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Too Much of a Good Thing

By Jon Keller

Let's start with the good news for Barack Obama fans - your guy did his usual excellent job last night. He delivered a well-written speech with his usual energy and eloquence. He looked great and sounded great. Presidential, you might say. He didn't go on too long. He didn't let the adoring crowd stall him out by letting their incessant cheering drag on. He was fine. He'll get a nice bump in the polls, and probably consolidate the progress he made this week uniting his party behind him.

OK, now, the bad news. The speech was too much. Too many promises of too much spending and too many profound changes without any real explanation of how they'll actually happen. Too much talk of a magical, mystical, impossible uniting of a country that has over the last century grown profoundly diverse and ideologically divided in ways that no politician can seriously hope to reverse. Too many nice turns of phrase to the point where none will likely stand out in any swing voter's mind past the weekend, if that. Keep in mind, this is typical of these big presidential nominee convention speeches. That's why so few of them are memorable to anyone but the party insiders.

John McCain will probably repeat the same mistakes next week at his convention. Because that's the kind of culture we have now, a culture of too much. This has always been a big country of big plans and big appetitites. But in recent decades we've become almost obese in so many ways. Too much cultural license without a restraining sense of taste. Too much political extremism. Too much of an edifice complex on things like the Big Dig and the Bush "democratization" of the Middle East. Too much narcissism, too much materialism, too much of everything, when all too often, less is really more. The Republican party has suffered from this disease; that's why they're rightly on the banana peel. But Obama-ism fits the mold too. And it leaves you to wonder - where's a fed-up voter to turn?

Jon Keller blogs regularly for WBZ-TV Boston at Keller @ Large

Michael Dukakis Emerges from Political Exile in Denver

By Donald Douglas

Former Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis disappeared from the top echelons of the party establishment after his devastating loss to George H.W. Bush in 1988. I recall in 2004, during the Democratic Convention in Boston, where Senator John Kerry was being nominated, commentators still spoke of Dukakis as a disgraced loser who would not be on hand to address the delegates.

So it's interesting to see Dukakis reemerging from obscurity to attend this year's festivities in Denver. Katie Couric, in the video below, interviews Dukakis outside the Pepsi Center arena. The former Massachusetts Governor is apologetic for his loss in 1988, lamenting that he didn't combat the GOP attack-machine effectively. He says this year Obama's got to "fight fire with fire":

See also the background story on Dukakis' return at Scripps News Service, "Even Now, Dukakis Blames Himself for 1988 Blowout":


Twenty years have passed, but Michael Dukakis still kicks himself -- again and again and again.

Seven times in an hour-long chat, he brings up "mistakes" from that 1988 presidential election.

Twice, he flat-out admits that he "screwed it up." He wonders aloud whether he might have been naive. And, lest anybody still wonders who was to blame for his loss to Republican George H.W. Bush, Dukakis keeps repeating that the strategic decisions were "my fault, nobody else's."

Things just didn't work out the way the former Massachusetts governor had hoped. And this after what Dukakis considered a "great," "terrific," "unified," "positive" Democratic National Convention in Atlanta.

Turns out, a great political get-together just isn't enough, particularly if the presidential nominee forgets the most important part of a convention: The morning after.

After the last balloons drop, a presidential nominee has to start the campaign all over again. He has to be ready to fight back against attacks. And, Dukakis says from experience, those attacks are coming.

"What I would change obviously, and what you have to be aware of, is the final campaign is very different from the primary," Dukakis says, sitting in front of a vintage map of Denver at his daughter's stately home in the city's Country Club neighborhood. "You think you've addressed every issue under the sun. You try to do so in your acceptance speech. But it's a whole new ballgame, and you've got to begin, post-convention, as if the campaign has just begun."

After his upbeat convention in 1988, "I just kind of assumed, 'Look, it's just a continuation of what I've been doing: a very positive approach that so far seems to have done what I hoped it would," Dukakis says. "And anyway, that's the kind of guy I am, so we'll just kind of continue . . .' "

But it was a famous miscalculation. Dukakis wanted to stay positive. So he was slow to respond to some brutal attacks on his record, his positions and even his wife's reputation.

By the time he fought back, it was too late.

That's a painful lesson Democrats should never forget, Dukakis says. And it's clear that a sometimes "feisty" Sen. Barack Obama already has taken it to heart, he adds.

In Dukakis' view, any and all attacks have to be countered, swiftly and forcefully, he says. Or else, suffer his fate, a party's standard-bearer who ended up as one of those self-deprecating woulda, coulda, shoulda guys.
I think Dukakis is right to argue the best defense is a good offense, but in my mind his deadened, liberal technocratic ideology is what did him in, seen most infamously at the 1988 presidential debate where he told moderator Bernard Shaw that would not support the death penalty in response to the rape and murder of his wife, Kitty:

Dukakis can help the Democrats this year by reminding them that their soft-on-criminals eschatology had as much to do with their party's defeat 20 years ago as the GOP's well-justified attack strategy.

Donald blogs at American Power

DNC: Rudy Cuts and Pastes to Fit the Moment

By Dan Janison

Rudy Giuliani, in his established role as a traveling flack for John McCain, is now speaking with tremendous respect for "his senator," Hillary Clinton, whom he had expected to run against, and who turns big star as we post.

Very subtle.

There's speculation in GOP circles that Giuliani Partners could do well under a McCain presidency, say with fat contracts. Or, if Obama wins, and then looks vulnerable enough in 2012, Giuliani could give the presidency another try.

But of course the ex-mayor was against Clinton before he was for her, as shown by the sample dispatches below. Emphasis, of course, added.

In a dispatch filed yesterday by CBS Giuliani says: "Well, I think it's actually weakness. I mean is it 'tough' to turn down the person that gives you the best chance to win because it unites the party or is it some kind of difficulty in dealing with one of your rivals? I mean honestly, I am just speculating, I don't know," said Giuliani from the beach resort town of Sag Harbor on Saturday.

And this is from September 17, 2007: (AP) Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani denounced Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday for challenging the Capitol Hill testimony of the top U.S. military commander in Iraq.

"Hillary Clinton, questioning Gen. (David) Petraeus, said you had to suspend disbelief," Giuliani said after a brief campaign stop at an Akron restaurant. "Why would you say that about an American general?"

The New York senator appeared skeptical Tuesday of the positive spin Petraeus put on improvements in Iraq, saying, "The reports that you provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief."

Giuliani said Petraeus was doing "the best that he can." He also criticized the liberal anti-war group for running newspaper advertisements that asked "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?"

"I can't imagine why we can't get beyond maligning other people's motives nowadays in politics," said Giuliani, a former New York City mayor.

"There is no reason to do what or Hillary Clinton have done - which is to make personal attacks on the general." Giuliani had a private fundraising event arranged in Akron but no details were disclosed by his campaign staff.

He arrived in Ohio - expected to again be a key political battleground in 2008 after clinching President Bush's 2004 re-election - following a fundraiser earlier in the day in Morgantown, W.Va. He was to travel to Canonsburg, Pa., and Bluffton, S.C., after the Akron visit.

Dan Janison writes and reports for Newsday's Spin Cycle blog

Why is Cindy McCain Going to Georgia?

By Justin Gardner

This is just odd...

