And as I stressed with Obama, I don't view adherence to principle or party loyalty as bad things, nor do I see deviation from the party line as necessarily good. I'd prefer that the GOP was running a principled conservative. But when we fill in the broader picture of McCain's tilts at Washington windmills, a clearer focus emerges, one that is about more than just what is passingly popular or fashionable. The picture that shows that no exterior influence can wholly explain John McCain's stubborn independence. McCain may tack at times with the wind, but he very frequently steers by his own stars.
(2) Scourge of the Hill
Let's touch on a few more that illustrate specifically my point about McCain's independence from powerful forces in all camps:
-Campaign finance reform, of course, is McCain's most famous signature domestic issue. I've never agreed with McCain's policy precriptions on this issue, nor have most conservatives. But nobody questions the sincerity of his crusading spirit on the issue, nor the price he has paid for it. It's not just that McCain has made lifelong enemies of principled conservative commentators like George Will; he also burned his bridges with the leadership of activist groups like the National Right to Life Committee and the NRA who chafed at the way his restrictions on issue ads interfered with their ability to promote their positions during elections. As a result, McCain to this day faces reactions ranging from indifference to seething opposition among the grassroots leadership on the Right that cuts across issues and blocs. (Indeed, it is quite possible that without Sarah Palin on the GOP ticket and Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee, the NRA would never have endorsed McCain).
-Then there's McCain's years-long battle against pork barrel spending projects, a battle that Tom Coburn has since joined but on which McCain for years led alone. The AP describes the origins:
McCain's crusade started with the line-item veto.
As the AP piece notes, and as we have seen on the trail, McCain still has to answer tough questions about his opposition to this or that local project. But he stands his ground - it's who he is.
-McCain opposed President Bush, the GOP Congressional leadership, the pharmaceutical companies and the AARP in opposing the expansion of Medicare to cover prescription drugs, something George Bush and Al Gore had campaigned on in 2000 and which was regarded as universally popular. McCain thought it was fiscally irresponsible, and he was right.
-McCain has battled for years against subsidies and trade barriers that use taxpayer funds to artifically prop up the price of corn ethanol despite serious questions about whether ethanol is a boondoggle as an alternative fuel. There's a reason why ethanol subsidies have such a lock on the political process: would-be presidential candidates must swear fealty to the ethanol lobby if they hope to compete in the crucial Iowa caucuses. McCain, nearly alone among recent presidential candidates (I believe Bill Bradley was an exception) refused to bend on the issue, as a result of which he skipped Iowa in the 2000 primaries, finished third there in 2008, and appears well behind ethanol-backing Barack Obama in this year's general election in Iowa. Remember: ethanol isn't just a moneyed lobby, it's also a popular cause in Iowa. But in this case the people are wrong, and McCain's not afraid to tell them that.
-McCain has likewise stubbornly supported free trade, proudly declaring himself a free trader in this year's debates. As with immigration and his foreign policy views, trade is a core part of McCain's internationalist worldview. He's been unfraid to campaign for it even in NAFTA-hating sectors of Ohio. It's who McCain is.
-As he has noted in a few of the debates, he opposed President Reagan on the use of Marines as peacekeepers in Beruit in 1983, a deployment Reagan later regarded as the worst mistake of his presidency. (Even efforts to spin this as somehow not the case note that "What McCain voted against was a measure to invoke the War Powers Act and to authorize the deployment of U.S. Marines in Lebanon for an additional 18 months. The measure passed 270-161, with 26 other Republicans (including McCain) and 134 Democrats voting against it."). *
-While many of McCain's positions over the years have been popular with the press, in 1999 he cast just about the most unpopular vote, from the media's perspective, in recent Washington history, to remove the President of the United States from office. As he explained at the time, with a nod to the inevitable hypocrisy charge given McCain's own marital history as well as the fact that he would be voting to wound a man who would still be in the White House, sitting atop high approval ratings, for the remaining year and a half of his term (while his primary opponent, George W. Bush, maintained studious silence on the issue), McCain, typically, viewed the vote as a matter of honor:
All of my life, I have been instructed never to swear an oath to my country in vain. In my former profession, those who violated their sworn oath were punished severely and considered outcasts from our society. I do not hold the President to the same standard that I hold military officers to. I hold him to a higher standard. Although I may admit to failures in my private life, I have at all times, and to the best of my ability, kept faith with every oath I have ever sworn to this country. I have known some men who kept that faith at the cost of their lives. I cannot--not in deference to public opinion, or for political considerations, or for the sake of comity and friendship--I cannot agree to expect less from the President.
-McCain then turned around and took a position that was unpopular with his party - to support President Clinton's pursuit of a war in Bosnia following on ths heels of his acquittal - but also angered the White House by calling for more ground troops and for formal Congressional approval of the war. McCain's resolution was shot down by a joint effort of Senate leaders Trent Lott and Tom Daschle. (McCain took a similar middle course on the recent FISA debate, angering the Bush White House by arguing that the issue should be sent to Congress but also angering opponents of the Bush surveillance policy by supporting the effort to enshrine it in law).
At stake is a $21 billion contract, of which Boeing, as prime contractor, gets the lion's share. The FCS program is billed by the Pentagon as an "overwhelmingly lethal" weapons system integrating battlefield computers into one vast communications network. It supports 550 workers at Boeing's Kent site and, according to the company, puts roughly $175 million into Washington state's economy each year.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, McCain has had trouble attracting support from defense contractors. * * * McCain's battles with defense contractors are a sign of his view, shared by Gov. Palin, that being pro-business doesn't have to mean accepting longstanding deference to the interests of particular businesses.
-Wall Street: Of course, we know about McCain's calls for reform of lobbying powerhouses Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, even during times when they were employing as a lobbyist Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager in 2000 and still a major figure in McCain's current campaign. But McCain also has a fairly long record of dissenting from his party by supporting regulation of the private sector of the financial industry. This, again, is not a stand I agree with, but it is yet another sign of how McCain marches to the beat of his own drum.
-Vietnam: McCain's integrity is also shown by his capacity for forgiveness. In 1996, in conjunction with the Clinton Administration, McCain joined across the aisle with John Kerry to work on normalizing relationships with the regime in Vietnam that tortured him. This wasn't always popular work; families of long-missing POWs often didn't appreciate the conclusions of McCain's and Kerry's work on the POW-MIA issue. But McCain answered the call to move forward rather than dwell on entirely justified grievances.
(3) Taking Names
I referred to this in the last installment - McCain hasn't just been willing to fight for reform, he's been willing to name names and make a lot of enemies to do it. McCain frequently embarrassed individual fellow Senators with his attacks on pork projects, including the now-famous "Bridge to Nowhere." McCain also chaired hearings on the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, despite the damage it did to the GOP's reputation on Capitol Hill. (Here's Salon in 2005 describing one such session). (Tom DeLay still hasn't forgiven him). *
(4) Iraq and Immigration
If you want an illustration of how John McCain's integrity played into his presidential campaign, even at great political risk, look at Iraq and immigration. McCain entered the race in 2007 as the consensus front-runner or co-front-runner for the nomination - the next guy in line, with a national reputation and good standing in the polls. By the late summer of 2007, his campaign was basically dead in the water. His public approval ratings tell the tale:
McCain's crash in 2007 was not the result of the rise of any one opponent, or any new scandal. It was, principally, driven by his decision to lead the fight in the Senate for comprehensive immigration reform, a hugely controversial piece of bipartisan legislation (his co-sponsor was the hated Ted Kennedy) that was massively unpopular with the Republican base. Grassroots activists were up in arms, and pundits branded McCain "McAmnesty." It was practically a textbook example of how to destroy a primary campaign by picking a fight with his party's base. But McCain saw the Senate fight through to the end.
It could be argued, of course, that McCain was playing to the middle and aiming for the general election. After all, Latino voters are an important general election constituency in a number of states. But at the same time that McCain was risking his neck with primary voters over immigration, he was doing the same with the general electorate over what was then the massively unpopular war in Iraq.
We can all well remember how setbacks in the Iraq War in 2006 helped the Democrats capture Congress and emboldened previously waffling candidates like Obama to become full-throated advocates of immediately commencing a withdrawal from Iraq. Many on the Right thought that the main challenge of 2008 would be the unpopularity of the war, and careful observers noted that throughout the spring and summer of 2007, Mitt Romney was leaving himself room to run away from the war effort in time for the general election if it went badly.
Not McCain, whose famous declaration - "I'd rather lose an election than lose a war" - perfectly captured the extent to which the war remained a matter of principle to the old warrior. McCain had been a supporter of the war since the beginning (and an Iraq hawk for a decade before that), but had also repeatedly angered the White House and the Pentagon with his calls for more troops. When the Bush Administration adopted the "surge" strategy that incorporated a short-term increase in troop levels, McCain went all-in on the strategy, banking his campaign on America's success. Had the surge failed, McCain would have been toast in the general election, and probably early enough that it would have cost him the primaries as well. But as on immigration, McCain eschewed the cautious approach and the conventional wisdom in favor of his longstanding principles. That America stands within reach of victory in Iraq is in no small part due to his persistent advocacy of the war and the surge, even when they were especially unpopular with those people - moderates and swing voters disaffected from Bush - who McCain would need to court in the general election. But even when McCain most desperately needed votes, he still put the good of the war effort first. When has Barack Obama done anything like that? When has the moment ever called for anything that Barack Obama delivered?
IV. Joe Biden: Business As Usual
I'm not going to spend much time here on Joe Biden. First of all, nobody's voting on Joe Biden. Second, whatever Biden's intentions and however long his tenure in Washington, there just isn't any point in taking seriously the idea that Biden could be any sort of agent of "change"...let's review:
Biden served in the Senate for most of the 1970s without making a mark as a reformer or exposing any significant corruption.
Biden served in the Senate for all of the 1980s without making a mark as a reformer or exposing any significant corruption.
Biden served in the Senate for all of the 1990s without making a mark as a reformer or exposing any significant corruption.
Biden has served in the Senate for the first nine years of this decade without making a mark as a reformer or exposing any significant corruption.
Oh, and Biden's son is a Washington lobbyist.
None of this makes him a bad guy or a bad Senator. But Biden is practically part of the furniture in the Senate; it's pretty hard to define what "business as usual" in the Senate means if it doesn't include Joe Biden.
Anyone who expects their politicians to be saints is in for a lifetime of rude surprises. John McCain and Sarah Palin haven't gotten as far as they have in politics without understanding how to do the things politicians do; you can pick over their records for projects they shouldn't have funded, contributors or endorsers they shouldn't have solicited, lobbyists they shouldn't have hired or worked with, etc. They aren't otherworldly figures descended to this fallen vale of tears to save us from our own vice. Their motives aren't always purely altruistic, and their ideas of reform aren't even always well-advised. And neither, for that matter, is Barack Obama an especially spineless political climber, at least by Chicago standards.
But what matters on the issue of integrity in office on matters of both politics and policy is that both McCain and Palin have been willing to stick their necks out and crack heads to make things happen. Time and again, each of them has stood up against corruption and waste even in their own party, making important and powerful enemies in their own ranks in the process. And Obama has never had the courage to do any of that; he was always, at every turn, happy to take what the machine was there to give him and look the other way, or worse. Obama has his issues he can campaign on, but on the question of integrity, he has nothing at all to offer. Change? Change how Washington politics works - even a little, even gradually, even one grimy hand-to-hand battle at a time? There is no plausible case you could make that Obama's record shows him to be any kind of change agent at all, let alone the kind that McCain and Palin have proven themselves to be. If Obama tries to change Washington, it will only be to aggrandize his own power and that of his party.
As I always say, in politics you judge a man's vices by the friends he keeps and his virtues by the enemies he makes. McCain and Palin have made enemies worth having. But all around him, all through his career, any enemy worth making has ended up instead as one of Obama's friends.
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October 28, 2008
POLITICS: Party Loyalty and Its Limits
We have something of a matched set of editorials from the Directors up at RedState, on the one hand condemning the disastrously bad judgment of Republicans and conservatives who have failed to oppose Obama, and on the other hand urging Alaska voters to vote out Ted Stevens and Don Young.
Leon Wolf also looks at the common thread between the two stories: Colin Powell's appearance as a character witness for Ted Stevens and endorser of Obama. Powell has fought for a lot of good things in the past two decades, but he's pretty well turned his back on all of them at this point.
October 27, 2008
POLITICS: By Any Means Necessary
Looks like government computer "accounts assigned to the office of Ohio Attorney General Nancy H. Rogers, the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency and the Toledo Police Department" were all used to dig up dirt on Joe the Plumber. The investigation at the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency is continuing.
So much for the little guy. He doesn't stand a chance against Obama.
October 23, 2008
POLITICS/BUSINESS: Opening Your Mouth And Removing All Doubt
Megan McArdle advises Matt Taibbi to stop. And has some good advice for people who only tuned in to the financial world during the credit crisis:
No one who did not know what a CDO was before the crisis should be opining as to the causes or the possible solutions. And anyone who tells you that they understand exactly why this happened, why we got this crisis instead of the dollar crisis we were expecting, and what kind of regulations will unquestionably fix it, is definitionally too ignorant to be opening their mouth.
The funny thing is Taibbi ranting about the institutional market for securities backed by bad loans...while at the same time refusing to address the bad loans themselves except to deny they had any role. That failure of basic logic alone is hilarious.
The overextension of housing credit, which formed the collateral for the various instruments whose loss of value set off so many other dominos falling, was, by definition, at the root of the crisis. Now, was the root of the crisis the only cause, or the only thing we ought to avoid repeating? Are there other, second-order aspects of the system that made it more vulnerable to the contagion from loans to un-credit-worthy borrowers based on overvalued real estate? Of course not, and as McArdle says, the fact that we can piece together some significant contributors to the crisis does not equate to understanding fully why it happened.
Then again, while I understand McArdle's call for a cool, academic assessment of the multiple factors involved after we get more data, that approach is entirely impractical in the middle of a contested election, in which both sides are naturally going to have to answer voter questions about what happened and why. It would be political malpractice for Republicans not to make the (accurate) point that the roots in the lending/housing market are the part of all this in which bad public policy played the most direct role in distorting the market away from its natural equilibrium. And it's likewise a slam dunk to point out that had Republican-led legislative efforts to rein in the GSEs not been stymied in the 2001-2005 period, the situation would have been, at a minimum, much more tractable to deal with, and that Democratic opponents of such efforts had longstanding financial and ideological reasons to oppose them.
I kept meaning to do a longer post on the inevitable (even if McCain wins) mania for more regulation, although I could just as easily refer you to McArdle's entire blog for that. Here, for example, she points out the obvious fact that regulators are human and not generally wiser than the businesses they regulate:
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Nor is there any particular proposal for preventing that institution from falling prey to the same forces that grip the regulated industry. I have said it before, but it is worth repeating: the regulators became overconfident in the same way, and for the same reasons, that the bankers became overconfident. Just as a long and unusually rosy period in the housing market convinced the bankers that they had gotten better at pricing credit risk, a long period without a large bank failure persuaded the regulators that they had gotten better at regulation. They believed that their computer models, and an improved understanding of how markets and the economy worked, would allow them to see problems in time and halt them. Obviously, they were wrong.
Regulators, no matter how diligent or well-staffed or well-funded, never have
(1) The same degree and timeliness of access to information about a business and its daily operations as the people who run it and interact continuously with its employees; or
(2) The same incentive to ensure the continuing profitability of the business as the people who draw their income from it.
Also, while you do get good people who go into government for all sorts of reasons, people who have the specific skill set of being really shrewd observers of financial markets are probably the people least inclined to take far lower-paying jobs regulating those markets than making money in them; draw what conclusions you will about the ability of the regulatory agencies to be all-wise and all-seeing under the best of circumstances.
Now, if you are talking about regulating an industry to keep it from unscrupulously ripping off other people outside their businesses, at least you have an argument about whether people with less competence and less information are nonetheless properly charged with restricting the business' operations. But the crucial issue in debating the second-order aspects of the credit crisis (i.e., why institutions let themselves get overexposed to risks derived from bad loans), at the end of the day, is whether regulators were better situated to protect the interests of the financial industry itself than the people who worked in it. You should expect some skepticism about that kind of argument.
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POLITICS: Oh, Joy
More goodies to expect from a Democratic president and Congress:
*Bailout for Obama's buddies in the ethanol industry. (Yes, this one comes from Bush's Agriculture Department...but just remember that McCain is Big Ethanol's least favorite Senator, while Obama is its favorite).
*Obama says that taxes are bad, so he has a plan to reduce state and local property taxes by sending $25 billion to state and local governments. He will get the $25 billion from...voluntary charitable donations?
Meanwhile, here, here, here and here (and look at this and this), we are starting to see some very significant commonalities between Obama's phony or foreign donors, the donations made through credit card fraud, the phony voters ... and given the deliberate decision not to take the most basic steps to prevent these things from happening, it's not looking like isolated incidents at this point.
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While I am at it, no surprise that Gov. Palin isn't distancing herself from McCain on immigration. The devil is in the details, though, as far as what hoops people have to jump through to get citizenship and what law enforcement tactics short of mass deportations would be appropriate.
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POLITICS: Mixed Blessing
Stories like this one, from Ben Smith, are encouraging to people hoping for an Obama victory (all stories from Ben Smith are), but really you have to wonder what kind of stable platform for governing a man gets when he's banking on supporters voting for just the color of his skin. Every time Obama supporters make the "historic" argument, they are basically pushing their man further onto a foundation of sand that won't hold up in office. Which is, of course, why - if he wins - the crucial political issue of the next four years will be whether Obama succeeds in changing the electorate and the political process to avoid having to face the disillusionment of voters who voted for him without agreeing with his record or platform.
October 22, 2008
BASEBALL: There Is Still Only One National Pastime
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:25 PM | Baseball 2008 | History | Politics 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: "Is that socialist? Are you a Muslim?"
Via Ed Morrissey, watch as Obama economic advisor Austan Goolsbee* tries to defend "refundable" tax credits to people who pay no taxes as not being welfare because it's limited to non-taxpayers who meet a "work requirement"** - and then inexplicably snap at McCain economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin that the McCain health care plan also includes refundable health care credits***, concluding "Is that socialist? Are you a Muslim?"
So update your "red is the new black" racism-decoder rings, because the Obama campaign now intends to argue that refundability=socialist=Muslim. Or you can just cut to the core of their argument: everything is off limits.
What is funny is the sheer desperation of this attack - it's the sort of thing frustrated campaigns say when they are on the ropes. Which leads to one of two possible conclusions:
(1) The Obama camp, despite good polls and outward confidence, thinks it's losing and is scared.
(2) The Obama camp is confident of victory but will nonetheless resort to cheap accusations of racism even when challenged on the most technical points, just out of habit and because it's easier than arguing in good faith. A conclusion that does not bode well for the next four years.
Pick one, you can't pick neither.
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* - Goolsbee is a living reminder that Obama never really gets rid of people who embarrass him, he just hides them a while until the coast is clear.
** - Mickey Kaus has explained how bogus, toothless 'work requirements' were an old dodge by opponents of welfare reform...hey, guess who was one of those in 1996? Barack Obama!
*** - Which are intended to replace the current tax subsidy for employer-provided health care. Funny how the Obama camp will attack removal of the tax subsidy as a tax hike and attack the refundable credit as a giveaway rather than admit that the two are linked - the point of the proposal is to shift people into the individual market and make health care more portable and less tied to your job.
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POLITICS: Nobody Knows Nothing
I'm not in the group that says McCain is secretly winning and the polls are a gigantic false-flag psy-ops program designed to discourage GOP turnout. We know, after all, that whatever the biases of various people and institutions involved, the final polls in 2004, properly understood, were highly accurate, and the 2006 polls were mostly so as well (2002, less so). Neither am I in the group that attributes potential poll inaccuracy entirely to Obama's race - while that may well be a factor, I think there are fair arguments that run deeper to polling methodology, and I also think Obama's inexperience, the absence of a candidate from the incumbent administration, the massive new-voter operation by the Obama camp, the Palin wildcard (this has to be the first time ever that a VP pick drew nearly the same convention speech audience as the POTUS nominees and the VP debate outdrew the POTUS debates, and now she's delivered the biggest ratings for SNL in 14 years) and the sudden, late external shock of the credit crisis are all reasons why public sentiment may be more volatile and harder to get a fix on than usual.
Polls are not votes. They are evidence. The likely answer from the evidence we have remains that McCain is losing and likely to lose; I'm not going to cocoon myself or anyone else from that (there's a reason why candidates who say "the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day" usually end Election Day with a concession speech). But there is more than enough uncertainty out there that I endorse wholeheartedly the view that the last thing Republicans and other McCain supporters should do is get discouraged and throw in the towel before every stop is pulled out to win this thing. You gotta be in it to win it.
UPDATE: Geraghty notes here and here the panicked frenzy of attacks he gets from the Left whenever he suggests that some polls are showing a closer race than the conventional wisdom (or the bulk of polls, for that matter). I chalk this up partly to the Online Left's longstanding view that the winner of any argument is the person who can demonstrate the greatest degree of anger, but it's certainly a curious phenomenon coming from people who would seem to have every reason to be confident and no particular reason to take time from their day getting angry at a conservative pundit for showing a glimmer of optimism. Unless you do buy into the view that such people really are banking very heavily on a demoralized opposition.
SECOND UPDATE: It appears that the AP poll showing Obama up only by one has a 4-point advantage for the Democrats in the party-ID breakdown. For anybody who has followed the polls this year, that's the single biggest question: when you factor in GOTV and whether the likely-voter screens and all have or have not accurately predicted who will vote, will the party ID numbers look like 2006, when a terrible climate for Republicans still produced just a 3-point advantage in party ID for Democrats in the exit polls? Or will it be more like a double-digit advantage in party ID, figures we have not seen since the 1970s? Note that the Geraghty posts I linked to up top show very few examples of dramatic changes in party ID year to year. Even in Jay Cost's chart of registered voter ID, the biggest swings are about 7 or 8 points in some years, 1984 and 1994 for the GOP and 1996 for the Democrats. It may well be that 2008 really will show a historic realignment away from the position the GOP held in 2006 (which was already awful, the worst Republican year in a decade), but just bear in mind that it has to be for the bulk of this year's polls to be accurate.
October 21, 2008
POLITICS: Department of Entirely Predictable Consequences
Hawaii is dropping the only state universal child health care program in the country just seven months after it launched.
Wow, if you give something away for free, people won't want to pay for it anymore! Nobody could possibly have seen that one coming.
POLITICS: "The most accessible of the four candidates"
That would be...Gov. Palin.
Granted, none of the four has the kind of open relationship with the media that McCain had for many years before he reorganized his campaign under Steve Schmidt, accepting as the price of a more disciplined message operation the end of his bantering ways with the traveling press.
UPDATE: Of course, one could write volumes on the questions Obama hasn't been asked.
Here's one set of questions we didn't hear at the McCain-Obama debates: Is there a war on terror? Do we plan on staying on the offensive against radical Islam? Or are we pursuing a strictly localized war in Afghanistan and Western Pakistan against the Taliban and the remnants of the old Al Qaeda leadership, and otherwise dealing with the rest of the region and the world as a series of discrete and localized issues unconnected by ideological struggle?
That set of questions was the predominant issue in the 2004 election. We got questions on individual foreign policy areas, but the central question of our overarching strategy in this war, and whether we will even continue prosecuting it as such after January 20, never cameup in the debates. I think we can all offer an educated guess as to what Obama's answer is, but it would have been nice to put the question to him before a national audience.
SECOND UPDATE: Just to pick one example: Patterico notes a contrast between an LA Times profile of Palin's college career and the absence of interest in Obama's time at Columbia. Tom Maguire and Andy McCarthy have more thoughts on that particular omission. (Amusingly, the LA Times says nobody remembers Palin from college, but then goes on to quote at length from three college classmates and a competitor from the beauty pageants she competed in to pay tuition. And a side note about the photo: the 80s called, they wish to apologize to Gov. Palin). Meanwhile, a number of Obama's friends from that period refuse to talk. I referred to this "missing witness" problem the other day in the Joe the Plumber post - with Obama there's a long track record from his past of people who won't talk or can't be located (Byron York had that problem even with his State Senate colleagues), as well as ongoing stonewalls and/or destruction of records (as Jim Geraghty relates here, here, and here), even articles suddenly disappearing from the web (see here and here). It certainly seems as if there is a concerted and continuing effort to protect Obama from reporting on his past.
We have a Directors' editorial over at RedState on the many ways in which Obama and the Democrats are likely to seek partisan entrenchment as a primary goal if Obama wins the election, especially if he gets a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Everything on the list has made prior appearances in Obama's agenda and/or the agenda of his Congressional and activist allies. I'm sure most Obama voters don't think they are doing so, but there is a very real possibility that a vote for Obama will be a vote to hand permanent power to the left wing of the Democratic party.
The core question I always ask in politics to determine how agitated to get is how long it will take to undo something. Obviously, my personal short-term concern with an Obama presidency is the vast damage he can do to national security in short order and the personal consequences for my physical security, and I'm not real thrilled about getting my taxes jacked up, either. And no matter how you slice it, the consequences to the judiciary are deeply and lastingly alarming for democracy (we are still dealing with Carter appointees to the federal bench, and even some LBJ appointees). But I think the list fairly well captures my larger concern, which is that the system will be changed such that persuading the current electorate that Obama has been a failure will be insufficient to get rid of him.
If you disbelieve us, I'd advise you to clip and save the list and judge three years from now how many of the things on the list have been at least seriously attempted. I guarantee you that we'll see a move on the first item, the card check bill, within the first 60 days.
POLITICS: Calm in the Storm
One of the more surreal arguments made on behalf of Obama is that he showed us something meaningful about his temperament by his handling of the credit crisis. It's certainly the case that we judge potential presidents by how they have been tested in crisis, and that we have no previous experience by which to judge how Obama handles crises other than hard times on the campaign trail. On the trail, the answer has generally been to see Obama get snippy, lash out in passive-aggressive fashion (at "bitter" Pennsylvanians, or with remarks like the "lipstick on a pig" line or similar efforts to personally provoke Hillary), duck debates and the press, and play the race card again and again and again to deflect criticism.
But the essential requirement for proving your mettle in a crisis is that you have to believe you are facing a crisis - and for Obama, the credit crisis wasn't a crisis at all. It was the best thing that happened to him all year. It was manna from heaven at a time when he was trailing in the polls, and at present it looks likely to deliver him to the White House in spite of his manifold errors and weaknesses as a candidate. As Jay Cost noted, for historical reasons there was pretty much no way the GOP could avoid taking damage from a banking crisis under any circumstances, much less while controlling the White House. Obama's main challenge was avoiding being seen visibly doing cartwheels.
(1) Stay calm.
(2) Remain at a distance from where the crisis was being handled unless directly summoned there.
(3) Continue going about his usual daily routine.
(5) Leave things uncritically in the hands of incompetent leaders in his party on the assumption that they'll call him if they need him.
This is not reassuring.
October 20, 2008
POLITICS: No Third Terms
Just for the record, while I end up voting to re-elect Mayor Bloomberg if he ends up on the ballot next fall - depending on the alternatives, and in all likelihood there won't be many good ones - I think it's a bad idea to repeal the city's two-term limit for mayors. Those limits are in place for a reason: anyone who remembers Ed Koch's third term can tell you that the diminishing returns in terms of both quality and integrity on a Mayor's subordinates accelerates pretty rapidly by the time you get into a 9th year in office. By and large, Bloomberg's done a solid job trying to consolidate the gains made by Mayor Giuliani (h/t) and make incremental reforms, albeit with his own share of drawbacks, but really 8 years of almost anybody is enough.
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PS, you really do have to read that Tomasky piece on Rudy, one that such a liberal journalist would never have written if he'd been the GOP nominee in 2008:
There's one way of measuring a politician's success. The things he did in his day that were controversial - are they accepted wisdom now? One can't say "yes" to that question about everything Rudy did, by a long shot. But as far as that first year is concerned, this is true: No person could run for mayor and be taken seriously by saying or suggesting that he or she would depart radically from the basic path Giuliani set in 1994-95. Bring in more accountability, apply a new and needed standard of civic behavior, be forceful but fair with the unions, get the cops out on the street, prove that things that were broken could be fixed. It couldn't be done. The local Democratic Party, which I scolded eleven years ago in the pages of this magazine...for its tectonic adaptation to the new rules, has learned this lesson too slowly. Or has it even learned it yet?
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POLITICS/RELIGION: Disbelieving Obama
One of the recurring themes of the Obama campaign is that his supporters dismiss anything they find inconvenient in his record, platform or statements on the trail on the theory that he was just doing or saying stuff he doesn't believe to pander to somebody else, whereas when he says something I like, that of course must be what he really means. Only the shallowness of his record - the fact that he's almost never had to stick to any one position under enough fire to prove that he means it, never had to build a record of deeds and not just words - enables people to sustain this sort of wishcasting, which Iowahawk brilliantly skewered in his "who are the rubes?" post (for the Harry Potter fans, Tom Maguire has compared him to the Mirror of Erised in which one views one's deepest desires). It's almost a willful choice to get suckered. Obama gave millions of dollars to Ayers and ACORN and joined the New Party? Just needed to pander to the far left. Obama spent 20 years with a racist, America-hating preacher? Just needed to pander to African-Americans who thought he wasn't black enough. Obama spent years cozied up to and trading favors with the Chicago machine? Just needed to buy their support...of course, he's really a reformer. Etc.
It doesn't stop with his shady associates - Beldar finds example after example of this in the Washington Post's endorsement of Obama:
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Almost every favorable word the WaPo writes about Obama is based on their hopes and projections about what they think and hope he might do as president, not what he actually has done.
So how about international trade? Where's the historic evidence on that? "We also can only hope that the alarming anti-trade rhetoric we have heard from Mr. Obama during the campaign would give way to the understanding of the benefits of trade reflected in his writings." Let's see: Campaign promises made to anti-trade unions who've given him millions of dollars and votes, on the one hand, versus vague sentiments in his second book and the WaPo's "hopes," on the other hand. Which weighs more? Hopes!
There's never a "we know he would do this" because he "successfully championed legislation." There's never a "we know he's really committed to that" because "he risked his career by bucking his own party." Instead - as the WaPo again admits - "We had hoped, throughout this long campaign, to see more evidence that Mr. Obama might stand up to Democratic orthodoxy and end, as he said in his announcement speech, 'our chronic avoidance of tough decisions.'" Earth to WaPo: When you hope something, and it never comes true, that's called a "hoping in vain."
Iraq, of course, is one of the classic examples of this. Sooner or later, the next president will face decisions that create a tension between the desire to bring the troops home ASAP and the need to keep a certain number of boots on the ground to avoid having the hard-won successes of the past two years unravel. You can insist until you are blue in the face that such tradeoffs don't exist, but that's the reality: we may be less needed and in lesser numbers than before, but our troops are still performing important functions in helping the Iraqi government and military solidify the gains that have been made.
When those tensions arise, when top military brass and experts in the area are saying they need to have less aggressive withdrawal timetables and the anti-war movement is pressing for a rapid pullout, which side will Obama choose? The anti-war faction looks at his 2002 war speech and 2007-08 opposition to the surge, and tell themselves that Obama will side with them. The rest - including conservative Democrats who, like the WaPo editorial board, may not now think the war was a good idea but think precipitate withdrawal would be disastrous - look at his 'stay the course' position of 2003-06 and his more conciliatory statements during the general election, and tell themselves that he will side with security.
They can't both be right. And realistically, even given the strong signal of his opposition to the surge, there's no way for anybody to be quite certain which side is being lied to by Obama. Maybe he doesn't even know.
Of course, that sort of hedging act is done by almost every politician...but with Obama, it encompasses nearly everything in his record, because even on issues like abortion where he's staked out a very consistently extreme record for a period of years, people seem to convince themselves that he's been lying all along, he doesn't, for example, really support federal taxpayer money to subsidize abortions.
This essay captures the same dynamic regarding how Obama's religion is viewed by people who find Gov. Palin's religious beliefs in and of themselves alarming:
Many critics stand ready to mock Palin's Christianity. Fair enough. Will they also mock Obama's and Biden's?
H/T, via Ace. It's the same thing again. Those who find Obama's Christianity reassuring tell themselves that he believes. Those who find Christianity disturbing tell themselves that he doesn't really mean it. Willing suspension of disbelief.
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October 17, 2008
POLITICS: Never Question Obama
Don't answer that door!
You will find no better illustration of the hazards of simply asking a question Barack Obama doesn't want to answer than the frenzy on the part of Obama's campaign and his allies in the media and the Left blogs to attack Joe the Plumber. The amazing thing is, this isn't a guy who was set up by one of the campaigns to tell a sob story that had to be checked. Obama was going door to door, he met this guy who was playing football in his yard *. Joe said he'd like to be more successful and buy his own business, and asked Obama why that meant he should have to pay higher taxes, and Obama gave his now-infamous answer that "I think that when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody." John McCain responded by retelling that story in the debate to illustrate Obama's instincts for redistribution, and both candidates ended up using Joe as an example of how their various plans would affect small businesspeople.
But fearful of the damage caused by Obama's answer, the Obama camp and its surrogates have gone on the attack against this ordinary citizen from Toldeo:
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*Here is a roundup of the media frenzy. Remember, read all these and ask yourself when the last time was you saw a report on, say, Barack Obama's relationship with the Chicago political machine.
UPDATE: McCain defends ordinary Joe:
The response from Senator Obama and his campaign yesterday was to attack Joe. People are digging through his personal life and he has TV crews camped out in front of his house. He didn't ask for Senator Obama to come to his house. He wasn't recruited or prompted by our campaign. He just asked a question. And Americans ought to be able to ask Senator Obama tough questions without being smeared and targeted with political attacks.
SECOND UPDATE: Brian Faughnan notes that the people attacking Joe used to claim to care about privacy. What a surprise. It's not shocking to find either side using double standards on this sort of thing, but as usual what's missing is some degree of perspective about what's even a relevant basis for invading this guy's private life - the whole point here is that he asked Obama a question, and Obama gave a revealing answer, and he winds up with goons trying to run him out of business and posting his address online and freaking out because he goes by his middle name.
In the Frost case Brian notes, I'd agree that some people went overboard - but the essential question was the assertion that the Frost family needed and deserved government assistance at their income level. Joe the Plumber's basic point wasn't even about his current income, but about what happened if he succeeded in making more money.
I generally despise this sort of politics by anecdote, precisely because it drags us into this sort of morass. But remember: the essential question here is what Obama said. It's rather telling the panicked lashing out at an ordinary citizen that has resulted even at a time when he's leading in the polls. And it doesn't bode well at all for the next person who asks Obama a question he doesn't like.
