Sunday, August 31, 2008

This is Rich

I wasn’t going to post again tonight – twice in one day is quite enough. But tomorrow's column by Frank Rich, "Obama Outwits the Bloviators," is so outrageous that it deserves a swipe of midnight contempt. To paraphrase E.B. White, it’s rare to find someone who is both deeply incoherent and profoundly offensive. Frank Rich is both.

Case in point for offensiveness: “With Hillary’s tacit approval, [the bloviators on cable TV speculated that] the roll call would devolve into a classic Democratic civil war.”

That the man who confidently predicted that the Clintons’ alleged soulless racism would plunge the nation into a new “civil war” should have the temerity and/or amnesia to use that term again – and to do so in faux-snide jest – is profoundly shameful.

That one of the chief lieutenants of the Hillary-Hating Brigade should deride others for delivering very mild versions of his own vitriol in anticipation of the convention is nervy, to say the least. And then to say that the failure of these neo-Macbeths to carry out their expected mayhem is somehow evidence of Obama’s omnipotent cleverness – “stealthily hatching a drama of his own,” with a “meticulously calculated” dramatic arc – rather than crediting the obvious fact that it evidenced Bill and Hillary’s skill, character and party loyalty… that’s a denser derangement than one generally encounters outside of David Lynch movies.

That the leading political columnist of the New York Fucking Sunday Times for more than the past decade should denounce “the mainstream media” is just silly. What is he, a goddamn blogger? And to use their alleged cluelessness as evidence of the increasing irrelevance of television… uh, Frank, how’s the dead-tree business doing lately?

Also, what to say about his attribution of “unshakeable Clinton addiction” to them? I mean, I’m sure Rich and Dowd share tips on That he should attribute Hillary’s remarkable speech to her need “to reconcile with the alienated Obama Democrats she might need someday” is simply evidence of his unshakeable CDS. As is his failure even to mention Bill’s equally powerful speech. As is his selective citing of polls, choosing to ignore the consistently large numbers of Hillary voters who have yet to commit to Obama. Any equivalent among Deaniacs in 2004 or Bradleyites in 2000? No, I didn’t think so.

But, then, he doesn’t really want us to remember those elections. This glorified gossip columnist and avid fanner of flames regularly did the VRWC’s work, deriding not only Hillary and Bill Clinton, but also energetically using his bully pulpit to spread right-wing lies and snark about Al Gore in the 2000 campaign. In the process, he helped to give us eight years of Bush, as Somerby has eloquently documented. As Bob says, the dead of Iraq stare up from their graves at Frank Rich.

But, to end on a lighter note, let’s turn from the offensive to the simply untethered. What can one make of the following two sentences?

“None of this, any more than the success of Obama’s acceptance speech, guarantees a Democratic victory. But what it does ensure is that all bets are off when it comes to predicting this race’s outcome.”

Huh? An ordinary speaker of English would take it from these lines that – prior to the convention’s unprecedented “success” and Obama’s brilliant thwarting of the evil, divisive Clintons and their nut-job dead-enders – most people believed that the presidential race favored John McCain. The presumption behind those sentences is that that tide has now turned, and that that's why “all bets are off.”

What possible universe is Frank Rich occupying? In what part of the Milky Way Galaxy did anybody believe that this isn’t shaping up as an overwhelmingly Democratic year? Who in his right mind doesn’t know that if McCain wins, he will be doing so against enormous odds? And that if Obama loses, it is a failure of equally enormous proportions? And that polling has consistently shown that Hillary would be far, far ahead of where the Precious is now?

Okay, got that off my chest. ‘Night, mother.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Possibly a Master Meta-Stroke

With the obvious caveat that some scandal or closeted skeleton could make this into an Eagleton event, I am prompted to ask: How is McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin politically smart? Anglachel has counted the ways. Let me add two more:

Every moment spent talking about experience in this campaign helps McCain – regardless of whether it comes in the form of persuasive attacks on Palin.