McCain is traveling with the U.N.'s World Food Programme, whose work she monitored in Southeast Asia and Africa this spring and summer. McCain plans to meet with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and to visit wounded Georgian soldiers. She would also visit representatives of the HALO Trust, which works to remove land mines and on whose board she serves. [...]

Cindy McCain said she has been trying to get into Georgia since the conflict started, but it took time to arrange the logistics. Her husband, she said, is "very supportive. As soon as he saw what was happening -- he and I, we connect on many levels. I mean, he knew immediately [that I would want to go]. I've been to Georgia with him; I know the country."

Imagine if Michelle Obama was taking this trip. Imagine the outrage on the right as they'd accuse her of turning a foreign policy crisis into a photo op. And you know what? They'd be right.

I mean, what else can this trip be seen as since Cindy is essentially going to be in the country for less than a day? Yes, I know she has worked with the UN before, but folks, this is not "monitoring."

Again, just odd.

Justin blogs daily at

How Liberal Are Obama and Biden?

By Brendan Nyhan

In the wake of Joe Biden's nomination, Fred Barnes drags out the National Journal 2007 Senate ratings to argue that Obama and Biden are the first and third most liberal sentors:

Once regarded as a centrist, Mr. Biden was rated by the National Journal in 2007 as the third most liberal member of the Senate. Mr. Obama was rated the most liberal. Neither has a record of bucking the wishes of liberal interest groups or promoting bipartisanship.

However, as I pointed out back in February, the National Journal ratings are seen as simplistic by political scientists who study voting in Congress. The far more respected ranking produced by UCSD's Keith Poole and UCLA's Jeff Lewis places Obama and Biden as the 11th and 10th most liberal senators (respectively) in the first half of the 110th Senate (2007) and as the 21st and 29th most liberal in the 109th Senate (2005-2006).

By contrast, Poole and Lewis rate the "maverick" McCain as the eighth most conservative senator in the first half of the 110th and the second most conservative in the 109th, so the comparison isn't actually as flattering as Barnes thinks (though see my previous post on the methodological problems posed by his inconsistent voting record).

Brendan blogs at

Joe Biden's Disastrous Foreign Policy Liabilities

By Donald Douglas

Barack Obama's selection of Senator Joseph Biden was designed to bolster the Democrats' flagging standings on the national security issue. Biden, a 35-year veteran of the Congress, serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, looked to provide foreign policy gravitas to Obama's dangerous inexperience on the international stage.

Yet, as analysts and bloggers take a closer look, Obama's Biden pick may end up being a disastrous liability for the campaign.

For one thing, Biden's holds a near-religious commitment to diplomacy before the resort to military force in a crisis. Biden's hedging has left the Delaware Senator a legacy of vacillation and hypocrisy in foreign affairs. For some background, here's Michael Gordon:

As the Bush administration was fine-tuning its plan to invade Iraq, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. helped draft a proposed resolution that emphasized the need for diplomatic efforts to dismantle Saddam Hussein's weapons programs but gave President Bush the authority to use military force as a last resort....

Mr. Biden is widely seen as a liberal-minded internationalist. He has emphasized the need for diplomacy but has been prepared at times to back it with the threat of force. An early advocate of military action to quell the ethnic fighting in the Balkans, he has not been averse to American military intervention abroad. As the debates over Kosovo and later Iraq showed, he has been loath to give the United Nations a veto over American policy decisions. But he has also sought to ensure that the United States acted in concert with other nations.

The Los Angeles Times has more:
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. joins the Democratic ticket as an acknowledged foreign policy sage whose 36-year record has won him bipartisan praise as a liberal internationalist who generally hews close to his party's center. But he has sometimes found himself at odds with members of his own party as well as with Republicans.

Biden has frequently favored humanitarian interventions abroad and was an early and influential advocate for U.S. military action in the Balkans in the 1990s. He also advocates U.S. action to stem the continuing bloodshed in Darfur.

Some liberal Democrats remain distressed by his 2002 vote for the Iraq war, which Barack Obama opposed. Other critics say Biden was misguided or even naive in his most recent proposal to resolve sectarian conflict by giving broad autonomy to Iraq's three major population groups, the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. And he opposed last year's troop "surge," which by most accounts has contributed significantly to the reduction in violence in Iraq.

What appears to bind Biden and Obama in the realm of foreign affairs, however, is a shared belief in strong cooperation with America's traditional allies and in the use of force only as a last resort. The Democratic standard-bearers reject the belief of President Bush and some other conservatives that the United States should not hesitate to act unilaterally if other nations demur.
Biden's partition plan has not endeared him to Iraqis, as TigerHawk points out:
Reuters is reporting that Barack Obama's selection of Joe Biden is not popular among Iraqis, who very much dislike Biden's proposal to partition their country....

The Biden partition plan was a bad idea from the beginning, and all Iraqis should be grateful that - so far - it has gained no footing within the executive branch.

Anyway, it is a reflection of the diminishing political significance of the Iraq war that Barack Obama, who secured the Democratic nomination in part by making much of his opposition to the war and his plan to withdraw our troops on a fast schedule, is now able to pick as his running mate a senator who voted for the invasion in 2002 and whose favored "solution" would have required more rather than less American involvement in Iraqi domestic politics.
What's particularly bothersome about Biden is his shameless antiwar pandering.

Recall that Obama's greatest weakness on foreign policy is his awful judgment on the Iraq war. When the conflict was going poorly in 2004 he advocated sending more troops to rectify the "botched" Bush-Rumsfeld light infantry invasion and failed post-conflict stablity operations. Yet, when the administration made key strategic adjustements in 2006-2007, Obama was one of the most vociferous oppoents of the surge in the U.S. Senate.

Yet, by selecting Biden, rather than choosing a running mate who has consistently advocated firmness and careful resolve on the conflict, he's found a campaign partner who has eschewed strategic clarity and carried water for the antiwar hordes.

As the National Review noted, commenting on Biden's selection as veep:

...Biden is a typical liberal who has no claim to post-partisanship...

His vaunted foreign-policy judgment is seriously flawed. Although he was not as irresponsible as other Democrats in calling for an immediate pullout from Iraq, he opposed the surge and plugged for an unworkable plan to partition the country, one long ago overtaken by events, even though his office was saying as of only a week ago that he still supports it.

The cardinal rule of vice-presidential picks is: Do no harm. It remains to be seen if Biden will meet even this low standard.
Scott at Power Line agrees:

Rather than adding to Obama's attractions or neutralizing Obama's liabilities, if he does anything, Biden subtracts from Obama's strengths and contributes to his liabilities.
Obama's selection of Joe Biden may prove a disastrous liability, accentuating weakness in foreign policy rather than strengthening it. As Michael Rubin concludes:

Obama may have wanted Biden's foreign policy experience, but he may soon find that Biden's track record leaves a lot to be desired. On Iraq, on Iran, and elsewhere...
The New York Times had a lead story on Sunday entitled, "In Obama's Choice, a 'Very Personal Decision'.

Unfortunatly for the Democrats, Obama's choice may end up as a very personal disaster

Donald blogs at American Power

McCain/Whitman 2008?

By Justin Gardner

That's the buzz coming from Denver, via Ambinder.

As I mentioned earlier in the day, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman could do numerous things to help McCain, not the least of which is act as a Hillary surrogate for many of those security moms and independent women who saw Hillary as the true candidate for "change."

