Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The A Plan

What do we know?

We know that Barack Obama will be the next President of the United States. (Until the past week there was a slim chance that McCain might have the savvy and guts to seize this opportunity and playact something like leadership. But instead he playacted something like Claribelle – with Palin taking on the role of Mortimer Snerd.)

We know that President Obama will have a Democratic House and Senate of 1936 proportions. We know that he will inherit a mess of 1932 proportions. We know that he is no FDR… no Harry Truman… no Bill Clinton. Perhaps he’s a Jimmy Carter. Perhaps.

We know that his administration will be overwhelmed with digging out of the fathoms-deep swamp into which the Bushies have driven the family car. We know that they will be attempting to do so without many of the tools of a healthy government and society. Those tools – along with the trust and knowledge to wield them effectively – have been melted into hood ornaments by the right-wing, anti-government radicals.

It will be cold comfort to send a couple of these wingnuts – probably the pathetic, sub-ideological lapdog Alberto Gonzalez and a couple of others – to jail. It would even be useless to convict W and Cheney themselves – and, of course, that won’t happen. The Democrats are conservatives, and conservatives don’t do that stuff. Conservatives circle the wagons, calm the waters, reassure us that order has been reasserted, push the dirty laundry back under the bed and keep the family’s mess out of public view.

(We also know that the Republican Party will remain a drooling basket case for a decade or more… for whatever that’s worth.)

We know that this mess won’t be cleaned up by the time the next electoral cycle comes around. We know the ebbing of America’s competitive standing will have accelerated – helped along by politically irresistible forces of protectionism. Sensible people will point out that we were not destined to remain a hegemon anyway – but that won’t matter much politically. So a Carteresque malaise will settle over the land – only to be disrupted, perhaps, by terror, as the resurgent (and possibly nuclear-armed) anti-modernist forces of jihadism obey nature’s imperative of abhorring a vacuum. (Certainly the Chinese, Indians and other surging innovation powerhouses will not be shrinking economic violets, either.)

We know that neither Obama nor his advisors nor the “leadership” of the soon-to-be-dominant Democratic Party has a clue as to what to do about any of this – lacking any visible point of view on where the world is going or how to react to that.

That’s what we know. What do we hope?

We hope that they will turn to the only apparent grown-ups around… the Clintons and their brain trust. We hope that Hillary and Bill will be solicited to take ex-officio leadership roles in shaping the economic recovery plan, including its necessary components of healthcare reform, energy technology and global strategy.

We hope that Hillary and Bill will continue to act like adults and dedicated public servants, despite the past behavior and continuing shallowness of the jackals who scorned them and now sue them for help. We hope that they will put the trashing of the real Democratic Party behind them. We thus hope that the misogyny of the primaries – which the DNC, the Obama campaign and the pro-Obama media and shrillosphere permitted, abetted, engaged in -- will be rewarded.

That’s what we know, and what we hope. That’s Plan A.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Getting Our Lame Ducks in a Row - Updated

This whole thing is turning into a French farce – which is about to be repeated as tragedy. It’s like watching Rome burn, except these guys don’t have Nero’s insouciance. They’re more like the Three Stooges.

Bush has been the lamest duck in U.S. presidential history, pretty much since he hugged the third rail of Social Security “reform.” In fact, he’s been at it so long now that he’s kind of settled into the role, figured out its protocols, accepted his own failure with the kind of quiet ill-grace that we’ve all come to love. The “decider”? He’s barely the presider. The United States is being run by the grounds crew – Gates, Paulson, Crocker, et al. (“Run” being a relative term here.)

So, I guess, with that role model before them, we can understand the behavior, cluelessness, feckless wanderings and policy meanderings of our two suitors for succession. Their attentiveness to W’s example is acutely visible in the present crisis: McCain, with his playground impishness, throwing monkey wrenches hither and yon – into debates as well as bailouts; Obama, with his patented deer-in-the-headlights freeze-tag, working manfully to keep it together until the next podium is free. (And then there’s Joe Biden’s channeling of Mrs. Malaprop – or is it Gerald Ford?... which doesn’t hold a candle to Sarah Palin’s bid to out-dumb-jerk Steve Carrell’s Michael from The Office.)