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POLITICS: Obamises, Obamises: Are His Tax And Spending Plans Real, or Not?
The media and the Obama campaign have repeatedly told us that the economy is the only issue in this campaign, and that Barack Obama's proposals, rather than his record, are the only way to judge him on the economy. If they mean it, they will demand that he clarify where he stands on the promises at the core of his tax and spending platforms.
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(1) No Taxes Hikes of Any Kind Below $250,000
Obama has made three unambiguous-sounding "read my lips" style promises about taxes and spending in this race. One of these he left himself no room to back away from:
If you are a family making less than $250,000 a year, my plan will not raise your taxes. Period. Not income tax, not payroll tax, not capital gains tax, not any of your taxes. And chances are you will get a tax cut.
I suppose the Clintonian wiggle room there is the "my plan," present tense, and those of us who are familiar with the Democrats' M.O., who remember Bill Clinton throwing his middle class tax cut under the bus barely weeks after being elected, and who (as the McCain camp has pointed out relentlessly) saw Obama vote for a party-line budget resolution that would have extended tax hikes much lower down the income ladder know that Obama is highly unliklely to keep this promise. But it has, in fact, been stated with such clarity that if elected, Obama will properly be found to have lied to the American people if he breaks it by raising any tax of any kind paid by anyone with an income below $250,000. George H.W. Bush can tell you how that worked out.
(2) Tax Cuts For 95% of...Who?
Here is Obama in the second debate: "I want to provide a tax cut for 95 percent of Americans, 95 percent."
Is that 95% of current federal taxpayers? 95% of all households? 95% of all Americans, including children? Phil Klein of the American Spectator has tried to get the Obama campaign to clarify who this is 95% of and what the plan actually consists of (what rates, if any, will go down, for example), and can't get an answer (this in contrast to, say, the Bush tax cut plan in 2000, which was famously detailed).
All but the clean car credit would be "refundable," which is Washington-speak for the fact that you can receive these checks even if you have no income-tax liability. In other words, they are an income transfer -- a federal check -- from taxpayers to nontaxpayers. Once upon a time we called this "welfare," or in George McGovern's 1972 campaign a "Demogrant." Mr. Obama's genius is to call it a tax cut.
To any sane person, sending a check to someone who does not pay taxes is called "spending," not tax cuts - a policy of taxes and spending designed explicily for purposes not of financing the government's necessary operations but to "spread the wealth around," as Obama now-famously told Joe the Plumber, or "for purposes of fairness" as he told Charlie Gibson in the debate back in April.
Obama should be forced to come clean: 95% of who? Will he cut any tax rates, or just offer to cut a bunch of checks? If he won't clarify his promise, he can fairly be blamed for breaking another pledge if the percentage of current federal taxpayers whose tax liability doesn't go down under an Obama Administration ends up being, as most of us expect, vastly lower than 95%.
(3) Has Obama Abandoned His Promise of a Net Spending Cut? Where are the Loopholes?
Here's Obama in the second debate again:
[W]hat I've proposed, you'll hear Sen. McCain say, well, he's proposing a whole bunch of new spending, but actually I'm cutting more than I'm spending so that it will be a net spending cut.
Pretty unambiguous: he has promised the American people a net reduction in federal spending. Even if we assume that Obama (silently) excludes spending on existing entitlements from that calculation, it's another read-my-lips promise he can be held to, and that he is 100% certain to break if elected.
Now here is Obama in the third debate - watch carefully:
OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think it's important for the American public to understand that the $750 billion rescue package, if it's structured properly, and, as president, I will make sure it's structured properly, means that ultimately taxpayers get their money back, and that's important to understand.
Some of Obama's blogospheric supporters on the far left, like Matt Stoller and Firedoglake, think that line about "once we get through this economic crisis and some of the specific proposals to get us out of this slump" means that he'll suspend his "pay as you go"/"net spending cut" promise for as long as he can say we are working to get out of a slump. On the Right, Soren Dayton and Jon Henke agree with Stoller's reading. (Ezra Klein noted in 2007 that Obama promised YearlyKos that he would not treat many of his new spending programs as subject to "PayGo" rules - he may be creating a loophole for himself by calling them "investment," although he revealed none of that in the debates.)
Me, I don't see it; I think a natural reading of Obama's statement was that he was promising that the spending discipline he claims to be imposing would persist even after budgetary good times returned. But the media should press him to commit on this. Those of us who recall the porous "firewall" of the "peace dividend" debates of 1991-94 remember well how skilled Congressional Democrats are at coming up with "exceptions" to spending rules that allow them to spend money they promised not to spend.
On that note, Obama should answer two more questions. One, which I think his plan already answers, is that he's not going to count cutting his "spread the wealth" checks to non-taxpayers as spending. If you can hand out a trillion dollars in checks, your political need to "spend" is greatly alleviated.
The second is whether he's planning to support billions in additional spending pushed by his party's Congressional leadership on top of this year's budget, in special sessions after the election:
After consulting with Barack Obama, Democratic leaders are likely to call Congress back to work after the election in hopes of passing legislation that would include extended jobless benefits, money for food stamps and possibly a tax rebate, officials said Saturday.
If Obama is planning to push $150 billion in new spending in November, will he insist on a net spending cut, or is this yet another loophole so he can tell the American people one thing and do something completely different?
Or will the press just focus on Joe the Plumber's record?
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October 16, 2008
POLITICS: Obama on Ayers: Hey, Everybody Was Doing It
Here is what Barack Obama said last night about Bill Ayers and Obama's role in handing over millions of dollars to "education" programs designed by Ayers, long an advocate of using education for purposes of left-wing indoctrination:
Bill Ayers is a professor of education in Chicago.
The suggestion that Ayers somehow dominated the policy or direction of the bipartisan Challenge Board, imprinting it with radical views, is absurd. The Annenberg Challenge was funded by Nixon Ambassador and Reagan friend Walter Annenberg. Republican Governor Jim Edgar, who wrote to Walter Annenberg to encourage the creation of the Challenge, joined Mayor Daley to announce the formation of the Challenge and his administration continued to work closely on education reform with the Board.
There are two main problems with Obama's response. One is that Obama is basically passing the buck for his own decisions to other people - undoubtedly a preview of his presidential leadership style, like during the bailout vote when he essentially did nothing to help his party pass the bill when it came up for the original vote. The other is his effort to conflate the national Annenberg Foundation with the Chicago Annenberg Challenge; Obama served as chairman of the board for the latter.
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The first problem is self-evident: Obama, having entrusted money to Ayers and his radical theories and now being embarrassed by CAC/Ayers' funding of left-wing projects like "Afrocentric" education, wants to blame his partners on the foundation board. Not good enough.Obama's never been in charge of anything besides CAC and the Harvard Law Review, so maybe he needs to learn: when you are in charge, you are responsible for the decisions you make.
Second, Obama's trying to conflate the Annenberg Foundation, which provided $49 million in seed money for a grant proposal (partly written, yes, by Ayers as one of CAC's masterminds) with the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which actually signed off on the distribution of those funds to Ayers-designed projects and had a much closer look at what was going on. FactCheck.org, which runs an extended and fairly tendentious apologia for Obama on this, notes that the Annenberg Foundation created by Walter Annenberg in 1989 "supports a wide variety of charitable causes - a total of 5,200 grants during its first 15 years of operation." The CAC was just one of those. The Foundation itself stresses that:
All participating sites in the Annenberg Challenge for School Reform were locally controlled and locally governed.
Which makes the parent foundation's affiliations (including FactCheck.org, among those thousands of recipients) and those of Walter Annenberg a red herring. If anything, the whole point of people like Obama is to make those folks believe they are giving money to something respectable. As Stanley Kurtz reminds us, this all is too commonly true of foundation work:
The Obama camp denies CAC's radicalism by pointing to the fact that this foundation was funded by Nixon Ambassador and Reagan friend, Walter Annenberg. Moderates and Republicans often support Annenberg activities, it's true. Yet the story of modern philanthropy is largely the story of moderate and conservative donors finding their funds "captured" by far more liberal, often radical, beneficiaries. CAC's story is a classic of the genre. Ayers and Obama guided CAC money to community organizers, like ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and the Developing Communities Project (Part of the Gamaliel Foundation network), groups self-consciously working in the radical tradition of Saul Alinsky. Walter Annenberg's personal politics don't change that one iota.
The only real relevant people here are Obama's partners on the board:
Founding members of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Board were:
Now, notice a few things about the board. First, when a board like that includes university presidents and the like and they elect a young civil rights lawyer and State Senate candidate chairman...who do you think is doing the work? Second, note the presence of the Crown family, major Obama donors and recipients of significant earmarks from Obama in his legislative career. Once again, all the Obama stories have common threads that tie them together.
In any event, the involvement of other people who should have known better does nothing to absolve Obama of his decision to fund Ayers' projects. Nothing at all.
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October 15, 2008
POLITICS: Left Unsaid
Quick impressions of tonight's debate:
1. Well, basically we got through 3 debates without a really dramatic, game-changing gaffe or jaw-dropping moment. Ironically, it's precisely because these were unusually good debates that they will probably not be remembered as well as some past ones (although the 2004 presidential debates didn't produce many memorable moments). Obviously, on the whole that's good news for Obama regardless of who performed better in any individual debate.
2. McCain's a good debater. We saw that again tonight - never at a loss for words, witty, likes to press the attack on the issues. If he has a flaw as a debater in general, it's a tendency to talk too fast and try to squeeze too much into a single answer. Those are the skills he developed from many years on Meet the Press and the Senate floor.
The problem is that McCain's used to debating Senators about the issues. He's not used to street fights where you have to call BS on the other guy to his face. While I accept that for various reasons McCain was the stronger general election candidate, we needed somebody like Rudy Giuliani in these debates, someone who was willing to call out not just Obama's policy platform but the entire concept of Obama as president - the relentlessly outside-the-mainstream left-wing record, the lack of experience, the machine politics, the intimate ties to extremists. We seem to have found ourselves in a situation where the truth about Obama is itself so outrageous that it's beyond the pale of political discourse to mention it. He did effectively support infanticide by voting against a bill to reverse existing practice in Illinois that left it to abortionists to decide what to do with babies born after a botched abortion, leading to their deaths. He did give tens of millions of dollars to a terrorist to educate kids. Etc. And Obama gets to shake his head in dismay that anyone would be so rude as to point these things out.
3. As to Obama, I do give him credit that he's become much smoother than he was even as recently as the Saddleback Forum in August. Probably his best line tonight was about how health care "will break your heart again and again." And I think he did outfox McCain on some of the health care debate sections. That said, he also told some seriously outrageous whoppers (like repeating false media claims about crowds at McCain events), he changed back and forth between $200,000 and $250,000 as the floor for his tax hike plan (I guarantee you it will go far, far lower if he's elected)...it was noticeable that Obama would not say Palin was qualified to be president, but of course he couldn't say flatly she's not, since she's more qualified than he is by any reasonable measure.
4. I agree with Ace that there's just a world of difference between what was said at the debate and what was unsaid. McCain did, by and large, do an excellent job (other than the health care discussion and his typically McCain-ish obsession with negative ads and campaign finance, although I was glad that he called out Obama on his baldly dishonest radio ads on immigration and stem cells, neither of which Obama could hope to defend) on the things actually said. I think he has to come out the winner on the spending debate, where I believe most voters would like his embrace of the label as the guy who'll finally go after the federal budget with a hatchet. And on taxes (hooray for Joe the Plumber!). And on trade and energy, too. And he did finally tell Obama flat out that he's not running against Bush.
But he let Obama off the hook on way too much. The killer line on the abortion debate was that Obama may say he's not pro-abortion, but he supports ending the 28-year-old ban on subsidizing it with taxpayer money - if you actually oppose something, you don't subsidize it. The killer line on Ayers is that what matters is the money Obama gave him to educate kids. The killer line on Obama's tax cut plan (other than the general unlikelihood of the whole thing) is that it's basically a welfare plan - when you are cutting checks to people who don't pay taxes, that's called spending. The killer line on Obama generally is that he's too liberal, too extreme where McCain is mainstream - on issue after issue, there's a conservative position, a moderate position, a liberal position...and an Obama position. And that you need to judge him on his record. The killer line of the entire campaign, really, is that on the two largest issues of Obama's short career in the Senate (winning the Iraq War and preventing the financial crisis), McCain was proven right, and indisputably so, and Obama was proven wrong, and indisputably so. And McCain didn't drop those hammers on Obama - he hit those points, but he didn't tie them up in a bow.
I suppose it's true that voters want to hear issues at debates, not about records. But Obama really is all talk - it's wholly speculative to say what he will actually do.
McCain's now going to go back to the slog in the trenches. I still don't wholly trust the polls (I don't write them off, but there's a definite grain-of-salt factor), and history tells us that the debates are sometimes not what moves the needle in the closing weeks. Republicans should not lose hope, because this race can still get tighter and that creates opportunities on Election Day. But the chapter in which the debates might have changed the game is over.
POLITICS: Spinning Anger
While we are on the subject of things that get written for reasons other than the relationship they bear to the truth, those of us who remember the successful effort to demonize Republican success in 1994-95 as "a temper tantrum," "angry white men," etc. (all the way to Bill Clinton essentially blaming the Oklahoma City bombing on Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh) see the same campaign ramping up again with media claims that Republican voters are dangerously unhinged and the only cure is to stop saying bad things about Barack Obama's record.
If you have been following this "story," it's helpful to have a few reminders that a lot of these stories are based on misreporting, and that there are plenty of examples of this and worse on the Left side (really, after the last 8 years of Bush hatred and the outpouring of venom and slime directed at Sarah Palin, is "which side has more unhinged angry people doing and saying vile things" really the hill the Left wants to die on?).
There are, in fact, angry, crazy people on both sides, and this is in fact the point in the electoral calendar when a lot of people's emotions are running high. The decision to make a media narrative out of one side at precisely the moment when Obama badly wants to delegitimize any criticism of his record and his past...well, it's just a story someone wants you to hear.
UPDATE: Some may quibble with my view that Obama is afraid of being called on his record and his past - how can he be afraid, he's winning? - but of course it's precisely because he's ahead at this point that he's afraid of McCain doing anything that will alter the trajectory of the race. When you're losing, you don't try to lock down the dynamics of the race in a way that makes it hard to go negative.
POLITICS: Today's Word Is "Erratic"
This Message Brought To You By The Letter "O"
It's not a secret or a surprise that people on both sides of the political aisle try to drive stories and common themes, but one of the things that's especially amusing about the Left is the willingness of Democratic talking heads and lefty bloggers to mindlessly parrot verbatim the talking points handed down by their campaign, in the hopes of driving particular words into the news coverage. And it appears that the word of the moment being slapped on McCain is "erratic" - in contrast to the serene (sorry, "steady") inactivity of Barack Obama.
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"* This is John McCain's last chance to turn this race around and somehow convince the American people that his erratic response to this economic crisis doesn't disqualify him from being President.
Now, let's look at some samples from the lefty blogs collected by yesterday's Blogometer under the headline "MCCAIN: Reinforcing The "Erratic" Meme?"
Other liberal bloggers are portraying the McCain camp as "erratic":
Then we get John Podesta on what McCain needs to do tonight:
McCain needs to change the dynamic of this race, but his erratic responses to the economic crisis aren't the way to do it.
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October 14, 2008
POLITICS: The Integrity Gap, Part II of III: Sen. Barack Obama
In Part I of this series on the "Integrity Gap" between the two national tickets, I looked at Governor Sarah Palin's record of integrity in public office - her battles against corruption and wasteful spending, even by the powers controlling her own party in her home state of Alaska - even when she was putting her career at risk. As I explained, integrity is not just about honesty - it's also about one of the crucial presidential character traits, toughness. Palin has proven that she doesn't back down no matter who she has to take on.
In Part II, I will look at Senator Barack Obama, who is easily contrasted to Palin because they have careers of similar length in both local and statewide office, in states controlled largely by their own party. I have previously explained here why Obama lacks every kind of experience that we usually rely upon to test the character of potential presidents and teach them the lessons they will need to govern, and I've explained here why the flurry of flip-flops at the outset of his general election campaign raises questions specifically about his toughness, his principles and his convictions. During the recent financial crisis we got a taste of Obama's leadership style in crisis: do nothing and hope he can shift the blame to somebody else.
Nearly all of Obama's appeal requires his supporters to take on faith that he will do things he has never done. But on the question of whether Obama will ever take a meaningful stand against corruption or waste in his own party or stand up to vested interests and ideological extremists on his own side, we have a certain answer: he has bypassed too many opportunities to do so already. To the contrary, Obama is so thoroughly marinated in extremism and corruption that it would be nearly impossible to extricate himself and still have a meaningful identity left.
Given the length of this post - at over 21,000 words, it runs more than twice the length of Part I and 33% longer than my entire five-part series on Mitt Romney from the primaries - it was necessary to break the body of the post into six separate volumes that follow this introduction:
POLITICS: Obama and the Integrity Gap: Rootless Ambition
Chapter two of seven.
II. Barack Obama: The Greasy Pole
Note on sources: You can follow the links here, as I've linked to sources for nearly all the factual assertions, and mark additional sources with an asterisk *. Where appropriate I've indicated sources whose credibility I was uncertain of, but have generally tried to avoid citing much in the way of rumor. Fairly late in the game in assembling this post, I picked up David Freddoso's book The Case Against Barack Obama, which examines a lot of these same issues in more depth and with copious footnotes. I'm indebted to Freddoso's book for pointing me to additional sources in a handful of places, and for stories I'd missed like the Stroger saga, although in most cases I've cited additional web-based sources besides the book. I'd recommend the book and I refer the reader where possible to stories Freddoso has written up at more length.
Barack Obama talks a good game about being a reformer, a good government, "new politics" guy. But somehow his priorities never extended to actually doing anything that would rock the boat in Chicago politics or get in the way of his climb up the greasy pole of the Chicago machine. Instead, his rise has depended on the exchange of favors with crooked patrons and extremist friends and on the forebearance of the machine.
You will often hear Obama's defenders argue that his ties to this or that extremist or corrupt figure is an isolated aberration, an example of "guilt by association"; that the various favors he dispensed with public money and private charitable foundation funds are nothing unusual in politics. But when you look at Obama's record and biography taken together, what you see is that the favors, the extremists and the machine ties are all inextricably intertwined, and that far from being isolated incidents, Obama's modus operandi of mutual back-scratching with radicals and crooks extends to nearly every aspect of his life and career - his family, his faith, his home, his jobs and education, his significant election victories and legislative "accomplishments," his closest advisors and most important mentors, the money and organization that made up his campaigns.
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A. Rootless Ambition
"He's always wanted to be President," Valerie Jarrett, who has been a family friend for years, ever since she hired Michelle Obama to work in Mayor Daley's office, says [of Obama]...."He didn't always admit it, but oh, absolutely. The first time he said it to me, he said, 'I just think I have some special qualities and wouldn't it be a shame to waste them.' I think it was during the early part of his U.S. senatorial campaign. He said, 'You know, I just think I have something.'"
Michelle's brother... recounted one of the first times [in the early 1990s] Michelle brought Barack to a party...
(1) The Man From Nowhere
In Part I, I noted that Sarah Palin's integrity finds its foundation in her apolitical roots, her background, upbringing and family life as far outside of politics in general and national politics in particular as you can get. But with Barack Obama, the opposite is true: Obama really has no roots outside of politics and his political worldview, apparently few close friends outside of politics, no real hometown, and unlike John McCain (who was raised as a Navy brat) no real continuity as he moved from place to place. He had an itinerant upbringing in Hawaii and Indonesia and a nomadic college career in Los Angeles and New York, and wrote - affectingly - in his 1995 memoir about his search for identity. "That whole first year seemed like one long lie," he wrote of his freshman year at Occidental College.
Obama's mother, Stanley Anne Dunham, after her short-lived marriages to Obama's father (a Harvard-trained Kenyan student of economics) and stepfather (an Indonesian student), worked as an anthropologist in Indonesia, even leaving Barack behind in Hawaii as a teen to return to Indonesia, while he attended an elite private school, and was raised by his maternal grandparents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham; it was Stanley who had served in World War II. Obama's birth father Barack Obama Sr., with whom he had little contact, was a product of Kenyan socialism, albeit something of a skeptic of the Kenyan socialist project. * His stepfather, Lolo Soetero, who seems to have been a fairly lax Muslim, had apparently been sponsored to the U.S. on a student visa issued by the Sukarno regime, and had it revoked in 1967 when the regime fell (Sukarno was a quasi-Marxist leader somewhat typical of the Third World in the 1960s - he once received the "Lenin Prize" from the Soviet Union - but was deposed in 1967 and replaced by right-wing dictator Suharto), and when Obama was living in Indonesia, his stepfather worked for a U.S. oil company. Additional information from verifiable, non-crackpot sources about the political and social worldview of Obama's mother and stepfather is hard to come by; the Chicago Tribune's profile of her is probably the best we will get, while things like Spengler's inflammatory Asia Times profile (which I rely on here only for his educated speculation about Soetero's visa) rest on a lot of speculation with uncertain basis in fact. Indeed, liberal blogger Jeralyn Merritt has argued that even Obama's knowledge of his own family history seems to depend heavily on what his campaign staff tells him.
One thing we do know is that while various efforts have been made to read a lot into Obama's brushes with Islam growing up, especially his years in Indonesia, Obama himself had no real religious faith; he attended both Muslim and Catholic schools in his youth, apparently with disinterest in the religious instruction he was provided, but by his own admission had fallen away from faith of all kind by the time he encountered Rev. Jeremiah Wright. As Obama wrote of his youthful experience with religion, "my mother viewed religion through the eyes of the anthropologist she would become; it was a phenomenon to be treated with a suitable respect, but with a suitable detatchment as well." Like something bitter people cling to, one might say.
As a teen, "Obama felt like an outsider even in Hawaii's racially diverse community, because the African American population in the Islands was, and remains, miniscule, creating in Obama a feeling of isolation." And there were other symptoms of how he was, at that point in time, still something of a lost soul:
"I blew a few smoke rings, remembering those years," he wrote. "Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it. Not smack, though."...
Amusingly, some friends from those days suggest that Obama may have exaggerated his drug use and alienation for effect: "He was known as a partier, as a guy looking for a good time, but not much more". But almost any account of Obama's early years finds him a young man not really sure where he belongs, and along the way he was imbibing some other unhealthy intellectual influences as well. Obama wrote in Dreams From My Father, his first memoir, about a major influence from his teen years, a man named Frank:
A careful reading of Obama's first memoir, "Dreams From My Father," reveals that his childhood mentor up to the age of 18 - a man he refers to only as "Frank" - was none other than the late communist Frank Marshall Davis, who fled Chicago after the FBI and Congress opened investigations into his "subversive," "un-American activities."
[T]he Obama campaign's attack on [Jerome] Corsi's book ... acknowledges on pages 9 and 10 of its report that the mysterious "Frank" in Obama's 1995 book, Dreams From My Father, is in fact the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) member Frank Marshall Davis.
Davis would hang out and smoke pot with Obama's grandfather and wrote a sexual autobiography that included he and his wife seducing a 13-year-old girl he refers to, creepily enough, as "Anne". You can click the links for some sampling of Davis' racist and Marxist words of ...er, wisdom. More: * * *
Now, you can't hold a man responsible for the family he was born into, or for his grandfather's friends. Certainly it's impressive by any measure how far Obama has come from where he started - part of his point in writing about his cocaine use, like George W. Bush's drinking, is to show the road he chose to stop taking. But the best you can say about Obama's roots and where they place him is that he arrived as a college student in Los Angeles and later Manhattan without the sort of support network and firm grounding that most Americans take for granted. Even after he started moving up the ladder of academia and community organizing, Obama remained an outsider wherever he went. For a decade between 1979 and 1989, he lived in four large, liberal cities, a single young man thousands of miles from his family with no faith and no real ties to the communities he lived in. At Columbia, for example, he lived with wealthy, drug-using Pakistanis * and barely anyone remembers him. * * As Charles Krauthammer has noted, Obama's campaign has been decidedly short on personal testimonials from old friends.
Which raises the issue of what rushed in to fill the vaccum in Obama's life in the years between 1979 and 1989. It wasn't religion, it wasn't family, it wasn't community and it wasn't even money - it was political activism.
(2) The Activist
"[Obama] always talked about the New Rochelle train, the trains that took commuters to and from New York City, and he didn't want to be on one of those trains every day," said Jerry Kellman, the community organizer who enticed Obama to Chicago from his Manhattan office job. "The image of a life, not a dynamic life, of going through the motions... that was scary to him."
Given that Barack Obama doesn't have much in the way of accomplishments or biography - see the timeline of his career here - the tales told about him at the Democratic Convention focused heavily on his first real decision as an adult, to walk away from more lucrative job opportunities in the private sector to become a "community organizer" in Chicago for less money, followed by the same decision to forego life as a big-firm lawyer to work at a plaintiffs' firm doing civil rights work after law school. Certainly the basics of this story speak well of Obama's interest in things other than money, but the truth is more complicated, and reflects as much as anything the fact that Obama's early career was driven by his political ambitions - the same ambitions that would lead him over and over again in his brief career to make accomodations with so many unsavory people and projects.
As you can see from the line about the New Rochelle train, Obama never wanted a job in the private sector. As even the New York Times notes of Obama's time after graduating college, "In his memoir, he says he had decided to become a community organizer but could not persuade anyone to hire him. So he found 'more conventional work for a year' to pay off his student loans."
Obama got into the community organizing field in New York with NYPIRG (Obama in 2004: "I used to be a PIRG guy. You guys trained me well"), and as Megan McArdle has explained, the PIRGs are basically Ponzi schemes financed by exploiting their own workers; it doesn't necessarily say good things that Obama was successful in this line of work. While this did indeed entail financial sacrifice compared to the private sector, as Jim Geraghty notes, Obama's salary as a community organizer, while hardly princely, wasn't even all that bad for a guy in his 20s with no dependents, no mortgage, and no real obligations:
[T]he man who hired Obama, Jerry Kellman, [is quoted] as saying that the $12,000 was Obama's "training salary" for the first few months. "After three or four months, he was up to 20,000, and after three years he was probably making $35,000 or so."
As it turns out, "[t]he Chicago-based Woods Fund provided Kellman with his original $25,000 to hire Obama. In turn, Obama would later serve on the Woods board" from 1993 to 2002; it was one of the boards Obama served on that brought him in contact with Bill Ayers, who was also on the Woods board. (In fact, in one of his community organizing roles, Obama served as Director of the Developing Communities Project from 1985 to 1988, part of a coalition of groups headed by Ayers at the time).
Obama, who did not even graduate with honors from Columbia, was nonetheless able to parlay his community organizing experience into the leg up he needed to get into Harvard Law School, with letters of recommendation from a left-wing Northwestern University professor and from Percy Sutton, a former Manhattan Borough President and 1977 contender for the Democratic nomination for New York City Mayor (Sutton has claimed in a TV interview that he did so at the insistence of "Khalid al-Mansour, principle adviser to radical Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal"):
"I was introduced to him by a friend who was raising money for him and the friends name was Dr. Khalid al Mansour from Texas. He is the principle adviser to one of the world's richest men. He told me about Obama. He wrote to me about him and his introduction was 'there is a young man that has applied to Harvard and I know that you have a few friends left there becasue you used to go up there to speak, would you please write a letter in support of him?'...I wrote a letter in support of him to my friends at Harvard saying to them I thought there was a genius that was going to be available and I sure hoped they would treat him kindly."
(Via here, and read here about the Sutton family spokesman's vague efforts to retract the interview *). Sutton, of course, was a respected mainstream political figure; less clear is how tightly the radical al-Mansour's other connections were plugged in at Harvard as of 1989 - Prince al-Waleed would later become a great benfactor of Harvard (he's the namesake of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard, established by a $20 million gift in 2005), and Saudi money was a longstanding fundraising priority of the Law School, which in 1991 established its Islamic Legal Studies Program, bolstered by the "King Fahd Chair for Islamic Shariah Studies [which] began with a $5 million dollar donation by the Saudi royal family in 1993."
In any event, by the time Obama left Chicago for law school, he had his sights set firmly on political office:
In their conversations, he described politics--and winning political office--as the most important step toward achieving change. And, instead of seeing Harold Washington as buffeted by forces beyond his control, he now aspired to be Washington. "He was fascinated by Mayor Washington," says Kruglik. "Harold Washington inspired him to think about becoming a politician." Kruglik says that Obama wanted to follow in the mayor's footsteps: Washington had gone to law school, later becoming a state senator, then a congressman, and finally Chicago's mayor. "He told me that he was thinking of running for mayor some day, " Kruglik says.
During law school, Obama "spent eight days in Los Angeles taking a national training course taught by [left-wing theorist Saul] Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation." * (More on Alinsky and Obama's community organizer days here, and on the Alinsky's explicit advocacy of dissembling and moral relativism here). He spent his first summer after law school at a large law firm in Chicago, but Obama told the senior partner who hired him that he wasn't interested in coming back to work full time because "he wanted to go into politics." Instead, he went to work for a firm that got him directly involved in Chicago's power politics:
Obama was part of a team of lawyers representing black voters and aldermen that forced Chicago to redraw ward boundaries that the City Council drew up after the 1990 census. They said the boundaries were discriminatory.
Of course, even if it wasn't his primary motivator, Obama was going to need money to do the things he wanted to do. And that's where a stroke of outrageous good fortune came in: after the New York Times wrote up his election to head the Harvard Law Review in March 1990, a literary agent called him out of the blue and offered to get him a book deal. (You have to have some knowledge of the book business to know how bizarre it is for any non-famous person to get solicited to write a book with no manuscript, let alone a 28-year-old law student with no prior publications). Obama got a six figure book deal with a major publisher but was unable to complete the book. Undeterred, his agent landed him a second book deal with a $40,000 advance, and at some point he switched from the planned book on race relations to a memoir. Despite being given an office to work from at the University of Chicago, he still didn't finish the thing until he took time off to go back to Indonesia and write, finally having Dreams From My Father published in time to launch his run for office in 1995; it somehow got reviewed by both the New York Times and the Boston Globe.
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POLITICS: Obama and the Integrity Gap: The Extremists
Chapter three of seven.
B. The Extremists
To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets. We smoked cigarettes and wore leather jackets. At night, in the dorms, we discussed neocolonialism, Franz Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy. When we ground out our cigarettes in the hallway carpet or set our setereos so loud that the walls began to shake, we were resisting bourgeois society's stifling constraints. We weren't indifferent or careless or insecure. We were alienated.
-Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, describing his choice of friends as a student at Occidental College in Los Angeles, which he attended for two years. He also wrote about "socialist conferences I sometimes attended at Cooper Union" after transferring to Columbia, and "went to hear Kwame Toure, formerly Stokely Carmichael of SNCC and Black Power fame, speak at Columbia." Carmichael, of course, was a famous Sixties radical, a subject that apparently interested Obama as early as his college years.
If Obama was going to pursue his dreams of political activism, he wasn't going to follow the route of Sarah Palin and Joe Biden in relying on his roots to his home town, nor did he have John McCain's advantage of a famous war record. He was going to need a political base that would accept an outsider, and needed to bring something to the table. And this is how he built one. The groundwork for Obama's entree into Chicago politics was laid through networking in the very same radical chic circles he described in the passage above. There's not adequate space here to revisit in full the left-wing radicalism of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, Fr. Michael Pfleger, the New Party, Alice Palmer, Rashid Khalidi, Khalid al-Mansour, and others in Obama's circle, but the thumbnail sketches and links below should clue you in to the common theme - Obama carefully cultivated an image as a friend of Sixties radicals, race-baiters, Marxists and worse. Maybe this was due to the same romantic impulse of his college years and maybe it was craven political opportunism, but the record shows how firmly he ingratiated himself with these people, with the result that he gets endorsements to this day from avowed Communists. * Even as a presidential candidate, Obama is willing to lend his appearance and good name to the operations of wholly disreputable far-left figures like Al Sharpton. *
Yet while Obama was adept at showing one face to the hard left, he and the organizations he worked with were also acutely aware of the need to present a more respectable face to the broader community, as the Woods Fund noted in a report on its grant to ACORN (more on which below):
Indeed, the report brags about pulling the wool over the public's eye. The Woods Fund's claim to be "nonideological," it says, has "enabled the Trustees to make grants to organizations that use confrontational tactics against the business and government 'establishments' without undue risk of being criticized for partisanship."
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(1) Rev. Wright, Fr. Pfleger & Racialism
The most notorious of Obama's associations is his spiritual mentor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright of the United Church of Christ. You can find samplings of why Rev. Wright's race-baiting, his crackpot anti-American conspiracy theories and his all-purpose loathing of this country have caused Obama so much justifiable grief at the following links * * * * *. Obama has written movingly of the impact that Wright's preaching had of shaking him from his agnosticism and leading him to Jesus, and I have no way of evaluating the sincerity of any of that, or for that matter criticizing the strange ways that men are brought to the Lord. But the overtly political nature of Wright's preaching was evident from the very beginning, starting when ""[a]s a young biracial man building a black identity, Obama found Wright's Afrocentrism appealing. The first time he visited the church, in 1985, he saw a 'Free South Africa' sign on the lawn." As he sat through years of Wright's fiery sermons, Obama could easily, at any time, have chosen to move on to a less divisive church (Protestants have no particular religious obligation to stay with any one preacher or congregation), but as the liberal magazine Salon explains, Obama had obvious political motives for coming to and staying with Rev. Wright:
[J]oining a black mega-church was also a quick way for a young man on the move on the South Side of Chicago to address some gaps in his resume.
Obama's political motivations for sidling up to Wright are evident in a 1988 essay by Obama touting the need to organize black churches:
Possessing tremendous financial resources, membership, and-most important-values and biblical traditions that call for empowerment and liberation, the black church is clearly a slumbering giant in the political and economic landscape of cities like Chicago.
* * Indeed, far from being repelled by Wright's Manichean view of race relations, Obama himself sometimes took the posture of enforcer of strict racial solidarity in Chicago:
A Chicago Defender story of 1999 features a front-page picture of Obama beside the headline, "Obama: Illinois Black Caucus is broken." In the accompanying article, although Obama denies demanding that black legislators march in perfect lockstep, he expresses anger that black state senators have failed to unite for the purpose of placing a newly approved riverboat casino in a minority neighborhood. The failed casino vote, Obama argues, means that the black caucus "is broken and needs to unite for the common good of the African-American community." Obama continues, "The problem right now is that we don't have a unified agenda that's enforced back in the community and is clearly articulated. Everybody tends to be lone agents in these situations."