Also, let's not forget that McCain named Whitman as one of those people whom he admires most at the Saddleback conference recently and who else could talk the talk when it comes to the economy?

Still, there are pretty obvious drawbacks.

For one, few know where Whitman stands on a lot of the hot button issues (she is pro-life), and while that may excite some independents, it'll still scare McCain's religious base...a lot. Basically, there's no legislative record behind Whitman, only private sector work...most of which never sees the light of day.

Ambinder has more negatives...

But eBay's lost a lot of value in ten years. There's a lot about Whitman we don't know. A lot that social conservatives might object to: eBay is very good to its gay employees, for one thing. And Whitman has her heart set on the governors's mansion in California. Is she ready to lead from day one? When was the last time she went to Iraq? Etc. Etc.

Also, does anybody think Whitman would be ready to lead on day one if something happened to McCain. Dems would have a field day with that one.

Still, a female VP for McCain is extremely intriguing notion and I think it would be a game changer. In fact, it would be the only game changer.

Justin blogs daily at

Things to Remember Friday and Saturday

By Brendan Nyhan

A handy clip 'n' save guide:

1. Vice presidential selections rarely affect election outcomes.*
2. The selection is therefore only likely to be important insofar as the VP choice (a) helps or hurts the president they serve during his time in office and (b) becomes more likely to be a future president.
3. The selection should therefore be assessed primarily in light of #2, not #1. (It will not be.)

* You could tell a story where Obama's VP could help prevent defections from white working-class voters who would otherwise have voted Democratic (a possibility that was obviously not relevant in past elections). However, this idea is purely speculative and would be difficult to test even after the fact.

Brendan blogs at

Obama Seeks to Take 'Super' Out Of Superdelegates

By Justin Gardner

After the nonsense this primary season, I can understand why Democrats across the board would want to diminish the importance of these folks.

From Wash Post:

Barack Obama's campaign will call next week for the creation of a new commission to revise the rules for selecting a presidential nominee in 2012 with a goal of reducing the power of superdelegates, whose role became a major point of contention during the long battle between Obama and Hillary Clinton. [...]

The proposed changes grow out of discussions between Obama's campaign team, officials at the Democratic National Committee and representatives of Hillary Clinton's former presidential campaign, Plouffe said. [...]

"The number of super delegates has gotten too large in relation to overall delegates," Plouffe said. "We want to give more control back to the voters.... Everyone thinks there ought to be more weight given to the results of the elections."

Also, this new commission will be looking at changing up the primary schedule, although it doesn't look likely that Iowa or New Hampshire will be moved around...

The other significant change is the call to redraw the primary and caucus calendar. The 2008 calendar drew significant criticism both for the early starting dates for the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries, and also because there were so many states crowded into the first month of what turned out to be a five-month campaign.

As envisioned by the Obama and Clinton campaigns, most contests could not be held before March, except for a handful of states authorized to go earlier -- presumably in February rather than January.

I think these are all good changes, but I wish they'd mix up the primary calendar A LOT more. Give other states a chance to go first instead of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Justin blogs daily at

Michael Moore's Threat

By Jon Keller

The long wait is nearly over! Grateful voters will soon be able to read "Mike's Election Guide," by movie maker and deep political thinker Michael Moore. Fortunately for the impatient among us, Rolling Stone has excerpts posted on-line, and they are riveting.

In his "blueprint for losing the most winnable presidential election in American history" (geez, really? More than FDR's landslide 1944 re-election? ), Moore begins with a familiar angry-left litany of laments: Barack Obama is giving far too much credit to John McCain for being, among other things, a war hero; is being far too hawkish by talking tough on Iran and supporting Israel; and is in general brandishing a "peashooter" at a "gunfight." Intriguingly, Moore predicts fallout from all that genteel centrism in the form of ennui among Obama supporters, whom he characterizes as beer-swilling, trash-TV-addicted couch potatoes. (We are left to imagine his view of McCain backers, although an educated guess seems possible.)

But Moore doesn't stop with imperious contempt for the followers and candidate of the campaign he claims to support. He offers Obama a fail-safe political solution, one that could only have been devised by a totemic member of the "me" generation - drop what you're doing and embrace...ME.

Moore imagines that the press will inevitably ask Obama if he really welcomes Moore's endorsement. And what if the Democratic nominee should be so unwise as to downplay his association with a figure on the political fringe? Moore recalls the trauma of watching 2004 nominee John Kerry tell a TV interviewer he had not seen and had no plans to see Moore's anti-Bush polemic, Fahrenheit 9/11. "But he had indeen seen it," claims Moore. "I sat there watching him say this, and I just felt sorry for him and for the election he was about to lose." Yes - that's the same moment we all remember thinking Kerry was toast.

And Moore concludes with that indispensable kicker to any extremist screed - a threat.

Should Obama seek relief from Moore's shadow, "it's not really me you're distancing yourself from -- it's the millions upon millions of people who feel the same way about things as I do. And many of them are the kind of crazy voters who have no problem voting for a Nader just to prove a point. Elections have been lost by just 537 votes. I don't want that to happen to you."

In the spirit of Moore's shamless self-promotion, allow me to note that my book "The Bluest State" (just out in paperback, by the way!) deals at length with baby-boomer political narcissism and its toxic effects on Massachusetts and the national Democratic Party. I wish I'd had Moore's tract handy when I wrote it. I can't imagine a better example of boomer egomania than the sight of one of the nation's fiercest critics of Republican rule threatening to extend it out of sheer vanity and self-serving spite.

Jon Keller blogs regularly for WBZ-TV Boston at Keller @ Large

Joe Lieberman's Personal Two-party System

By Dan Janison

Many are the riveting questions if Sen. John McCain picks Sen. Joe Lieberman as his running-mate (speculation stirred here). Does it make McCain the Sen. Al Gore of 2008? Does McCain therefore lose, grow a beard, gain weight, and start a foundation? Does Lieberman stand up at this convention, as he did at the other one, but this time give a whole new meaning to his tag line, "Only in America"? Does Lieberman continue to embrace the controversial Rev. Hagee -- as he did just a few weeks ago, and compare him to Moses -- now that McCain has renounced Hagee over the pastor's dicey comments?

Some of Hagee's printed quotes: "The Roman Catholic Church, which was supposed to carry the light of the gospel, plunged the world into the dark ages.

"[John Paul II] will be remembered for staring down Communism and embracing people of all faiths and colors. He will lovingly be remembered for his bold stand against abortion. (Lieberman is avowedly "pro-choice").

"When Hitler signed a treaty with the Vatican in Rome, he said "I am only continuing the work of the Catholic Church."

Dan Janison writes and reports for Newsday's Spin Cycle blog

Why Kerry Won't Debate

By Jon Keller

Here we go again with the familiar election-year ritual of entrenched incumbents ducking debates with their challengers. The Associated Press reports Sen. John Kerry is now saying that while he has instructed aide Roger Lau to "discuss the 'modalities' of a debate" with the campaign of Democratic challenger Ed O'Reilly,  he "just may not necessarily be able to" find time for one. 

Sure he can't. You know how grueling those modalities can be.