It’s a signal innovation for candidates to become lame ducks before the election. But, then, these are transformative times.

Update: There are, fwiw, some adults in the wings. O tempores, o morons.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Apples and Oranges

I don’t personally know any Obots. I see evidence of their cult-like fervor (and often vitriol) on the Intertubes, of course. But, frankly, even that seems muted these days, compared to its full-throated Beatlemania haka circa February-March of this year.

The people I know who are supporting Obama are of a different breed. They acknowledge that he is flawed, as a candidate and as a prospective president. Many say they preferred Hillary – and for some, I know that’s true, because we were talking throughout the primaries.

So, perhaps my sample of conversational partners isn’t representative – but it’s mine, and I’m gonna stick with it. And what it tells me is that the argument in favor of Obama has basically come down to this: “He’s better than McCain… and Palin is a horror… and we cannot tolerate a McCain victory. If that happens, God save us all.”

On the other hand, my wife and I, as well as some of our PUMAesque friends, were so outraged by the media, the DNC and the Obama campaign during the primaries – by the toxic soup of hatred, weak leadership and disenfranchisement – that we resolved not to vote for Obama.

Why? Not because we’re dead-enders who would only be happy with a Hillary victory (though there cannot be much doubt among objective observers that we’d all be in a whole lot better place today if she were on the verge of becoming president). It’s because the Democratic Party, our party, has to be shown some tough love. It cannot be okay for misogyny to triumph within it. It cannot be okay for the party’s putative leaders to behave like the GOP in Florida in 2000. It cannot be okay for this institution to continue its irresponsible love affair with fecklessness. The challenges we face demand serious, grown-up solutions. And, by the way, a failed Obama Administration could be worse for the party than a loss and course correction next year.

These are incompatible criteria, apples and oranges. Each side finds ways to minimize the potential damage of its preferred choice. “Divided government won’t be that bad,” in our case. “He’ll surround himself with smart advisors,” in theirs.

My point is, there is no way to resolve this, and no very satisfying prospect for either side, no matter what outcome ensues in November.

We’ve just been through eight years of radical assault… and we’re facing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression… there’s no serious solution in sight for jihadist terror… and, oh, yeah, the planet’s probably going to pass the point of no return for humans any minute now. So, we can possibly improve the Democratic Party, or throw the dice on Better-Than-the-Other-Guy.

I know apples are supposedly in season -- and oranges always are -- but not this year.

Monday, September 22, 2008

So Crazy It Just Might Work - Update

Numerous people have chastised me for my precipitous certainty that the election was decided last week in Obama's favor. Well, who's snickering now?

They are.

Digby's argument for how this could be manna from heaven for McCain is pretty cogent.

Update: Okay, if you don't dig Digby, maybe you'll like Anglachel's angle -- a more detailed and nuanced scenario, but underlining the fact that, pace my beliefs of last week, this thing ain't over yet. (And, btw, it should be said that Anglachel has been invaluable on the meltdown -- both its economics and its politics.)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Of Two Minds

Bummer or beamer? On the one hand, I’m resigned to the reality of President Obama. I believe the election was decided this Monday. God got sick and tired of the Obama campaign’s amateurishness, its lack of principle or ideas – and his persistent refusal actually to be a Democrat – and She just decided to render all of that moot. This week’s crashus ex machina means that any considerations of the individual candidates’ comparative strengths (ha) and weaknesses are more or less irrelevant.

It’s this simple: When the October-in-September Surprise is large-scale and economic, the Democrat wins. (Helped, of course, if the Republican is especially clueless economically. This year, it's the economy, and the stupid.) And all things being approximately equal, when the Surprise is about national security, the Republican wins.