When the 2000 census revealed dramatic growth in Chicago's Hispanic and Asian populations alongside a decline in the number of African Americans, the Illinois black caucus was alarmed at the prospect that the number of blacks in the Illinois General Assembly might decline. At that point, Obama stepped to the forefront of the effort to preserve as many black seats as possible. The Defender quotes Obama as saying that, "while everyone agrees that the Hispanic population has grown, they cannot expand by taking African-American seats." As in the casino dispute, Obama stressed black unity, pushing a plan that would modestly increase the white, Hispanic, and Asian population in what would continue to be the same number of safe black districts. As Obama put it: "An incumbent African-American legislator with a 90 percent district may feel good about his reelection chances, but we as a community would probably be better off if we had two African-American legislators with 60 percent each."
(UPDATE: Via Ed Morrissey, Stanley Kurtz and others look at how the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, under Obama's direction, spread funding around to "Afrocentric" educational programs that espoused many of Wright's racial ideas).
Obama has also come under fire for his ties to the Catholic priest Fr. Michael Pfleger, due to Fr. Pfleger's own racially incendiary remarks (more: * * *) from the pulpit of Rev. Wright's church. Fr. Pfleger, too, has a long rap sheet of extremism:
[H]e has welcomed the anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan to preach in his church; he has hired prostitutes to worship there; he has been arrested for defacing billboards; and he once urged the crowd at an anti-gun rally to hunt down a gun store owner 'like a rat' and 'snuff' him.
Obama's alliance with Fr. Pfleger, "a longtime Obama friend," is similarly decades-long in duration and political in nature. Pfleger supported Obama in his primary battle with Bobby Rush in 2000. Among the many causes on which they worked together was a joint appearance in 2000 to protest the payday loan industry.
(2) Ayers & Dohrn and Alice Palmer
The hot issue of the moment is Obama's relationship with unrepentant terrorist and unreconstructed left-wing radical Bill Ayers and his wife and fellow Weather Underground terrorist Bernadine Dorhn, an alumna of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list. I've discussed the nature of Ayers' and Dohrn's radicalism, Obama's ties to them, and the implausibility of Obama's claim to not have known who they were here, here, here, here, and here. (To add another example of Ayers' and Dohrn's decades-long national media press clipping file: Dohrn was profiled in the New York Times in 1993 *). Leaving aside for now the debate on exactly when and where Obama and his wife first met Ayers and Dohrn - among the evidence that he'd known him since the 1980s is the relationship I mentioned above between the organizations Obama and Ayers were running at the time - the short summary, from Stanley Kurtz:
From 1995 to 1999, [Obama] led an education foundation called the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC), and remained on the board until 2001. The group poured more than $100 million into the hands of community organizers and radical education activists.
To briefly summarize, CAC was largely Ayers' brainchild; Ayers' anti-American, left-wing beliefs haven't changed a whit since the Weather Underground days, and he now espouses the view that his radical left-wing ideas should be passed on to children through political indoctrination posing as education; and Obama, who headed the CAC's process for disbursing funds and who could not possibly have been unaware of Ayers' views on education, nonetheless funneled millions of dollars to educational projects under Ayers' direction in 1995. The core of the Ayers issue is not friendship but money, and Obama's judgment that a left-wing terrorist was an appropriate person to entrust with the education of children.
And that same year, 1995, Obama had what was essentially his coming-out party as a first-time candidate for public office - the State Senate seat to which he'd be elected the following year - at Ayers' and Dohrn's home, as his predecessor, Alice Palmer, announced that she was passing the torch to Obama:
"I can remember being one of a small group of people who came to Bill Ayers' house to learn that Alice Palmer was stepping down from the senate and running for Congress," said Dr. Quentin Young, a prominent Chicago physician and advocate for single-payer health care, of the informal gathering at the home of Ayers and his wife, Dohrn. "[Palmer] identified [Obama] as her successor."
Dr. Young and another guest, Maria Warren, described it similarly: as an introduction to Hyde Park liberals of the handpicked successor to Palmer, a well-regarded figure on the left.
* Obama's alliance with Ayers didn't end when he got into office, either. In 1997, Ayers' book on juvenile justice, which like everything else about Ayers was bursting with radical left-wing sentiments, got 'a rave review in The Chicago Tribune by Mr. Obama, who called it 'a searing and timely account.'" What did that book say, and how closely did Obama embrace Ayers' theories?
Ayers opposes trying even the most vicious juvenile murderers as adults. Beyond that, he'd like to see the prison system itself essentially abolished. Unsatisfied with mere reform, Ayers wants to address the deeper "structural problems of the system." Drawing explicitly on Michel Foucault, a French philosopher beloved of radical academics, Ayers argues that prisons artificially impose obedience and conformity on society, thereby creating a questionable distinction between the "normal" and the "deviant." The unfortunate result, says Ayers, is to leave the bulk of us feeling smugly superior to society's prisoners. Home detention, Ayers believes, might someday be able to replace the prison. Ayers also makes a point of comparing America's prison system to the mass-detention of a generation of young blacks under South African Apartheid. Ayers's tone may be different, but the echoes of Jeremiah Wright's anti-prison rants are plain.
Ayers walks the reader through his Hyde Park neighborhood and identifies the notable residents therein. Among them are Muhammad Ali, "Minister" Louis Farrakhan (of whom he writes fondly), "former mayor" Eugene Sawyer, "poets" Gwendolyn Brooks and Elizabeth Alexander, and "writer" Barack Obama.
Here are Ayers and Dohrn on national TV in 1998, reiterating how completely unrepentant they were and are:
In fact, Obama went on to collaborate closely with Ayers in 1997-98 on a joint push for "reform" of the juvenile justice system, including appearing on a panel with Ayers hosted by Michelle Obama at the University of Chicago, where Obama was then teaching and Michelle working. Ayers donated $200 to Obama's campaign in 2001, and Obama appeared on another panel with Ayers at a conference Dohrn spoke at as late as 2002.
More on Obama, Ayers, Dohrn and Ayers' and Dohrn's radicalism: * * * * And here's Obama's original effort to downplay the relationship.
At the meeting at Ayers & Dohrn's house, Obama was introduced by the woman who was then vacating the seat, Alice Palmer. * Obviously the blessing of the incumbent is a thing of great usefulness - what convinced Palmer that Obama was an ideological comrade? Consider who Alice Palmer is, and what that says as well about the district Obama was courting:
Ten years earlier she was an executive board member of the U.S. Peace Council, which the FBI identified as a communist front group, an affiliate of the World Peace Council, a Soviet front group.
(3) Rashid Khalidi, AAAN, and Ali Abunimah
Obama also had a longstanding relationship with Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi, among other Palestinian activists going back to a class Obama took with Edward Said at Columbia. Khalidi has acted as an adviser and spokesman for the PLO, which of course was long on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations for obvious reasons: "From 1976 to 1982, Mr. Khalidi was a director in Beirut of the official Palestinian press agency, WAFA. Later he served on the PLO 'guidance committee' at the Madrid peace conference." * (Khalidi denies that the PLO ever formally employed him). Khalidi was, typically enough, "practically the best friend of Bill Ayers. Bill Ayers features Khalidi in some of his books about how to politicize the teaching for students....Bill Ayers publish[ed] Rashid Khalidi’s essay in [his] book of collected essays".
Khalidi's wife headed the Arab American Action Network, which received grants from the Woods Fund during Obama's and Khalidi's tenure on the Woods Fund's board, including $40,000 in 2001 and $70,000 in 2002. (More on AAAN, its vice president Ali Abunimah and his website Electronic Intifada, which frequently refer to Israel as an "apartheid" state, here: * * * * * * * * * *) And he, too, repaid the favor: "Khalidi, a former spokesman for Yasser Arafat, held a fundraiser for Obama in 2000 during his unsuccessful bid for Congress." For his part, Obama spoke warmly in 2003 about many meals shared at Khalidi's house.
He is seen as a moderate in Palestinian circles, having decried suicide bombings against civilians as a "war crime" and criticized the conduct of Hamas and other Palestinian leaders. Still, many of Khalidi's opinions are troubling to pro-Israel activists, such as his defense of Palestinians' right to resist Israeli occupation and his critique of U.S. policy as biased toward Israel.
This would be more encouraging if not for the long history of dissembling for Western audiences practiced by the PLO and its spokespeople.
Khalidi is hardly Obama's only tie to people and groups who take a hardline pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli view. More recently at his side was his presidential campaign's former senior foreign policy adviser Samantha Power. (Note the video here). Another is Obama military adviser Merrill "Tony" McPeak. * This is how we end up with Palestinians in Gaza phone-banking for Obama * and kind words for Obama from Hamas * and Jesse Jackson last week telling a foreign audience "that, although 'Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades' remain strong, they'll lose a great deal of their clout when Barack Obama enters the White House". And MyDD.com quotes Abunimah having this to say about Obama's own efforts to cater to Palestinian anti-Israel sympathies in Chicago:
I knew Barack Obama for many years as my state senator -- when he used to attend events in the Palestinian community in Chicago all the time. I remember personally introducing him onstage in 1999, when we had a major community fundraiser for the community center in Deheisha refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. And that's just one example of how Barack Obama used to be very comfortable speaking up for and being associated with Palestinian rights and opposing the Israeli occupation.
* Certainly despite Obama's assurances today, his courage in standing up for Israel has never proven to be much of an obstacle to cozying up to those who mean it ill.
(4) The New Party
Obama wasn't content to give radicals, terrorists and racists his money, his name and his seat in a pew; he also went and joined the New Party, a far-left outfit that served as an umbrella coalition of Marxists and others too far to the left for the Democratic Party. * * Under the laws in effect at the time - changed by a 1997 Supreme Court decision - it was possible for candidates in Illinois to run on two party lines, and Obama sought out and received the New Party line endorsement - in fact, to do so, he had to follow New Party policy requiring all NP-endorsed candidates to sign a contract supporting the party's agenda. Obama was undoubtedly viewed and touted by the New Party as a member, and sought to leverage that membership to appeal to the NP base: "Barack Obama, victor in the 13th State Senate District, encouraged NPers to join in his task forces on Voter Education and Voter Registration." * As discussed below, the NP connection also cemented his relationship with ACORN.
The far Left didn't forget Obama's NP days after the party essentially faded from the scene; in 2000, the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America wrote warmly of him:
Barak Obama is serving only his second term in the Illinois State Senate so he might be fairly charged with ambition, but the same might have be said of Bobby Rush when he ran against Congressman Charles Hayes. Obama also has put in time at the grass roots, working for five years as a community organizer in Harlem and in Chicago. When Obama participated in a 1996 UofC YDS Townhall Meeting on Economic Insecurity, much of what he had to say was well within the mainstream of European social democracy.
What does Obama really believe about all these people? Is the real Obama the deeds of yesterday, or the more soothing words of today, when he distances himself from so many of his old friends?
I don't actually pretend to know whether Barack Obama shares the beliefs of Bill Ayers; I only know that he was content to send millions of dollars Ayers' way to "educate" the children of Chicago and give a glowing review to Ayers' book. I don't actually pretend to know whether Barack Obama shares the beliefs of Rev. Wright; I only know that he was content to sit in Wright's pews for two decades, bring his young daughters to have their heads filled with Wright's ravings, donate to Wright's church, declare Wright to be his spiritual mentor and name his best-selling book after one of Wright's incendiary sermons. I don't actually pretend to know whether Barack Obama shares the beliefs of the New Party; I only know that he was content to put his name on their party line and sign a contract to support their platform. (For that matter, I don't even pretend to know for certain whether Barack Obama shares the sex education agenda of Planned Parenthood; I only know that he was content to push their agenda through the State Senate and never object to statutory language extending sex education all the way down to kindergarteners).
In short: maybe Obama isn't a dyed-in-the-wool radical left-wing culture warrior; maybe he was just too afraid to stop lending his moral and financial support to such people and stop currying their favor. Either way, he never stood against them in any way. And the pattern of his relationship with the extremists would be repeated.
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POLITICS: Obama and the Integrity Gap: ACORN
Chapter four of seven.
The left-wing group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a national umbrella group of, well, community organizers, sits at the intersection of Obama's ties to extremists and his ties to machine politics. ACORN is indisputably Sixties-style "New Left" in its orientation, pursuing what Sol Stern describes as an agenda of "undisguised authoritarian socialism." The group has both money and foot soldiers, as it "uses banking regulations to pressure financial institutions into massive 'donations' that it uses to finance supposedly non-partisan voter turn-out drives." See here for a more thorough description of the mischief ACORN plays in forcing banks to make subprime loans. And:
In one of the first book-length scholarly studies of ACORN, Organizing Urban America, Rutgers University political scientist Heidi Swarts describes this group... as "oppositional outlaws." Swarts, a strong supporter of ACORN, has no qualms about stating that its members think of themselves as "militants unafraid to confront the powers that be." "This identity as a uniquely militant organization," says Swarts, "is reinforced by contentious action." ACORN protesters will break into private offices, show up at a banker's home to intimidate his family, or pour protesters into bank lobbies to scare away customers, all in an effort to force a lowering of credit standards for poor and minority customers. According to Swarts, long-term ACORN organizers "tend to see the organization as a solitary vanguard of principled leftists...the only truly radical community organization."
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ACORN's rap sheet for voter fraud alone is extensive. This is "an organization that has a "decade long history of voter fraud, embezzlement and misuses of taxpayer funds" that Consumer Rights League Chief Public Advocate, James Terry testified about last month to the House Judiciary." For example: flagrantly fraudulent voter registrations in Nevada; "5,000 ACORN registrants in St. Louis were sent letters by election officials asking the recipient to contact them. Fewer than 40 responded"; "In Kansas City, 15,000 ACORN registrations have been questioned and in November, 4 ACORN employees were indicted for fraud. Additionally ACORN officials have been indicted in Wisconsin and Colorado, and there are on-going investigations in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Tennessee." * * * * * * * * * * * *
Meeting last November with the leaders of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (Acorn) - the nationwide network of left-wing community groups that taps government money for a host of causes - Obama declared: "I've been fighting alongside Acorn on issues you care about my entire career," including representing Acorn in a court case in Illinois. Acorn members apparently reciprocated by working hard to turn out voters for Obama's Illinois campaigns, according to a 2003 piece in the magazine Social Policy by a Chicago-area Acorn organizer. After the candidate's November appearance, Acorn's affiliated political action committee endorsed Obama for president.
* What he now admits to is having been their lawyer: "the Obama campaign has sought to distance the Senator from the radical organization, claiming Obama merely represented ACORN in a lawsuit enforcing the Illinois 'Motor Voter' law." * *
A sampling of Obama's ties to ACORN, and specifically to the aspect of ACORN - its voter registration drives - that are at the heart of its criminal activity:
Obama trained ACORN activists. A 1995 Chicago Reader article on Obama stated "Obama continues his work largely through classes for future leaders identified by ACORN and the Centers for New Horizons." Obama also ran Project Vote, known for widespread voter fraud, which Time magazine called "a non-partisan arm" of ACORN.
During the Democrat primary, the Obama campaign paid Citizen Services Inc., a subsidiary of ACORN, more than $800,000.
A payment that Obama's campaign somehow managed to misreport to the FEC. * Obama's "Fight the Smears" website likewise falsely denied his role in training ACORN activists until confronted by evidence contradicting his denials. *
In 1992 Obama took time off to direct Project Vote, the most successful grass-roots voter- registration campaign in recent city history. Credited with helping elect Carol Moseley-Braun to the U.S. Senate, the registration drive, aimed primarily at African-Americans, added an estimated 125,000 voters to the voter rolls
Conveniently enough, it appears that at one point, ACORN, Project Vote, and the New Party all listed as headquarters the same address in Brooklyn. Obama is, of course, ACORN's favorite politician:
[ACORN] Founder Toni Foulkes enthusiastically backed Obama's U.S. Senate run in 2004, declaring: "ACORN is active in experimenting with methods of increasing voter participation in our low and moderate income communities to virtually every election. But in some elections we get to have our cake and eat it too: work on nonpartisan voter registration and GOTV, which also turns out to benefit the candidate we hold dear [Obama]."
Foulkes claims that Acorn specifically sought out Obama's representation in the motor voter case, remembering Obama from the days when he worked with [former Chicago ACORN leader] Talbot. And while many reports speak of Obama's post-law school role organizing "Project VOTE" in 1992, Foulkes makes it clear that this project was undertaken in direct partnership with Acorn. Foulkes then stresses Obama's yearly service as a key figure in Acorn's leadership-training seminars.
And like Ayers - and sometimes through Ayers - ACORN was a recipient of money from Obama's tenure as a director of the charitable Woods Fund:
Chicago ACORN Received Grants Of $45,000 (2000), $30,000 (2001), $45,000 (2001), $30,000 (2002), And $40,000 (2002) From The Woods Fund.* * These are not discrete stories. They are all one story.
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POLITICS: Obama and the Integrity Gap: The Machine
Chapter five of seven.
D. The Machine
Chicago politics, of course, have been famously corrupt and totally dominated by the Democratic machine since beyond living memory. (In Illinois at the state level, corruption is endemic and bipartisan: "four of the last nine governors have been indicted on charges of corruption, and three were convicted"). This is the city where top aides to Mayor Daley were convicted in May 2006 of federal felonies for rigging hiring in city jobs. It's a city where an alderman who pleaded guilty in August to a "general practice" of shaking down real estate developers was caught on tape saying "Most aldermen, most politicians are hos.". (A Rezko-linked alderman, in fact, who is the daughter of a Rezko-linked housing developer once represented by Obama's law firm * * - small world, indeed). It's not an uncommon sentiment (several aldermen found it necessary to hold a press conference stating that they were not, in fact, hos).
The Chicago machine is nothing if not an equal opportunity honeypot; machine corruption and its close cousin, racial/ethnic politics, has endured over decades as different ethnic and racial groups have taken their turns running the city, all the while doling out favors within their wards. The current machine is topped by Mayor Daley, two decades in office and the son of the city's most notorious mayor; at the state level, it envelops Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich.
To all appearances, Barack Obama's home neighborhood of Hyde Park - affluent, academic, ethnically diverse - should be a natural base for that rare breed in Chicago, the real reformer, with the independence to not only stand aloof from the politics of the greased palm and the dead voter, but actually make that politics more difficult:
The neighborhood invariably elects a goo-goo alderman who pulls killjoy stunts like, you know, asking to see what's in the mayor's budget before voting on it. The most famous, Leon Despres, who just turned 100, once spent five days at Trotsky's place in Mexico City.
Of course, as noted above, Obama's original district also extended to what Salon calls "the weary black neighborhoods to the west, with threadbare street corners that might hold a liquor store, or a chicken shack. (It did not include Trinity United.)." (Todd Spivak, who covered Obama in 2000, says Obama's district "spanned a large swath of the city's poor, black, crime-ridden South Side")
Certainly Obama frequently postured as a political reformer in Illinois ("My reputation in Springfield was as an independent"), as well as in the U.S. Senate. Was that posture any more, or any less, genuine than his posture as a friend of left-wing radicals? I don't know the answer to that either; I only know that Obama, with his sights set beyond Hyde Park, made sure never to get in the machine's way. "Jay Stewart, the executive director of the Chicago Better Government Association, notes that, while Mr. Obama supported ethics reforms as a state senator, he has "'been noticeably silent on the issue of corruption here in his home state, including at this point, mostly Democratic.'" The Chicago Sun-Times isn't fooled either:
Obama friend Tony Rezko was convicted of corrupting state government, but Obama was never implicated and has returned contributions Rezko made to his Senate campaign. Obama did run as an independent Democrat but worked closely with state Senate President Emil Jones, an old-school organization Democrat. Obama runs for president with the full blessing of Mayor Daley.
As we shall see, this is not the half of it.
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(1) It's Good To Have Friends
Obama's first run for public office was at age 34 in 1996, when Alice Palmer announced she was leaving her State Senate seat to run for Congress. As noted above, Palmer was one of Obama's many far-left allies. As it turned out, Palmer lost her bid for Congress (to Jesse Jackson Jr, now Obama's national campaign co-chair) and tried to come back and reclaim her job, but Obama stayed in the race. Unlike Sarah Palin's three hotly contested races against incumbents, however, Obama and his allies were able to use the legal machinery of the city avoid a contested campaign:
According to the Chicago Tribune, Obama operatives flooded into the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners on Jan. 2, 1996, to begin the tedious process of challenging hundreds of signatures on the nominating petitions of Palmer and three other lesser-known contenders for her Illinois state Senate seat. They kept challenging petitions until every one of Obama's Democratic primary rivals was forced off the ballot.
The Trib account attributes his success to the fact that "when he filed his challenge the city of Chicago had 'just completed a massive, routine purge of unqualified names that eliminated 15,871 people from the 13th District rolls.'" and his "competitors had 'relied on early 1995 polling sheets to verify the signatures.'" * Obama himself faced no such challenge.
See, here is where we have to take a step back and look at the realities of how corrupt urban political machines operate...because this sort of outrageous good fortune does not, in machine-controlled cities, ordinarily fall into the lap of candidates who present any threat to the machine. Obama's opponents all just happened to get shoved off the ballot, leaving him standing unopposed? (Freddoso, at p. 5 & 246 and n. 17, cites 1994 & 1995 press accounts in the Tribune and the Sun-Times indicating that Mayor Daley was worried about Palmer running against him for Mayor, and thus his interests were served by her defeat).
This would not the last time things like this just happened to Obama's opponents, while Obama himself slid by on the greased skids. It would certainly seem as if Barack Obama has important friends who want him in high places.
There's also Obama's 2004 run for the U.S. Senate, a race in which he was generally regarded as something of a longshot (as you may recall - Freddoso cites polls showing this at p. 47 - a little more than three weeks before the March 16, 2004 primary, Obama was in a second-place tie with 17% of the vote). The favorite was Blair Hull, a multi-millionaire who spent $29 million on his campaign (Hull was the subject of a sympathetic Atlantic profile in January 2004 by liberal writer Joshua Green comparing him to Jon Corzine and not even mentioning Obama). But Hull's campaign unraveled when the Chicago Tribune pressured Hull to release his divorce records, showing a record of menacing his ex-wife including the filing of an order of protection. Now, the Trib was just doing its job as a newspaper - but how did the Trib find out where to look? After all, unsealing divorce records isn't routine - John Kerry was running for president that year and successfully resisted calls to unseal his divorce papers, without facing much pressure from the big news organizations to do so.
Well, we can make an educated guess and then some: Obama campaign chief David Axelrod had previously interviewed to work for Hull, and Freddoso notes (p. 47-48) that in the process he'd learned about some of Hull's marital history, although he protests to this day he didn't tell anybody. As the NY Times notes, "[t]he Tribune reporter who wrote the original piece later acknowledged in print that the Obama camp had 'worked aggressively behind the scenes' to push the story." Axelrod himself is a former Tribune reporter. It's good to have friends, isn't it?
Winning the nomination for what was then a Republican-held seat meant Obama would be expected to face off against Jack Ryan, a wealthy and charismatic former investment banker and subject of a famously glowing "is he too good to be true" November 2003 profile by George Will. But Ryan's campaign, too, imploded when the Tribune persuaded a California judge to unseal Ryan's divorce records, revealing his actress wife's testimony about him pressing her to attend sex clubs. (The sympathetic judge was a Gray Davis-appointed Democrat). Again, it was nice for Obama that he had friends, and he was instead able to face off against Alan Keyes in a walkover election. (One cannot miss the irony here of Obama today complaining loudly about any discussion of his own past after using sex scandals to KO his prior opponents).
Of course, speaking of powerful and sinister friends, the fact that Obama had those well-financed opponents at one time enabled him to use a loophole in the campaign finance laws to accept $60,000 in contributions in that campaign from left-wing billionaire George Soros and his family:
Obama ... is different from most Democrats because of his willingness to embrace the controversial Soros. Shortly after Soros equated the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Obama joined him for a New York fund-raiser June 7.
Little has been made of his connection to Soros, although it is quite unique. Not only did George Soros donate to Obama's campaign, but four other family members - Jennifer, sons Jonathan and Robert and wife Susan - did as well.
* Then there's the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, the smoking gun of Obama's ties to Bill Ayers - documents detailing Obama's and Ayers' role in the CAC were held at the Richard J. Daley Library at the University of Illinois at Chicago, but Stanley Kurtz faced a lengthy and frustrating stonewall before he was finally able to get a look at them. * (Kurtz also faced intimidation when he took to local radio in Chicago to talk about his research *). Because the one thing Obama's friends in Chicago don't want is a close look at his record.
(2) Mr. Jones and Me
You have undoubtedly already heard plenty about Obama's ties to Wright and Ayers and to Tony Rezko, who I discuss below. But probably the single most important relationship in Obama's rise, and the one that tells us the most about Obama, is with Emil Jones. As The New Republic's Ryan Lizza notes, when he arrived in Springfield in 1997, "Obama sought out Jones in the legislature and let him know he was eager to work with him" despite having portrayed Jones in Obama's first book as an "old ward heeler." Jones' background before he was a State Senator? "His career included 30 years on the city payroll, 20 with the Sewer Department, where he retired as an inspector in 1993. He denied wrongdoing when in 1997 the city released federal subpoenas in a ghost-payrolling investigation that included requests for records regarding his employment. He was never charged." The Chicago Tribune calls Jones "a transparent, old-school advocate of governance as the management of spoils" and notes that in 2002, "after Jones helped engineer the delivery of $4.5 million in taxpayer-funded grants to the City Colleges of Chicago, it was revealed that $300,000 of that money made its way to a firm run by his relatives."
Republicans controlled the Illinois General Assembly for six years of Obama's seven-year tenure. Each session, Obama backed legislation that went nowhere; bill after bill died in committee. During those six years, Obama, too, would have had difficulty naming any legislative achievements.
Jones became the State Senate President when the Democrats took the majority in 2003, and basically created most of Obama's legislative record by adding Obama's name on other people's bills. As Jones once said (apparently at Obama's instigation), "I'm gonna make me a U.S. Senator":
Jones appointed Obama sponsor of virtually every high-profile piece of legislation, angering many rank-and-file state legislators who had more seniority than Obama and had spent years championing the bills.
Jones further helped raise Obama's profile by having him craft legislation addressing the day-to-day tragedies that dominated local news headlines.
(See also Freddoso pp. 27-33. Taking credit for other people's legislative work is a pattern Obama has continued in Washington). What did Jones get out of the relationship?
So how has Obama repaid Jones?
Mr. Obama secured several million dollars for a project at Chicago State University. Emil Jones Jr., the president of the Illinois State Senate and an early and powerful political benefactor of Mr. Obama's, has been a dogged champion of Chicago State, and one of Senator Obama's closest friends.
Freddoso notes at p. 32 & n. 24-25 (citing Obama's own website and this report) that Obama requested $11 million in earmarks for Chicago State, that Chicago State has named a building after Jones and his wife, and that since 2001, Jones has received about $55,000 in contributions from Chicago State's trustees, foundation directors and administrators.
What kind of patron is Emil Jones? Freddoso, again, notes (citations at at pp. 28-29 & nn. 5-10 of his book), a variety of questionable projects in which Jones got jobs and funding for his wife, son and stepson:
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last July that his son, Emil Jones III, does not have a college degree, but obtained an unadvertised $57,000 job with the Illinois Department of Commerce. The hire was made shortly after Senator Jones agreed to back Gov. Rod Blagojevich's (D.) budget plan. The younger Jones is expected to succeed his father in his senate seat.
* While Jones' backing of Obama's legislative resume focused on 2003, Freddoso, among others, cites Obama biographer David Mendell to say that on the Illinois ethics reform bill that passed the State Senate in 1998 by a 52-4 vote, "former Rep. Abner Mikva convinced Jones to let Obama handle the legislation. Sen. Dick Klemm (D.) was removed as chief cosponsor and replaced by Obama on May 22, 1998 - the very day the bill passed." * * * But Obama can take all the credit he wants for that one, when you consider how it led to the final payback for Emil Jones:
Before championing a big legislative pay increase, Illinois Senate President Emil Jones provided himself with tens of thousands of dollars in interest-free loans from his campaign fund.
* It gets worse: not only was Jones, under the Obama "ethics" bill, able to borrow money from his campaign contributions, he is allowed to keep half a million dollars of it as a golden parachute following his retirement, which was announced in August:
Part of the price for that victory was leaving a major loophole in the law. While new legislators were barred from using campaign money for personal use, those already in office could keep using the campaign money they already had for anything they wanted - Cadillacs, college tuition, whatever.
You want an illustration of the influence Obama could have exerted for reform if he'd wanted to? Jones spent months bottling up ethics reform legislation in the State Senate, reform with more teeth than the flaccid bill passed by Obama:
Designed as a response to the "pay-to-play politics" that have flourished under Gov. Blagojevich, the plan would bar firms with more than $50,000 in state contracts from donating to the officeholder in charge of the deals.
On Wednesday, the Illinois House rejected Blagojevich's rewrite, 110-3. Under the state Constitution, the Senate has "15 calendar days" to follow suit, or the plan as originally written will die.As late as mid-September 2008, Obama was resisting calls to lift a finger to help the real reform bill pass. Finally, after media pressure that crested while Obama was behind McCain in the national polls, he made the call - and the retiring Jones immediately complied: "'I plan to call the Senate back into session to deal with the issue of ethics only at the request of my friend Barack Obama,' Jones said in a statement..."
Just think of what Obama might have accomplished in Illinois if he'd made more calls like that.
(3) Married To The Machine
When Obama married Michelle Robinson in 1991, he was literally marrying into the city's Democratic machine:
[H]er father, Frasier Robinson, spent some time as a maintenance worker for Chicago's Department of Water Management.
Shortly before the Obamas were married, Michelle went and got a job at the heart of the Chicago machine:
In 1991, she wrote to Valerie Jarrett, deputy chief of staff for Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Jarrett...offered her a job in the mayor's office. But before Michelle would accept, she asked that Jarrett have dinner with her and Barack.
From Mayor Daley's office, with the connection to the very well-connected Jarrett firmly established, Michelle went on to head the Chicago office of Public Allies, a non-profit community organization, from 1993 until 1996, and served on its board until 2001; Barack Obama was a founding member of the board of Public Allies in 1992 *, and would go on to send them taxpayer money:
Senator Obama has trained several classes of Allies in community organizing, spoken at Public Allies Chicago events, and helped Senator Durbin secure an appropriation from the Department of Justice that successfully helped us better recruit and retain young men of color for our Chicago program and learn practices we are applying nationally.
The Chicago-based Muntu Dance Theatre received a $4.5 million grant to help pay for a $10 million cultural center.
(See also Freddoso p. 31). Notably, the theater's website now lists Emil Jones as "Honorary Campaign Chair" of the "Campaign for the Muntu Performing Arts Center."
In 1996, when Barack Obama was elected to the State Senate, his wife moved to a job at the University of Chicago. In 2002, she moved over from the University to its Hospital, where she "developed the University's first office of community service" and "quickly built up programs for community relations, neighborhood outreach, volunteer recruitment, staff diversity and minority contracting." Then in 2004, Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate; shortly thereafter, Michelle was given a promotion and a pay raise that more than doubled her salary "from $121,910 in 2004, just before her husband was elected to the Senate, to $316,962 in 2005." Her new duties would include "all programs and initiatives that involve the relationship between the Hospitals and the community...[and] management of the Hospitals' business diversity program." In short, she had yet again a perfect job for deciding who would and would not find favor in the community and local business with a powerful institution - and one that itself sought favor with her influential husband. In 2006, Obama tried to return the favor, requesting a $1 million earmark for his wife's employer to build a new pavillion (the earmark did not ultimately get passed).
(4) I'm Barack Obama, and I Approve This Machine
There are a number of ways for an honest politician to get in the way of a crooked machine, or of waste or fraud in the government. She can resign in protest, as Sarah Palin did in Alaska. He can hold hearings smoking out members of his own party, as John McCain has done in the Senate. She can back candidates in primary battles against the establishment, as Palin has also done in Alaska. He can bring national attention to self-interested wastes of taxpayer money, as McCain has also done in the Senate. You will look high and low in his record for Obama doing any of these things.
In fact, Obama has repeatedly either sat out opportunities to support reform in Chicago or affirmatively supported the machine. By January 2007, the Justice Department and the Chicago press had laid bare the corruption of the administration of Michelle's old boss Mayor Daley, including the May 2006 convictions of Robert Sorich, Timothy McCarthy, two of Mayor Daley's most senior aides, and two sanitation officials for what the New York Times described at the time as running "City Hall's legendary patronage machine" :
Prosecutors said Mr. Sorich and Mr. McCarthy had concocted "blessed lists" of preselected winners for certain jobs and promotions based on political work or union sponsorship. The scheme involved sham interviews, falsified ratings forms and the destruction of files to cover it up, they said.
* * * (See also Freddoso, pp. 20-26, discussing the broader pattern of bribery, shakedowns, corruption in city employment and contracting, you name it). Yet Daley, preparing for his 2007 re-election bid, had one voice spinning furiously to direct attention away from the rampant corruption: the man Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet calls "Mayor Daley's key adviser" - David Axelrod, better known now nationally as the guiding strategist and campaign manager for Obama's presidential campaign. (The NY Times: "'David Axelrod's mostly been visible in Chicago in the last decade as Daley's public relations strategist and the guy who goes on television to defend Daley from charges of corruption,' Dick Simpson, a former Chicago alderman who is now chairman of the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told me.") Freddoso (p. 23 & n. 72) cites a 2005 Philadelphia Inquirer article in which Axelrod declared, a la Mario Cuomo denying the existence of the Mafia, that "The so-called 'machine' doesn't exist anymore."
As Freddoso recounts (p. 26), while Daley's position remained strong, he faced two black opponents in the 2007 primary, so an endorsement from the popular Obama would help remove any remaining obstacles to re-election. * Moreover, as NPR noted at the time, before those weaker challengers stepped up, there had been "talk that the corruption issue would lead to some big-name Democrat challenging him this year (Congressmen Jesse Jackson Jr. and/or Luis Gutierrez had been mentioned)" - and Jackson, as we know, is a key Obama ally. But unlike Sean Parnell's Palin-backed challenge to Don Young in Alaska, Obama apparently didn't persuade Jackson to run, and may not even have tried. Instead, Obama endorsed Daley, and Daley endorsed Obama for president. One hand washes the other.
Notably, Obama's one serious intra-party battle in Chicago, his primary challenge to Congressman Bobby Rush in 2000, followed on the heels of Rush challenging Mayor Daley in the primary in 1999 *. David Ignatius of the Washington Post says that Obama was "[p]rodded by the Daley machine" into that race.