Anyway, predictably and justifiably, Kerry is taking his lumps for blowing off O'Reilly. The Globe editorial page spanked him this morning; op-ed columnist Joan Vennochi is said to be preparing her take, and knowing Joan, Kerry better have his asbestos suit on that day. But may I just say: why is anyone surprised? Kerry is simply demanding the same pass taken by Ted Kennedy in 2000 when he declined to debate GOP nominee Jack E. Robinson. In our one-party state, opinion-makers may find such disdain for the democratic process distasteful, but it seems few voters care. Up to a point, that is - while Ted got away with ignoring the hapless Robinson, a similar attempt to duck debates with Mitt Romney in 1994 was unsuccessful.

The funny thing is, with all due respect to O'Reilly, a debate with him offers little danger for Kerry, an accomplished debater. And by the way, WBZ's offer to host a televised debate still stands. But spare me hand-wringing from the political culture if Kerry's decides the modalities just aren't aligned. Why duck a debate? Because he can.

Jon Keller blogs regularly for WBZ-TV Boston at Keller @ Large

Andrew Sullivan, Then and Now

By Sister Toldjah

June 30, 2008:

McCain himself disowned the Swift Boat nutters in 2004 as "dishonest and dishonorable." I find both attempts to smear the war records of people who volunteered to fight for their country to be repellent. But the far right is too invested in the politics of Vietnam to take the high road.

August 17, 2008:

I've now heard it countless times. McCain has used what appears to be an intensely personal moment in a prison camp as a reason to vote for him in a campaign ad. As he tells it today, it was the pivotal moment in his struggle to survive in the Hanoi Hilton. And yet, in his first thorough account of his time in captivity, in 1973, the story is absent. The story is also hauntingly like that recounted by Solzhenitsen, as told in Luke Veronis, "The Sign of the Cross":

Leaving his shovel on the ground, he slowly walked to a crude bench and sat down. He knew that at any moment a guard would order him to stand up, and when he failed to respond, the guard would beat him to death, probably with his own shovel. He had seen it happen to other prisoners.

As he waited, head down, he felt a presence. Slowly he looked up and saw a skinny old prisoner squat down beside him. The man said nothing. Instead, he used a stick to trace in the dirt the sign of the Cross. The man then got back up and returned to his work.

As Solzhenitsyn stared at the Cross drawn in the dirt his entire perspective changed.

I have one simple question: when was the first time that McCain told this story?

And he didn't stop there.  He has continued on today here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

That's 12, count 'em, 12 posts to date so far from the same guy who said back in June, "I find both attempts to smear the war records of people who volunteered to fight for their country to be repellent. But the far right is too invested in the politics of Vietnam to take the high road."

Um ... so does this mean Andrew's on "the right" again, or is it a confirmation that he's a far leftie?  Hell, I dunno anymore. In fact, I don't think he even knows.


NYT Adopts Conservative Jargon

By Brendan Nyhan

Since when do New York Times reporters use "big government" as an adjective? The lede of a Jackie Calmes story on Friday predicts "a new round of big-government financial regulation" that is vaguely attributed to "experts":

Modernizing the nation's New Deal-era defenses against financial disaster is not high among the priorities that either Barack Obama or John McCain list for the next president. But events could well plop the issue right in the middle of the winner's plate.

After a string of financial scandals and crises, a quarter century of deregulation and free-market experimentation is giving way to a new round of big-government financial regulation, regardless of who captures the White House, experts say.

Though a single expert (Alan Greenspan) is quoted expressing opposition to aggressive new regulation, the characterization of proposed rule changes as "big-government" is an embellishment added by Calmes. It's reminiscent of the way that newspapers adopted the jargon of "death tax" and "partial birth abortion" in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

What's especially striking is that the Times, which is frequently accused of having a liberal bias, used language that is more conservative than even the Bush White House. In a recent interview with Tom Brokaw on Meet the Press, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson called for "[m]ore modern regulation":

[W]e have a regulatory system that is very outdated. It was put in place many years ago, and...

MR. BROKAW: There's going to have to be more modern regulation...

SEC'Y PAULSON: Yes, absolutely.

MR. BROKAW: ...of Wall Street across the board.

SEC'Y PAULSON: Across the board. More modern regulation and more authorities.

Liberal media critics, take note.

Brendan blogs at

The Neocons, Russia and the Soviet Union

By Donald Douglas

I'm surprised, frankly, at the ahistoricism of Andrew Sullivan and Josh Marshall.

These two guys are not only among the very top-tier bloggers on the scene, they are also Ph.D. recipients in political science and history, from Harvard and Brown respectively. Given such esteemed backgrounds, the apparent ignorance of these two on the continuities of Russian history as they relate to the current war in the Caucasus is stunning.

Sullivan, for example, wants to excoriate the "neocons" for what he perceives is their abuse of historical analogies:

It's very bizarre to read the neocons' speaking about Russia as if the Soviet Union were still in existence. Here's a classic slice of the mindset from Max Boot, who wants a third little war in the Caucasus:

It should be no surprise that Russian spokesmen are masters of the Big Lie-their Soviet predecessors practically invented the technique.

Condi Rice, who really should know better, said:

"This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where Russia can threaten a neighbor, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it. Things have changed."

Yes, things have changed: the Soviet Union no longer exists. Wasn't the entire point of the Cold War that totalitarian expansionist states are different than authoritarian ones? Are we now going to elide this Kirkpatrick distinction when it comes to Russia? Putin is not a saint; and his attitude is Cheney-esque in his fondness for secrecy, brute force and contempt for international law. But he is not a communist and he is not attempting to take over the world. The West fought the Cold War based on this distinction. Why should we forget it now it's over?

Tagging along close behind is Marshall, who pumps up Sullivan with some big huzzahs for taking down the "neocon" warmongerers:

Andrew Sullivan, who's been on a tear on this story, has another good post on the bankrupt posturing of the neocons, jumping at the hopes of a new Cold War with the Russians, despite the lack of the ideological underpinnings on which we fought the first and any Russian global ambitions or capacity to fight it.

Marshall goes on to throw in a few more digs at the denizens of the American Enterprise Institute (a hothouse of neoconservative ideas), and he suggests that for people like Bill Bennett and Charles Krauthammer, the Georgian crisis is like an "80s era Gilligan's Island reunion flick."

The reality of anti-neoconservative fervor is well-recognized, but in the cases Sullivan and Marshall, their attacks exhibit a sense of irrationalism, almost an "acute paranoia" in reaction to neoconservative analyses of contempory security issues.
If we unpack the statements of Max Boot and Condoleezza Rice, for example, there's nothing particularly exceptional about them.

When Boot suggests today's Russians have mastered the "big lie" propaganda style of the old Soviet Union, he's essentially making a straightforward reference to the longstanding Kremlin practice of authoritarian control of political information for the external consumption of Moscow's antagonists.