Every moment spent discussing women in politics hurts Obama – regardless of whether it comes in the form of reminders of Palin’s opposition to choice.

That is, what McCain’s campaign seems to be doing is what the best political and PR efforts always try to do – frame the debate, define the field of play, determine what game is being played there. Once you’ve succeeded at doing that, you’ve usually won, even if you get out-riposted or lose a skirmish here or there.

In this case, simply having a sizable chunk of the next two months taken up with discussion about experience and women pushes aside the discussion Obama should be seeking – which ought to be entirely “I’m a Democrat and he’s not.” Indeed, the brilliance of this meta-stroke is that it takes one’s mind back to the primaries; it keeps the Obama-Clinton contest in the air. So even though Hillary herself will continue to stump for Obama, and even though she will do a strong, professional and even stirring job of that… she can’t unmake what actually happened over the past year. And McCain has made sure none of us forget it.

Indeed, the effect of this jujitsu is that Hillary's own appearances on Obama's behalf -- which may get ramped up to counter Palin -- may now serve mostly to remind people of the primaries. And the energy of her advocacy of Obama may be flipped on its head. It may cause many voters, especially women, to feel primarily admiration and sympathy for her, remembering how vilely she was treated. Yes, the two-year Governor of Alaska is an, er, Palin imitation of Hillary Clinton... but if she does nothing more than remind people what the real Hillary went through, it may be impossible to hear Hillary's words through the emotions of Hillary's heroic presence. In fact, the very crassness of the political move is integral to its brilliance. We don't really want to know Sarah Palin, much -- unless it turns out there's something in her story that requires us to pay attention to her. She's not the point. She is merely a reminder -- and as a mere reminder, she's a walking tickler-file for thinking about how Hillary Clinton was trashed.

By itself, that’s not enough to swing the election – but, then, no VP pick ever is. Granted that neither of them helped himself with an important state, McCain is getting a lot more bang for his buck here. Biden merely shores up Obama’s weakness (and therefore, of course, calls attention to it). He sure as hell isn't a skillful or compelling campaigner. In chess terms, this was a defensive move. Obama protected his king. (Protecting his queen is out of the question. The choice of Biden sacrificed her.) McCain, in contrast, is playing offense. He moved a bishop or a rook to a square that changes the complexion of the whole board, and dictates his opponent's moves in response.


Can’t anybody speak Latin anymore?

Jonathan Alter: "Happy birthday, Johnny Mac! You're 72 now, a cancer survivor, and a presidential candidate who has said on many occasions that the most important criteria [sic] for picking a vice president is whether he or she could immediately step in if something happened to the president."

The joke you don’t get to make.

Gail Collins is just one of several columnists and bloggers congratulating themselves on suggesting the "drop-dead line" for Joe Biden to use in the veep debate: "I know Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is a friend of mine, and governor, you're no Hillary Clinton." Problem is, the DNC and Obamacans threw over Hillary -- again -- to pick
Joe Biden. The shrillosphere salivated at the very mention of her name for a year, falling over each other in their adjectival vitriol. You can't now claim she's yours -- even if she maintains party loyalty, out of grace and professionalism. You can't piss in my face and then tell me my complexion is shiny.

Aren’t anti-stalking laws meant for
a situation like this?

I mean, that’s just this past month.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Plus c’est le Meme Shows

John McCain may lose this election. He’s turned out to be a poor campaigner, and is ill-suited to being a leader. But it’s now his to lose – and that, of course, is the remarkable state of play, as the Emperor’s New Convention winds to its amorphous close.

We’re in this position because our presumptuous nominee (I propose that we’re okay saying it, now that he’s no longer presumptive) has been revealed as an empty suit, and a terrible candidate, to boot. He’s a one-trick (unity) pony, whose trick has been trotted out once too often. His sole and only schtick – standing at a podium in front of huge crowds and offering himself as their mirror – is already so yesterday that nobody can even work up much energy praising it anymore. Witness the speeches at this convention. All anybody could say on his behalf is that he isn’t John McCain.