The polls are already on the move. What looked like a probable McCain win a week ago now bids fair to be a rout in the other direction.

So, I’m sitting shiva for the dream of President Hillary Clinton. This is such a painfully missed opportunity, it actually hurts. I continue to believe that Obama will be a failure – but he’ll be renominated in 2012, nonetheless. (After all, Carter was.) And the GOP is such a basket case that he may even be re-elected. (After all, W was.)

On the other hand, on a symbolic and historical level, it is impossible not to be moved by the prospect of an African American President of the United States. The soaring feeling that this is going to give to literally hundreds of millions of people is non-trivial.There is simply nothing about that that isn't wonderful -- even though the individual who is getting to write that chapter in the history books is woefully inadequate to it.

Where's Keats when you need him? We could all use some of that "negative capability."

Monday, September 15, 2008

October Surprise - Updated

... in September.

I am beyond my ken in the expert economics of this, but its political import is clear enough, even to an ignoramus like me. If this meltdown of the financial system happens -- starting in about half an hour from now (9:30 a.m. EDT, Sept. 15, 2008) -- the U.S. presidential election will (a) seem a lot less all-consuming than it did last night (including everything related to Sarah Palin), and (b) go to the Democrats in even more overwhelming numbers than it already promised to. Barack Obama will become our next president, not because he has the first idea what to do about the economy, but by default.

I guess you go into economic-crisis war not with the Democrat you want, but with the empty suit you've got.

Oh, and one more rogue thought: Anybody think this might be the pretext to replace Biden with Hillary?

Update: On second thought, nah. These guys won't be thrown off their game -- or lose the audacity of narcissism -- by a little financial collapse. They'll just conclude that now they've really got it locked up, and start planning the Inaugural Ball in the Grand Canyon and the Mt. Rushmore unveiling.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Pattern of All Bullshit

When I was in college, a joke went around about test-taking, which I've always thought sums up the Platonic Form of bullshitting.

Joe, a grad student is preparing for his orals in zoology, where he will be defending his thesis on invertebrates -- specifically, worms. His dissertation adviser is the world's leading expert on worms. The PhD is a lock.

Then, a couple of days before the exam, that professor has a heart attack, and is taken to the hospital. And the university, on such short notice, can't replace him with another expert on worms. So they tap another of their famous tenured greybeards -- who happens to be the world's leading expert on elephants.

"Oh, shit," Joe thinks. "I don't know anything about elephants!"

Well, sure enough, the day arrives, the exam begins and the eminent professor asks, "Tell me everything you know about an elephant."

Joe assumes his most confident demeanor and begins: "Well, an elephant is a very large animal... [approving nods] with two tusks... [more nods] and a trunk [smiles]... and a tail that's very much like a worm. Now a worm..."

I thought of this while watching Sarah Palin being interviewed by Charlie Gibson. It wasn't pretty. It's hard to disagree with this.

How in god's name did we wind up here? (A purely rhetorical question, of course.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

On Lips, Pigs and Stickiness

Losing campaigns always complain about their words being distorted and taken out of context. Post-2004, the term of art for that is “swiftboating.” And it seems that its preferred form this time around – in both the primaries and the general election – is what Obama today correctly labeled as “phony outrage.” Namely, you cite some statement by the other side and demand that the candidate publicly repudiate it. The Obamanauts did this repeatedly during the primaries – and, of course, O-man himself was forced to do the same dance on Wright and Phleger.

The question isn’t who has been indulging in this game of playground faux machismo – “You gonna take that from him?” All the candidates have done so. The question is which attacks stick, and why.

Read My Lips: For one of these accusations to have real, er, bite, it usually has to have emerged from the candidate’s own lips. Obama’s campaign was adept at turning utterances like “fairy tale” and Hillary’s praise of LBJ into dogwhistles on race – and, of course, they turned up the volume to 11 in pimping the blood libel that she had wished for Obama’s death via her RFK reference – sending the (finally, blessedly now demoted) Keith Olbermann’s deranged rant to anybody with an email account.