Sullivan and Marshall's critique of Boot on this point is especially strange, since most observers of the Georgian war argue that Vladimir Putin - who was an internal security operative in the Soviet KGB's Fifth Directorate - has played a central role in Kremlin military policy, both before and after Dmitry Medvedev's accession to the Russian presidency. The undeflected similarities in Putin's personal role in the crisis - his personal embodiment of institutional path-dependence, from the Soviet era to the present - is astounding

Sullivan's jab at Rice is also highly ill-conceived, as the Secretary of State is a widely-respected expert on Soviet politics and foreign policy. Her reference to 1968 is to Moscow's crushing of Czechoslovakia's "Prague Spring," which was the shift toward a pro-democracy stance in the Czech communist regime, independent of Moscow, on the part of leader Alexander Dubček (and history records uncanny parallels between the Prague Spring in 1968 and the Georgian crisis of 2008, especially the similarities in the world corellation of forces, finding American power in both cases occupied in massive wars on the periphery - Vietnam and Iraq - which functioned to distract U.S. attention from the power-political machinations of the leaders in Moscow).

But beyond these points lies the larger historical context of current Russian international relations.

State power in Russia today reflects an amalgam of Soviet nostalgia and tsarist-era chauvinism. A key variable of concern is the role of Russian political culture dating back centuries. From Peter the Great to Joseph Stalin, leaders of the Russo-Soviet state emerged from a history of economic backwardness, cultural isolation from pivotal events in West (the Renaissance and Reformation), and the strategic vulnerability of Moscow's location along the great plains leading from Central Asia to Western Europe. Repeated wars and conquest subjugated ethnic Russia to external domination and enslavement. Threats of Western encirclement, from Napoleon to Hitler, contributed to a heightened need for psychological security in the Russian state, which in turn contributed to a widespread acceptance of authoritarianism in politics and the home.

Whereas Peter the Great sought to build Russia in the mold of the Western powers, attempting to import the most efffective state-building techniques to the nation (such as commercial and military organization), Stalin, at the height of World War Two - when the Soviets faced totalitarian defeat - appealed to the culture of Mother Russia, knowing that bland calls to defend Leninism would be less effective than the cultural glue of Great Russian Nationalism.

Thus, Moscow's politics in the post-Soviet era has returned in many respects to an earlier, tsarist-nationalist version of perceived strategic isolation and chauvinistic appeal. Indeed, Vladmir Putin's very popularity rests on his shrewd manipulation of popular Russian resentment at the loss of Moscow's previous great power status.

So, when prominent bloggers like Andrew Sullivan and Josh Marshall attack contemporary neoconservatives and GOP officials as hatching some newfangled AEI-style military gambit, it's evident that their goal is not careful analysis of realistic American reactions to genuine Russian brutality and hegemonic assertions, but to attack and delegitimize ideological opponents, amid an election where voters' perceptions of foreign policy experience and judgment may be decisive.

This neocon demonization might be expected among the lower-level hordes of the netroots, but these two are respected and award-winning mainstream journalists.

Donald blogs at American Power

Colin Powell: Most Important Endorsement This Campaign Season?

By Justin Gardner

Heard the rumor today? That Colin Powell was going to the Democratic Convention and endorsing Barack Obama?

Well, considering the gossip came from conservative gadfly Bill Kristol, I immediately didn't believe. And soon enough it was dispelled by Powell himself...

"I do not have time to waste on Bill Kristol's musings," Powell told ABC News. "I am not going to the convention. I have made this clear."

But this raises an interesting question: what could Powell's endorsement do for Obama? And then, of course, there's the flip side: what could it do for McCain?

Honestly, I think it could swing a significant number of Independents to either candidate's favor. After all, Powell is one of the more popular moderate political figures we've encountered in the past couple decades, even with that infamous speech at the U.N. looming in the background.

My guess? I think he would have come out for McCain a lot earlier if he was going to support John, so I think he's leaning heavily towards Obama because he shares a similar approach to foreign policy with the Illinois senator. That doesn't mean he'll explicitly endorse Obama, but Powell's silence would be telling in a year like this...especially considering he has been a lifelong Republican...albeit a moderate one.

Now, if he does actually come out for Obama, I think it would be much closer to November. Hell, he may even wait until just a couple weeks before the election, just to make sure the Republicans don't fish something really nasty up. After all, Powell has a reputation to think of too.

So what are your thoughts? Think he's backing Obama, but doesn't want to admit it? Or does he still have a soft spot for McCain? And would his endorsement mean that much?

Justin blogs daily at

Kerry for VP?

By Jon Keller

Alert Boston Phoenix scribe David Bernstein has picked up some cable TV chatter about the possibility that Sen. John Kerry might be on the Obama list of possible vice-presidential nominees, to which I say - bring it on!

But wait just a darn second - isn't Kerry also seeking re-election to the US Senate? Why, yes he is, with primary opponent Ed O'Reilly and, should he advance, presumptive Republican nominee Jeff Beatty in line to challenge him.

So enquiring minds want to know - what happens if this Kerry-for-VP talk turns out to be more than just the delusional speculation of mid-August ennui? These are the key facts:

* There is no legal barrier to Kerry running for both VP and Senate. If he does and wins both, under the state law rammed through Beacon Hill in anticipation of Kerry's 2004 election to the presidency, Gov. Deval Patrick (if he's still governor) would have to set an election for the vacated Senate seat within 145 to 160 days of Kerry's Senate resignation. Of course, the legislature could conceivably change the law back again to empower Patrick to simply appoint someone to fill out the six-year term Kerry had just been re-elected to. Gosh, whom do you think he might appoint? Discuss.

* It's too late for Kerry to pull his name off the September primary ballot even if he wanted to, and too late for any other Democrat to get on there in light of a Kerry VP nomination. The only alternative would be to run on stickers, and he or she would have to beat both Kerry and O'Reilly.

* Let's say VP nominee Kerry wins the primary over O'Reilly and sticker candidate John Buonomo. (Or should that be sticky-fingered candidate?) And let's say public outcry over Kerry's electoral double-dip prompts anxious Democrats to prevail on him end his Senate candidacy. (Fat chance, but we're in fantasy land now, pipe down.) What then? Massachusetts law appears to stipulate that the Democratic State Committee would select a replacement. Oh brother. (I recommend DSC member Helen Corrigan of Somerville, as fine a political mind as our commonwealth has ever produced. Sorry Helen, that's probably the kiss of death.)

Jon Keller blogs regularly for WBZ-TV Boston at Keller @ Large

NY Budget Battle Continues

By Dan Janison & James Madore

Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, head of the state commission examining property taxes, today blasted the television ads and mailings by opponents of Gov. David A. Paterson's tax cap, saying they were "flailing" and "inconsistent."

Speaking to reporters in a telephone conference, Suozzi accused the liberal Working Families Party and Alliance for Quality Education of "a personal attack" on Paterson. "It's really shocking to me," Suozzi said, referring to the $1.5 million TV campaign calling Paterson's tax cap a "gimmick" and urging residents to voice their opposition to him.

The TV ads, launched yesterday, and followed today by 200,000 mailers are aimed at swaying Assembly members. The State Senate voted 38-20 last week to adopt Paterson's 4 percent cap on yearly increases in school taxes.

Suozzi acknowledged the campaign would make passage of the tax cap "tougher." He also accused the Working Families Party of failing to represent low- and middle-class families who are hurt by raising taxes.

Earlier today, the Alliance for Quality Education held a conference call with experts decrying Massachusetts's adoption of a tax cap. They said schools there were undermined.

But Suozzi said Massachusetts leads the nation in test scores while New York is first in tax burden.

The county executive said he is working to win over skeptical Assembly members on Long Island and Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan). Suozzi said he had been "given no indication" that the Assembly would act on the tax cap when it convenes Tuesday in special session.