In 2006, the Cook County Board President, John Stroger, faced near-daily chronicling of the incompetence, scandal, and patronage under his administration. These revelations included not only the typical employment of family members and friends, but more disturbingly what one Chicago newspaper referred to as a "catalogue of horrors" at a County hospital and what another uncovered at the Juvenile Detention Center where staff encouraged fights among the youth in "the gladiator room". Although normally untouchable, challenging Stroger was a formidable reform candidate, Forrest Claypool, who had been endorsed by every major paper in Chicago. This 'machine versus reform' race provided Obama with a seemingly tailored opportunity to demonstrate his new brand of politics and yet, although Claypool was a senior advisor to him during his Senate race, Obama chose not antagonize the machine and remained silent throughout the campaign, even after Stroger suffered a debilitating stroke a week before the election. Following Stroger's victory (52% to 48%), local committeemen selected Stroger's son, Todd, to replace him on the general election ballot, and despite general voter outrage over this cynical act of nepotism, Obama immediately embraced Todd Stroger, calling him a "a good progressive Democrat" who will "lead us into a new era of Cook County government." To no one's surprise, since winning the general election, Todd Stroger has hired a plethora of family members and friends, while slashing essential positions and services, including nurses and law enforcement officials, and proposing massive tax increases. When asked about the situation at the County under Todd Stroger, Obama said he was not following it, something he apparently has the luxury to ignore.
* * (See Obama's letter supporting Todd Stroger here). Remember Todd Stroger next time someone asks you what Obama's definition of "progressive" is. And note once again the contrast between Obama's embrace of Todd Stroger and Palin's endorsement of a primary challenger to Lisa Murkowski. Why did Obama sit out the primary and back Todd Stroger in the general? Maybe because Obama doesn't like to rock the boat with powerful machines (How powerful are the Strogers in Chicago? Cook County Hospital is now named John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital) Maybe because Obama's close friends were also Stroger's - besides Stroger's alliance with Mayor Daley, Tony "Rezko had served as John Stroger's finance chairman and raised $150,000 for him (Stroger put Rezko's wife on the county payroll)." Or maybe because the Strogers are black and Forrest Claypool is white. No matter how you slice it, Obama put his stamp of approval on Stroger control of Cook County.
But wait! The hits keep on coming. The Tribune again:
In the 2006 Democratic primary... Obama endorsed first-time candidate Alexi Giannoulias for state treasurer despite reports about loans Giannoulias' family-owned Broadway Bank made to crime figures. Records show Giannoulias and his family had given more than $10,000 to Obama's campaign, which banked at Broadway.
Giannoulias spoke for Obama at the 2008 Convention. Bad decision? It is rumored that Tony Rezko is now talking to the feds about Giannoulias and his family (Ed Morrissey collects those reports and more background on Giannoulias here).
Freddoso also notes, at p. 19-20, Obama's 2007 endorsement of Dorothy Tillman, a corrupt, race-baiting Alderman who once brandished a gun at a city council meeting - the Chicago Tribune noted that when Obama endorsed her, Tillman "was then under fire for her stewardship of the scandal-plagued Harold Washington Cultural Center, where contracts benefited members of her family" - what mattered was that she had endorsed Obama in 2004. *
Then there's Obama's 2004 endorsement of his poker buddy State Senator Larry Walsh, a guy Obama liked so much he put thousands of Obama volunteers to work campaigning for Walsh. Walsh is now a lobbyist, and Obama has requested $6 million in earmarks for his client. And now, Walsh is under FBI investigation. (As it happens, Walsh was also tied to a Rezko construction project).
Freddoso cites this Ryan Lizza piece quoting an Obama ally:
[Obama] recognizes that Daley is a powerful man and to have him as an ally is important. While he was a state senator here and moving around in Chicago, he made sure to minimize the direct confrontational approach to people of influence and policymakers and civic leaders.
Barack Obama take on the people who run the machine? Not a chance. He'd have to stop endorsing them first.
(5) Rezko and Friends
Yet another of Obama's closest and earliest political supporters is Tony Rezko, who was convicted in June in federal court in Chicago of corrupting the government of Illinois.
[In 1999, E.J.] Dionne wrote about a young Barack Obama, who artfully explained how the new pinstripe patronage worked: a politician rewards the law firms, developers, and brokerage houses with contracts, and in return they pay for the new ad campaigns necessary for reelection. "They do well, and you get a $5 million to $10 million war chest," Obama told Dionne. It was a classic Obamaism: superficially critical of some unseemly aspect of the political process without necessarily forswearing the practice itself.
Following the M.O. he explained to Dionne, Barack Obama went out of his way to do favors for Rezko, writing to federal and state officials to get Rezko a lucrative contract to build senior citizen housing:
The deal included $855,000 in development fees for Rezko and his partner, Allison S. Davis, Obama's former boss, according to records from the project, which was four blocks outside Obama's state Senate district.
Among the direct benefits to Obama in return, from his alliance with Rezko? Well, Rezko was in the business of demanding state jobs for people he favored, sending Gov. Blagojevich (who was identified in the indictment of Rezko as "Public Official A" under Rezko's corrupt influence) a list of 39 people he wanted jobs given to - including "two people who appear to have Obama links and a third who's now an Obama presidential campaign staffer." A very valuable thing to have in politics, a man who will arrange jobs for your campaign staff between campaigns.
Obama also got significant campaign contributions from Rezko: "Over the years, Rezko, Mahru, their wives and businesses have given more than $50,000 to Obama's campaign funds, records show. And Rezko has helped raise millions more." Rezko's corruption also extended into Iraq; federal prosecutors have argued that Rezko paid a $1.5 million bribe to get a contract in Iraq, which naturally involved yet another kickback donation to Obama. (Rezko's corrupt Iraq connections included still seedier and more ominous figures including a Saddam-linked billionaire, although efforts to tie the Iraqi connections to Obama have been speculative at best). To say nothing of a $10,000 contribution in 2004 funded by a recipient of a $250,000 kickback from a corrupt Rezko deal, from a donor whose son was then awarded an internship in Obama's U.S. Senate office.
Rezko, in fact, himself offered Obama a job straight out of law school in 1991:
He once told the Chicago Tribune that he had briefly considered becoming a developer of affordable housing. But after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1991, he turned down a job with Tony Rezko's development company, Rezmar, choosing instead to work at the civil rights law firm Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, then led by Allison Davis.
When Obama opened his campaign for state Senate in 1995, Rezko's companies gave Obama $2,000 on the first day of fund-raising. Save for a $500 contribution from another lawyer, Obama didn't raise another penny for six weeks. Rezko had essentially seeded the start of Obama's political career.
Rezko's projects were not so beneficial to the not-so-well-connected citizens who lived in them, and his predations victimized Obama's own constituents who were left to live in decrepit housing - and other close Obama allies were similarly involved in developing substandard housing projects:
Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama's presidential campaign and a member of his finance committee. Jarrett is the chief executive of Habitat Co., which managed Grove Parc Plaza from 2001 until this winter and co-managed an even larger subsidized complex in Chicago that was seized by the federal government in 2006, after city inspectors found widespread problems.
Over the next nine years [1989-98], Rezmar used more than $87 million in government grants, loans, and tax credits to renovate about 1,000 apartments in 30 Chicago buildings. Companies run by the partners also managed many of the buildings, collecting government rent subsidies.
Where was Obama?
Eleven of Rezmar's buildings were located in the district represented by Obama, containing 258 apartments. The building without heat in January 1997, the month Obama entered the state Senate, was in his district. So was Jones's building with rats in the walls and Frizzell's building that lacked insulation. And a redistricting after the 2000 Census added another 350 Rezmar apartments to the area represented by Obama.
* Doug Ross has a great photo essay on Obama's blind eye towards Rezko's abuses. You can read the Obama campaign's decidedly lawyerly responses here (Sample: "Senator Obama did follow up on constituency complaints about housing as matter of routine. Further questions about their condition should be addressed to the CHA [Chicago Housing Authority]. It is our understanding that, according to CHA, the buildings owned by Rezmar were maintained in good condition and good standing." Because, you know, the Chicago government is always diligent and trustworthy where guys like Rezko are concerned.)
Obama, while on the board of the charitable Woods Fund, steered $1 million to Davis. He was, of course, not just a low-income housing developer but also the boss who had given Obama a job out of law school:
Obama began serving on the Woods Fund board in 1993, the same year he was hired as an associate lawyer with Davis' small Chicago law firm, Davis Miner Barnhill. Obama kept working there until he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004.
The grant to Davis is intertwined with Obama's effort to steer taxpayer money to Rezko:
As a developer, Davis' partners have included Tony Rezko, the now-indicted political fund-raiser who has been among Obama's biggest political supporters.
Consider what Obama got out of working for Davis' firm. In 2007, during the primaries, Obama cracked at John Edwards' expense that his preference for making change rather than money was "why I didn't become a trial lawyer." But of course Obama was, technically, employed by a trial-lawyer firm, and participated in class action filings against big corporations. But in so many ways, the job seems to have been little more than a sinecure for an aspiring politician - hence the time off to run a voter-registration drive to help a Democrat get elected to the US Senate, hence the time off to go to Indonesia to finish his book, hence keeping him on the part-time payroll while in the State Senate, hence Obama's secrecy about what particular clients he represented.
As for Rezko, he too was no ordinary donor or bundler for Obama; it was Rezko whose help was necessary to help Obama buy his home, the place where his wife sleeps and his children play with their toys:
Two years ago, Obama bought a mansion on the South Side, in the Kenwood neighborhood, from a doctor. On the same day, Rezko's wife, Rita Rezko, bought the vacant lot next door from the same seller. The doctor had listed the properties for sale together. He sold the house to Obama for $300,000 below the asking price. The doctor got his asking price on the lot from Rezko's wife.
* In fact, the adjacent property fairly clearly was not of any independent use to Rezko. Basically, Rezko's wife's purchase of the lot had no purpose other than to subsidize Obama's mansion. A payoff that hits, literally, close to home for Obama.
Patrick Fitzgerald's prosecutorial net has been closing of late around Rezko and his corrupt circle. Gov. Blagojevich has admitted that he's been interviewed multiple times by federal investigators. (Naturally, Obama endorsed Blagojevich's re-election in 2006). Rezko is now talking to federal prosecutors, and federal investigators apparently now think they have enough to indict Gov. Blagojevich himself. * "[F]ederal agents are preparing charges of tax fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice against the governor... involving alleged trading of jobs for five-figure campaign donations" and Blagojevich's wife receiving "$200,000 in real estate commissions - some on deals done with the convicted Tony Rezko [that] allegedly coincided with the award of state contracts by her husband's administration" Even some Illinois Democrats have had talk of impeaching Blagojevich. *
« Close It
POLITICS: Obama and the Integrity Gap: The Favor Factory
Chapter six of seven.
E. The Favor Factory
With the expansion of federal intervention in the economy that will inevitably follow the current financial crisis - ranging from the $700 billion financial industry bailout to the $25 billion auto industry bailout to the federal government investing billions directly in major banks - there will be even more opportunities than usual for the next Administration to use federal dollars to reward friends and cronies instead of serving the taxpayers. Indeed, House Democrats tried in the bailout package to earmark proceeds to go to Obama's old friends at ACORN, and succeeded in subsidizing ACORN in the housing bill that passed in July. It's important that the next White House be resistant to opening the favor factory for business.
Senator Obama now claims that he will be a good steward of federal taxpayer money - such a good steward, in fact, that he'll be able to cut spending enough to offset every dollar of his many hundreds of billions of dollars of planned new spending programs. But his record throughout his career shows him to be a man who has always been quite liberal in every sense of the word in using public money and private charitable money to reward his friends, and who is wholly disinclined to saying "no." Obama knows how the favor factory works, and he isn't shy about using it.
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(1) Pork and Earmarks
As I noted in Part I of this series, one of the major controversies of the last several years in American politics has been pork barrel spending, and specifically "earmarks" - legislative directions that money be routed to particular projects. Earmarks are not an enormous part of the budget - in the last debate, Obama dismissed $18 billion as being basically chump change - but they contribute to governmental bloat, and more problematically the reasons why politicians like directing money to benefit particular people often get them in ethical or legal trouble.
As I also discussed in Part I, on the most notorious pork project in recent years, Obama voted against Tom Coburn's effort to strip funding from the "Bridge to Nowhere" and send it to victims of Hurricane Katrina, presumably out of fear that such a vote would bring down retaliation on his own pork barrel. That said, Obama does deserve some credit on one corner of Coburn's Porkbusters campaign: when Coburn needed a Democratic sponsor in 2006, Obama stepped up and co-sponsored the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, a/k/a the Coburn-Obama bill, capping off the Porkbusters crusade for earmark transparency by creating an internet database of federal spending requests; as I wrote at the time:
H. Res. 1000 and the Coburn-Obama bills don't cut a dime by themselves, but anybody who knows Washington can tell you that changing the procedures is half the battle; by providing increased public and media oversight over earmarks and pork-barrel spending - as well as simply a better mechanism for Members to see what they are voting on and at whose behest - the rule and the bill together provide a first step towards getting the pork problem under at least the beginnings of control.
While the indefatigable Coburn carried the laboring oar on the bill - as he did in the battle against the Bridge to Nowhere - Obama certainly deserves some credit for co-sponsoring it, a move that was not entirely popular in the Senate or within his own caucus. Of course, the main opposition at the time was Old Bull GOP Senators like Ted Stevens and Trent Lott, not exactly Obama's best buddies. In any event, Obama's record on the spending itself is nonetheless poor.
For his Senate career, Obama has requested nearly $1 billion in earmarked spending all by himself, "$931.3-million... nearly a million dollars for every [working] day that Obama's been in the United States Senate." Obama repeatedly voted against Coburn's initiatives to rein in pork and earmarks, including an effort to re-route bike path funding to bridge safety after the bridge collapse in Minnesota. Looking at the watchdog groups that follow this stuff (these are conservative groups, but they don't hesitate to take on Republicans who go astray on these issues), Citizens Against Government Waste gave Obama a lifetime rating of 22 out of 100, and the Club for Growth rated him a 33 out of 100 for 2007. And the earmarking was already a habit from his State Senate days, as "Obama doled out more than $3.6 million in state grants in just the last half of his state legislative career, records show...Records from 1997 to 2000 weren't available." Another report states that "Obama awarded about $6 million for everything from literacy programs and park improvements to drill team uniforms and jazz appreciation events."
When you turn to specific cases, Obama's record doesn't get prettier:
+In 2001, Obama was desperate for cash after maxing out his credit cards to cover debts from his unsuccessful run for Congress. Enter the kind of donor who seems to come out of the woodwork whenever Obama needs help:
Chicago entrepreneur Robert Blackwell Jr. paid Obama an $8,000-a-month retainer to give legal advice to his growing technology firm, Electronic Knowledge Interchange. It allowed Obama to supplement his $58,000 part-time state Senate salary for over a year with regular payments from Blackwell's firm that eventually totaled $112,000.
Yes, that's right: taxpayer money for ping-pong tournaments. All for the greater good of retiring Obama's campaign debts. How critical was the money from Blackwell to Obama's financial well-being?
Obama's tax returns show that he made no money from his law practice in 2000, the year of his unsuccessful run for a congressional seat. But that changed in 2001, when Obama reported $98,158 income for providing legal services. Of that, $80,000 was from Blackwell's company.
+Obama rewarded Fr. Pfleger with a $225,000.00 earmark for programs at Pfleger's church when Obama was a State Senator, and "Pfleger gave Obama's campaign $1,500 between 1995 and 2001, including $200 in April 2001, about three months after Obama announced $225,000 in grants to St. Sabina programs."
+"Englewood got $100,000 for its botanical garden even though it was outside of his state Senate district. Obama needed votes from the neighborhood when he ran for Congress - but after he lost, he reneged on a promise to complete the project. Nothing but a plywood gazebo and a field of weeds sits on the garden plot now."
In 2001...Obama steered $75,000 to a South Side charity called FORUM Inc., which promised to help churches and community groups get wired to the Internet. Records show five FORUM employees, including one who had declared bankruptcy, had donated $1,000 apiece to Obama's state Senate campaign.
His campaign's list said the senator had secured $1.3 million of an $8 million request in 2006 for a high-explosive technology program for the Army's Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The list said the program was overseen by General Dynamics.
And there's more
Senator Obama's ties to the Crowns run deeper than one corporate earmark. Paula and Lester Crown are also both directors of the Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, an organization for which Senator Obama has requested a total of $7 million in earmarks since 2006. The first was a request for $4 million in 2006 to fund the Children's Memorial Medical Center's Electronic Medical Record Project, and the second was a request for $3 million in 2008 to build an intensive care unit. All told, one third of the directors at CMH, including the Crowns, have donated $95,124 to Barack Obama’s senate campaign, and $119,137 to his presidential campaign. These include Director Vicki Heyman, who along with her husband is a prominent Democratic fundraiser and bundler for the Obama campaign. In total, bundlers on the CMH board and their relatives, the Crowns included, have raised and pledged a total of at least $1.15 million for Obama for America. To top it all off, James Crown and his wife Paula are both bundlers for the presidential campaign, and are members of his National Finance Committee. James Crown was also on Barack Obama's 2004 campaign finance committee, and is currently co-chair of his Illinois finance committee.
+As McCain has noted, Obama in 2008 managed to snag more than $3 million in federal dollars for a projector for a planetarium in Chicago, after requesting $300,000 for the same project in 2006. How'd they get his attention? "The Chairman and two of the Vice Chairman of the Adler Planetarium Board of Trustees raised a total of almost $250,000 for Sen. Obama's 2008 Presidential campaign. The Adler Planetarium was probably pleasantly surprised when they found that their earmark increased by $2.7 million dollars, in other words, by a factor of ten." *
In contrast to the tough and unpopular line-item veto decisions made by Sarah Palin even in good budgetary times in Alaska, Obama's spending record in Illinois shows a man incapable of saying "no" to domestic spending, even stealing a famous 1999 line from George W. Bush (I noted this previously here):
In a 2007 speech to Al Sharpton's National Action Network (NAN), Obama touted his Illinois legislative experience and challenged members of Sharpton's group to find a candidate with a better record of supporting the issues they cared about. ...Intrigued by Obama's challenge to Sharpton's group, Randolph Burnside, a professor of political science, and Kami Whitehurst, a doctoral candidate, both at the Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, decided to put Obama's Illinois record to the test. The two scholars made a study of bills sponsored and cosponsored by Obama during his Illinois State Senate career.
Obama hasn't been better in Washington - to pick one egregious example, he voted for the appalling farm bill. Obama remains a major supporter of the ethanol boondoggle (see Freddoso pp. 92-93) - the issue on which every major presidential candidate but John McCain has kowtowed in order to compete in the Iowa caucus - and perhaps not coincidentally, Obama is very closely tied to the ethanol industry, and "briefly provoked a controversy by flying at subsidized rates on corporate airplanes, including twice on jets owned by Archer Daniels Midland, which is the nation's largest ethanol producer and is based in his home state." (Now it turns out that even his vaunted "95%" tax cut plan consists largely not of tax cuts but of disguised social welfare spending, by cutting checks to people who currently pay no taxes.)
You are probably familiar by now with Obama's role in joining with Senate Democrats to resist needed reforms of the government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the role that played in the current housing crisis, as well as Obama's status as the largest annual recipient of Fannie/Freddie campaign cash, his tabbing of one Fannie CEO to head his veep vetting process and another's role (if you believe him) as an Obama economic advisor. *
Some may view this as somehow an odd coincidence, that Obama was so especially popular with these enterprises. But if you have read this far, you've undoubtedly noticed how many of Obama's shady associations and grubby favors have involved housing interests. Obama's in this all the way. For example, Obama's old friends at ACORN likewise have their hands in the subprime debacle:
ACORN Housing Corporation (AHC) was beyond knee-deep in the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac failures which have riveted our economy. Promoting an ACORN housing development in Texas on its website in 2006, ACORN boasted "in addition to providing access to AHP grants, ACORN's lending partners provide low cost, easier to qualify for mortgage loans."
* Or consider this April 1995 Chicago Sun-Times description of ACORN's pitch to home buyers at a time when Obama was pushing his foundations to expand funding for ACORN: "You've got only a couple thousand bucks in the bank. Your job pays you dog-food wages. Your credit history has been bent, stapled, and mutilated. You declared bankruptcy in 1989. Don't despair: You can still buy a house." The Stanley Kurtz article has much more on ACORN's specific efforts to influence Fannie and Freddie to loosen credit standards for subprime housing loans, including this:
This sweeping debasement of credit standards was touted by Fannie Mae's chairman, chief executive officer, and now prominent Obama adviser James A. Johnson. This is also the period [1993-95] when Fannie Mae ramped up its pilot programs and local partnerships with ACORN, all of which became precedents and models for the pattern of risky subprime mortgages at the root of today's crisis. During these years, Obama's Chicago ACORN ally, Madeline Talbott, was at the forefront of participation in those pilot programs, and her activities were consistently supported by Obama through both foundation funding and personal leadership training for her top organizers.
And of course, Obama in private practice participated in litigation against a major national bank to force them to extend more loans to minorities (I have no doubt that the borrowers he represented were not prime borrowers or the bank would have been much happier for their business). *
(4) Cycles of Money
As should be clear from the discussion of his ties to radicals, Obama has also benefitted from the support of those to whom he directed private funds entrusted to him. During his time on the Woods Fund board, he spread cash around to many community organizations, and lo and behold:
Dozens of the board members and officials from these organizations in turn would donate money, in many instances up to the legal limit, for Obama's Senate and Presidential races between 2004 and 2008.
(5) Racial Favoritism
Obama in Chicago was likewise a strong proponent of using strict race-based quotas and set-asides to steer government contracting along racial lines, a practice that catered to the narrowest and most provincial interests of his constituents:
In 2004, a U.S. District Court disallowed the ordinance under which Chicago required the use of at least 25 percent minority business enterprises and 5 percent women's business enterprises on city-funded projects. In the immediate aftermath of the ruling, Obama and Jesse Jackson were among the prominent voices calling for a black leadership summit to plot strategy for a restoration of Chicago's construction quotas. Obama and his allies succeeded in bringing back race-based contracting.
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POLITICS: Obama and the Integrity Gap: "New Politics," Principled Positions, and Conclusion
Chapter seven of seven.
F. "New Politics" In Old Wineskin
Obama's supporters like to shift the conversation away from his record at all costs and focus on his campaign. One of the principal themes of that campaign has been his commitment to "a 'new politics for a new time' shorn of partisanship and division," exemplified by a higher standard of integrity in campaigning, what John Dickerson of Slate called "a national seminar for 16 months on changing politics and shedding the old insider way of doing things." Frankly, I pity anyone who was ever foolish enough to believe in that, but at any rate, even if you leave aside the traditional "who lied more and said meaner things about who," you can see that Obama's campaign has repeatedly broken the very promises that underpinned the "new politics" theme:
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+Obama claims not to take money from lobbyists, but he's basically playing word games:
[H]e takes money from lobbyists' spouses and holds fundraisers at the offices of law firms that lobby Congress. He won't touch money from PACs or lobbyists representing big oil and drug companies, but he happily accepts huge amounts of money from executives at those companies and many others. In fact, he's relying on two oil company executives to raise $50,000 apiece for his campaign.
+Jake Tapper has noted that Obama's recent push to talk about McCain's involvement in the "Keating Five" scandal in the 1980s contradicts Obama's assertion earlier in the campaign that the Keating Five story was "not germane to the presidency." (This, while calling in Keating Five member John Glenn to stump for Obama in Ohio).
Obama has also been in hot water lately for doing nothing to prevent potentially illegal campaign donations, including possibly from foreign sources. Now, I'm not much of a starry-eyed idealist about this sort of thing, so I won't pretend for your benefit to be scandalized by Obama acting exactly like a conventional politician on a bunch of political-process issues. But once again, Obama's repeated abandonment of his prior promises on these sorts of issues reminds us yet again how malleable Obama is when it comes to any principle that stands in the way of his political self-interest.
G. Barack Obama, Man of Principle?
(1) Keep Left to Avoid The Traffic
As John McCain has now noted multiple times in their debates with no response from Senator Obama, Obama has never bucked his own party or its major interest groups in any significant way on any significant issue. Now, I'm a great believer in taking principled stands and having a coherent philosophy; the mere fact of being ideologically consistent is not necessarily in and of itself a character flaw. In fact, in a politician who is willing to take difficult stands on principle it can be positive proof of integrity.
But in Obama's case, his unwillingness to confront his own party and supporters on the issues raises two questions about his character. The first is that his career has insulated him from ever having to take a tough position and hold it under fire; until the current general election, he has never faced a contested election against a Republican or faced any real push-back from the Right (previously the only candidate to test him from his right was Hillary Clinton...think about that one a while). We have little enough evidence that Obama's positions are, or are not, deeply held convictions he would hold to at any political peril - like so much about him, they are untested. What we do know is that Obama's flurry of flip-flops this summer, most notoriously his craven capitulation on the FISA bill he had pledged to draw a line in the sand on, combined with his continuing effort in the debates to recast himself as a tax-cutter, spending-cutter and foreign policy hawk and his outright obfuscation of his position on the Born-Alive Infant Protection bill in Illinois, suggests that Obama's not actually all that willing to openly defend controversial positions.
Second, it is positively contradictory for Obama's supporters to argue that (1) his extensive ties to left-wing radicals were some sort of disingenuous camoflauge, and at the same time that (2) his rigidly left-wing voting record in public office is the mark of sincere high principle. Maybe Obama has a hardline left-wing record and far-left friends because that's who he really is, and maybe he has both because that's who he wanted to be to his constituents - but it's not plausible to separate the two.
In the absence of any battles against his own side or even any principled risks taken for his own side, most odes to Obama's judgment, character and principles begin and end with his opposition to the Iraq War - his 2002 war speech and his 2007-08 primary campaign as the sole principled anti-war candidate:
In a September 26, 2007, debate at Dartmouth College, Obama congratulated himself for "telling the truth to the American people even when it's tough, which I did in 2002, standing up against this war at a time where it was very unpopular. And I was risking my political career, because I was in the middle of a U.S. Senate race."
Obama's best shot at the  Democratic [Senate] nomination involved consolidating a coalition of lakefront liberals and African Americans. "He knew, and I knew, that the liberal progressives were key in any Democratic primary," says Dan Shomon, Obama's then-campaign manager...though it may have been unpopular to oppose the war in Washington, that was not the case among liberals in Chicago--among the first cities to pass an antiwar resolution. (Obama also had an interest in pleasing Saltzman [the organizer of the 2002 rally]. The spunky grandmother was an important local ally who has since raised more than $50,000 for his campaign.)
In the African-American community -- which is paid scant attention by national media -- anecdotal evidence and polling suggest there is heightened concern about the administration's credibility and the wisdom of this war. According to a new Gallup Poll, 68 percent of African-Americans now oppose the war.
And his 2002 speech pandered to that view, even pressing some decidedly anti-Semitic notes. Of course, after giving that one speech, Obama basically disappeared from the war debate without a trace; if you were listing the nation's loudest voices against the war in 2002 and 2003, you'd run through thousands of names before you reached Obama. From 2004 through the fall of 2006, Obama was essentially grudgingly in support of finishing the job in Iraq, and refused even to say flatly that he'd have voted against the war, telling the Chicago Tribune in July 2004, "[t]here's not that much difference between my position and George Bush's position at this stage." * As he pivoted to the general election in 2004, before Ryan flamed out, Obama denied that he'd ever called for withdrawal from Iraq. Only in January 2007, after the Democrats proved they could win Congressional elections with anti-war candidates and just weeks before launching his primary campaign, did Obama come out as a full-throated anti-warrior. In short, his Iraq position may never have encompassed a complete flip-flop, but it has surely tacked repeatedly with the political winds, and provides us no evidence of any particular principle or integrity on Obama's part.
H. Who Obama Isn't
Less than a month from the general election, we can say who Barack Obama isn't, but we still don't really know who he is. To be sure, Obama is to all appearances affable, a good speechmaker and a good family man, but when we look beyond talk to what the man has done, we find an awful lot not to like in such a short and parochial career.
Three times now in the debates, John McCain has challenged Obama to name an example of standing up to the vested interests on his own side or the leadership of his own party. Three times, Obama has failed to respond. Those of us who have studied his career know that that's because there is nothing he can say (the best David Axelrod could come up with was a Russ Feingold bill that passed the Senate 96-2). We can't know what Obama truly believes, and we haven't seen what it would take to get him to stand his ground under fire. We only know that time and again he's taken the path of least resistance with people who really needed someone to say "no" to them, and reaped the rewards of their favor.
A President Obama would be faced with many challenges and crises and tests, not a one of which he has ever passed. He would have the ability to appoint scores of people to federal executive, judicial and administrative agency jobs - what kind of people would he appoint to positions of responsibility? He would have control over vast quantities of federal spending - how would he spend it, how would he restrain spending, who would his spending and regulatory decisions benefit? Would he stand up to sleaze, to powerful vested interests that support his party, to ideological extremists? Can he be trusted to operate these vast powers when we know that a compliant Democratic Congress led by the likes of Charlie Rangel and Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi and John Conyers and Chris Dodd will have no motivation to provide meaningful oversight? Everything in his record tells us that he cannot. Obama supporters who tell you otherwise are simply wishcasting their own desires and ignoring his actual record. Because Barack Obama has no record of integrity. Only words, and people who badly want to believe them.
In Part III: McCain's battles; Biden's long tradition of existence in the Senate.
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October 12, 2008
POLITICS: Beldar on the Branchflower Report
I'll have more detail on this later in the week after I've finished with the big Obama post. In the meantime, here's Beldar, who has actually followed this story from the outset and has read the whole thing.
POLITICS: Obama Rumor Mill
If you go out on the web you will find with Barack Obama, as with any national political figure, a broad spectrum of charges ranging from the indisputably true to the undeniably crackpot, and plenty in between. Here's two of the hot recent ones that fall in the gray area, as well as one example of how the mainstream media can follow up on stuff like this.
This essay by Jack Cashill argues somewhat convincingly that Dreams of My Father had the assistance of a ghostwriter, and more speculatively that the ghostwriter was Bill Ayers. I don't know a lot about Cashill but the essay is basically in the category of "plausible but unproven speculation." On the upside, Cashill doesn't make any really uncheckable assertions of fact other than his linguistic analyses (which could presumably be rechecked by MSM sources), so you can apply your own judgment.
Then we have this report sourced out of the Daily Mail in London suggesting an extramarital affair by Obama. (H/T Ace, who applies the Andrew Sullivan standard). Aside from Clinton and Gary Hart, we've had rumors of this kind in the past with Kerry, McCain (aside from the known affairs on his first wife, that is), George H.W. Bush, Palin and John Edwards, and only the Edwards one panned out. I don't put much stock in this or think the media should report it without investigating and getting the facts right. But I would hope they do seriously investigate stuff like this even when it's about Obama.
Then we have this September 29 report from Ken Timmerman of Newsmax about Obama's lack of financial controls and resulting receipt of large numbers of shady and quite likely illegal campaign contributions, including from foreign sources. Newsmax is not the most credible of sources - I generally don't cite their work unless it can be corroborated - but Timmerman, too, made clear what his sources were (FEC records) and you had to wonder why no major media outlets had tried the same thing. Shamed by Newsmax, which the IHT version of this credits, the New York Times ran basically the same investigation and seems to have come to basically the same conclusion, albeit without bringing themselves to address the more problematic foreign-donor angle. But it's a key example of the major media lacking the initiative to do basic due diligence on Obama until a fringe-y right-wing source delivers them a completed story on a platter.
October 10, 2008
POLITICS: Not The ACORN He Knew
I'll cover this in more detail in a few days in Part II of my series on the Integrity Gap between the two tickets, but as the evidence mounts* of the involvement of the left-wing community organizer group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) in extensive voter fraud across multiple states, Barack Obama has tried to minimize his involvement with ACORN and the critical role it played in his rise in the world of the Chicago political machine.
Fact: Barack was never an ACORN community organizer.
As the Cleveland Leader points out, this is flatly contradicted by an article written by ACORN head Toni Foulkes, which was conveniently removed from the internet (a common practice in the drive to scrub all evidence of Obama's career prior to 2004) after it was quoted by Stanley Kurtz of the National Review and other sources, while the rest of the articles on the same site remain up:
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Obama then went on to run a voter registration project with Project VOTE in 1992 that made it possible for Carol Moseley Braun to win the Senate that year. Project VOTE delivered 50,000 newly registered voters in that campaign (ACORN delivered about 5,000 of them).
This stuff has been out there in plain sight, yet still Obama denies it:
As recently as March 2008, the Los Angeles Times also made reference to Barack Obama's involvement with ACORN:"At the time, Talbot worked at the social action group ACORN and initially considered Obama a competitor. But she became so impressed with his work that she invited him to help train her staff." (LA Times, March 2, 2008)
A 1995 Chicago Reader article on Obama stated "Obama continues his work largely through classes for future leaders identified by ACORN and the Centers for New Horizons."
During the 2008 Democrat primary, the Obama campaign paid Citizen Services Inc., a subsidiary of ACORN, more than $800,000, a payment that Obama's campaign somehow managed to misreport to the FEC
As of yet, we can only speculate about why Obama is lying about his involvement with ACORN, what other aspects of that relationship he has failed to disclose, and what other things have been conveniently "disappeared" from his Chicago past.
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October 8, 2008
POLITICS: Stay Class-Conscious, Barack Obama
From the annals of silly, and perhaps revealingly silly, arguments - an email from the Obama campaign following last night's debate repeats a line he's used before:
I will fight for the middle class every day, and -- once again -- Senator McCain didn't mention the middle class a single time during the debate.
It's true that Senator McCain didn't use the words "middle class." But let's go to the transcript and look at what he did say:
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I think you have to look at my record and you have to look at his. Then you have to look at our proposals for our economy, not $860 billion in new spending, but for the kinds of reforms that keep people in their jobs, get middle-income Americans working again, and getting our economy moving again.
So let's not raise anybody's taxes, my friends, and make it be very clear to you I am not in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy. I am in favor of leaving the tax rates alone and reducing the tax burden on middle-income Americans by doubling your tax exemption for every child from $3,500 to $7,000.
When he ran for the United States Senate from Illinois, he said he would have a middle-income tax cut. You know he came to the Senate and never once proposed legislation to do that?