On the other side of that coin, they were able to derive real political benefit from the misogyny directed against Hillary by making sure their candidate’s own statements were suggestive but never over the top: “periodically”… “claws come out”… “likeable enough” and so on. (The most obvious exception was Obama's "bitter" slip-up.) They could stoke the fires of Hillary-hatred – never uttering one word of condemnation, never orchestrating one Sistah Souljah event for the record – with what seemed, at the time, like relatively low cost.

Pigs: But was the cost really low? It sure doesn’t look that way now. A nearly 20-point swing in white women from Obama to McCain, post-conventions? These arrogant, cult-of-personality amateurs can dismiss the PUMAs with all the derision they like… but how do they explain the fact that the simple selection of Palin – this one stroke of political jujitsu – could turn the whole election on its ear, knock down their narrative like a house of cards, transform what should be the overwhelming underdog into the apparent leader?

The male chauvinist pigs of the Left were allowed to run amok, and the damage to the Democratic Party brand has been enormous. Sarah Palin isn’t a pig – but these guys are. The damage probably isn’t permanent, but it’s really bad, near-term. No video exists of Obama standing up for women, but there’s loads of it demonstrating the vitriol directed against Hillary over months of the primaries. It’s into that context that Obama’s remark about putting lipstick on a pig plays – not just the context of Palin’s acceptance speech, but months and months of media imagery in which Obama was benefiting from misogyny, smirking all the way to the bank (and brushing any concerns off his shoulders and shoes like so much birdshit).

Sticks Like Glue: So… of course Obama’s remarks have been heard and read as referring to Palin. That’s the way most ordinary people heard them – including plenty in the shrillosphere. The Obamateurs never understood how to construct a meta-narrative… how to define the game, their candidate or their opponents… how to shift the debate to a frame that favored them. They never learned how to play chess. Instead, they sat back, smug in their own cleverness at gaming the caucuses and embracing the Net, and thought that was all that was necessary. Instead of building his brand, they ran out the clock – and then had the moronic gall to reject Hillary as the obvious veep, the one who would guarantee victory.

For all these months, they have never linked Obama’s brand to the economy, or healthcare, or the environment. Indeed, they’ve done everything they could to avoid linking him to anything specific. All that was the “old politics.” Well, now these poseurs are reaping the whirlwind. Not to mention, they have been irretrievably forced into playing defense. Two days, out of the precious few remaining until Election Day, spent talking about lipstick and pigs are two days that can never be used to provide a raison d’etre for this campaign.

It’s a joke for the lefty blogs and the MSM to keep urging Obama to take the gloves off and show some backbone. Not only isn’t that who he is, but even if he were Jake Lamotta, it’s too late. There simply isn’t time now for him to change the arena and redefine the battle. That’s the work of months, even years. It’s hard enough to do when the candidate’s career, thinking and brand are solid and clear. Even then, it takes great political skill. You have to be able to box like Ali – to be both the lead actor and the dramatist of the bout. To suddenly ask a candidate lacking in substance, one who has pissed away months during which he should’ve been building a brand, to do this work in real time is, well, unreal. We've seen what happens when this guy starts getting hit. He doesn't take a punch very well. He just dances away, and loses the late rounds.

This campaign bids fair to go down as the most empty and inept in modern Democratic Party presidential politics – which is saying something. In fact, the only difference between this effort and the Dukakis campaign is that Dukakis had actual ideas and integrity.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Friday, September 5, 2008

They Left "Cat-" Out of the Headline

"The Real '08 Fight: Clinton vs. Palin?" The volume and complexity of clueless, mordant irony in this piece is... well, it's what a shrink would call "overdetermined." I mean...
"At the same time, it may be against Mr. Obama’s interests to turn the election into a proxy fight between Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Palin. Obama v. McCain may be more favorable turf; Mr. Obama does not want to get bogged down fighting a vice-presidential candidate, or rely too much on Mrs. Clinton carrying his water."
Ya think?