Suozzi, a Democrat, said he would support members of both political parties if they endorse the tax cap, though he stopped short of endorsing Republican leaders. "I will stand with anyone who supports the tax cap," he said, calling it his "Suozzi Doctrine."

UPDATE: Dan Cantor of the Working Families Party just shot back at Suozzi saying the TV campaign isn't an attack on Paterson. "It's not surprising that Tom Suozzi is trying to defend David Paterson's tax gimmick. After all - it was Suozzi's idea," Cantor said. "But Suozzi is dead wrong to say the Governor has been personally attacked. David Paterson has been around long enough to know what's personal and what's about policy.

"Here's what's personal: the impact on 3 million kids around the state if the Governor and the legislature enact a property tax cap that devastates public education. It will be personal for the families whose children go to school in overcrowded classrooms. It will be personal for the teachers who are fired. It will be personal for the homeowners whose property values will go down with the quality of their local schools."

Dan Janison and James Madore both write and report for Newsday's Spin Cycle blog

Former Iowa GOPer Endorses Obama

By Justin Gardner

First, the story of a man who has never endorsed a Democrat...

Former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach -- a Republican -- endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama this morning. Leach, as you may recall, lost his bid for re-election in 2006 after three decades representing portions of eastern Iowa in congress. Leach was considered a "moderate" Republican and was a backer of campaign finance reform. Leach did not accept campaign contributions from political action committees.

Then, John Cole provides the appropriate snark considering all of this nailbiting about Obama not leading by more...

If it wasn't enough bad news that Obama only had a 5-7 point lead in national polls instead of a blow-out, this really should set Obama supporters on their heels. I mean, only one former Republican House member from Iowa is endorsing Obama? What about all the other Republican House members from Iowa?

I think this is terrible news for Obama and really am worried about this turn of events.

As I've mentioned in the past, the electoral map definitely favors Obama. But this meme that suggests he should be destroying McCain is definitely a head scratcher.

Justin blogs daily at

"99% Honest"

By Jon Keller

Ah...boomer political leadership in full flower. The untrammelled narcissism. The self-righteous indulgence in situational ethics. The sickly smell of moral relativism left out in the sun too long.

But the John Edwards debacle offers more than just this item's headline, an automatic inductee into the pantheon of political perp quotes alongside the likes of Bill Clinton ("it depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is") and Richard Nixon ("I am not a crook"). It provides a useful opportunity to drain a chronic abcess in the political culture that could promote long term healing.

Edwards disciples (if there are any of you left), stop reading now, I really don't want to hurt your feelings. But the blunt truth is if you never previously noticed what a transparently oleaginous phony Edwards was, you are either extraordinarily naive or, more likely, susceptible to the cult of personality that successful politicians breed. This is nothing new - George Washington had his own image-making machine; Franklin D. Roosevelt fully embraced the emotional appeal of mass-media politics, pioneering techniques that Nixon and John F. Kennedy expanded on; from Huey Long to Ronald Reagan, effective populists of the left and right have relentlessly milked their personal appeal for political capital.

There's nothing inherently wrong with this. In a democracy, much should be demanded from those in political power. If human nature compels us to emotionally invest in a politician as a prerequisite for involvement in the process and high expectations, so be it.

But leave it to the "me" generation to overdo it. Baby boomer activists and voters subscribing to the generational conceit that political activism is an expression of one's deepest personal convictions -  and thus, politicians are a vehicle not just for a social cause, but for the validation of oneself - are distorting the system and enabling appalling egomania. In their clueless, fevered denounciations of Edwards critics over the years, his sycophants egregiously confused the righteousness they felt for their cause with the need to assert the righteousness of the candidate, in the face of glaring signs of the runaway narcissism Edwards has now confessed to. By blowing through all warning signs to build and worship this false idol, the Edwards cult could have crippled the party's chances this fall, and may still have done serious damage, set aside the clear harm done to the groups and social causes that had affiliated themselves with Sen. Oil Slick. This fiasco takes its place alongside other self-righteous boom-era political cults gone overboard, like Operation Rescue, the Ross Perot campaign, and

But maybe out of Edwards' slime, something useful might evolve. I propose a deal: if future candidates will abandon messianic politics and stop peddling themselves as personal saviors, we the people will stop investing them with unreasonable expectations. Under this agreement, John Edwards would run as a young, aggressive trial lawyer who would, as president, use those skills to game and bully the system into raising taxes to provide more social services, with an enhanced role for the unions and trial lawyers whose money and clout were the entirety of the Edwards campaign. Voters would review that platform, weigh its potential consequences for the nation, watch Edwards run to guage his toughness and self-discipline, and then decide if he makes the grade. No one would expect Edwards to be a saint (although they might still hope his word would be worth more than it is), and votes for him might be cast based more on what he might do for all of us than on how "good" he makes a voter feel. There would be less fuel for the candidate's narcissism, more realistic expectations among his supporters, and, if elected, less chance of a disproportionate backlash over the collapse that inevitably occurs when the Red Bull of boomer political worship wears off.

Jon Keller blogs regularly for WBZ-TV Boston at Keller @ Large

Senate to Coburn: Stop Delivering Babies for Free

By Betsy Newmark

Senator Coburn is ready for a showdown with the Senate Ethics Committee. At issue is his practice as an obstetrician. When he became senator he had to give up charging for delivering babies because senators are not allowed outside income. But Coburn has continued and is just not charging the women. He is paying his own malpractice insurance himself. The problem that the Ethics Committee has is that the hospital where he delivers the babies is a for-profit hospital and Senate rules forbid such potential conflicts of interest. Coburn, who is one tough guy, is willing to bring the whole issue out into the public and force a vote on whether he should be penalized for delivering babies for free even if the hospital he does it at is trying to make a profit.

If the Ethics Committee actually gets to the point where it calls for a public reprimand, Coburn can appeal to the full Senate for a vote, and he's betting that he'd win a vote if 100 senators were asked whether he should be allowed to deliver babies for free -- especially since most of his patients are "at risk," meaning they could be drug users, uninsured or poor patients, or women with high-risk pregnancies.

Coburn also insists that, with all the high-profile ethics scandals facing Congress -- leading off with Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens' federal criminal trial this fall -- the Senate would look petty by going after someone who is donating his money and medical services to help pregnant women.

Senate aides would not comment on the record, but ethics experts on and off Capitol Hill say the Senate Ethics Committee needs to be consistent in applying its conflict of interest rules, even if Coburn presents a sympathetic case.

Aides also point out that many senators have given up their professional lives when they were elected. Sen. John Ensign gave up his Nevada veterinary practice, Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia stopped selling real estate and former Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee stopped performing heart and lung transplant work. All three are Republicans.

The committee's case against Coburn is based on Senate rules that prohibit senators from being involved in professional affiliations that would create a conflict of interest.
This would be such an embarrassment to the Senate to try to stop Coburn's efforts. The differences with those other senators is that Coburn is volunteering his efforts.