That's right: on three occasions, McCain used the term "middle income" to describe Americans whose incomes are in the middle of the spectrum. Apparently, Senator McCain doesn't think in terms of dividing Americans by "class" or running to represent only one such class against others; he simply looks at income groupings to discuss how his plans will affect people at different income levels. He doesn't think of himself, being a wealthy man, as being in a different class of people than everybody else. In terms of language, the difference is subtle, and for most of us the terms are interchangeable...what is telling is how indignant Senator Obama is that McCain would not think in terms of class.
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October 7, 2008
POLITICS: The Second McCain-Obama Debate
Who won this one? Well, it depends where you stand, where you think the candidates stand, what they were trying to accomplish and whether you saw the first debate.
The elephant in the room for those of us who follow these things carefully - and for the candidates - was Obama's recent surge in the polls. Obviously that colors everything, in the sense that it creates the sense that McCain needs to slaughter Obama rather than just beat him on points. I think McCain did a better job in this debate than Obama did in several respects (slightly moreso than in the first debate, although much of the debate was almost literally a replay of the first debate) but if you think he needed to flatten Obama and utterly destroy him in a single night, he didn't do that. As in the first debate, both candidates basically did what they wanted to do, but I give the advantage to McCain mainly because he was much more able to throw Obama on the defensive and dominate the body language of the debate.
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As we have seen before, these two show the hallmarks of their professional training. Obama's a lawyer and an academic, and he prefers to leave no point unrebutted; McCain's a fighter pilot, so he prefers to be aggressive and throw his opponent off rythm. He's clearly the more belligerent debater. Also, McCain showed up looking to debate Obama, because he's running against Obama; Obama showed up looking to debate Bush, because he's running against Bush. Thus, Obama would often launch harsh, negative attacks against Bush and mention McCain as an afterthought, whereas McCain more consistently went directly after Obama's integrity, his accomplishments, and his promises. McCain prowled around the stage and left Obama literally complaining about keeping up with him - not the dynamic you'd expect given their ages - whereas Obama stuck more to the traditional Democratic script in focusing on emoting to the crowd (McCain was more interested in channeling the audience's anger).
(BTW, the townhall debates tend to favor the Democrats, since they tend to involve a lot of people asking for personal government solutions to their problems, although Bush excelled at the town hall in 2004 against Kerry, who was stiffer and less comfortable talking about the social issues that came up. If Palin ever runs at the top of the ticket, though, I could see her doing well in that format. McCain, of course, has traditionally excelled at town halls but in more wide-ranging formats).
Obama looked much more forlorn this time when McCain was talking, much less able to stand at his podium and smile. Undoubtedly that was partly due to the lack of podiums and partly due to the aggressiveness of McCain's early attacks, especially on the Fannie/Freddie stuff (when McCain mentioned cronyism he pointed at Obama). Obama also stammered more, though he's still doing better at this than earlier in the race, not trying to ad lib without a net.
Probably the highlight of the evening was McCain shaking hands with the Chief Petty Officer...you could tell, visibly, that McCain's voice dropped to a different range and he got more comfortable and more serious when talking about national security.
It's hard to add more to the foreign policy side of this debate, which largely and in some cases verbatim repeated the first debate (other than Obama saying "If we could have intervened effectively in the Holocaust, who among us would say that we had a moral obligation not to go in?" - hmmm, maybe we should have sent troops to Europe in the 1940s to stop Hitler...) The big opening Obama created that McCain hit but never quite exploited was the fact that Obama's willing to consider going in to countries with military force for humanitarian purposes, like Clinton or Woodrow Wilson, but he lacks the willingness to stay until the job is done. That is the real lesson of the debate about the surge in Iraq (McCain again successfully called out Obama's inability to admit error on that one, drawing no response). Which of course is why McCain opposed interventions in the first place in places like Lebanon and Somalia where we didn't have the willingness to take sides, stay and fight to the finish.
Other than McCain's new plan to buy up and renegotiate mortgages (which is rather more government than I can ever get comfortable with), probably the weakest point of the night for McCain, and the one where Obama really did give a better answer, was on priorities; even when I backed McCain in 2000, I thought George W. Bush did a better job of realistically setting and ranking priorities. Obama took the Bush path in that sense tonight, and I do tip my hat to him for that. (Although you will note that he basically all but dropped entitlements off the list)
On the Fannie/Freddie issue McCain roared out of the gate well, but he could probably have used to hit that one a second time, since he really does need to hammer home his theme on that point. Unfortunately, that sort of sustained negative assault is hard to carry in the townhall format. McCain also kept up his theme of looking beyond the rhetoric to the record...Obama also never responded to McCain pointing out that Obama's never taken on his own party, since there's nothing he could say.
We did get a number of sharp contrasts tonight. On GSE reform, McCain supported legislation; Obama wrote some letters. McCain sees health care as a responsibility and favors choice and a national market, and wants to decouple health care from employemnt, Obama sees it as a right, prefers state mandates on the contents of plans, and won't answer McCain's questions about the penalties for non-participation. McCain wants a spending freeze and to take a hatchet to the budget; Obama is proposing massive new spending (he claims he'll offset the many billions in new spending with cuts in...oh, nobody really believes that) and prefers a scalpel. I think a lot of voters would like to see somebody take a hatchet to the budget for once. Obama wants to stress energy conservation, McCain more drilling and nuclear. Obama wants a "Volunteer Corps" and WPA-style highway projects as jobs programs.
Obama was clearly hugely relieved that there were no questions about Bill Ayers, as his campaign's panicked tone whenever they deal with the issue suggests concern that he's genuinely vulnerable on that point.
Both gave solid closings, McCain's was better but different.
Naturally, it's always hard to evaluate these things free of your own views as a partisan, and hard as well to avoid dwelling on the additional things that could have been said. Clearly, this was a strong performance by McCain and an OK one by Obama. Probably, given the dynamics of the race, Obama is happier with that outcome.
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POLITICS: Hey, Big Spender
Stanley Kurtz has been doing tremendous work on Obama's ties to Bill Ayers lately, but his examination of Obama's Chicago years doesn't end there. Given the sharp contrast presented by the first debate - when John McCain called for across the board spending cuts to tighten our collective belts for the coming recession, while Obama's effort to answer the same question found him launching into a barrage of new spending he intends to promote - it's useful to look back at Kurtz's reportage on Obama's spending record as a State Senator:
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In a 2007 speech to Al Sharpton's National Action Network (NAN), Obama touted his Illinois legislative experience and challenged members of Sharpton's group to find a candidate with a better record of supporting the issues they cared about... Intrigued by Obama's challenge to Sharpton's group, Randolph Burnside, a professor of political science, and Kami Whitehurst, a doctoral candidate, both at the Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, decided to put Obama's Illinois record to the test. The two scholars made a study of bills sponsored and cosponsored by Obama during his Illinois State Senate career.
And here is how Obama responded to the fiscal mess he had helped create:
A watershed moment in Illinois's fiscal decline came in 2002, when crashing receipts and Democratic reluctance to enact spending cuts forced Republican governor George Ryan to call a special legislative session. While Ryan railed at legislators for refusing to rein in an out-of-control budget, the Chicago Tribune spoke ominously of an "all-consuming state budget crisis." Unwilling to cut back on social welfare spending, Obama's chief partner and political mentor, senate Democratic leader Emil Jones, came up with the idea of borrowing against the proceeds of a windfall tobacco lawsuit settlement due to the state.
This was why as recently as last spring, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich was pushing the largest tax increase in Illinois history, which proved too much even for Obama's former colleagues. If there's one thing Obama is absolutely not prepared to do, it's cut spending in tough budgetary times.
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POLITICS: Obama: Yeah, OK, Maybe I Kinda Sorta Did Know Ayers Was A Terrorist
In light of the mounting common-sense evidence of the total implausibility of Barack Obama's claim to have not known that Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn were not just terrorists but nationally famous terrorists when he worked with Ayers in the mid-1990s (including funnelling millions of dollars to left-wing "education" projects under Ayers' control, giving a favorable blurb to Ayers' book, and holding a crucial reception to launch Obama's political career at Ayers' home), Obama campaign manager David Axelrod is now partially backing down on what Obama knew but continuing to deny when he knew it:
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So when did Obama learn that Ayers, now an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was a founding member of the militant Weather Underground in the 1960s?
Of course, it was always laughable for Obama to claim that he, a guy who went to a Stokely Carmicheal lecture in college, was represented in Congress by a former Black Panther, and immersed himself in college in "neocolonialism, Franz Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy" and wrote in 1995 of wanting an edgier brand of friends than "so-called campus radicals, most of them white and tenured and happily tolerated," would have no idea who Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn really were.
As always with these guys, Obama supporters like Paul Begala are pushing McCain's ties to a guy they claim is the equivalent of Ayers, John Singlaub, who is...wait for it......"a decorated retired Army major general with a background in special operations and intelligence." Well, that does, in fact, tell us just as much about who McCain hangs with as Ayers does for Obama, doesn't it? Could you pick a more perfect example, short of when they were blasting McCain for associating with Bud Day, America's most highly decorated living veteran?
The gist of the charge against Singlaub seems to be that his organization was criticized for becoming a gathering place for anti-Semitic cranks and the like, but even the Politico piece admits that "Singlaub eventually won some praise from the anti-defamation group for working to purge those elements from the league." Other than that it's an attempt to refight the Iran-Contra brouhaha. Nice try.
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POLITICS: 10/7/08 Quick Links
*As Glenn Reynolds would say, they told me that if George W. Bush was re-elected, billionaires would have a veto over political speech...you really should watch that SNL skit if you can before it is deep-sixed permanently. It's so rare for late-night comedy to take on the Democrats' policies, rather than just gingerly needling their personalities.
*Via Ace, we have Patterico on the track of an LA Times report that simultaneously refused to report McCain's criticisms of Obama on the economic crisis while accusing McCain of being afraid to talk about the economic crisis. I heard a radio report last night on WINS that did exactly the same thing - it quoted McCain and Palin's lines about Obama's integrity but not McCain's specific factual charges about Obama and the economy, accused them of "dredging up dirt" and then pivoted to Obama talking about the economy...you could not make this stuff up. It's why McCain needs to do his own dirty work tonight.
*On the other hand, thumbs up to CNN for this, which calls out Obama's untruths about Bill Ayers, and includes new reporting quoting Alice Palmer, the leftist state senator who Obama succeeded in office:
The Obama camp and its media allies have used a couple of rhetorical strategies to deal with this. One is to talk solely about occasional meetings; believe nothing you hear from anyone who refuses to address Stanley Kurtz's reporting (which CNN actually reveals here) on Obama steering millions of dollars to Ayers' left-wing "educational" programs. Another is to claim that Ayers and Dohrn were somehow obscure figures (who just happened to be profiled periodically by national newspapers) and that Obama had no reason to know they were terrorists...of course, even aside from the fact that their background was well known in Hyde Park, Erick at RedState notes the extensive publicity about the Weather Underground at the time of the 1996 Democratic Convention in Chicago, and there's also the fact that Obama was living in New York attending Columbia University in October 1981 during the Brink's heist, which was huge front-page news in New York for months. The Brink's case is why I immediately knew who these people were when Obama's ties to them surfaced, and I'm ten years younger than Obama. One of the defendants in that case was Kathy Boudin; when Obama dealt with Ayers & Dohrn, Boudin and her husband were in prison and Ayers and Dohrn were raising her son as their own. I may not think much of Obama but even I don't think he was obtuse enough not to have known who these people were.
(Note to Obama supporters insistent on denying that this story means anything: please first have the decency to admit Obama's lying about it).
UPDATE: Want another piece of the puzzle? Kathy Boudin's brother Michael was a lecturer at Harvard Law School when Obama was there (in fact, he was my antitrust professor). Did Obama take his class? Michael Boudin is, of course, an infinitely more respectable figure than his sister - he'd served in the Reagan Justice Department and in 1992, shortly after Obama graduated, Judge Boudin was appointed to the federal appellate bench by George H.W. Bush - but his family ties were the sort of thing one would routinely discuss about a member of the Law School faculty.
*Ross Douthat argues that Republican appeals to social issues, or even ads that were accused of being racially divisive, have tended to be effective only when they were grounded in concrete economic or safety concerns. Meanwhile, when it's racist to criticize Barney Frank, well, the word has lost its meaning. One liberating feature of this campaign is that Republicans have been accused of being racist for pretty much every single thing that has been said or done, or at least every thing that was even remotely effective...after a while even the most timid of Republicans have to accept that the charge will get made no matter what means that it should not act as any sort of a restraint or deterrent on political dialogue. I mean, if it's racist to criticize Barney Frank and Bill Ayers, if it's racist to connect Obama to a multimillionaire CEO and former Cabinet official, if it's racist just to show video of Obama in front of backdrops he himself chose, well, the word is apt to lose all its meaning.
POLITICS: Yes, We...Can?
So far as I can tell, nobody in the history of modern polling has won a presidential election from as big a hole as John McCain now stands in, at last check a national polling advantage in the neighborhood of 5 points for Obama. Now, if you are a betting man, surely you like your odds on Obama. But does that mean that the race is over? Perhaps, but not necessarily. While the circumstances are of course different, we have seen two past Republican campaigns, neither of them headed by the most dynamic of campaigners, provide examples of strong closing-month performances.
The most obvious recent example was 1996. The Gallup poll, which admittedly is one of the more volatile polls (Obama presently leads it by 8) on October 6/7, 1996 showed Bill Clinton with a commanding 22 point lead, 56-34 over Bob Dole with 5 points for Ross Perot (the first of two debates was on October 6). Four days later, after the first debate and the Vice Presidential debate, that lead was 57-34 (Clinton +23). In an October 14-15 poll, conducted on the eve of the second, October 16 debate, Dole pulled much closer (48-39, Clinton +9), but as late as October 20-21 the poll showed Clinton up 19, 52-33 with 8 for Perot. Dole then began his serious charge, pulling above 40% for the first time on November 4-5, to finish at Clinton +11 (52-41-7), and ended up at Clinton +8 on Election Day, 49-41. Dole thus ended up shaving as much as 15 points off Clinton's lead in less than a month.
Then there's 1976. Jimmy Carter had, of course, famously led by 34 in one midsummer poll...in a poll conducted September 24-27 (the first debate was September 23), Carter led 51-40 (+11), but in one conducted September 27-October 4, that lead dropped to +2, 47-45. Carter widened his lead to +6 on October 8-11 after the famous "Democrat wars" gaffe by Bob Dole in the October 6 VP debate, led +6 (47-41) on October 15-18 (the second debate, with Ford's Poland gaffe, was October 15), was still at +5 on October 22-25 (the third debate was October 22), but an October 28-30 poll for the first time showed a Ford lead, 47-46. On Election Day, Carter won 50-48.
Polling today is more sophisticated, of course, and there are other distinguishing factors as well. On the one hand, the 1996 election had a third party candidate who surged up to double digits in late October, and Dole was running so far behind a still-strong GOP Congressional brand (Republicans held both Houses of Congress through that race) that a good deal of his late surge was just natural Republicans coming home. Some of the same was true of Ford's surge. On the other hand, the 1996 race should have been much less volatile than this one - it matched a 3-decade Senate veteran with a sitting president in a time of peace and prosperity - yet the polls showed significant movement late in the game. 1976 was more similar to the present race, as it pitted a moderate Republican running in a time when the GOP brand was as destitute as it has been since the New Deal, matched against a relatively green and unknown opponent. And of course, this year's race involves not only an unprecedentedly inexperienced and far-left presidential candidate and times of economic uncertainty and foreign war but also the triple complicating factors of no incumbent, Obama's race, and McCain's age coupled with Palin being not a whole lot more experienced than Obama. Those are all reasons why we might expect more, rather than less, real underlying volatility in voter preferences in addition to the possibility that the polls themselves are having trouble measuring the race. And at the end of the day, while it may at first glance seem harder to push upward in the polls against the headwind of a bandwagon once the media has (correctly) called the race for the frontrunner, as in 1996, there is a difference in the degree of difficulty between pulling up close to 50 and breaking through it.
Again: none of this should be reason for Republicans to celebrate - as I said, nobody in a hole like this has actually won a race. But history tells us that voter preferences can still shift in the last month, and if Obama's lead now is accurately reflected by the RCP average of +5.3, it is still very much worthwhile for McCain-Palin and their supporters to fight on to the end.
POLITICS: In a Just World, This Would Be The End of EJ Dionne
From today's Best of the Web, one of the classic examples of replacement-level, conventional wisdom-spouting liberal punditry makes a complete fool of himself in his rush to pronounce himself superior to Sarah Palin:
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A hilarious example of press bias against Palin occurred last Friday on "The Diane Rehm Show," a production of Washington's WAMU-FM. The exchange between hostess Rehm, caller Tom of Norwich, Vt., and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne begins at about 46:10 of the "10:00 News Roundup":Tom: I just wonder why not more has been made of the statement by Palin during the debate last night that "Maliki and the Talabani"--this is a quote from the transcript--"also in working with us are knowing again that we are getting closer and closer to the point of victory." The Talibani obviously are our absolute enemy and have been since 9/11; Maliki, our central ally in Iraq. This to me is a tremendous blunder, revealing a very superficial familiarity with these sorts of terms.
(It was also obvious if you were actually watching the debate). You know, the other night I laughed when Joe Biden called Bosnians "Bosniaks," but before I wrote something making fun of him for this, I did a little Googling and it turned out that this was actually not one of Biden's many misstatements in the debate (most notoriously his fantasyland account of a mythical US/French offensive to drive Hezbollah out of Lebanon) - Biden's spent a fair amount of time dealing with Bosnians, and it turns out that that's actually what they call themselves. I don't always get things right here, but you know, I don't get paid to do this, and it still occurred to me to check that one before mocking Biden.
Whereas Dionne gets paid to be a pundit and to do things like sneer at Gov. Palin's ignorance of foreign affairs ... as evidenced by the fact that she knows who the President of Iraq is, and Dionne plainly does not. Remind me again what value the Washington Post gets out of employing him instead of running a rotation of bloggers who would work for peanuts?
Relatedly, apparently Matt Yglesias' Harvard education did not extend to the ability to spot satire, and not even very good satire at that (sorry Matt, you should have gone to the Law School). I don't think I have ever in my life seen so many people make such utter fools of themselves in their rush to prove how much they hate a Vice Presidential candidate.
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October 6, 2008
POLITICS: It Is Brung
McCain, after two weeks of unwisely pulling his punches while Congress worked on the bailout package and his opponent made partisan hay instead of phone calls, is now going for the jugular. Quite possibly too late, but really, when there is one overwhelming issue in an election, and you were right about it and your opponent was wrong, and he was in bed with the people who had an interest in him being wrong, it is advisable to point that out. Let's hope he pounds this theme home tomorrow night.
I'm sure the response will be the usual chorus of claims that Obama's time in the U.S. Senate was a long time ago, doesn't matter, etc., etc., etc.
Oh, and by the way: this is just hilariously off-message.
PS: What are the two biggest decisions of Obama's short Senate career? This and the surge in Iraq. He was wrong on both, and McCain was right on both.
UPDATE: Video below the fold. After all his delay, McCain is relishing this line of attack:
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October 4, 2008
POLITICS: Whitewashing Ayers
We should not be surprised, exactly, that when the NY Times finally deals with the Bill Ayers story, it tells it entirely from the Obama campaign's preferred point of view...Stanley Kurtz looks at what is left out. Sample:
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Obama was perfectly aware of Ayers' radical views, since he read and publically endorsed, without qualification, Ayers' book on juvenile crime. That book is quite radical, expressing doubts about whether we ought to have a prison system at all, comparing America to South Africa’s apartheid system, and contemptuously dismissing the idea of the United States as a kind or just country. Shane mentions the book endorsement, yet says nothing about the book’s actual content. Nor does Shane mention the panel about Ayers' book, on which Obama spoke as part of a joint Ayers-Obama effort to sink the 1998 Illinois juvenile crime bill.
Kurtz notes a tellingly Clintonian qualifier:
On the one hand, toward the end of the piece we read: "Since 2002, there is little public evidence of their relationship." And it’s no wonder, says Shane, since Ayers was caught expressing no regret for his own past terrorism in an article published on September 11, 2001. Yet earlier in Shane's article we learn that, according to Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt, Obama and Ayers "have not spoken by phone or exchanged e-mail messages since Mr. Obama began serving in the United States Senate in January 2005." Very interesting. Obama's own spokesman has just left open the possibility that there has indeed been phone and e-mail contact between the two men between 2002 and 2004, well after Ayers’ infamous conduct on 9/11.
A small detail taken in isolation, but yet another example of the kind of thing the media might have followed up on, if they were not sending all their available investigative resources to Alaska.
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October 3, 2008
POLITICS: Palin's Night
(1) Is Sarah Palin a Blithering Moron?
Why no, in fact; amazingly, it turns out that a politician who has won six elections, served in public office for 13 years, participated in more than a dozen debates for statewide office two years ago and is the most popular Governor in the nation is actually perfectly capable of handling herself on her feet. But thanks anyway to those of you who worked so hard to make that the question everyone was asking and to reset expectations to exactly where they were entering her convention speech. The Left didn't see that they were marching into a trap in 2004, but then they keep making the same mistake year after year after year even when we are telling them to their faces what they are doing.
Palin had one hit-and-miss interview with Charlie Gibson and a bad one with Katie Couric, but very few presidential candidates, even successful ones, have avoided having those kinds of days (Obama, for example, has often been tongue-tied and stammering in interviews; his debate performance Friday was well above his usual standards). That said, the gaps in her knowledge of national politics is an object lesson in why Governors, often elected to the Presidency, are rarely elected Vice President (Spiro Agnew is the only one since Coolidge).
Palin wasn't quite the masterful populist she is on the stump or was at the Convention, but she was close. There were a few moments of fractured grammar ("What I want to argue about is, how are we going to get there to positively affect the impacts?"), a few episodes of falling back on generalities, and of course more than a few missed opportunities, but overall her performance was quite good indeed, and got back to the roots of why she's such an effective politician. Some of that is mannerism - Biden talked to the moderator, Palin to the camera, and Palin was confident and bouyant, even on one occasion winking at the audience - some is her down-to-earth persona and ability to handle hot-button issues with a low-key, conciliatory tone, and some is simply the willingness to keep returning to hammer home a core theme, which in this case first and foremost was Obama's plans to jack up taxes in the teeth of an oncoming recession (ironically, Biden pretty much fatally undermined the fiscal plausibility of his ticket's tax hike strategy by repeatedly reasserting how few people it would be aimed at. That's exactly why nobody who is remotely familiar with Democratic politicians or with Obama's spending plans expects the lower limits on the tax plan to hold). There were no awkward pauses, no gaffes, nowhere she looked unprepared - she changed the subject on a number of occasions, but like McCain in the first debate, it had the effect of forcing Biden (who like Obama has a lawyer's inability to resist responding to everything) to play on her turf.
Of course, Palin's tendency to use generalities will come in for fire from the people who spent months swooning whenever Barack Obama read the words "hope" and "change" off his TelePrompter, but that can't be helped.
Some of Palin's best moments, despite the less than perfect syntax, came on things like global warming and same-sex marriage, where she was able to articulate positions that have one foot firmly planted in the conservative camp but with a nod to moderate positions as well. And of course, she again resisted efforts to take Henry Kissinger's name in vain - it's hilarious to me that Kissinger, of all people, is still an issue in multiple presidential debates 32 years after leaving office (then again, Biden brought up Mike Mansfield). And she handled pretty much all of the foreign policy questions flawlessly, threw some good shots at Biden over his past criticisms of Obama (unfortunately we didn't get to hear him put on the spot about his nutty plan to cut Iraq into three separate countries). She was very effective in arguing that Biden is running against Bush instead of the actual ticket ("there you go again pointing backwards again. You preferenced your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let's look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future.") The one trap she generally avoided being baited into was testing the depth of her knowledge of McCain's 26-year legislative voting record.
The lowlight of Palin's performance for me, at least, was when she kept saying that "there was greed and there is corruption on Wall Street. And we need to stop that." Threatening to punish Wall Street after the events of the past month is like threatening to punish the Branch Davidians after Waco. Another discordant note, but an example of how Palin was more liberated last night, was on education, where her answer was all about teacher salaries, more funding and loosening the standards of No Child Left Behind - in contrast to McCain's platform, laid out in detail in his Convention speech but basically ignored since then, of school choice, standards and accountability.
Palin benefits, of course, from being the running mate, so she doesn't have to carry as much of the argumentative, persuasive load. But she did a good job last night.
(2) Was Joe Biden...Joe Biden?
Surprisingly no, and in ways that were both good and bad for him. Stylistically, Biden seemed old, tired and grumpy; Biden can be quite charming and very much the happy warrior himself, and there was little of that in evidence. The mike picked him up emitting Al Gore-style exasperated sighs while Palin was talking on one or two occasions. Like McCain on Friday, he warmed up (or more properly, thawed out) as the evening went along. On the upside, while Biden had some moments that were amusing to knowledgeable viewers, he didn't really produce any of the gasp-inducing gaffes that have been his signature for so many years, and of course, like McCain, he wore the mantle of his long experience effortlessly.
Although this debate was, like the first one, quite lively, it was also considerably more detatched from the truth, and Biden was mainly at fault for that - hammering John McCain inaccurately for being anti-regulation; falsely claiming that Obama's Iraq plan was the "same plan that Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq and George Bush are now negotiating," when Obama's plan called for complete withdrawal by March 2008; confusing a windfall profits tax with a severance tax; claiming, absurdly, that McCain was voting to cut off funding for the Iraq War when he voted against an amendment to a funding bill. And when Biden said, "[t]hat's the fundamental change Barack Obama and I will be bring to this party, not questioning other people's motives," well, he must not have read Obama's 2002 war speech, in which Obama did just that as the centerpiece of his argument:
What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.
Biden also probably went a bit too far in suggesting that Obama needed him as training wheels:
Barack Obama indicated to me he wanted me with him to help him govern. So every major decision he'll be making, I'll be sitting in the room to give my best advice.
One of the more jarring moments, and maybe people at home didn't pick this up, was when Biden suggested that we should have repeated Reagan's greatest mistake (one McCain made a point of noting his 1983 opposition to) and sent troops into Lebanon:
When we kicked -- along with France, we kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, I said and Barack said, "Move NATO forces in there. Fill the vacuum, because if you don't know -- if you don't, Hezbollah will control it."
And I think Biden overreached in his assumption that Americans are opposed to all of Bush's foreign policy; I suspect even among people who don't like the Iraq War you'd find a fair amount of support for his approach to Iran, Israel, Pakistan, etc. That said, if I was the McCain campaign, the commercial I'd want to cut of Biden was this line about foreign policy: "Talk. Talk. Talk." Well, there's your Obama foreign policy in a nutshell.
(3) Was Gwen Ifill Biased?
Ifill wasn't a terrible moderator the way Chris Matthews was during the primaries, nor had I expected her to be based on the Cheney-Edwards debate four years ago. Still, you would not have had a ton of difficulty figuring out whose side her sympathies lay with. Biden got the last word in and overran his time finishing a sentence an astounding number of times, whereas she cut Palin off at the knees in mid-sentence when Palin was on a roll reciting examples of McCain's push for more regulations: "Look at the tobacco industry. Look at campaign finance reform...." Or when she sneered at Palin, "Governor, are you interested in defending Sen. McCain's health care plan?" And she did ask one truly awful question:
Governor, you mentioned a moment ago the constitution might give the vice president more power than it has in the past. Do you believe as Vice President Cheney does, that the Executive Branch does not hold complete sway over the office of the vice presidency, that it it is also a member of the Legislative Branch?
This was a terrible question because it's so inside-baseball, relating to an arcane legal dispute nobody much follows who isn't an obsessive political junkie. If she wanted to ask a more open-ended question about Cheney's view of executive power and secrecy, that might have been enlightening. As it was, it was Biden who got his answer all wrong - besides asserting incorrectly that the executive power is set forth in Article I of the Constitution (maybe Biden needs 36 more years in the Senate to get up to speed on that one) and that the VP may "preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote." That's not quite as bad as former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson not knowing the permanent members of the UN Security Council, but it's staggering that a guy who has been in the Senate that long and spent years heading the Judiciary Committee and grilling Supreme Court nominees would blow such basic concepts of constitutional law.
(4) Will It Matter?
Let's be frank here: McCain is now behind in all the important polls, and has lost significant ground since his high point around September 12-14. The overwhelming reason for this has been the credit crisis that has been the financial equivalent of the Madrid train bombing, working naturally against the party in power in the White House pretty much regardless of all other facts and circumstances, and pretty much sweeping consideration of every other issue out of the spotlight. The drawing out of the bailout debate has only worked to the Democrats' advantage. With a month to go in the race and a fair amount of additional things that could happen, it's premature to declare that this is the end of the line, but it does mean that McCain needs game-changing events; the ticket just scoring two more narrow debate victories like the first two won't be enough unless we get another external shock to the system and/or Obama does something really stupid. Of course, that was really never possible with this debate, since there was no realistic way to mortally wound Obama's ticket by something Biden did; the best Republicans could hope for was to reestablish Gov. Palin, and that worked out pretty much as well as one could have hoped. Which leaves to McCain the job of taking out Obama.
October 2, 2008
POLITICS: The Integrity Gap, Part I of III: Gov. Sarah Palin
I have previously discussed at length the extent to which the public mood has focused on the issue of integrity in this presidential election. If anything, the recent credit crisis has heightened that concern - frankly, the public doesn't understand the crisis and isn't convinced the candidates do, either, but wants reassurance that the next President will be above outside influence in dealing with its aftermath and preventing similar economic crises in the future.
Now, you may not be interested in the integrity issue, or at any rate may be voting primarily on other issues; certainly I have other things much higher on my priority list. But if this is truly an election about who has the independence to bring about change in Washington, this is an issue the campaigns cannot ignore.
One of the most basic ways in which a candidate can demonstrate the integrity voters are looking for is to build a record of standing up to corruption and waste - and doing so even when it appears in his or her own party, or on the part of his or her own allies or backers. This is not just a matter of honesty and prudence, but of toughness and courage. Let me offer a contrast between the two tickets on this issue - an Integrity Gap that Obama simply can't surmount and can only hope to obscure. If you look at the record of the McCain-Palin ticket and compare it to the Obama-Biden record in this regard, it really is no contest. I will start with the junior members of the two tickets. Governor Sarah Palin, in her short career, has fought many battles against her own party's entrenched interests; Senator Barack Obama, in a career of similar length and scope, has consistently looked the other way, and worse. Sen. Obama simply lacks the courage and the record of accomplishment of Gov. Palin. Today I will look at Gov. Palin's record; in Part II I will deal with Sen. Obama. Part III will deal with the senior members of the two tickets, Senator John McCain and Senator Joe Biden.
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On the surface, Sarah Palin's career path looks much like Barack Obama's: both spent around a decade laboring in the vineyards of local politics before seeing their careers abruptly go up like a rocket all the way to the center of the national political stage. But look closer, and you will see all the difference in the world in the choices they made to get there.
I. Sarah Palin: The Whistleblower Who Took The Statehouse
I should add up front, as you'll see from all the Hat Tip links below, that I am very heavily indebted to Beldar for all the work he's done on Palin's career in Alaska. Additional supporting links marked with an asterisk.
A. The PTA Mom
Sarah Palin is, let's face it, an unlikely force for political change. In contrast to Obama, Palin didn't start off with two Ivy League degrees, a surplus of idealism, and an armload of theories about political and social organization; she seems hardly to have considered a career in politics at all. In high school, she was a jock, earning early plaudits as the point guard on an underdog state championship basketball team, playing the championship game with a stress fracture in her ankle. * * Her husband says she was shy in high school and not someone he would have pictured having a political career. She seems to have been an indifferent college student, more interested in sports than studies, and worked after college as a sportscaster before marrying, having children and helping out her husband's commercial fishing business (another example of the toughness that would serve her well in politics: continuing to help Todd on his fishing boat after breaking several of her fingers). Her entree into politics was the PTA, and from there the City Council in her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, a fast-growing suburb of a few thousand people near the state's largest city, Anchorage. A lifelong Republican but not previously a political activist, she was elected to the City Council in 1992 after getting involved in a citizens' watch group that wanted Wasilla to have its own police force, ousting an incumbent, as she did in all of her significant races:
She did so by going door to door to campaign, pulling a red wagon with her son Track in the back. She ran her campaign out of her kitchen... Within weeks of her election, she'd taken on another councilman who had a city contract for garbage pickup that favored his own company.
Why do I mention Palin's apolitical roots? Because they help explain three things about her that become important later. One, how she's been able to stay grounded to have a normal, non-political person's reactions to the kinds of things politicians get inured to seeing. Two, why her views on reform, corruption and waste were not a pre-designed program but the evolving product of those reactions kicking in over time in response to things she observed first-hand. And three, how she was able to make the most important decision of her political career - to walk away from it all on principle with the significant chance that she was ending her career in politics.
B. Mayor of Wasilla
In 1996, Palin was elected Mayor of Wasilla, ousting the incumbent mayor, who had previously supported her. As Beldar explains, citing Palin's biographer Kaylene Johnson:
[Mayor] Stein had ignored the sentiments of Wasilla residents who'd approved term limits in 1994, and he continued to take advantage of a loophole exempting incumbents (he'd been mayor since 1987). Palin had originally crossed Stein by voting against a pay increase for the mayor's position shortly after she was first elected as a city councilman in 1992; accordingly, in 1996, she campaigned against him with a promise that she would start trimming the city budget by taking a voluntary pay cut as mayor (Which in fact she did.). She also promised to reduce property taxes. (Which in fact she did.) And she promised to promote new economic development that would increase the local tax base and permit higher levels of city services. (Which, again, she did.)
This was not the last time she would face a tough campaign against more experienced opponents. But while the 1996 race bore the early hallmarks of Palin's fiscal conservatism - as she battled to avoid expanding the city's budget - she was still a conventional Alaska Republican, supported by the state GOP establishment. Palin's success in Wasilla marked her as a leader among her peers, helping get her "elected president of the Alaska Conference of Mayors."
Alaska, of course, has a major addiction to federal pork-barrel spending; for years it has led the nation in per-capita federal dollars, and still does. Alaskans will tell you that there are reasons for this, not least the fact that the federal government owns so much of the land in the state. Then-Mayor Palin was no exception to this process; like many local officials, and perhaps more successfully than most, she sought to relieve the tax burdens of her own constituents by lobbying the federal government for funds for Wasilla, in 2000 even retaining a Washington lobbyist - the former chief of staff to Republican U.S. Senator Ted Stevens and law partner of Stevens' son Ben - to represent the town. Unsurprisingly, this brought home the bacon, over $6 million in fiscal year 2002.