Problem is, John McCain cannot be made to serve as an objet d’haine. His brand is set, and it doesn’t matter how many gaffes he makes, most people simply will not loathe him. Not only that, it’s political folly to believe that Bush can be hung around his neck. All one need do is look at the polls – at Bush’s ratings, and at McCain’s – to see that that dog won’t hunt. I don’t care if he has voted with W 95 percent of the time. Most Americans believe he’s the alternative, not the successor, to the Boy King.

Obama could count on CDS in the media and the shrillosphere to keep pumping adrenaline into his flagging effort during the primaries – and even there, it faded fast at the finish. But there’s no comparable animus to tap re McCain – as was evident over the past three nights. “More of the same” isn’t exactly a rallying cry to go after the hated opposition.

Hillary’s speech was remarkable, as was her candidacy, as is she. The speech was, as has been universally acknowledged, a case study in passion, maturity and smarts. Obama has style, Hillary has class. But she wasn’t able, any more than any of Obama’s actual acolytes... any more than the game but unimaginative Joe Biden... any more than the ever-fabulous Bill... to summon up a serious argument for his candidacy. You can’t make a silk purse out of the air pockets in a sow’s ear.

You can’t talk about his ideas – because he has none to speak of. You can’t talk about his record or experience – ditto. You can’t talk about his character or leadership – same thing. All you can say is, “He’s a Democrat.” And say it. And say it.

So, here we are. The Obama campaign will try to make him a Democrat, and the McCain campaign will try to make him a neophyte. I’ll put my money on the latter.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Plus ça Changiness

There will be plenty of time for I-told-you-sos. Plenty of time for dissections – even the celebration – of the dissolutions of institutions. Plenty of time for ruminations on the rise and fall of cults – and on the presence of absences. Plenty of time for analyses of the upside of divided government. Plenty of time for dancing on the graves of the misogynists and Village Idiots – along with visits to Maureen in Arkham, Nancy in a houseboat in Mendocino, and Donna trolling away in chat rooms.

Tonight, it’s simply sadness. Personal sadness. It’s what-might-have-been. It’s throwing a pearl away, richer than all our tribe. Tonight the fuckers don’t matter. They aren’t even the point.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Bad Candidate

What many of us saw and have been saying for a long time now has become painfully and more broadly obvious. We have chosen a bad candidate.

The old Democratic Party ("old" meaning the party of the past generation, the post-Vietnam era) is holding on, via its last landlords (Dean, Pelosi, Brazile, et al.), and selecting a presidential candidate who presents less of a challenge to its underlying mindset, worldview and self-conception. He may wind up winning the election, because the field is so heavily slanted in the Dems' favor. But he may lose -- and there is a case to be made that it would be good for the Party if that happens. If one believes that we need to clear out the Anti-Power Party aparatchiks -- those who would rather lose than win, because winning means you have to shoulder responsibility -- then making it painfully apparent that the path to victory means embracing that responsibility would make sense.

Obviously, one cannot embrace that outcome with enthusiasm. Perhaps one cannot embrace it at all. But no matter where one comes down on the particular question of whom to vote for -- or whether to abstain in the presidential race -- the weakness, lack of principle, general crappiness of the Obama phenomenon is pretty hard to avoid, for thinking Dems.

P.S., I may be scarce in these parts for the next couple of weeks. And by then, the whole sorry saga will probably be over. Sadder and wiser times ahead...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A New Addition to the Chutzpah Chronicles - Update

When it comes to the "new politics" of chutzpah, it just doesn't get any better than this. Let's see... you pay off the ump, he throws the game in your favor... and then you agree to give back just enough runs so you win by one. Nice.

Truth Partisan: I'd give this a perfect 10 in cynicism.