And the real corruption we have to worry about is not his tangential association with a for-pay hospital, but the benefits that politicians, whether they are in the Congress or running for higher office, receive from rich people who just want to do them favors. Senator Stevens's scandal demonstrates how easy it is for senators to try to preserve their deniability by saying that they just didn't know that the real estate company was undercharging him on his house renovations. Rather like Senator Edwards saying he just didn't know that his moneybags friend, Tony Baron, was paying for Edwards' mistress to move out to California and live in a multi-million dollar mansion. These guys just happen to have friends who do that sort of thing for politicians without even telling them about it.
Or what about the benefits that a politician's relatives receive. Harry Reid's sons have been enriched from a bill that their father pushed through to help their real estate business. The Los Angeles Times five years ago reported on how the relatives of politicians can make money through bills that their family member passes to help them out.
It was the kind of legislation that slips under the radar here.

The name alone made the eyes glaze over: "The Clark County Conservation of Public Land and Natural Resources Act of 2002." In a welter of technical jargon, it dealt with boundary shifts, land trades and other arcane matters -- all in Nevada.

As he introduced it, Nevada's senior U.S. senator, Democrat Harry Reid, assured colleagues that his bill was a bipartisan measure to protect the environment and help the economy in America's fastest-growing state.

What Reid did not explain was that the bill promised a cavalcade of benefits to real estate developers, corporations and local institutions that were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbying fees to his sons' and son-in-law's firms, federal lobbyist reports show.
And Reid isn't the only culprit, although he's the most egregious practitioner of this brand of corruption.
It was the kind of legislation that slips under the radar here.

The name alone made the eyes glaze over: "The Clark County Conservation of Public Land and Natural Resources Act of 2002." In a welter of technical jargon, it dealt with boundary shifts, land trades and other arcane matters -- all in Nevada.

As he introduced it, Nevada's senior U.S. senator, Democrat Harry Reid, assured colleagues that his bill was a bipartisan measure to protect the environment and help the economy in America's fastest-growing state.

What Reid did not explain was that the bill promised a cavalcade of benefits to real estate developers, corporations and local institutions that were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbying fees to his sons' and son-in-law's firms, federal lobbyist reports show.
He gets away with all this by saying that his sons aren't lobbying him personally.
Soon after The Times interviewed him about his children's activities last fall, the senator decided to ban relatives from lobbying his office entirely.

The ban applies to members of Reid's family but not to colleagues at the firms where they work, such as former Sen. Bryan.

Read the rest of the LA Times article; it's a real eye-opener of how things can be done to get around those Senate Ethics rules.

This sort of corruption is a lot harder to pin down. It isn't fair to the families of politicians to say that they can't make a living in their chosen profession just because they have a relative in Congress. But it is also a very slippery method of channeling money to a loved one. And Harry Reid is a master at this. In comparison, Tom Coburn's supposed transgression is really inconsequential. If they do indeed bring Coburn's obstetrical charity to the Senate floor, I hope he points out the Majority Leader's own slippery ethics.

Betsy blogs at Betsy's Page

What Matters Most

By Mark Thompson

I've long abandoned any pretense of supporting Obama. But that doesn't mean I still don't think he's a less-bad choice than McCain. As much as Obama has increasingly come to parrot the foreign policy establishment consensus that has held sway in Washington for, well, a really long time, Obama's consensus view is far less dangerous than the reflexive aggression characterized by the last eight years and, yes, Senator McCain. It is the rejection of this reflexive aggression, which adds trillions to the national debt, destroys American credibility and moral standing, and directly destroys untold thousands of lives both at home and abroad, that I view as the single most important issue this fall.

The events of the last week or so related to the conflict in Georgia/South Ossetia, and the responses of the candidates do a good job demonstrating this. To be sure, McCain is now receiving plaudits for immediately blaming Russia when hostilities began in earnest last Friday in a way that not even President Bush was willing to do. But Hilzoy points out why, exactly, those plaudits are entirely undeserved - the bottom line is that at the time McCain's statement was issued, the known facts made clear that both Russia and Georgia were at fault in their own way. Although the facts on the ground have changed and Russia is now clearly going far beyond any sense of a proportional response, this does not change the fact that McCain's statement was simply wrong at the time it was made to the extent that it laid all blame for the situation on Russia.

McCain's response reflects a simplistic world view in which those nations deemed inherently enemies of the US are reflexively blamed in toto for any conflicts, wars, or disagreements. Those deemed allies are reflexively held to be innocent - and not only innocent, but also bastions of liberal virtue and democracy.
Unfortunately, in the case of Georgia, the narrative of the bastion of democracy is far from the truth. This is not to praise the Russians or Putin or Medvedev - only to point out that neither set of players is particularly sympathetic or worth defending on a political level. Yet the knee-jerk reactions of "National Greatness" conservatives again pretends to defend liberal virtue and democracy by defending one group of authoritarians against another simply because the friendly authoritarians like the other authoritarians even less than we do.

And so we get the "National Greatness" crowd (which usually includes McCain) rattling sabers all over again, demanding that we "do something" to aid the Georgians in their fight against the Russians. And let us not forget the longstanding insistence of McCain and others that Georgia be admitted to NATO, no matter whether that would have obligated us to come completely and totally to Georgia's defense this week, as required in any chills me to think what we would have done in such a situation at a time when the US military is already fighting in two armed conflicts.*

The fact is that the simplistic view of good and evil advocated by so many on the political Right results in a situation where all foreign policy follows the dictum "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." While unintended consequences are inevitable in almost anything government does, a foreign policy based on this dictum is a recipe and guarantor for the worst kinds of unintended consequences. It results in needless provocation of enemies or potential enemies; it further destroys American moral standing by propping up autocracies that are barely distinguishable from the enemy autocracies over which we claim moral superiority; it entangles us in foreign adventures that only minimally implicate American interests, if at all; and it ensures the ever-upward increase in military spending (and thus the national debt).

Mark blogs regularly at Publius Endures

Obscenities and the Left-Wing Blogosphere

By Donald Douglas

A couple of weeks back I wrote a post examining the tendency toward profanity among leftist bloggers: "Obscenities in the Blogosphere."

I argued that crude vulgarity has become essentially the lingua franca of the hard-left blogosphere and commentocracy. Widespread profanity appears to provide leftists with some assumed heightened firepower with which to beat down opponents, who are demonized as fascist imperialists intent to exterminate racial minorities and the poor, among other things.

My observations derived from recent experience, as well as the debate surrounding profanty at last month's Netroots Nation conference in Texas.

Well it turns out that Matthew Sheffield at the Washington Times has performed a Google content analysis to determine the relative propensity to profanity between top left and right blog communities: "Profanity Greater on Liberal Blogs":

Are liberals more profane than conservatives? Online, the answer seems to be yes. Profanity, those taboo words banned from the broadcast airwaves, is a feature of many people's daily lives. It's much less so in the establishment media world. TV and radio broadcasts are legally prohibited from using it, most newspapers (including this one) have traditionally refrained from its usage.

That's not the case with the Web, where bloggers and readers face no such restrictions. That likely comes as no surprise; what may be surprising, however, is to what degree profanity seems to be a feature more common on one side of the political blogosphere than the other....

The top 10 liberal sites (Daily Kos, Huffington Post, Democratic Underground, Talking Points Memo, Crooks and Liars, Think Progress, Atrios, Greenwald, MyDD and Firedoglake) have a profanity quotient of 14.6.