It was during Palin's two three-year terms as Mayor of Wasilla that she began a long practice, which I noted here and which Ed Morrissey discusses here based on New York Times and Washington Post profiles, of firing lots of people, basically anyone who cost too much, didn't get on board with the things she was trying to accomplish, was publicly insubordinate to her leadership, or was a holdover from prior administrations. As I've noted before, one of the principal obstacles to real change in any public-sector job is the inertia of entrenched incumbents; sacking them is a good way to get bad press and stir up lawsuits and trumped-up investigations, but it's also evidence of the unsentimentality and independent streak that any genuine reformer needs.
Term-limited out of running again for Mayor, Palin in 2002 ran for the Lieutenant Governorship, but when long-time Republican U.S. Senator Frank Murkowski entered the Governor's race, other more experienced and better-known candidates shifted into the Lt. Gov. field, and Palin was defeated in a crowded 5-way primary. She nonetheless impressed observers as a coming star by posting a strong second despite being badly outspent by 3 opponents.
C. The Oil and Gas Commission
Following her loss in the Lieutenant Governor's race, Palin was out of a job, and as promising but unemployed politicians often do, she accepted an appointment from the powers that controlled her state party. In February 2003, she was tabbed by Murkowski to chair the Alaska Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, a regulatory body with jurisdiction over the state's most important industries:
The commission and its 21 staff members usually labor in obscurity unless they are responding to a serious oil-well accident or violation. Founded in territorial days and modeled after commissions in other oil states, the AOGCC is a regulatory board charged with protecting public resources when oil or gas is developed. The AOGCC has three basic functions: to ensure that producing oil and gas fields achieve maximum recovery; to ensure that wells are safely constructed and operated; and to protect groundwater when oil and gas wells pass through aquifers or when drilling wastes are legally disposed underground.
The job was a plum patronage position, paying $118,000 a year, doubling her salary as Mayor and for the first time making her the family's chief breadwinner. The Anchorage Daily News has a lengthy and extensive description of the events that followed, as Palin uncovered significant ethical improprieties at the AOGCC, focusing on Alaska State GOP Chairman Randy Ruedrich, who the ADN noted had "played a major role in Gov. Frank Murkowski's election":
[S]he focused on ethical lapses by fellow Commissioner Randy Ruedrich, who was also (and unfortunately still is) the statewide GOP chairman. Ruedrich was refusing to complete and file disclosure reports that would have detailed his personal dealings with energy-related companies. When Ruedrich ignored her complaints, she went to the state attorney-general, Gregg Renkes. When Renkes ignored her (and threatened her with prosecution if she became a public whistle-blower), she went to the GOP governor who'd appointed her, Frank Murkowski. Murkowski was then, of course, one of the troika of Grand Poobahs of Alaskan GOP politics, along with Congressman Don Young and Senator Ted Stevens.
Think about that again. Palin wasn't independently wealthy, although her family is now well off; her husband made good money as a commercial fisherman and working in the oil fields, but with four children to raise, their status as a two-income family was undoubtedly financially important to them. Yet she was walking away from a plum job with a six-figure salary that had given her a more than 60% pay raise from her job as Mayor. Palin herself had worked only in politics since leaving her sportscasting job some 16 years earlier, and by picking up a crusade against the state's most powerful political figures, she stood an extremely good chance of burying her promising political future for good. But she was willing to walk away from all of that at age 40 to do the right thing. If you can picture Barack Obama doing that, you have a very vivid imagination.
As the ADN article explains, her investigation involved a fair amount of sleuthing by Palin, including a review of Ruedrich's computer files after he quit the AOGCC. There were a variety of ethical issues involved, including matters tied up in a number of criminal investigations, multiple conflicts of interest, failure to file required disclosure forms, and use of AOGCC time, facilities and resources to conduct Ruedrich's partisan activities with the GOP. While some of these issues may seem minor in isolation, they obviously added up. Palin's resignation in January 2004 eventually freed her to go public:
[W]hen Ruedrich settled state ethics charges June 22 by paying a record $12,000 civil fine and admitting wrongdoing, Palin said she finally felt some measure of vindication for bucking Ruedrich and members of her party. Over the months leading up to the settlement, Ruedrich had been saying the accusations were overblown, while other Republicans, including Murkowski, complained Ruedrich was unfairly targeted, primarily by the news media.
She wrote a famous op-ed for the state's largest newspaper ...And ...continu[ed] to direct public attention to the scandal.
After slamming Murkowski for "hiring his own counsel, paid for by the state, to investigate his long-time friend, confidant, and campaign manager [Renkes]," Sarah concluded by writing, "Despite those in Juneau who think otherwise, it's healthy for democracy to ask questions. And I'll bet there are hockey moms and housewives all across this great state who agree."
The result was a thorough burning of her bridges with the state party:
By that time, Palin was an outcast. The state Republican Party in May had just reconfirmed its support for Ruedrich, after party leaders assured the central committee that charges against him had been overblown by the media. Even Murkowski had voiced support for Ruedrich, calling him a "survivor."
In 2005, she continued to take on the Republican establishment by joining Eric Croft, a Democrat, in lodging an ethics complaint against Renkes, who was not only attorney general but also a long-time adviser and campaign manager for Murkowski. The governor reprimanded Renkes and said the case was closed. It wasn't. Renkes resigned a few weeks later, and Palin was again hailed as a hero.
D. Taking Down Murkowski
Murkowski, meanwhile, was in the process of alienating the Alaskan public with a variety of high-handed and self-interested moves that came to symbolize the way in which the Alaska GOP establishment treated federal and state office as their personal property. One of the more egregious examples was his appointment of his daughter Lisa to fill out his term in the Senate. Palin considered running against Lisa Murkowski in 2004, but decided not to in deference to her son Track's reluctance at the time to endure a statewide campaign, although she did deepen her rift with the Murkowskis by endorsing one of Lisa Murkowski's primary opponents. Yet Palin's name ended up getting misused on Murkowski's behalf:
A measure of Palin's growing political stature came in the closing weeks of Lisa Murkowski's campaign against Tony Knowles. Voters started getting recorded messages from a chirpy woman saying, "Hello, this is Sarah," and urging their support for Murkowski and the Republican team. The calls were paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
By 2006, Palin was ready to take on Gov. Murkowski himself, and despite entering the race as a serious underdog, and even with the third candidate in the race out-fundraising her by 3-to-1 margin, wound up scoring 51% of the primary vote (Murkowski finished third with just 19%). Palin made clear she would be cleaning house:
On the night she won the party nomination, she asked for Ruedrich to step down as Republican chairman -- he declined -- and also called for the resignation of national committeeman Sen. Ben Stevens.
Moving on to the general election, David Dittman, "a consultant to Palin's 2006 campaign," observes that Palin was "[o]utraised by her well-known Democratic opponent [former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles] .... Dittman noted, "She didn't have the support of the party. She did not have the support of labor unions, environmentalists, the oil industry. She did it all by herself." Knowles was no makeweight opponent; running in a year when Democrats swamped Republicans in one traditional GOP stronghold after another, Knowles had been a two-term governor who only left the office in 2002 due to term limits and ran on a platform of superior experience, and Palin also faced a third-party campaign by Andrew Halcro, formerly a Republican state legislator. Palin's lead in the polls dropped as low as two points just days before the election (*), but ended up winning 48-41.
E. Governor of Alaska
Palin was sworn in as Governor on December 4, 2006. In the nearly two years she has been in the office, she's made strides on multiple fronts to combat waste and clean house, becoming in the process the most popular of the nation's 50 governors. The job's not done, and like anybody with a record of actually governing, Palin has her critics on this or that issue. But her record on issues of public integrity and wasteful spending is one to be proud of on issues large and small.
(1) The Perks
Just as with the pay cut she took as Mayor of Wasilla, Palin chose to start at the top with her budget cuts in Alaska. Gov. Murkowski had infuriated voters and the State Legislature by insisting on buying a $2.6 million jet; Palin campaigned against the plane and famously put it up for sale on eBay, although the eventual sale required hiring an aircraft broker so as to try to limit the losses inflicted on the state by Murkowski's folly. Palin cut $45,000 in costs by eliminating the day-to-day services of the gourmet chef at the Governor's Mansion, arguing that she and her family could cook for themselves (although the chef was apparently still under contract with the state for official receptions). Palin also cut her per diem reimbursements by the state by 80% from her predecessor, declining to claim all the expenses she could legally have had reimbursed.
(2) Adventures In The Pork Barrel and The Bridge To Nowhere
In the past few years, there's been a growing public outcry over wasteful pork-barrel spending in general and "earmarks" in particular - i.e., riders to federal appropriations bills that direct that money be spent on particular projects. Technically, earmarks don't necessarily increase the amount of spending in a bill, but of course the expectation of being able to insert earmarks (sometimes with little public disclosure and debate, and often for projects favored by people with financial interests in them) inevitably inflates the amount of money appropriators are inclined to start off with in a bill, which is why John McCain (among others) has described them as a "gateway drug" to overspending. The online "porkbusters" coalition was formed to help pre-existing efforts by McCain and Senator Tom Coburn to highlight particularly abusive projects.
The most notorious earmark in recent memory was a bridge connecting the town of Ketchikan, Alaska to nearby Gravina Island, which has only 50 residents and is presently connected to the mainland by ferry. The bridge was dubbed "the Bridge to Nowhere," and McCain and Coburn, among others, made it nationally famous.
Gov. Palin was not one of the early heroes of this battle, and in fact continued to support the bridge as a candidate. But her ultimate decision in office to pull the plug on the bridge subjected her to criticism from the state's Congressional powers and other proponents of the bridge, while making her an instant hero to the many people who had fought against the project for years. At the time, everyone understood what Gov. Palin had done. It's entirely proper for her to take credit for that decision, and no amount of revisionist history can change those facts. Least of all from Barack Obama and Joe Biden, who supported the bridge out of a craven desire to protect their own pork projects.
a. The Bridge to Nowhere
The McCain campaign produced, belatedly, a detailed fact sheet with a chronology of the bridge dispute here, and if you are familiar with the saga, it checks out. Wikipedia, as usual, has an uneven and slanted account but one with a lot of useful links to primary sources.
The way transportation bills work in general is to distribute funds by state, and earmarks in the bill then direct funds to particular projects. The original controversy over the bridge earmark was in 2005, when the transportation bill included a $223 million earmark for the bridge, supported by Senators Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski, Gov. Murkowski, and Congressman Don Young, who at the time chaired the House Transportation Committee. Gov. Murkowski's wife, in fact, owned land on Gravina Island that would go up in value if the bridge was built. Coburn brought the controversy to a head with a bill to strip the earmark and the funds from the bill and redirect the money to rebuild a bridge in New Orleans destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Ted Stevens gave a melodramatic speech threatening to quit the Senate if the bridge was defunded, and he and Young essentially threatened to retaliate against other Senators' pork projects in their own states; as Kos put it at the time, "the reason senators would vote against these amendments is because if any of them pass, it puts every single pork project in their own states in danger." In the end, Coburn got only 15 votes (McCain was absent, but supported the Coburn amendment) - Barack Obama and Joe Biden both voted "no." * Kos accurately summed up the vote thus:
Simply unconscionable. Those who voted against these amendments have zero credibility on issues of fiscal responsibility. Zero.
Obama and Biden also voted to support the final transportation bill that included the bridge earmark, but it was eventually stripped out in negotiations with the House in response to the outcry. (You can go here for Deroy Murdock's PowerPoint presentation on Obama's and Biden's role). That left the decision on how to fund the bridge up to Alaska's governor, subject to some limitations on how much of the transportation money could be allocated to the project. Gov. Murkowski set aside either $91 million or $113 million, depending on which sources you cite, but as of the end of 2005 there wasn't enough federal money for the project to be built, and cost estimates were starting to rise to over $300 million.
Enter Sarah Palin, then a private citizen and candidate for Alaska Governor. Of course, the core of the pork barrel/earmark problem is people in Washington trying to buy support back home with taxpayer money; Governors and candidates for Governor don't create earmarks, and Mayors in particular rather understandably like to agitate on behalf of their narrow parochial issues. Even today, Palin notes that her decision to kill the bridge was largely motivated by a desire first and foremost to protect state taxpayers:
After taking office and examining the project closely, realizing the Feds were not going to fund it as Alaskans had assumed was the case, I cancelled the project...Alaskans will have to prioritize for the Knik Arm Crossing if it is truly a top state priority because Congress won't fund it either.
That said, those of us who find the pork/earmark dynamic appalling understand that state/local politicians who support federal pork barrel spending are part of the problem, and those who resist are part of the solution; so her views on the matter are certainly relevant.
Now during her campaign, Palin did two things. One, which is entirely understandable although something she's reversed herself on when addressing a national audience, is to object to the rhetorical device of calling it a "bridge to nowhere," which naturally irked the residents of the Ketchikan area. Hence, her photo op with the "Nowhere" T-shirt and criticism of "spinmeisters".
Palin entered office in December 2006 with the federal funds in hand but discretion whether to use them on the Ketchikan Bridge or less wasteful projects, as a result of the funds being provided without being earmarked. And from then on, as her budget team reviewed the project in the context of competing priorities, she began casting a more skeptical eye, building up to her killing of the project. 11 days into her term, she proposed her first budget which included no additional funds for the "Bridge to Nowhere" saying, "We need to make wise, sensible choices." State funds would have been needed because the federal dollars were not enough to keep up with the escalating cost estimates for the bridge.
In February 2007, National Review noted that the bridge's cost estimate had reached $395 million and that opponents were encouraged by Palin's hesitancy to fund the out-of-control project:
"This projected increase [in the bridge's cost] comes at a time when the governor has asked for all agencies to reduce spending by 10 percent," a spokesman for the governor tells National Review Online. Needless to say, building a half-billion-dollar bridge between a town of 8,000 and an island of 50 is not on her list of state transportation priorities.
That leaves the Alaska DOT stuck between the local officials who want the bridge and a governor who hasn't set aside any money for it. Add a congressional delegation unable to bring home the bacon like it used to and it's no surprise that morale at the department has cratered. According to the AP, Gov. Palin's transition team discovered a department in which obtaining "federal earmarks in congressional appropriations trump all other priorities... and the state suffers as a result." The team's advice? Alaska needs to go on a diet from federal dollars and focus on "developing a state-funded transportation and maintenance program."
* The necessary state money was not included in the state budget in May, and the DOT put the project on hold in August. Finally, on September 21, 2007, Palin officially killed the bridge project, although her statement was couched in conciliatory terms:
"Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport, but the $398 million bridge is not the answer," Gov. Sarah Palin said in a prepared statement.
Palin on Friday said the Ketchikan project was $329 million short of full funding.
Palin's decision instantly split those who had followed the saga, but nobody had any doubt who killed the bridge. ABC News reported on September 21, 2007:
Friday, the state of Alaska officially sank the Bridge to Nowhere. Governor Sarah Palin, also a Republican, said "Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport." "But," she said, the bridge "is not the answer." Palin has told state transportation officials to look for the most "fiscally responsible" alternative.
The McCain press release collects some of the immediate commentary:
September 22: Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan: "For somebody who touts process and transparency in getting projects done, I'm disappointed and taken aback ... We worked 30 years to get funding for this priority project."
Instapundit, who had given his megaphone to the Porkbusters crusade, wrote on September 22, 2007 of Palin's Vice Presidential prospects that "I certainly like her action on the Bridge to Nowhere" Alaska Democrats campaigning against Ted Stevens continued to credit Palin for stopping the bridge until she was tabbed as McCain's running mate. And here's Newsweek in October 2007:
In an interview with NEWSWEEK, Palin said it's time for Alaska to "grow up" and end its reliance on pork-barrel spending. Shortly after taking office, Palin canceled funding for the "Bridge to Nowhere," a $330 million project that Stevens helped champion in Congress. The bridge, which would have linked the town of Ketchikan to an island airport, had come to symbolize Alaska's dependence on federal handouts. Rather than relying on such largesse, says Palin, she wants to prove Alaska can pay its own way, developing its huge energy wealth in ways that are "politically and environmentally clean."
It should be noted that Palin's action didn't only save money for state taxpayers. State transportation needs and requests are not a one-time thing; as noted in some of the quotes above, projects like the Ketchikan bridge send state politicians back to the federal well year after year. By eliminating the bridge and routing the money to other transportation projects, Palin saved federal taxpayers in two ways. First, she took more projects off the list for future requests to Uncle Sam. And second, she insured that - unlike famous long-running "Big Dig" type projects elsewhere in the nation - she wouldn't be coming back to future Congresses to cover additional cost overruns. By being a good fiscal steward to the people of Alaska, she also helped save money for the nation as a whole.
Talk, in politics, is cheap. When it came time for Palin to make decisions, she, and only she, finally killed the "Bridge to Nowhere." Had the funds remained earmarked, as Obama and Biden voted to keep them, she would not have had that option (that's what happened to the highway that was to connect to the bridge). Palin's is the courage and integrity we need.
b. Palin, Pork and Spending
Put in its larger context, Palin's killing of the Bridge to Nowhere is part of the broader picture of her effort to wean Alaska off its dependence on federal pork barrel spending in general and earmarking in particular. From the Anchorage Daily News, a description of how that has brought her yet again into conflict with the powers that be in the Alaska GOP:
Palin has increasingly distanced herself from earmarking since she made her first trip to Washington D.C. to lobby Congress for money in 2000. And over the past year, it has been the leading source of tension between Palin and the state's three-member congressional delegation.
H/T This is hardly a cold-turkey approach, but the numbers demonstrate that she has been making headway:
For the 2007 federal budget year, the administration of former Gov. Frank Murkowski submitted 63 earmark requests totaling $350 million, Palin's staff said. That slid to 52 earmarks valued at $256 million in Palin's first year. This year, the governor's office asked the delegation to help them land 31 earmarks valued at $197 million.
The battle to cut back on earmarking is also part and parcel of a broader effort by Palin to bring some fiscal sanity to Alaska. Palin took a buzzsaw to the budget in her first year, including numerous line-item vetos of items inserted by the GOP-controlled legislature: "The cuts, the Anchorage Daily News said, 'may be the biggest single-year line-item veto total in state history.'" In 2008, she used line item vetoes to strip $268 million in wasteful pet projects from the state's budget. (H/T) * Her nearly half a billion dollars in vetoes over two years "were deeply unpopular with legislators of both parties."
As is often the case with efforts to cut the budget, Palin's hatchet hasn't cut down every last tree; for example, she "cut funds for 40 sports-related projects around Alaska, saying sports was not an essential government service," but found $630,000 in the 2007 budget for the Wasilla sports complex that had been one of her main accomplishments as Mayor, arguing that it would serve an additional public function as the town's emergency shelter in case of an earthquake, forest fire or other disaster. And of course, there have been a flood of stories complaining about this or that program she cut or capped the growth of. But as I always say, you don't have a budget until you have said "no" to everyone at least once. Palin has definitely shown that she is willing to say "no" to protect the taxpayer.
(3) Big Oil & Gas
When you talk about powerful interests in Alaska, there's nobody bigger than the oil and gas companies. Palin, of course, has been a huge advocate of more oil and gas production in Alaska and nationwide, and often refers to the oil and gas companies as the state's partners (in a sense they are literally business partners), but she's also shown in office that far from being a puppet of these industries, she's willing and even eager to drive a hard bargain with them on behalf of the taxpayer and limit the influence of any one particular company.
A prime example of this was her renegotiation of the state's severance tax, a tax imposed on oil and gas companies by the state that owns the land they drill on. This is different from taxes on corporate activity generally, and is basically a matter of the state acting like a market participant to drive a hard bargain; Palin raised the base tax from 22.5% to 25%, and made a point of renegotiating in public, arguing that the tax had been previously set behind closed doors between Murkowski and industry lobbyists. USA Today notes that the oil companies were not happy with the new fees:
Oil executives said the law amounted to a $6 billion tax increase this year and criticized it ...They said it would cost jobs and reduce investment in exploration.
From the same article:
Palin got tough with major oil producers in other ways, too. She moved to revoke ExxonMobil's license to develop oil and natural gas at Point Thomson on the North Slope, arguing the company had sat for too long on the site without developing the reserves. ExxonMobil says it will begin drilling this winter, but the state says the plans are inadequate.
One of her most significant accomplishments as governor was passing a major tax increase on state oil production, angering oil companies but raising billions of dollars in new revenue. She said the oil companies had previously bribed legislators to keep the taxes low. She subsequently championed legislation that would give some of that money back to Alaskans: Soon, every Alaskan will receive a $1,200 check.
Then there's the pipeline project intended to develop Alaska's vast natural gas reserves, which "had been a top economic goal for the state for nearly two decades" - Gov. Murkowski had never delivered on his promise to get the pipeline deal done, but "had offered the major firms exclusive contracts to build the pipeline and had agreed to freeze oil taxes for 30 years and natural gas taxes for up to 45 years." Palin, having run against Murkowski's coziness with the three main producers, decided to open the process to formal bids, a move that didn't go over well with them:
The three major North Slope producers - BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil - have panned Ms. Palin's approach as too restrictive, and say they prefer to negotiate a deal directly as they did with her predecessor, Frank Murkowski.
Eventually, this January, Gov. Palin settled on TransCanada, a Canadian company. The $26 billion project is "what analysts say could be the largest private capital project in U.S. history." The deal required her to call a special session of the state legislature, signing the bill on August 27. Once again, Palin had asserted her independence from the state's largest vested interests, and in so doing broke a longstanding policy logjam. It still faces challenges, as the disgruntled Big Three are threatening to build a rival pipeline:
The Palin administration now stands in a nerve-racking faceoff with the multibillion-dollar oil industry interests that have for 40 years been the bedrock of the state's politics and economy. Who blinks first -- Palin, or companies like BP Alaska, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil -- will determine who controls transport of Alaska's massive untapped gas resources and future tax revenues for a state dependent on petroleum revenues for 85% of its budget.
(4) Putting Her Own Stamp On State Government
Political analysts in Alaska refer to the "body count" of Palin's rivals. "The landscape is littered with the bodies of those who crossed Sarah," says pollster Dave Dittman, who worked for her gubernatorial campaign. It includes Ruedrich, Renkes, Murkowski, gubernatorial contenders John Binkley and Andrew Halcro, the three big oil companies in Alaska, and a section of the Daily News called "Voice of the Times," which was highly critical of Palin and is now defunct.
Days after she was sworn in as governor, Sarah Palin began to clean house at the department of natural resources, firing and demoting several top officials and eventually appointing a new director at the agency that oversees the energy companies that provide the state with 85% of its revenue.
More examples? Her firing of an aide who had a messy affair and covered it up; her sacking of the entire state Creamery Board in a dispute over $600,000 in state funding. Palin's been unafraid to make waves, removing people who stood in the way of her policies and working to change the ethical climate.
One of Palin's major priorities in her 2006 campaign was ethics reform, and in July 2007 she signed a new ethics bill that took a number of steps forward in requiring disclosures and limiting sources of compensation for public officials. The new law had bipartisan support behind the new Governor's leadership, including a State Senator who is now a prominent Obama supporter:
State Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, said the law closes several loopholes and includes a ban on outside compensation for official acts. It also bans legislators from accepting campaign contributions as bribes.
Now, the ethics reform bill, under the circumstances, is more an example of bipartisan leadership than of courage or independence, as it did not exactly incite a groundswell of opposition, and some people even wanted it to go further. But Palin has also shown her willingness to put pressure on, or cut ties entirely with, powerful people in her own party as she seeks to remake the Alaska GOP into a cleaner organization.
For example, Palin has injected herself into the state's Congressional races. She cut ads for her Lieutenant Governor, Sean Parnell, in his primary challenge to Don Young, a race that was so close it took weeks to resolve it despite Young's status as a hugely entrenched incumbent. As Matt Moon explains, Palin's backing was one of the reasons why Parnell entered the race with a huge advantage, and his loss was largely the result of being out-campaigned by Young, which doesn't change the fact that Palin made a significant effort to throw her personal prestige behind removing one of the icons of corruption in her own state party. We'll get in Part II to how this stacks up to Obama, but of course the short answer is that he never tried anything remotely comparable.
Palin's often been cold-blooded about cutting off former friends and allies who had ethical troubles, as even a hostile Salon profile notes:
Alaska state Rep. Victor Kohring, another key Palin supporter during her political rise in Mat-Su Valley, found this out after he became a victim of the FBI's oil corruption sting operation. Kohring, who used to accompany Palin on her campaign jaunts, angrily points out that he was abandoned by his fellow Christian conservative before he even went to trial. The former Alaska legislator, who now resides in the Taft minimum security prison outside Bakersfield, Calif., communicated his views of Palin through his friend, Fred James. Kohring, said James, feels "betrayed" by Palin.
I've discussed above some of her specific breaks with Ted Stevens; for another example, in 2007 she again demanded the resignation of his son Ben from his role as Alaska's representative on the Republican National Committee. Granted, despite their many battles, Palin hasn't entirely cut ties with Stevens, who after all remains the state's senior senator:
Palin, an anti-corruption crusader in Alaska, had called on Stevens to be open about the issues behind the investigation. But she also held a joint news conference with him in July, before he was indicted, to make clear she had not abandoned him politically.
At last check, Palin was pointedly declining to either support or oppose Stevens or Don Young in the general election: "Ted Stevens trial started a couple days ago. We'll see where that goes." Not precisely a hard line, but after Palin's multiple feuds with Stevens and her backing of the primary challenge against Young, she's already gone about as far as you can expect any Governor to go to make clear to the voting public her disapproval of the methods of the leaders of her own party's Congressional delegation in her own state.
All of these moves, of course, have made her enemies. This post is long enough already without delving into the whole Tasergate/Troopergate investigation, but to focus on the relevant point for these purposes, the investigation was touched off when Palin sacked Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan, who broke openly with Palin over her efforts to cut his agency's budget:
* 12/9/07: Monegan holds a press conference with Hollis French to push his own budget plan.
This is all of a piece with Palin's willingness to butt heads to get control of the budget, to the advantage of the taxpayer. Hollis French, the Democratic State Senator and prominent Obama supporter, is effectively controlling the investigation, which was designed to release its report five days before the election and which would be essentially guaranteed to do zero political damage to Palin if it was released at any other time (you can tell this by comparing how much time Palin's critics spend discussing the investigation's procedures as opposed to its underlying facts). Anyone remotely familiar with the history of political reform can tell you that this sort of vendetta is exactly the risk you run when you try to bring about genuine change in the public sector, and why so many politicians shy away from necessary confrontations that create enemies of people like Monegan. The investigation is just another badge of Palin's fearlessness.
As we look back over the last four years in national politics, this much is certain: we needed more people like Sarah Palin in Washington.
In Part II: How Barack Obama climbed up the greasy pole of Chicago machine politics without upsetting any applecarts.
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October 1, 2008
POLITICS: Full Disclosure
A number of conservatives, led by Michelle Malkin, are up in arms now about the fact that the moderator of the vice presidential debate, Gwen Ifill, has a book coming out January 20, 2009 - Inauguration Day - entitled "Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama." You can read Malkin's post for the full details of why this clearly gives Ifill a financial interest in there being an "Age of Obama" commencing January 20, to say nothing of her sympathies for her subject.
Moe Lane and Beldar are completely right here: this doesn't mean Ifill should be replaced at the last minute, likely with some other liberal journalist, and it doesn't mean Gov. Palin should be forced to eat into her precious debate time pointing the conflict out - but ethically, Ifill really must disclose to the national audience her book, its title and subject and release date at the outset of the debate, and let the viewing public decide if that tells them anything about the moderator.
September 30, 2008
POLITICS: The Russian Border
Beldar, who really has been just far and away the best source on all things Palin, has a long, maps-and-pictures-filled post up looking at, yes, Alaska's proximity to Russia and what Gov. Palin's experience says about her as a potential Commander-in-Chief. I agree with this:
[N]o state governor has executive experience on these matters comparable to that which must be exercised by the POTUS. State governors are, however, executives, with experience running large organizations of a sort that mere legislators at any level - including U.S. Congressmen and Senators - don't acquire. That's part of the explanation for why America has so often elected state chief executive officers (governors) to become the federal chief executive officer (POTUS), often with salutary results
That goes to my longstanding point: no President is prepared for the entire job, but you have to have a base in one of the major parts of the job to avoid being overwhelmed by the learning curve, and in Gov. Palin's case, it's one of the two big ones (executive experience, the other being national security experience; Obama lacks both). Now, obviously Palin doesn't bring to the table the years of national leadership on national security and foreign policy issues that Reagan did, and one can fairly argue that governors with experience more comparable to Palin's - Woodrow Wilson had an almost identical resume when elected - were not smashing successes in the foreign policy/national security arena (these would include George W. Bush, Clinton, Carter, FDR, Coolidge, Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, and McKinley, of whom only the Roosevelts and McKinley had some relevant foreign policy/national security experience). On the other hand, unlike Obama, Palin is highly likely to have many months and probably years before she'd be called on to take the reins, and would I be concerned if Palin became the president in, say, the fall of 2010? Of course not, since the best possible training for the presidency is the vice presidency.
The Palin-Obama comparison also reminds me of a silly Dahlia Lithwick column comparing Palin to Clarence Thomas in light of Justice Thomas' views on affirmative action:
Like Thomas, Palin has been blasted for inexperience, and she has fought back with claims that she is not being judged on her merits, but on her gender, just as he felt he was inevitably judged on his race. While it's possible to assert that Sarah Palin is the most qualified person in America for the vice presidency, only approximately nine people have done so with a straight face. That's because Palin was not chosen because she was the second-best person to run America but to promote diversity on the ticket, even the political playing field, and to shatter (in her words) some glass ceilings.
What is amusingly naive, or would be if it wasn't so disingenuous, is the suggestion that running mates are chosen because they are actually the second-most-qualified potential president in their party, regardless of political considerations. This was arguably true of Dick Cheney, whose only political benefit was precisely the fact that he could very seriously have been argued to be the second-most-qualified potential president in the GOP. (And if McCain were choosing today on solely that basis, Cheney would still be the top choice). Other than maybe LBJ, who was in any event chosen for nakedly political causes, though, one is hard-pressed to find running mates who fit that description. Palin does, in fact, bring a good deal more to the ticket than just gender, ranging from things McCain doesn't have (executive experience, rock-solid social conservative credentials, being from far outside the Beltway and from a small town, and having lived most of her adult life in what is basically a blue-collar household, albeit one that by now is quite financially successful) as well as personal charisma (she's a natural at retail politics) and harmony with McCain's basic reformist drive and willingness to take on their own side. Add in the list of reasons why various other people were out of the running, and it's obvious that Palin was a more than plausible choice, which is one reason why the right side of the blogosphere was buzzing about her as a running mate for months before McCain made his choice.
(Another argument I sometimes hear is the issue of whether she was the most qualified woman in the GOP...there's a longer answer when you walk through particular candidates, but the easy answer to that one is this question: how many pro-life female governors are there in the GOP right now? I'm pretty certain the answer to that question is "one," and really the only pro-life female Senator is Elizabeth Dole, and the last thing we need is another Dole on a national ticket.)
Anyway, where Lithwick's column becomes openly contemptible is that she never even breathes the name Barack Obama. I can't imagine there's anybody over the age of 25 who seriously thinks Obama's the person in the Democratic Party most qualified to do the job, and certainly his campaign has never been shy about leaning on his identity as a substitute for things like experience, accomplishment, and leadership ability. Lithwick may have some hidden rationalization why the dynamic she describes doesn't apply to Obama, but she dares not advance it.
Obama has one and only one advantage over Palin: he's been on the campaign trail longer, and thus had more training by now in how to finesse questions he doesn't have a good answer to. That's it.
BUSINESS: Unmarked To Market
An SEC Press Release issued today offers a clarification that may relieve institutions that feel compelled to use "mark to market" or "fair value" accounting for debt securities as to which there is no liquid market (I'll try to just offer a neutral description here; other people at my law firm will no doubt be offering our clients more detailed advice on this topic). This is just one aspect of the credit crisis, but MTM has acted as something of an accelerant for the financial troubles of institutions holding mortgage-backed securities for which there is no active market. Some people, mainly on the Right, have argued that suspending MTM would give needed breathing space and eliminate the need for Treasury to step in as market maker and buy up MBS, while others have argued that loosening the accounting rules just conceals the problem and delays the day of reckoning.
Anyway, today's statement offers at least some clarification that companies need not be rigidly tied in to market prices where there's no market:
When an active market for a security does not exist, the use of management estimates that incorporate current market participant expectations of future cash flows, and include appropriate risk premiums, is acceptable...The determination of fair value often requires significant judgment. In some cases, multiple inputs from different sources may collectively provide the best evidence of fair value.
The statement goes on to note that distressed sales may also not be the best evidence of fair value and deals with other indicia of value such as broker quotes and methods of determining impairment of an asset (recall that unlike, say, the New York Stock Exchange, markets for debt securities do not necessarily have instantaneous public price reporting of all transactions). This is one example of how the regulators are now acting to use the tools already at their disposal rather than wait for Congress to give definitive guidance.
More analysis here.
UPDATE: McCain camp notes they've been pressing this issue since March. Fuller statement excerpt here.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:41 PM | Business | Law 2006-08 | Politics 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS/BUSINESS: The Day After
Well, the last couple of days could have gone better, couldn't they?
The Wall Street Journal has probably the best overview of Congress' failure. Lest anyone get the wrong idea from yesterday's post, which I will freely admit I wrote in a heat when emotions were very raw as the vote slipped away and the stock market collapsed (the credit markets are worse - LIBOR more than doubled overnight, which should frighten the bejabbers out of anyone who pays attention to this stuff), I do think there's plenty of blame to go around in both parties here (naturally, CNN and other media sources are blaming only the Republicans, ignoring who has a majority of votes in the House):
Let's start with the obvious: the credit crisis demands action (I'd love to take the purist free market position of letting lots of businesses fail, but while that makes sense in the case of any one enterprise, the credit/debt markets are like the atmosphere of the economy; if there's no atmosphere, things get uglier by multiples for lots of bystanders who didn't make any mistakes related in any way to the crisis. Here's one canary in the coal mine: the New York Sun, quite possibly New York's best newspaper. If you don't believe me, listen to Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma populist who is such a good friend to taxpayers that all four candidates in the presidential race have fallen over themselves seeking a share of credit for battles Coburn led). And more to the point, if any action is going to take place it has to be large, rapid, decisive, complex, unpopular, and unpleasant for principled people on both sides of the aisle.