Anyway, it's quite stunning how quickly the Palin nomination has done its work: changing the narrative, and the chessboard... and exposing the inherent weaknesses in the Obama campaign. Not to mention serving as a lure for the always-at-the-ready sexism of this movement and its press aides-de-camp, including the redoubtable Patrick Healy:
"Clinton advisers are emphatic that Mrs. Clinton does not plan to attack Ms. Palin. Whether that remains the case through the fall is an open question, especially if Ms. Palin starts doing as well with, say, women who watch 'The View' as Mrs. Clinton did."

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Defensive Assignments

Okay, I think I've got the Republican defensive game plan down now.

Palin, you're covering Obama.

McCain, you're going after Bush.

Don't worry about Biden -- he'll be occupied talking to himself in the backfield.

If they bring in Hillary to call some plays, just stand aside. Every first down she gets will just demoralize their bench and fans, thinking about who could've been their starting quarterback.

Okay, break!

Big Trouble - Update

What made Barack Obama a star? It wasn’t his accomplishments. It was his speeches – specifically, one of them, the keynote at the 2004 Democratic convention. His cool, casual, intellectual sexuality was perfectly calibrated for the creative class Millenials. And because he pulled in one other large demographic – African-Americans – he was able to build a coalition that was almost enough to win the Democratic Party nomination. (The Hillary-haters and the DNC did the rest.)

What may have made Sarah Palin a star? Again, not her accomplishments. It may well be the same thing as for Obama – a speech, delivered tonight at the 2008 Republican convention. Palin’s smart, small-town irony and grounded confidence seem perfectly calibrated for Middle American Millenials. (It also doesn't hurt that she was pre-vilified by the MSM and the misogynist blogger boyz. Sets the charm-us bar nice and low, and predisposes many to take her side.) Of course, her far-right views have already won her the wingnuts – so the ticket can probably afford to run a non-ideological campaign, taking the Right for granted. And because she can at least make inroads into one other large demographic – Independent women – she may be able to attract a coalition large enough to help John McCain become President of the United States.

This comparison was prompted by another element of the political jujitsu of Palin’s selection that I hadn’t appreciated until tonight. They’re running Sarah Palin not against Joe Biden – he was barely mentioned – but against Barack Obama. They want people to draw that comparison. They want it in part because they think more people will simply like her better than they like him. But even more, I suspect, the simple fact of the comparison diminishes Obama, and locates McCain above them both, on some other plane of service and readiness.

None of this had to be. Indeed, the fact that we’re in this situation – with the Democratic ticket facing serious trouble in an overwhelming Democratic year – is a train wreck that remains astonishing, even as we watch it occur in slow motion. It happened because the leadership of the Democratic Party abnegated its responsibilities in two crucial respects. First, it put its thumb on the scales in favor of the weaker candidate, the one who posed less of a challenge to its putative leaders’ self-image. Second, it stood by and permitted vicious hatred to taint the Party, without uttering a peep or doing a thing to protect the brand of the institution, of which these people were, after all, the stewards.

Those two things not only left us with a weak candidate. They opened a hole in the side of the election wide enough to drive a Hummer through. Well, we’ve just seen what that Hummer looks like. It drives pretty damn smooth.

Update: Taylor Marsh gets it -- and just how desperate we are is evident in the solution she's proposing: namely, that Joe Biden has to take Palin out "or we will get beat." Uh, Joe Biden? Mr. Uncontrolled Motormouth? The guy who couldn't attract any votes away from Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich or Bill Richardson, much less Obama or Hillary? This is a Hail-Mary pass if ever I saw one... and it's sort of breathtaking that we're the ones suddenly in the position of having to toss one.