Update: Among the many inevitable and entirely appropriate guffaws at Obama's patently silly pretense of fairness, Riverdaughter's point is particularly well taken. Giving back Michigan and Florida delegates their "full voting rights" is a triumph of Orwellian newspeak, when those delegates can't vote for the person they were chosen to represent. And that's the situation if Hillary's name isn't put in nomination at the convention -- right?

Ooh, a Strongly Worded Letter

Thank goodness the "real Democrats" are finally taking a stand on principle. When do they start calling for One Citizen One Clothespin?

A Riddle Wrapped in an Enigma inside a Mystery

Can anyone possibly explain how this got published?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Roost, Roost, Roost for the Home Team

On a tactical level, I agree with Big Tent Democrat’s point. But I think the problem he’s getting at with Obama’s candidacy is not just (or most importantly) about race. And it’s not just tactical; it goes to the question of character.

First, it’s not just about race: Obama and his campaign have consistently behaved in ways that are dangerous or destructive for the general election and for the long term (i.e., for actually governing and achieving progressive change). They did so in order to win the primaries and secure the nomination. Although Hillary Clinton’s campaign was accused of taking the “low road” and being unconscionably brutal, it wasn’t a patch on these guys in the scorched-earth department.

They gave away healthcare from the get-go (undercutting mandates, validating Harry-and-Louise frames).

They gave away major economic analyses and principles from the get-go (validating the idea that Social Security is in crisis, and not bothering to develop any substantive ideas on other economic issues).

They gave away the defense of voting rights (blocking re-votes in Florida and Michigan, thus putting the Democratic Party on a level – and pock-marked – playing field with the GOP on the topic of disenfranchisement).

More generally, their behavior re Florida and Michigan gave away a lot of the legitimacy of the Democratic Party – weakening it in its appearance of fairness, competence and openness. They consistently acted not with the long-term interests and appeal of the Party in mind, but aiming to subsume it into their own cult-of-personality. The shift of the DNC to Chicago… the demonizing of (and attempt to clamp down on) any dissent… the remarkable efforts to redirect fundraising away from independent progressive organizations and toward the Obama campaign – all are extensions of this same pattern, a pattern that is very dangerous for the Party. This is what a cancer does to a host organism. It feeds itself and grows, until the organism dies.

Of course, they gave away the Party’s advantage on women’s issues (read any other post on my blog or most of the sites in my blogroll – ‘nuff said).

Now, they have given away the Constitution (FISA, death penalty).

Obama, in other words, did not just make one tactical and/or moral boo-boo in playing the race card on Bill and Hillary. His campaign has exhibited a consistent – indeed, pervasive – pattern of unprincipled, compass-less action that has left it with nothing except the Precious’s aura and his one anti-Iraq speech on which to run. Not the economy. Not women’s issues. Not the rule of law. Not healthcare.

And perhaps most importantly – and this gets to my second point – not character. These cards he’s tossed away are not just winning plays, they are (as Hillary was wont to say) foundational principles of the Democratic Party. And in aggregate they are the tentpole that would have kept Obama's personal brand/image/identity erect.

Obama’s “answer” to the critique that he’s all airy rhetoric, “just words,” has been to show that he’s cynical and hard-boiled. He has given away cards left and right (pun intended) in order not to be seen as familiar, traditional. But the net effect has been that he has emerged as a mysterious fog, defined by two antipodes – “hope” and realpolitik – but with no visible, comprehensible person to unite them.

In fact, of all the self-centered, short-term, Party-destructive, self-muddying things Obama has done, playing the race card may be the least problematic tactically and the least immoral. Yes, it was unfair to Bill and Hillary. And yes, since it would have been fair vis a vis the Republicans, it would be maddening if it can’t now be used effectively against them. But if there’s a card that the first credible African-American candidate for President ought to be able to play, this is it. Four hundred years of oppression have earned that, at least. Was he clumsy, amateurish and unfair in how he wielded it during the primaries? Yes – but he drew it legitimately.