Congress, of course, was basically designed specifically to not work this way, and by nature it attracts people who don't work that way. On some level you can't fault the House of Representatives for falling back, when pushed hastily to act on something that was clearly beyond most Members' understanding, on just representing popular anger against the bailout plan that was pouring in to their offices. (This is also why we generally don't put Congressmen or Senators on national tickets - we may have low expectations for legislators, but couldn't abide this sort of behavior in a President).
An aside: an awful lot of basic economics is just common sense expressed in equations, charts and terms of art, and is therefore easy enough for adults to understand if they think about it a little. As a result, there are a lot of people in Congress, at least on the GOP side and among moderate Democrats, who I would trust to understand the essentials of how the economy works.
Modern global finance, when you cut all the way to the gray matter of how the system operates, is another story. It's clearly not something a lot of conservative Republicans in Congress undertood, or that most Congressional liberals would even bother to try to understand. And we're stuck with one Presidential candidate who spent his whole life in public service and seems to think that profit motives are somehow a lesser calling, and another who has proudly boasted of turning away from the private sector and is obsessed with income inequality rather than how income and wealth gets created in the first place. Even the Harvard MBA in the White House is an oilman, not a finance guy. Quite simply, our political class is not equipped to handle this crisis. Now, the traditional conservative answer to that is to say, well, that's why we let the market sort this stuff out rather than entrusting politicians with things that, if they understood them, they wouldn't be politicians. But at this juncture, I'd rather trust the Goldman Sachs guy, Paulson, to come up with the answer (and as another aside, thank heavens Bush got a qualified Treasury Secretary on the third try after the two prior efforts to give the job to industrial CEOs).
House Republicans and John McCain
Whether House Republicans voted "no" out of ideological principle, responsiveness to angry constituents, fear of losing re-election, ambition to rise within the caucus, pique at Nancy Pelosi, or some combination thereof, they win no awards for courage or wisdom in a crisis. The GOP House leadership bit the bullet and came back on their shields; they can't be faulted for lack of courage but they were ultimately ineffective in whipping their own caucus.
I have noted a few times that I agreed on policy grounds with John McCain's decision to involve himself in the negotiations, and the record bears out that his involvement helped House Republicans improve the deal enough to get 60+ votes. Patrick Ruffini continues to argue that it was bad political strategy, and he's probably right that McCain neglected my rule that you never fight legislative battles you can't afford to lose. Either way, McCain did not, in the end, come up with enough House GOP votes to ensure passage. He bought into the process, and didn't deliver the final product.
As a matter of pure political theater, if I was running the campaign, the ideal resolution this week would be to have McCain, or better yet Gov. Palin, get the whip count from Roy Blunt of the most-wavering Republicans, and burn the phone lines to round up 12 House conservatives who voted against the bailout but could be persuaded to switch. Given suddenly softening public opposition to the deal after yesterday's market crash, this may yet be possible, and given that the holdouts include a lot of rural/small town Republicans, Gov. Palin may be just the person to speak their language (and promise to campaign in their districts and defend their decision). Then, hold a joint press conference hailing them as heroes for biting the bullet to switch their votes and save the economy and, while she's at it, explain to the media that she has learned as a Governor that being a doer matters more than being a talker. "Nancy Pelosi, here are the votes you couldn't deliver in your own caucus. Now, let's get beyond finger-pointing and do the people's business."
UPDATE: I see Tom Maguire has suggested nearly exactly the same thing.
House Democrats and Barack Obama
Leaving aside policy, Karl Rove pretty perfectly captures here the political and emotional dynamic on the House floor as the vote came down:
H/T. The question of the day is whether the failure of the bailout package was proof of Pelosi's and Barack Obama's incompetence or their deliberate choice.
On the incompetence front, well, most of you will remember how the whip operation worked when Tom DeLay was House GOP Whip and later Majority Leader: Republicans running the chamber basically never lost a floor vote because DeLay would twist arms until they snapped like twigs to get those last few votes, and would not bring a bill to the floor until he damn well knew he had those votes. The House is not the Senate; the minority has no formidable powers of obstruction. The majority gets what it wants, period. If you assume Pelosi wanted this to pass, you would think she could have used every procedural device and lever of influence in the book to make it happen.
But increasingly, it looks like this was deliberate and done to place the interests of blaming Republicans over the nation. Soren Dayton rounds up the damning evidence, including the fact that Pelosi never even had her Whip, John Clyburn, do his job and round up support. Then we get this, which even the New York Times couldn't find an excuse not to print:
Mr. Holtz-Eakin said Mr. McCain had made "dozens of calls" on the bill, some to House Republicans who opposed it.
H/T. Go back and listen to that list reeled off by Rove, and notice the presence of a lot of Obama allies, including Congressman Jesse Jackson jr, national co-chair of the Obama campaign and a frequent spokesman on Obama's behalf (Jackson's statement is here). (Obama's own Congressman, Bobby Rush, also voted No). Do we really think Obama could not have swayed Jackson's vote on this? Are there really not twelve House Democrats, not even in the Congressional Black Caucus - which voted heavily against the deal - who care what Barack Obama thinks? (If not, that bodes ill indeed for an Obama presidency).
In other words, neither Pelosi nor Obama raised a finger to make this happen, and their defenders must at best argue that they are so ineffective they could not have made a difference if they tried (I mean, if you can't buy William Jefferson's vote...). Barney Frank was bragging that he could persuade a dozen more Republicans if they'd give him the names, but three Massachusetts Democrats, Stephen Lynch, John Tierney and William Delahunt, all voted No as well, and Frank doesn't seem to have made any headway with them. Pelosi's speech laying into Republicans on the eve of the vote just seems the icing on the cake here.
Needless to say, deliberately contributing to the defeat of legislation they professed to support, solely for political gain, would not reflect well on Pelosi or Obama. But as little respect as I have for their competence, I can't look at their inaction and think they are really fools enough that they could have been trying to pass it and acted as they did.
That said, I do not think four years of this would be at all healthy for the conservative movement. (H/T Ace). I mean, it was fun to read and several of the individual factual pieces are worth repeating, but the overall theme and especially the flow chart just reeks of "truther"-style conspiracy theory.
I don't especially blame Bush for the vote failure - it's not like he has any political chits left to call in (how totally obvious is it that Bush would have been happy to head back to his ranch about three months ago?). Then again, if one of the lessons of Bush I was that you need to spend your political capital while it lasts, one of the enduring lessons of Bush II is that maybe you shouldn't spend it all and have nothing left for a rainy day.
September 29, 2008
POLITICS/BUSINESS: Delay For Its Own Sake
SECOND UPDATE: Well, the House has voted the bailout down 228-205, despite 66 Republicans (including basically the entire leadership) throwing in behind the bill despite their distaste for it; the Democrats lost something like 40% of their caucus. Seems to me that McCain, having gone all-in for this bill, now has to do Pelosi's job for her and locate the last 13 votes to get this done. We know Obama can't and won't, despite bragging that he deserved credit for the deal.
UPDATE: Looks like they are voting anyway and at last check, the House is about set to vote the deal down. Hold on to your seatbelts, folks.
So, the word just came down that the Senate will not vote on the bailout package until Wednesday night. House Republicans should refuse to vote on the deal until the ballots are cast in the Senate. And Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid should be ashamed of themselves.
Really, I had intended to write up a review of the progress made in the negotiations over the weekend, but it is just astonishing to me that we have not had votes in both Houses first thing this morning, and as the Democrats run the place, this is entirely their fault.
You may or may not agree that the bailout bill is necessary, but the Democratic leadership in Congress is supporting this bill on the publicly avowed theory that it is. And the reason why it is perceived as necessary is to shore up confidence in fast-paced credit markets. Yet not only did we have dithering last week driven by Democratic efforts to turn the bill into a Christmas tree of special interest favors like earmarked handouts to left-wing groups like Barack Obama's friends at ACORN and unrelated corporate governance provisions for the whole economy, but now the Democrats seem in no hurry to bring the bill to a vote.
I know it's hard to get this all written down and digested. (Which, by the way, is one reason all the extras should never have been piled on). But Members of Congress get paid to make decisions. They had all weekend and then some to evaluate the basic merits of the Paulson bailout plan. And every day, every hour that there's no deal, there are additional financial institution failures, further tightening in the credit markets, and uncertainty-driven losses in the stock market.
The reason why the Democrats want delay is extraordinarily simple: electoral politics. Economic uncertainty always plays against the party in the White House. The polls over the last week bear this out. Every day the agony is prolonged and more people lose money, it benefits Obama.
And of course we saw the contrasting reactions last week in the presidential race: John McCain dropped everything to go to Washington and help Republicans battle back, successfully, against all the Democratic add-ons (John Boehner: "if it were not for John McCain supporting me at the White House when I said whoa, whoa, time-out, they would have run over me like a freight train."), while nobody asked for Obama's help and he had no discernible impact on the negotiations. As a result of his decision to take action, McCain ends up more dependent on getting things actually done and delivering, a dynamic that's wholly alien to Obama, who has no experience with needing to get results.
Personally, unhappy as I am with the turn of events that brought the market to this point, I support the bailout. But House Republicans shouldn't let themselves get used to provide political cover for an emergency rescue operation if the Senate's just going to sit on it for another two and a half business days. They should refuse to play along with this effort and should not participate in any vote that doesn't include a simultaneous Senate vote.
September 26, 2008
POLITICS: The First McCain-Obama Debate
I kinda hate writing up debates, given the extent to which posts get pored over for any sign of conceding that my side did anything but slaughter the opposition. That said, let's take on a few points about tonight's debate.
(1) This was a great debate. Fiesty, back and forth - there was too much crosstalk, but this was not just a stilted debate of the type that, frankly, you get when George W. Bush is involved. Jim Lehrer sounded old and wheezy but did manage to get the candidates to go after each other.
(2) If I had to use a word to describe Obama tonight, it would be "lawyerly" - he interrupted McCain repeatedly, he let nothing pass without a response. He was well prepared, didn't stammer as much as in past debates and had clearly worked on smiling rather than staring at his shoes when criticized. It was, in fact, a stronger presentation than his past debate performances, although as usual he had no memorable lines. Obviously there were a number of things he said that didn't hold water, but I'm not feeling energetic enough to wade into all that just yet.
(3) The upside for McCain is that he was highly energetic, and probably went a long way to dispelling concerns about his age. His effortless mastery of foreign policy and repeated and pointed dismissals of Obama's naivete were brilliant (Obama really doesn't know the difference between a tactic and a strategy), although on a number of occasions you could see that - betraying the fact that he was winging it - he was rushing to cover vast swathes of ground in a single answer without a prepared spiel. I suppose it was inevitable that he'd refuse to get sucked into the endless debate about the decision to go to war in Iraq. He eventually got good shots in on the surge but never quite cleanly explained how Obama was willing to lose the war. Probably the highlight for McCain was mocking Obama's idea that you could just disavow things said by Ahmedinejad once you've agreed to meet with him. McCain did start building the case that Obama's too far to the left to work across the aisle, but needs to ratchet that case up with specifics in the future.
(4) In general, I suspect this debate comes as a positive for both candidates, but isn't the game-changer the past 10 days of polling sugests McCain needs. Probably my biggest disappointment, among a couple of places where McCain let Obama off the hook, was failing to lay into him as he did in the speech here for Obama's obstruction of reforms McCain had pushed to head off a key element of the credit crisis two years ago. When Obama started to say anything at all about how we got into the credit crisis, the response should have been a "how dare you" moment, and McCain just let him slide. He may live to regret that.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:08 PM | Politics 2008 | Politics 2008 | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: The First McCain-Obama Debate
I kinda hate writing up debates, given the extent to which posts get pored over for any sign of conceding that my side did anything but slaughter the opposition. That said, let's take on a few points about tonight's debate.
(1) This was a great debate. Fiesty, back and forth - there was too much crosstalk, but this was not just a stilted debate of the type that, frankly, you get when George W. Bush is involved. Jim Lehrer sounded old and wheezy but did manage to get the candidates to go after each other.
(2) If I had to use a word to describe Obama tonight, it would be "lawyerly" - he interrupted McCain repeatedly, he let nothing pass without a response. He was well prepared, didn't stammer as much as in past debates and had clearly worked on smiling rather than staring at his shoes when criticized. It was, in fact, a stronger presentation than his past debate performances, although as usual he had no memorable lines. Obviously there were a number of things he said that didn't hold water, but I'm not feeling energetic enough to wade into all that just yet.
(3) The upside for McCain is that he was highly energetic, and probably went a long way to dispelling concerns about his age. His effortless mastery of foreign policy and repeated and pointed dismissals of Obama's naivete were brilliant (Obama really doesn't know the difference between a tactic and a strategy), although on a number of occasions you could see that - betraying the fact that he was winging it - he was rushing to cover vast swathes of ground in a single answer without a prepared spiel. I suppose it was inevitable that he'd refuse to get sucked into the endless debate about the decision to go to war in Iraq. He eventually got good shots in on the surge but never quite cleanly explained how Obama was willing to lose the war. Probably the highlight for McCain was mocking Obama's idea that you could just disavow things said by Ahmedinejad once you've agreed to meet with him. McCain did start building the case that Obama's too far to the left to work across the aisle, but needs to ratchet that case up with specifics in the future.
(4) In general, I suspect this debate comes as a positive for both candidates, but isn't the game-changer the past 10 days of polling sugests McCain needs. Probably my biggest disappointment, among a couple of places where McCain let Obama off the hook, was failing to lay into him as he did in the speech here for Obama's obstruction of reforms McCain had pushed to head off a key element of the credit crisis two years ago. When Obama started to say anything at all about how we got into the credit crisis, the response should have been a "how dare you" moment, and McCain just let him slide. He may live to regret that.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:08 PM | Politics 2008 | Politics 2008 | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: What McCain Needs To Do Tonight
I had thought out in advance a week ago or more what John McCain needed to do tonight. But for better or for worse (in a macro sense, for McCain, probably worse) the financial crisis and McCain's decision to double down on getting a deal done in DC, followed by his unsuccessful game of chicken aimed at getting Obama to postpone the debate, has totally scrambled the situation and thrown everything into chaos. These kinds of structured Q&A debates aren't really either candidate's strong suit - Obama's better at staged speeches, McCain at wide-open forums - but in McCain's case, the advantage he has is that this is head to head, so he can have some effect on his opponent's performance.
Since he's had a bad two weeks in the polls, he has a greater need to move the needle than Obama does; the stakes are high. Beyond the general need to avoid major gaffes and serious no-nos (for McCain, having a 'senior moment' or doing something people see as racially insensitive, for Obama, hitting McCain for his war-related disabilities again or otherwise giving McCain a good reason to play the war hero card), here is what McCain needs to do.
(1) McCain needs to sell what he has been doing this week.
Foreign policy debate or no, the elephant in the room is the credit crisis, the negotiations in Washington, and McCain's brief suspension of his campaign. He needs to address, not necessarily at length but squarely, that he's been hard at work in DC and that a bipartisan deal will get done and will justify his decisions. (Implicitly it reminds people that McCain's been too busy to prepare for this debate, he's going in cold because he knows his stuff). If no deal gets done, this race is over, and McCain and everyone else know it.
Relatedly, McCain needs to be on the offensive in getting economic issues, including energy security and free trade, into this debate. One of the risks he's faced all campaign is that he'd be seen as a foreign policy guy with no real interest in domestic bread-and-butter issues; with those issues dominating the week's news, he needs to communicate that they are very much on his mind.
(2) McCain needs to punch Obama in the face.
Rhetorically, of course. Given the seriousness of this week's events it may be a bit riskier to do it tonight, but he needs to start and to do it in each of the debates. From McCain's perspective, you usually worry about coming off as mean, but people generally don't think John McCain is a nice man; they like and/or respect him because he's a scrapper who is willing to throw a punch and gets up off the mat when you hit him. And especially in the national security area, one of the largest concerns about Obama is his toughness; McCain wants the viewer at home wondering how Obama will stand toe to toe with Ahmadenijad or Putin.
Going after Obama very directly is good as well for the body language; Obama tends to stare at his shoes and look sheepish when he's criticized, and he's extremely thin-skinned and reacts badly to being directly criticized or called out on untruths. For example, Obama will claim that Bush and Maliki are following his plan for withdrawals from Iraq by mid-2010; McCain needs to hammer home that Obama's plan in fact called for complete withdrawal by March 2008.
(3) McCain needs to keep Obama off balance.
This much, he's already done; Obama has had his schedule and focus seriously disrupted this week. McCain thrives on chaos and crisis; Obama does not. McCain needs to keep rattling Obama, keep him out of his comfort zone of gauzy generalities, and force him to answer questions he hasn't thought through.
(4) McCain needs to raise doubts about Obama's staying power in Afghanistan.
The Democrats for some time now have followed a strategy of balancing dovish policies on wherever the U.S. is engaged in a hot or cold war with tough talk about other enemies we aren't confronting at the moment - hence, Democrats talked tough on Iraq in 1998 but not in 2002, or on Iran in 2004, but less so in later years as an actual confrontation became a possibility. But Obama's extended the tough talk to Afghanistan, where we are actually at war.
But once withdrawals from Iraq accelerate and Bush is gone, the anti-war movement's focus will inevitably shift to Afghanistan. If the fight there gets tougher, will Obama have the guts to take the position McCain did with Iraq in 2007-08 and double down for victory, or will he do what Obama did in that period? McCain has to draw that connection to show how Obama's faux-hawkishness will melt under pressure.
(5) McCain needs to start identifying Obama as an arch-liberal.
This is more an issue for the domestic policy debates but it needs to start tonight. At the end of the day, America is a slightly center-right country. McCain is a center-right candidate, the candidate for people who are a step to the left of George W. Bush; Obama is a far-left candidate, the candidate for people who are a step to the left of Hillary Clinton. Yet much of Obama's appeal is the fiction he started building in 2004 that he was some sort of centrist unity candidate. McCain has to shatter the remains of that illusion.
The face to face debates are the best time to drive that point home, both explicitly and through the issues. He can, for example, remind people that this time last year, Obama was promising liberal groups he would "slow our development of future combat systems." In 2004, simply by repeatedly calling John Kerry a liberal in the second debate, President Bush drove up by 6 points in one night the number of people who identified Kerry as a liberal.
Also, one bit of advice for Obama:
Obama needs to ignore Palin
Obama has a lot of trouble letting things go, and has shown a particular problem handling the prominence of McCain's running mate, which leads to lowering Obama's stature by reminding people that McCain's far more experienced and prepared than the two of them put together. Obama should deal solely with McCain.
POLITICS/BUSINESS: Some Straight Talk For House Republicans: Time To Lead From The Rear
The question of the day is whether House Republicans are going to support some form of bipartisan bailout deal. The Paulson plan is pretty much the only plan that is on the table with any conceivable chance of passing a Democrat-controlled House and Senate, period. There will undoubtedly be battles over what to add on to the basic bones of the Paulson plan, or whether to tinker around the edges of its structure, but while people debate the academic merits of plans laid out by Newt Gingrich, the Republican Study Committee, and others, we need to bear in mind that none of those plans has any chance of passing this Congress.
Nobody is threatening a filibuster of the Paulson plan in the Senate, and indeed I have not seen any sign of major organized opposition among Senate Republicans. As we all know from elementary school Civics, if Nancy Pelosi can get her caucus to line up behind the bill, not a single House Republican's vote is needed to pass it. The bailout remains massively unpopular and sets many bad policy precedents, and under ordinary conditions Republican intransigence would be the right and honorable thing to do: make the majority take responsibility for doing something unpopular, present a coherent alternative, capitalize at the polls, and replace as much of the unpopular plan as possible with the alternative after the elections.
These are not normal times. House Republicans need badly to come to grips with four very unpleasant realities, and to do so ASAP - and if ever there is a time for John McCain to lead them, this is it:
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(1) Congress Is Run By Cowards
As I said, the votes of House Republicans are in practical terms utterly meaningless. We have seen over the years innumerable occasions of both Democratic and Republican majorities in the House blithely bulldozing the powerless minority. But given the unpopularity of the Paulson plan at large and with the Democrats' base, to say nothing of the role of Congressional Democrats in creating this mess, Nancy Pelosi simply lacks the courage to have her caucus take ownership of the plan and vote for it. She is frozen by her fear. She cannot lead, and she will not lead. And nobody's even asking Barack Obama to step in and provide the leadership that is absent.
In normal times, her cowardice could be highlighted and run against. But today, if Congress is to act, the minority must take the wheel and lead. It's no answer to say the bailout is unpopular. Sometimes, the people need leadership, not followership; that's why voters elected leaders in the first place. If McCain and the House Republicans lead, the deal will get done. If they don't, it won't. It's that simple.
And the leadership squabble in the House GOP is precisely why we need McCain to lean on people. To understand John Boehner's posture you have to remember that
(1) Boehner's job as head of his caucus is in deep trouble anyway for reasons that predate this crisis.
(2) Pretty much everyone who is gunning for said job is against the bailout, and loudly so.
(3) They have a majority of the caucus behind them.
(4) If Boehner wants to keep his job he is not gonna get ahead of his caucus.
In other words, somebody needs to rally the GOP caucus, and it won't be its leader. You know how sometimes in children's books and cartoons and comic books, you have a character who has some really bizarre and sometimes irritating talent or superpower, and all of a sudden circumstances arise in which that character's unique talents are suddenly needed to save the world? That's where we are today. John McCain's signature talent as a legislator is his ability to get horrendous bipartisan legislation passed. Today, the nation needs some horrendous bipartisan legislation. It's time for McCain to get the House Republicans to follow him where their best political and policy judgment and their constituents are all telling them not to go.
(2) Psychology Trumps Policy
The point where I have reluctantly parted company with the Paulson plan's critics throughout this debate is the difference between looking at this as an issue of policy and looking at it as an issue of psychology. The primary importance of a deal, almost any deal, is its immediate effect on investor confidence, to prevent things like massive bank failures, a run on the money market funds and a freeze of the commercial paper markets, which would collapse the stock market and lead to Very Bad Things. Even if this might be the healthiest solution in the longest run, we are at the point of a potentially massive short-term system failure with huge real-world consequences for millions of Americans. Preventing that Worst Case Scenario by propping up investor confidence won't prevent a recession, but is nonetheless a critically important goal of national policy. Bear in mind that as the U.S. goes, so goes the world; you may recall that 1933 ushered in some developments with rather adverse consequences for our national security. In other words, the actual merits of a deal may be far less important than doing something quickly that reassures the markets. There's an old military saying that a bad solution today is sometimes better than a good one a week from now; or, as Chesterton put it, if a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing badly. Speed matters more than getting it right; and we can always push for additional pro-growth measures and scaling back of the worst add-ons later if the Democrats insist on larding the bill up with goodies. All the policy arguments in the world can't stop a herd of frightened investors from stampeding off a cliff, and will do us no good at the bottom.
(3) The Market Will Arrive Too Late To Help
The RSC and other proposals are premised on the idea that pro-growth policies can bring nervous private capital out from hiding. It's not gonna happen in time to prevent a meltdown, because people who invested in mortgage-backed securities before and ended up losing their shirts are just not going to ride in on a shiny white unicorn and start doing the same thing all over again, no matter how many tax incentives you give them, especially when so many of them are out of free cash right now. That may not be a rational answer but it's a realistic one: fear is a powerful emotion, and it can run wild for a long time before it exhausts itself.
And that means government needs to step in. Not because the market can't figure out the right prices for the MBS and related debt securities at issue, but because nobody who has enough money to invest to make the market liquid again is able to let go of the fear. Government does not invest wisely, and I have no illusions that it will do a great job of pricing the assets Paulson wants to buy. Yes, the Paulson plan is a blunt instrument that will undoubtedly proceed the way ham-handed government solutions always do. But the simple fact that government can mobilize a huge amount of cash quickly means it can fix the situation, for pretty much precisely the same reason why government can build armies and go to the moon. Government works best when what is needed is simply the unique economy of scale and the coercive power to move with great speed it brings to the table.
If you don't believe me, I suggest you spend the weekend hitting up investors for $700 billion to start your own hedge fund to invest solely in underperforming mortgage-backed securities. You may find it harder than you think.
Let me give you a rudimentary explanation of why rapid government action will work - not perfectly, but well enough to unfreeze the joints of the financial system. As anyone who has ever played Monopoly understands, the economics of the price of everything on the board changes when everybody is out of cash and in hock up to their eyeballs. But parachute one new player in who is flush, or better yet has a limitless line of credit, and that player can make serious profits in a hurry and at least temporarily keep the others on the board from going under when they hit street repairs or the luxury tax.
Paulson plans to buy up MBS (which I'm using here as shorthand) at some price that is maybe around the current market price, give or take, but in highly illiquid markets. And even if this means that the sellers of MBS are realizing their losses ASAP by selling at a steep discount, cashing out those losses and taking the charge to the balance sheet up front, that still has value that no private entity has the scale to provide on such short notice.
Let's say you are a bank. You hold $400 million face amount of MBS. Market price, to the extent there's one at all, appears to be $25, so your portfolio is worth $100 million on paper.
Suddenly Uncle Hank comes in with his bottomless debit card and says, you know what? I bet if I buy you out at $25 I can make a profit. And to extend or perhaps mix the Monopoly analogy, Hank buys out some of the inventory of everybody else on the board too. He buys Boardwalk for $150. He buys the railroads for $40 a piece, all four of them. He buys the orange set with the three hotels for $600. And in the end - getting us back to the MBS world - he'll make a profit on some of those when they pay at maturity at $100 or $70 or $45, lose his shirt on others, and maybe earn an average return of maybe $30, so he stands a good chance of making a profit simply because he was the only guy who could afford to take advantage of good buying opportunities at such an enormous scale. Uncle Hank hasn't outsmarted the market, he was just the only guy who could afford the risk.
But even if the taxpayer doesn't make a profit, the system will be able to function again without the uncertainty of having the balance sheet tied up in illiquid assets. Because your bank now has $100 million in cash, and can get out of the business of freaking out about your MBS portfolio and trying to figure out how much of the rest of your investments have to be called in to keep a cushion in case the bank next door holds a fire sale and the price drops to $10. Bingo - you can now go back to lending money.
The private sector can do this - but not with nearly this kind of speed. Which, when you consider why that's not happening, brings us back to our original point about this being a fundamentally psychological crisis - a mental recession, if you will, but one that's no less real for being mental. The government can bear larger risk and thus proceed without the fear that keeps private capital sidelined after a traumatic experience.
(4) Life Is Not Fair
If the markets go blooey over the lack of a deal, the fact that the bailout had been unpopular will not save the lack of a bailout from being even more unpopular. And Republicans will get the blame - because the media's already blaming the House GOP, because our guy is in the White House and will get tagged as the new Hoover, because all the political contributions to Democrats in the world, and all the explanations of how bad public policy was at fault, can't break the Republicans=rich people=free market=Wall Street link in the public mind. And with just five weeks until the elections, that will mean that economic disaster is followed by electoral disaster and quite possibly the end of the free market as we know it at the hands of the winners of that election.
Republicans can grouse about this but we know in our hearts it is true. Failure to act will be political suicide for the GOP. So in the end, it's not only about putting the nation first, but saving the party's political hide as well. It's time for the minority to lead.
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September 25, 2008
POLITICS: The Curious Incident of Reid and Pelosi In A Crisis
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."
In politics, actions speak louder than words, and inaction sometimes speaks even louder. With John McCain leaving the campaign trail to go to Washington to join the negotiations over the Paulson bailout bill, there's a fair debate about exactly how important his presence there is, as I will discuss below. But judging by the actions of everyone involved, there's no doubt that even his own Democratic colleagues recognize that Barack Obama is completely irrelevant to the process.
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As I noted yesterday, nobody really wants to support the bailout, but the White House and many in both parties on Capitol Hill feel it's necessary, and will back it if and only if a consensus bipartisan deal can be put together. John McCain, of course, has made a career in Washington of being the man in the middle who holds the key to precisely such sorts of bipartisan compromises.
The Democrats' Congressional leadership has zigzagged repeatedly on whether they want or need that help in building a consensus. Wednesday morning, we were hearing that Harry Reid was alternately begging for McCain's help and claiming he already had it to press Republicans unhappy with the deal into supporting it:
Media reports indicate congressional Democrats and Republicans alike are anxiously looking to Sen. John McCain for cues on his stance on the financial bailout package. Stories suggest the GOP nominee's stance on the legislation could prove decisive to its passage. ABC World News, for example, reported McCain "may hold the fate of the $700 billion bailout proposal in his hands. Even with Vice President Dick Cheney lobbying hard for the bill today, top congressional Republicans say if McCain does not support the bill, it will likely die" and "Democratic leaders have told the White House a deal without McCain on board will mean no sale. They say they fear McCain will, quote, 'demagogue' the bill and Democrats on the campaign trail." Roll Call adds, "According to a Democratic aide familiar with the discussions," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Treasury Secretary Paulson "this week that 'if McCain didn't come out for this thing and come out for it quickly, it was going to begin bleeding Republican votes.' Democrats 'have a very real concern that opposition [from McCain] is going to drive away potential Republican votes,' this aide said."
McCain at this point was in the midst of negotiating with Obama a bland joint statement of the need for bipartisan consensus, without saying what it was they wanted consensus on. McCain had, shortly before the announcement of the Paulson plan last week, released his own bailout framework on Thursday the 19th (see here and here), which appeared to lean more in the direction of loans to shaky companies rather than purchases of their inventory, but hadn't firmly committed himself on the deal still being worked out between the White House and the Hill Democrats. But then Reid's call for help was echoed by a summons by Paulson, relayed through Lindsey Graham, that McCain's aid was needed:
Paulson then called, according to my sources, Senator Lindsey Graham, who is very close to John McCain, and told him: you've got to get the people in the McCain campaign, you've got to convince John McCain to give these Republicans some political cover. If you don't do that, this whole bailout plan is going to fail. So that's how, McCain, apparently, became involved.
That's the point at which McCain decided to "suspend" his campaign and return to Washington, even arguing that Friday night's debate in Mississippi should be postponed so as not to interfere with the negotiations in DC. After Obama refused to follow suit, Hill Democrats hastily scrambled to downplay McCain's importance. Barney Frank sneered that "McCain is Andy Kaufman in his Mighty Mouse costume - 'Here I Come to Save the Day,'" while Reid reversed course and said that neither McCain nor Obama would be helpful:
[I]t would not be helpful at this time to have them come back during these negotiations and risk injecting presidential politics into this process or distract important talks about the future of our nation's economy. If that changes, we will call upon them. We need leadership; not a campaign photo op.
Eventually President Bush invited both McCain and Obama to a joint meeting with both parties' Congressional leadership at the White House. The Democrats' insistence on McCain's unimportance didn't last any longer than Reid's original statement. Congressional Quarterly today reported that
McCain's unilateral decision to break off his campaign and return to Washington to push for action on a rescue plan scrambled the political world Wednesday but by Thursday was seen by some Democrats as a way to potentially help line up Republicans behind the final proposal.
With the economic news only getting worse each day, I call on the President, Senator McCain and Congressional Republicans to join us to quickly get this done for American families.
In other words, Reid recognizes the basic reality: McCain is a player in this debate and needs to be a part of any resolution.
what I've told the leadership in Congress is that, if I can be helpful, then I am prepared to be anywhere, anytime.
Neither Reid nor Pelosi has called for Obama to do anything; there has been no groundswell among Hill Democrats for Obama to get involved, and so far as I can tell, nobody is much discussing whether the plan being worked out does or does not satisfy Obama's "principles" or whether Obama's ultimate support or opposition will affect how they vote. And Beldar explains why that silence says everything about what Obama's own colleagues think of his usefulness in a crisis:
What's already abundantly clear in this crisis...without the need for any hindsight, is that Barack Obama has failed to lead.
Oh, well. At least they will get their gold coins with Obama's likeness on them. That's undoubtedly worth more than his leadership or his ideas.
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POLITICS: Stump The Veep
Like a lot of conservatives I was gnashing my teeth on two levels at the initial interview clip yesterday of Governor Palin, in response to a question from Katie Couric, not being able to name any examples of John McCain pushing for more regulation in his 26-year career - that's like if somebody running with Joe Lieberman couldn't name examples of him bucking his party. McCain may not be the knee-jerk hyper-regulator that many Democrats are, but he's built an extensive track record of pushing for more regulation in numerous different areas (e.g., campaign finance, health care), much too often in fact for my taste, and while you'd expect Palin to have focused more on boning up on policy than on her running mate's lengthy legislative record, it's not that hard a question.
If you watch the full(er) clip, though (and from the choppy editing it's still hard to tell how much ended up on the cutting room floor), you can see that what happened was that Palin was talking about a specific example of McCain pushing for more regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and Couric pressed her for other examples from McCain's legislative record specifically dealing with securities regulation:
H/T. Now as it happens, if you do your homework on this, it's not hard to find such examples; McCain voted for Sarbanes-Oxley, and voted against the 1995 Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (one of only four Republicans to do so) and the 1998 Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act (which passed 79-21), for example, and joined with Carl Levin to propose that if companies "don't account for their stock options as a cost in earnings reports, then they cannot claim them later as tax deductions." Of course, I can tell you those things because I'm a securities lawyer and I have access to Google; I'm not sure McCain would have all those examples at his fingertips offhand, much less Palin (indeed, I often find that people even in my business are surprised to hear that he voted against the PSLRA, and obviously Couric couldn't find them or she wouldn't have falsely stated as fact that McCain "almost always sided with the, less regulation, not more"). In that context, it's not much of a "gotcha" moment to demonstrate that Palin doesn't know chapter and verse on one of the more arcane corners of McCain's lengthy career. (Unlike, say, the time Barack Obama had to admit to a voter that he didn't know anything about the Hanford Nuclear site, the largest nuclear waste dump in the Western Hemisphere and a decades-long ongoing controversy). That said, she does need to get better at the essential skill of how to not answer a question she doesn't know the answer to.
Of course, most conservatives would challenge Couric's assumption that piling regulation on regulation is always a good thing, but Palin's not the top of the ticket here; McCain is, and you don't want to get off his message (the opposite problem bedeviled Mark Sanford earlier this summer when he got stumped trying to name ways in which McCain's economic plan differs from Bush - I'm sure Sanford could think of examples but he was unable to name any without highlighting the fact that they'd be things Sanford opposes).
Finally, note that as edited, Couric opens with a question about money paid by Freddie Mac to the former employer of McCain campaign strategist Rick Davis, in which he may arguably still have some financial interest. This might be a reasonable line of inquiry if she explained why this matters, i.e., McCain's much more extensive bill of particulars against Obama himself on this issue, but instead Couric presents the story as if the only issue is Rick Davis. (Video of McCain taking on Obama on this is below the fold; the McCain camp's full and formal response on the Davis story is here). Which is pretty much the argument in a nutshell for why people like Couric are not worth talking to at all.
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September 24, 2008
BUSINESS/POLITICS: How We Got Here
Daffyd ab Hugh at Big Lizards has an insanely long but comprehensive and comprehensible post on the nature of the current financial crisis and the Paulson bailout plan. (H/T Ace) As somebody who was familiar with a good deal of this stuff before it hit the front pages, I can vouch for the fact that this is a smart, clear, insightful summary. My main question about it is that Daffyd seems to assume that Treasury will be buying MBS at the low, distressed market prices now available, and I'm not sure we have assurances that is the case.
By the way, I was listening to the horrible Mets game rather than watching President Bush's speech tonight, but on paper at least the speech was a fairly clear layman's explanation of how the crisis developed. I know some conservatives wanted a more partisan finger-pointing speech, but Bush isn't running for office, he's trying to hold together fragile bipartisan support for a bill nobody likes. And he does seem to give credence to Daffyd's reading of how the bailout will operate:
[A]s markets have lost confidence in mortgage-backed securities, their prices have dropped sharply. Yet the value of many of these assets will likely be higher than their current price, because the vast majority of Americans will ultimately pay off their mortgages. The government is the one institution with the patience and resources to buy these assets at their current low prices and hold them until markets return to normal. And when that happens, money will flow back to the Treasury as these assets are sold. And we expect that much, if not all, of the tax dollars we invest will be paid back.
POLITICS: Should McCain Send Palin To Oxford?
Here's the state of play as I write. Bush and Capitol Hill Democrats are hammering out an agreement to, in essence, bail out financial institutions and possibly other companies that hold bad debt, mainly mortgage-backed securities. Pretty much everybody on all sides agrees that the bailout proposal stinks to high heaven and is a fundamental violation of everything conservatives believe in and everything liberals believe in, is likely to be hugely unpopular with the public, and in the short term at least will put a big crimp on federal finances. But lots of people on all sides believe that the markets will be stabilized by the deal and will really implode without it, wrecking the rest of the economy. Since markets are all about perception, that could end up being the case, which makes the deal or something very like it necessary. McCain proposed a plan of his own which is not too dissimilar; Obama hasn't proposed anything. So there aren't really a lot of alternatives on the table, and no good ones.
Given the general rule that nothing this bad happens in Washington if it's not bipartisan, the Democrats in the majority are deathly - and justifiably - afraid that if they agree to the deal, McCain and Congressional Republicans will run against it and crucify them. Republicans seem mostly resigned to support the deal in large numbers as long as the Democrats don't try to hang too many wish-list items on it and turn it into the Mother of All Pork Barrels. And of course, McCain has long experience being the last holdout in the middle whose views dictate the direction of a bipartisan deal. So Bush, Paulson, Reid, Pelosi & Co. actually seem to need McCain in Washington to do what he's done so often before, get in the middle of things and influence how a deal gets worked out that is just minimally acceptable enough for everyone to sign it. Obama's presence, by contrast, is mostly superfluous, since nobody really thinks he's a factor in what goes on in DC, and hot air is never in short supply anyway.
On the campaign trail, by contrast, Obama is benefitting in recent polls from the general sense that bad things are happening and somebody new might have better ideas; he clearly knows better than to spoil that by actually doing anything or having any ideas. Whereas McCain hasn't been able to get traction from the outside looking in, and doesn't really seem comfortable blowing the deal up, knowing the consequences. Accordingly, what McCain did today was announce that he's suspending his campaign over the next several days to come to DC to get a deal done before markets open on Monday, and call on Obama to do the same and to reschedule Friday night's debate in Oxford, Mississippi, the first one scheduled, focusing on foreign policy/national security. Obama has refused on both counts.
Which has led to the question of the day. McCain is needed in Washington; Obama's not - and neither is McCain's running mate, Gov. Palin, who obviously is not a Senator. Should McCain send her to appear on his behalf and debate Obama on Friday night?
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Such a debate might actually be a good thing for the nation: people are concerned about whether Obama or Palin, both novices in the area of national security and in their first terms in major political office, are ready to be Commander-in-Chief, Obama on Day One, Palin if anything ever happened to McCain. That readiness issue is one of the core uncertainties in a campaign where neither side has really yet closed the deal with enough undecided voters to win. As a matter of political strategy, the answer to that question seems to come down to two things: whether or not McCain thinks Palin is ready after just a few weeks of prep to go toe-to-toe with Obama on national security two days from now, and whether McCain thinks it's crucial to have the McCain-Obama debate on national security so McCain can expose Obama's glib blandishments in detail on the issue.
Let's walk through the decision tree of what happens if McCain sends Palin to Oxford to represent the campaign. Sending surrogates to campaign events is standard enough practice, but of course sending your subordinate to meet the other guy's #1 is regarded throughout the worlds of politics, international affairs, and business as fairly insulting, and usually ends up with a cancelled meeting. Obama would probably refuse to debate her, but then again he might not, and McCain has to make the call not knowing for certain what Obama would do, and considering the risks and rewards of both.
Potential upsides for McCain:
1. Expectations would be extremely low, especially if she's dropped into the debate on barely more than a day's notice - Palin's limited exposure to the media has re-created the circumstances before her Convention speech, in which she's being caricatured as totally ignorant and has a huge upside if she comes off well. We know from obervers of the 2006 Alaska Governor's race that Palin is an experienced and skilled debater, although of course you can't debate well if you aren't 100% up to speed on the subject matter. By contrast, while Obama is well-practiced at BS-ing his way through national security issues he plainly doesn't understand, he's actually not a very good debater away from his TelePrompter, where he tends to stammer a lot. If she's adequately prepared to stand toe to toe with the man universally hailed as the most golden-tongued speaker in the business, she wins just by not getting killed, and could devastate his campaign if she actually comes out his equal or better.
2. Palin has the element of surprise - Joe Biden's been preparing to debate Palin, Obama hasn't.
3. This would be a colossal television event, far more intensely watched than your usual political debate. Recall the huge ratings for Palin's Convention speech.
4. Obama can get awfully snippy when confronted and clearly doesn't respect Palin at all. He's already got a potentially bad rep for being dismissive of her, of Hillary, and of female reporters. The potential for him to aggravate the situation by sneering at her is high.
5. Obama's stature necessarily drops by talking to McCain's understudy.
2. Obama often says things about national security that can be easily dismantled by anyone versed in the issues, but that Palin, even if well-prepped on her own points, might not take him apart on if she's focused on hitting her own marks. McCain won't miss the chance to pounce if Obama again thinks Afghans speak Arabic or calls for a worldwide ban on fissile materials.
3. Nobody's thinking about national security this week. McCain would rather have this debate closer to the election when the Wall Street crisis is in the rearview mirror a bit.
Potential upsides for McCain:
1. After weeks of pushing the story that Palin is afraid of reporters, the media has to report that she was willing to face off against Obama and he was afraid of her.
2. Obama faces the possibility that he comes off as thinking debating Palin is beneath him, which plays into the issues above as well as more general problems with the image of him as simultaneously arrogant, full of himself and glass-jawed.
3. The media has prepped like crazy for Friday. They have hotel reservations in Mississippi. They won't be happy if there is no debate.
Honestly, I don't see one. The Obama camp would spin this as a gimmick, but everything that happens in campaigns is a gimmick. They would argue that McCain's afraid to debate Obama (he is apparently playing this now as "McCain can't multitask") but everybody already knows McCain's ready to be Commander-in-Chief, and all Obama does then is lower expectations for McCain entering the last two debates. The only loss is if Obama then argues that he doesn't need any debates at all on national security and refuses to reschedule a third debate, but that is unlikely to go well for him.
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September 23, 2008
POLITICS: A Tale of Two Vettings
In response to Stanley Kurtz's detailed story on Barack Obama's role in working with unrepentant terrorist and left-wing radical Bill Ayers to arrange the financing for a project that "poured more than $100 million into the hands of community organizers and radical education activists" under Ayers' dubious theory of treating left-wing political activism as "education" (a story I discussed at length here), Marc Aimbinder wants more details:
What "radical" ideas did Obama and Bill Ayres come up with to foist on the Chicago school system?
These are fair enough factual questions, although I think in this case Kurtz has already laid out a powerful case as it is that (1) Ayers is not a person who should be trusted to design this sort of project, (2) Ayers' theoretical approach to education pretty much guaranteed that he'd be pusing left-wing politics, and (3) the people who got the money were left-wing groups whose agendas most Americans would find to be outside the political mainstream.
But the mindset in Aimbinder asking them is deeply revealing of the contrast between how the media has approached the vetting of Sen. Obama and the vetting of Gov. Palin.
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Now, as reporters and commentators go, Aimbinder is one of the more fair-minded ones, but he's basically saying out loud here what the media has long been saying with its silence on many of the key aspects of Obama's background. The subtext of his questions is that the burden is on Kurtz and Kurtz alone, as a conservative journalist/pundit, to come up with the answers to these questions before the Ayers story merits anybody's attention.
Because Aimbinder's a reporter. If he wants answers, he can go get them himself.
As I noted earlier today and as readers of the conservative blogosphere know well, Kurtz has been rowing upstream for months now against a concerted effort by the Chicago machine to stonewall discovery of Obama's and Ayers' roles in the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Reporters like Aimbinder and mainstream media outlets could have launched their own investigations; they could have put a daily drumbeat of pressure on Obama and his allies to release the records so we could have more answers to those questions. They didn't; instead, they sit back and wait for conservatives to deliver them a fully developed story in all imaginable detail, and shoot the messenger when the stonewall leaves gaps in the story.
Contrast this to the approach taken repeatedly to stories about Palin, as I showed in the case of her views on evolution, sex education, and book banning, or as Jim Geraghty now details here and here regarding payment for rape kits - the media is all too happy to repeat the top-line, 30-second-viral-ad charge against Palin, and then move on before there is time for the facts to come out. A vast number of these have been debunked (another prominent example was the false claim that she'd belonged to the Alaska Independence Party), yet they keep on coming too fast for the media to be bothered sifting the truth out; as long as somebody's willing to say it, it gets dumped into the national bloodstream. The level of detail and rigor required before stories about Obama can get printed or investigated gets stood on its head - report after report goes straight to the most damaging possible conclusion, and leaves it to the conservative media to get the facts relevant to stories the mainstream media's already reported. Charles Martin explains where the lefty blogs then pick this up. (H/T). The media only seems to take this approach to stories about Obama when it comes to flatly declaring McCain ads about him untrue without bothering to review the facts.
With Obama, the media bemoans the wickedness of spreading false stories about him. With Palin, the media has as often as not been the source.
And what do we get instead on Obama from leading organs like the New York Times? Yuval Levin has a hilarious post listing some of the Times articles the Obama/Times people point to as examples of the hard-hitting reportage the NYT has done on Obama:
-In Law School, Obama Found Political Voice [New York Times, 1/28/07]
Will the mainstream media report stories that are bad news for Sen. Obama? Of course they will, but they won't do the legwork unless compelled to do so by someone handing over a finished story on a silver platter. Just imagine how different the coverage of Gov. Palin would be if the same approach was taken to her.
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POLITICS: I Will Now Lower Your Opinion Of Ralph Nader
I know what you are thinking: that can't be possible! My opinion of Ralph Nader cannot go any lower! But behold:
H/T. I thought the highlight of this ad was the fact that Nader stares at the floor the whole time instead of the camera, or the fact that he thinks voters want a President who sits alone in a room talking to his parrot.
But that was before the part about the sex with the panda.
POLITICS: The Obama-Ayers Education Story
Today's must-read: after months of investigation, in which he had to weather all manner of stonewalling and intimidation by the Obama camp, Stanley Kurtz finally has the story, in today's Wall Street Journal, of Barack Obama's involvement in unrepentant former terrorist Bill Ayers' project to spread left-wing politics under the guise of 'education' in Chicago schools. Here's a flavor of Ayers' project:
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CAC translated Mr. Ayers's radicalism into practice. Instead of funding schools directly, it required schools to affiliate with "external partners," which actually got the money. Proposals from groups focused on math/science achievement were turned down. Instead CAC disbursed money through various far-left community organizers, such as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (or Acorn).
And of Obama's involvement in the activities of a group whose board he chaired:
Mr. Ayers founded CAC and was its guiding spirit....Mr. Ayers sat as an ex-officio member of the board Mr. Obama chaired through CAC's first year. He also served on the board's governance committee with Mr. Obama, and worked with him to craft CAC bylaws. Mr. Ayers made presentations to board meetings chaired by Mr. Obama. Mr. Ayers spoke for the Collaborative before the board. Likewise, Mr. Obama periodically spoke for the board at meetings of the Collaborative.
The Obama campaign has cried foul when Bill Ayers comes up, claiming "guilt by association." Yet the issue here isn't guilt by association; it's guilt by participation. As CAC chairman, Mr. Obama was lending moral and financial support to Mr. Ayers and his radical circle.
Kurtz makes some references in the article to the Obama camp's pushback, and discusses it (including reprinting the Obama campaign's full response) here, including completing the connection of the dots in Obama's involvement in setting up and funding Ayers' activities:
In the first year, 1995, Obama headed the board, which made fiscal decisions, and Ayers co-chaired the Collaborative, which set education policy. During that first year, Obama's formal responsibilities mandated close cooperation and coordination with the Collaborative. As board chair and president of the CAC corporation, Obama was authorized to "delegate to the Collaborative the development of collaborative projects and programs . . . to obtain assistance of the Collaborative in the development of requests for proposals . . . and to seek advice from the Collaborative regarding the programmatic aspects of grant proposals." All this clearly involves significant consultation between the board, headed by Obama, and the Collaborative, co-chaired by Ayers.
Bear in mind the timeline - this is precisely the time at which Obama was launching his political career (including a meeting at Ayers' home), signing a contract to support the platform of the Marxist New Party, representing ACORN as its lawyer, and receiving the support and active participation, in return, of ACORN and similar of left-wing groups as ground troops in his campaigns. Tom Maguire looks at how far back Obama's relationship with Ayers goes. I continue to be amazed that any civilized person could associate with this terrorist, much less allocate money to give him a role in educating children. But then, recall the words of the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America, writing in 2000:
Barak Obama is serving only his second term in the Illinois State Senate so he might be fairly charged with ambition, but the same might have be said of Bobby Rush when he ran against Congressman Charles Hayes. Obama also has put in time at the grass roots, working for five years as a community organizer in Harlem and in Chicago. When Obama participated in a 1996 UofC YDS Townhall Meeting on Economic Insecurity, much of what he had to say was well within the mainstream of European social democracy.
And of course, besides funding Ayers, Obama once in office was essentially letting groups like Planned Parenthood essentially write sex education bills - not a group as overtly outside the mainstream as Ayers, but consistent with Obama's overall Illinois record as a hard-core left-wing culture warrior looking to empower the whole menagerie of left-wing interest groups (headed by other "community organizers" just like Obama himself) with funding and sway over government. Kurtz, who has followed similar stories for years, explains how all of this is symptomatic of the broader left-wing cultural and educational program:
[T]he story of modern philanthropy is largely the story of moderate and conservative donors finding their funds "captured" by far more liberal, often radical, beneficiaries. CAC's story is a classic of the genre. Ayers and Obama guided CAC money to community organizers, like ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and the Developing Communities Project (Part of the Gamaliel Foundation network), groups self-consciously working in the radical tradition of Saul Alinsky....
Of course, you don't go to a group like the Annenberg Challenge with an explicit promise to promote left-wing radicalism, and you don't pick Bill Ayers as the front man to deal with the donors. You pick someone smoother, less of a known commodity...you pick Barack Obama. In 1995, it was Obama's job to put a pleasant, respectable face on a fundamentally left-wing project.
Not much has changed since then, has it?
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September 22, 2008
BUSINESS/POLITICS: Monday Bailout Roundup
I tried over the weekend to do a more serious post with my analysis of the credit crisis and the bailouts, but basically there's just no way for me to get into this further without running afoul of my day job. At this juncture, given the limits on what I can write, the best I can offer my readers on the whole Wall Street/bailout issue is a roundup of links and what I can see and hear going around the political side of things:
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*Newt Gingrich, who is always worth reading even when he's wrong (and when Newt is wrong, he's often spectacularly wrong), has some very good questions about the big bailout, the $700 billion, no-strings-attached, no-oversight debit card being handed off to Treasury to create what blackhedd calls the First National Bad Bank of the United States. Blackhedd has his own questions and cautions about doing nothing here (more from McArdle on how close we came last week to a complete unraveling). I was on a call with McCain's economic advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin last week and from what I can tell, McCain appears to be pushing a solution that doesn't involve Uncle Sam actually buying the underlying investments, although his proposal is likely to be moot once some version of Paulson's plan gets passed into law. There's no Obama proposal on the table to compare that to. Here is McCain today on the Paulson plan:
I think it is clear that Congress must act and must act quickly. I laid out my plan and my priorities last Friday. I spoke to Secretary Paulson over the weekend, and I've been looking at the plan the administration has put forth. I urge Congress to study this proposal carefully as they consider the remedy for this crisis.
*From a political perspective, Ruffini thinks Hill Republicans should take a hard line against the $700 billion bailout. The word I'm hearing is that the deal is being negotiated mainly between the Administration and House Democrats, and the GOP on the Hill is playing wait and see depending on what emerges, especially on the crucial issue of how much stuff the Democrats try to tack on. The 28% approval rating for the $700 billion bailout is not encouraging to anybody on the Hill who is contemplating supporting it.
*Kevin Hasset of AEI offers a good nutshell summary of the view, increasingly popular on the Right, of how Senate Democrats fed the flames by defeating a McCain-sponsored reform in 2005. McCain goes hard after Obama on the same line of reasoning. The Obama camp's counter-effort against Rick Davis is not much of a response, given that nobody can finish the sentence of "and that's why McCain...."
*Maguire is skeptical of efforts to blame mark-to-market accounting. Which side of that debate you are on depends on whether you think the current market prices are realistic, or whether they represent a 1-2 punch of illiquidity and irrational panic. If the latter, it makes more sense to suspend or ditch mark-to-market. Reasonable minds can and do differ on this. Relatedly, whether the underlying redemption value of the debt securities at issue is or isn't greater than current market value will go a long way to determine whether that $700 billion outlay by the Treasury actually ends up turning a profit, which is far from inconceivable.
*Of course, whenever you feel good about McCain, he goes and does something like recommend Andrew Cuomo for SEC Chair. There are more than a few reasons why McCain could scarcely have chosen a worse example for his bipartisanship shtick.
As I noted last week, the good things about McCain in a situation like this are that he's not prone to panic or freeze up in a crisis and that, having faith in the American economic system, he's likely to choose less draconian and counterproductive solutions in the long run than Obama. Nobody saw the whole current crisis coming, but as noted above McCain does get some credit for foreseeing and trying to head off parts of the problem. The bad news is stuff like this Cuomo nonsense, which I think he does just to butter up the mainstream Beltway press. Unfortunately, the current political climate makes it impossible for anybody who truly understands the problem to get elected, but other than Reagan I'm not sure we've had a president in modern times who really understood the economy, and the high-finance stuff was over Reagan's head too. The core advantage McCain has over Obama is that there are, in Reagan's memorable phrase, fewer things McCain knows that are not true.
*Obama's answer to the collapse of the housing market: "rebuild" one of the nation's fastest-growing cities!
*Now this, this is calm, mature governance, I tell ya.
UPDATE: The Blogometer rounds up blog reactions to the bailout, which represents the death of the free market, of fiscal conservatism, and/or of liberalism, depending who you listen to. The Club For Growth lines up against it.
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POLITICS: Why, No, You Should Not Be Surprised...
...so I'm not linking to this to surprise you, if you were already quite sensibly expecting the Obama campaign and its chief strategist, David Axelrod, to peddle patently false, debunked smears directed at (who else?) Sarah Palin via purportedly independent outlets on the web that appear to have been designed to create deniability. I'm not pretending to be shocked because I'm not even slightly surprised.
Rusty has all the details, and is promising a followup with more.
Why bother linking, then? Well, it never hurts to document these things. And to remind everyone who always claimed to be against such things but now support the Obama campaign...well, this is what they do; it's who they are. This is Obama's "new politics," and really always was.
September 20, 2008
POLITICS: Factual Accuracy and McSame Syndrome
We stand today deep into the silly season of the 2008 presidential election; most of us have our dander up, and naturally some Obama partisans like Josh Marshall and Joe Klein have floated off on clouds of rhetorical overkill in an effort to push the idea that their opponent is somehow running an unusually dishonest campaign. Even aside from the partisanship, you have to be pretty willfully ignorant of history to think the 2008 race is at all exceptional in this regard, other than perhaps the degree of personal villification of one of the vice presidential candidates in a very short period of time. Now, personally I'm not as cynical as Jay Cost or Ross Douthat as far as saying "everybody does it, so what?," but...well, I look at the accuracy of claims made in advertisements, speeches, etc. under three general categories:
(1) Is it literally true? Does it say anything factually false?
One of the reasons I enjoy writing longer-form blog essays is the freedom to drill down to all the relevant context and explain a point even in light of all the facts, all the context, all the nuance. But in the real world of short-attention-span politics, with its 30-second ads and soundbites, we have to accept that #3 is a hurdle that even the best-faith politicians frequently fail, and where politicians who do try to give the full context can end up losing their audience or tying themselves in "I voted for it before I voted against it" verbal knots.
That said, you do need to be able to defend a claim on both ground #1 and #2. If a claim is literally true but conveys a totally false image, you are basically in the Bill Clinton "it depends what the meaning of 'is' is" position; if it is intended to convey something people believe but rests on fabricated facts, that's the Dan Rather "fake but accurate" defense. Either position is ultimately indefensible.
Let's look at two main examples of recent controversies and how they measure up, as well as examining what I refer to as "McSame Syndrome."
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I. The Obama Immigration Ad
The latest, hottest example, debunked here by Jake Tapper, with context provided here by Rush Limbaugh regarding his own statements quoted in the ad. In a nutshell, the Spanish language ad argues that Limbaugh is hateful and demeaning towards Mexicans and that McCain agrees with Limbaugh on immigration.
On the Limbaugh stuff, the ad is literally true in the narrowest sense - they quote actual sentence fragments uttered by Limbaugh - but as he notes, take them so wildly out of context as to be seriously false. But of course, Rush isn't the candidate, McCain is, so that's my main concern. Tapper walks through some of the attenuated efforts by the Obama to defend the factual accuracy of the ad, but its overall theme, which it supports with nothing in the ad, is that McCain is indistinguishable from border hawks like Rush on immigration issues. Which is so absurdly laughable and insulting to the listener's intelligence you hardly know where to start ... it's like running an ad against Joe Lieberman that says he takes his marching orders on foreign policy from Ted Kennedy. I mean, Rush was at the center of a coordinated effort by right-wing talk shows to block McCain's nomination in late January, and disagreement with McCain's more liberal immigration policies was the #1 reason for that. Everybody who pays even the remotest attention to politics knows this.
What it is symptomatic of, on the Obama side, is McSame Syndrome: the absolute refusal, in the face of any and all evidence, of Democrats and liberals to acknowledge that John McCain is not identical in all particulars to George W. Bush and other conservative Republicans. I explained on Monday why Obama's strategy has trapped him in this narrative, which he simply can't abandon even when it leads him to the absurd end of making McCain, of all people, out to be some sort of anti-immigrant extremist. Joe Biden's criticism of McCain for opposing embryonic stem cell research, which McCain has consistently supported, is another example of the same phenomenon. (See here for more of the same on McCain's regulatory record).
II. The McCain Sex Ed Ad
One of the major sources of hyperventilation against McCain is an ad he ran that, at the end of a litany of Obama's lack of accomplishments on education, accused Obama of supporting a bill that would teach sex education to kids as young as kindergarteners.
There's no question at this point that the ad was, in fact, literally accurate. Byron York walks through the bill's language and legislative history here, and shows fairly clearly that the effect of the bill was, in fact, to take existing rules about sex education for kids in the 6th grade and older and lower the age to kindergarten:
Illinois' existing law required the teaching of sex education and AIDS prevention in grades six through twelve. The old law read:Each class or course in comprehensive sex education offered in any of grades 6 through 12 shall include instruction on the prevention, transmission and spread of AIDS.
York also talks to a sponsor of the bill who basically admits that the language of the bill was, in fact, related to the purpose of the bill, and that Barack Obama's claim that the bill was really only aimed at teaching young children when to report inappropriate touching was not accurate:
When I asked Martinez the rationale for changing grade six to kindergarten, she said that groups like Planned Parenthood and the Cook County Department of Health - both major contributors to the bill - "were finding that there were children younger than the sixth grade that were being inappropriately touched or molested." When I asked about the elimination of references to marriage and the contraception passages, Martinez said that the changes were "based on some of the information we got from Planned Parenthood."
As York summarizes the results of doing actual reporting on the bill:
Obama's explanation for his vote has been accepted by nearly all commentators. And perhaps that is indeed why he voted for Senate Bill 99, although we don't know for sure. But we do know that the bill itself was much more than that. The fact is, the bill's intention was to mandate that issues like contraception and the prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases be included in sex-education classes for children before the sixth grade, and as early as kindergarten. Obama's defenders may howl, but the bill is what it is.
So, McCain's ad is literally accurate: he fairly described what Obama actually voted for. But is it a fair ad that gets at an essential truth? My initial reaction to the ad was that despite the factual accuracy it pushed the envelope a bit too far in this regard: Obama probably wasn't aware of the import of the actual language of the bill, one could legitimately have misunderstandings about what would be construed as "age appropriate" sex education at that age, he thought he was just voting for education about inappropriate touching, and the objectionable provisions were pulled before being passed into law. In essence, legislative negligence, but not any sort of deliberate effort to push teaching about sex on little kids.
But then...well, first of all, on the one hand we have the actual language of the bill, and all we have for the opposite narrative is Obama's after-the-fact rationalizations. Obama conveniently destroyed all his records from his time in the State Senate, and as is so often true of the memory hole that has swallowed his State Senate career, we seem to have no contemporaneous record of what he was saying at the time about the bill despite the fact that he was the chairman of the committee (York found it hard to even locate people who had served as his colleagues in the State Senate, a persistent problem in getting details about Obama's past prior to 2004 - Charles Krauthammer noted the near-complete absence of people other than Michelle Obama who stood up to testify from personal knowledge about Obama's life or work). Then I watched this July 2007 video of Obama from a Planned Parenthood event (H/T). The video is from an ABC News report at the time, entitled "Sex Ed for Kindergarteners 'Right Thing to Do,' Says Obama," - a title undoubtedly craftily planted many months in advance by the McCain campaign, kinda like the way McCain hypnotized the Washington Post into interviewing Frank Raines about his ties to Obama.
While ABC's title may itself be a bit tendentious, go and watch the video - after giving a fairly good Alan Keyes imitation, Obama laughs about the kindergarten issue but doesn't exactly deny it ("I didn't know what to say to him...but it's the right thing to do"), and launches directly into defending expanded sex education in some very broad terms, and promising to re-create at the federal level what he did in Illinois: "to provide age-appropriate sex education, science-based sex education in the schools." And note that he's doing this at an event by Planned Parenthood, a group whose mission has basically nothing to do with sexual abuse of kindergarteners and everything to do with the sex ed agenda, and which - as we saw from the York article - was basically driving the Illinois bill.
The essential truth? If you are a parent who thinks that groups like Planned Parenthood have been pressing for too much sex education in school (and a great many parents do feel that the government should not be pressing its view of sexual morals on children, and that sex education inherently conveys a message about morals if only by their complete absence), and you think Obama is the kind of guy who would support and encourage that through legislation, you are correct, and the Illinois bill is powerful evidence of that. If you think Obama won't be especially picky about ensuring that there are safeguards in that legislation to keep sex education confined to children who are at an age to be sexually active, the Illinois bill is powerful evidence of that, too. The most that can be said of McCain's ad is that it takes the plain language of the bill as evidence of an intent by Obama to do something, when we really lack any contemporaneous evidence one way or another of what Obama intended. And that, to me, is really #3 on my list (the omission of context) rather than the more serious problem with #2.
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BUSINESS: The Man To Read
I know I tend to link a lot to my colleagues at RedState, where I am currently one of the site's Directors; we have a tremendous and varied group of writers and thinkers on the site, and while I don't necessarily agree with any of them all the time, we have quite a number of people who are always worth reading.
But if there's one of my co-Contributors to the site who you really need to be reading regularly, it's Francis Cianfrocca, who writes under the pseudonym of "blackhedd." He's scary-smart about Wall Street issues he knows from personal experience, he's utterly unsentimental and willing to think outside the box, and unlike most people in the blogosphere, nearly everything he writes is 100% original content you can't get anywhere else. And he's been warning the rest of us about the falling sky in the credit markets pretty consistently since about June 2007. And unlike me, he's not hemmed in at all turns from writing about these issues (I have to avoid writing in any but the most general terms about my firm's clients, which includes almost everybody).
Here's his stuff just from the last week:
*The Fannie/Freddie bailout here.
*The non-bailout of Lehman Brothers here.
September 19, 2008
POLITICS: A Word About Accountability and Leadership
A lot of conservatives are up in arms about John McCain's call for the firing of Chris Cox as SEC Chairman due to the collapse of numerous Wall Street firms on his watch. There is a more than fair argument against McCain's position: that Cox is a smart, capable conservative and expert in the area who hasn't really done anything wrong, or at least hadn't until the recent move against short sellers (I don't buy that Cox is above criticism, but I don't think this mess is in any way his fault). But there is also a case to be made for the emerging McCain leadership style. As McCain explained today:
Dwight David Eisenhower, when he was commander and he was in charge of the largest military operation in history, the invasion of Normandy. He went to his quarters the night before the invasion and wrote out two letters. One of them sent a letter of congratulation, a messgae of congratulations to the brave Americans who landed in Normandy and made the most successful invasion and partly brought about the beginning of the end of World War II. The other letter he wrote out was his resignation from the United States army, taking full responsibility for the failure of that invasion.
That's McCain's view in a nutshell: you produce results, or you step aside, regardless of how well you performed your duties. You own your watch. It's a decidedly military outlook, as befits a man who spent so many years in the Navy. It's perhaps an odd way for McCain to approach leadership - in his book Faith of My Fathers, McCain movingly recounts the bitterness he inherited over how his grandfather was scapegoated unfairly by Admiral Halsey for a mistake Halsey himself made in steering the fleet too close to a storm, mistreatment that McCain ascribes as a possible cause for the elder Admiral McCain's fatal heart attack on his return from the war.
I don't, personally, think that this unforgiving, only-results-matter management style is the best possible way to run an organization in terms of motivating people, and neither is it really a good or fair way to treat subordinates, but it's one well-established leadership style, and it's been successful for plenty of people in business, the military, politics and sports. Certainly it's a sharp contrast to President Bush; while Bush has sacked a lot of people (including Harvey Pitt, his first SEC Chairman who was also just in the wrong place at the wrong time), he's nonetheless frequently found himself in trouble for leaving loyal but incompetent subordinates in place too long after they became obvious political liabilities. McCain is sending a message: the likes of Mike Brown, Alberto Gonzales and Scott McClellan will not be left in their jobs in his White House. Loyalty will give way to accountability.
On a purely political level, in the real world of politics, there's a case to be made about being unsentimental about letting people go when they represent a serious political liability. I wouldn't blame Bush in the least, for example, if he sacked Cox regardless of the merits of his job performance. Political leaders fight for a cause, and that cause is bigger than any one man. A politician who errs on the side of scapegoating people who through no fault of their own preside over disasters is going to do better in the long run than one who fights till the last dog dies for friends he can no longer afford. It's an ugly business but it must be played to win in the real world.
This is a management style that suits McCain, an old man who is likely to serve only one term and already has an impressive collection of enemies. It's a style that's also well-suited to McCain's running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin. One of the recurring themes in Palin's various jobs is that she fires a lot of people - people who don't agree with her policy goals, people who don't follow her orders, people who oppose her in public, people who are too close to corrupt interests or political foes. This is, again, a good way to make enemies who compile vendettas against you - it was her firing of an agency head who was publicly insubordinate that led to the 'Tasergate' investigation headed by a representative of the Obama campaign - but removing the people who are not 100% with you is the one best way to impose your will on an organization, a task that's famously difficult in large public bureaucracies. That was how Rudy Giuliani ran New York, and why he delivered results as an agent of change. A McCain-Palin Administration may not be the friendliest workplace, but the one thing it won't do is let the grass grown under its feet as far as holding subordinates accountable.
September 18, 2008
POLITICS: Don't Panic
If there's one lesson we should all bear in mind as fear stalks Wall Street and the presidential race keeps getting tighter as it races towards its conclusion, it is this: Don't Panic.
Now, the current crisis is not an illusion; at its core, it's about markets that valued assets one way and now value them as being worth considerably less, and that has all sorts of ripple effects when it threatens to close down major financial institutions or force the fire-sale liquidation of portfolios of billions or trillions of dollars worth of assets for which there may not currently be a liquid market. People have lost real money and real jobs, and serious people in business and government alike do need to think long and hard about how to contain the damage and reassess and rationalize government's regulatory roles going forward.
Now, John McCain has never been accused of being a financial whiz, but the one thing we can trust McCain not to do is panic in a crisis, or encourage anyone else to panic. McCain's survived three plane crashes, multiple bouts with cancer, the loss of a presidential primary campaign, five years in captivity, months on end in solitary confinement, countless hours of torture, being at the epicenter of a shipboard fire that killed 134 people, being named in a front-page scandal that killed multiple major political careers, being beaten by an angry mob, having one of his top legislative priorities torpedoed by his own party's base, standing stubbornly for a war nearly everybody had declared lost, and just a year ago found his presidential campaign broke, rudderless and declared dead by nearly everybody. Yet time after time after time, McCain picked himself up, dusted himself off, gritted his teeth, set his jaw, and refused to give up, whether that meant lying broken in a filthy cell as a young man or trudging on week after week to sparsely-attended rallies in the New Hampshire snow as an old one.
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Why that matters to today's news, of course, is that even as the headlines have been dominated by one ripple of the credit crisis after another, McCain has acknowledged the damage and the need for reform, but he has stubbornly refused to panic, and has urged the voters even in hard-hit communities not to panic either. Over and over he has insisted that underneath all the credit craziness, the fundamental foundation of the American economy - the labor force, the businesses, the old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity, the entrepeneurial spirit - is still strong and still the envy of the world. As McCain