The top 10 conservative sites (Free Republic, Hot Air, Little Green Footballs, Townhall, NewsBusters, Lucianne, Wizbang, Ace of Spades, Red State and Volokh Conspiracy) have a quotient of 1.17.
What explains this disparity?

Sheffield hypothesizes that Bush derangement is a precipitating factor. But beyond that, religious belief among conservatives inclines them less toward the use of profanity in their daily lives, and thus in blogging:

Conservatives, especially those who are more religious, are less likely to use profanity in their daily conversation.
This ties in pretty much with the my thesis on the left's secular demonology:

How might we explain all of this? Well, in my view, these folks are essentially Marxist, and at base, we might consider Marxist thought a doctrine of hatred, a secular demonology:

We hate those, whose existence urges us to reconsider our theories and our vocabularies. We hate what places a safe and irresponsible categorization of the world in jeopardy. We hate what threatens the purity and predictability of our perception of the world, our mode of discourse, and in effect, our mental security.

Thus, for the left, rather than consider that vulgarity has no proper place in the respectable exchange of ideas, crude language is a tool to beat down those who would challenge their way of seeing the world, especially those allegedly in the right-wing superstructure of greedy imperialistic designs.

Donald blogs at American Power

Balz: Close Campaign Still Close

By Brendan Nyhan

I don't understand political journalism. Dan Balz is a top reporter, but the lede for his big-picture analysis of the presidential campaign doesn't make sense:

The opening round of the general-election campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain has produced memorable images, negative ads, snarling e-mails and pointed exchanges over war, the economy and energy. What it has not done is begin to resolve questions among voters that both candidates must address to win in November.

Has any race with close fundamentals ever "resolve[d] questions among voters that both candidates must address to win" by August? Voters are not paying attention yet. The only races that are resolved by now are the ones that were destined to be blowouts.

Brendan blogs regularly at

Antiwar 2.0

By Donald Douglas

Now that victory in Iraq has reached near-consensus, the antiwar press and netroots masses have turned their attention to the next stage of anti-Bush opposition.

The New York Times is leading the way, for example, with its editorial today mocking Salim Ahmed Hamdan's Guantanamo conviction as "Guilty as Ordered."

Andy McCarthy exposes the Times' allegations as tiresome liberal "bombast."

But that's not all. Today's paper includes a weepy front-pager attacking the administration's "good war": "500: Deadly U.S. Milestone in Afghan War"

Abe Greenwald notes the coming of Antiwar 2.0:

The New York Times, at a loss for bad news from Iraq, is mining Afghanistan for tragedy and defeat. Today's front page bears the headline, "500: Deadly U.S. Milestone in Afghan War." The piece, by Kirk Semple and Andrew W. Lehren, contains heart-wrenching stories of young life cut short, and the online edition contains interactive features with graphs showing casualty breakdowns and mini-bios of lost troops. With this bit of morbidity, the Times has sent out a signal to left-wing media outlets, progressive bloggers, and activists looking for a march: It's time to switch from death in Iraq to death in Afghanistan.

Running tallies of American causalities in Afghanistan can now go up on websites; Digital collages of Americans killed by the Taliban arranged to form George W. Bush's face are sure to follow.

The thing about the Times' milestone is -- it's completely artificial. The casualty count for Americans in Afghanistan passed 500 months ago. The number now stands at 563. The "milestone" framework is just a pretense for the paper to shift its gruesome focus onto a new front.

The antiwar focus is also shifting to the end of the administration, and potential war crimes trials against President Bush and top officials alleged to have violated international law and "shredded the Geneva Conventions."

No doubt the Times will be leading that effort as well.

Donald blogs daily at American Power

Nation to State to Counties, GOP Weathers Peril '08

By Dan Janison

From his unique perch as Long Island's lone Republican congressman, Rep. Peter King sees a difference between the trouble his party faces in the region and the electoral peril it confronts across America.

"I think they're two separate \[problems\] that came together at the same time," King said yesterday. "There were local issues, going back to the late 1990s, in Nassau County with its budget problems. And Suffolk has had a disunited Republican party. Even just taking the congressional seats on Long Island, we didn't lose any of them due to national issues," he said, as some local losses came in otherwise flush GOP years.

King, a backer of President George W. Bush and the military effort in Iraq, acknowledged that the war has hurt the administration's popularity, given "harsh" media coverage, and that gas prices haven't helped.

Whatever the reasons, numbers published this week from 26 of the 29 states where voters register by party show GOP enrollment declining since 2005. Voter affiliation with Democrats or with no political party has risen overall. In Iowa and Nevada, Democratic registration surpassed Republican.

In Nassau, some Democrats follow the steady closing of the enrollment gap between their party and the once-mighty GOP with the zest of New Year's Eve revelers counting down the seconds to midnight. Ten years ago, Republicans held an enrollment edge of 100,000. In November, that was down to about 22,000. This week the margin stands at 13,000 and shrinking, said Nassau Democratic election commissioner Bill Biamonte.

"Demographics" is often the explanation -- more immigrants, more racial minorities, more young people, who often enroll as Democrats or unaffiliated, the waning of a previous generation. "For one," Biamonte explains, "young people coming of age are simply not registering en masse as Republicans, in contrast to their parents. And second, the diverse migration of people from outside Nassau feel that the Democratic Party is more about economic empowerment and plurality as they move into a suburban lifestyle."

But sociology explains only so much.

No red-state army has invaded New York City, where Democrats dominate -- yet the powerful mayoralty is in its 15th year of control by men elected as Republicans.

For the majority parties in both Long Island and the city, the basics skills involved in party organizing have eroded -- a fact of public life often noted with alarm by both critics of the current party duopoly and its participants.

Political scientist Stanley B. Klein of C.W. Post, a Republican, wrote a report analyzing the performance of the Suffolk GOP County Committee, highlighting a failure to fill vacancies on the county committee. "What is shocking is that three of the four largest towns in Suffolk County, Brookhaven, Babylon and Islip, have reported the largest percentage of vacancies of committeemen," Klein wrote. The rates were 36 percent, 46 percent, and 44 percent.

Jerry Skurnik, longtime consultant to Democratic candidates, sees the nationwide and the local trends as distinct. "Nationally, it's not demographics. I think Bush has ruined the brand. For 30 or 40 years Democrats ran against Herbert Hoover. And for 20 or 25 years, Republicans were running against Jimmy Carter," he said. "We don't know how long Democrats will be running against Bush."

In a televised interview the other night, state Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) predicted his embattled majority will survive and expand in the fall. But he also said: "The Republican Party has to rebuild from the bottom up ... from the grass roots."

Added King yesterday: "We have to start recruiting again, and let people know this is not an exclusive club, and try to find new faces and talent" -- and trumpet what he sees as the party's strong stances on security and energy.

Dan Janison writes and reports for Newsday's Spin Cycle blog

The Myth of Bob Casey's 1992 Non-Speech

By Brendan Nyhan

A New York Times story this morning headlined "Obama's View on Abortion May Divide Catholics" begins with this parable:

Sixteen years ago, the Democratic Party refused to allow Robert P. Casey Sr., then the governor of Pennsylvania, to speak at its national convention because his anti-abortion views, stemming from his Roman Catholic faith, clashed with the party's platform and powerful constituencies. Many Catholics, once a reliable Democratic voting bloc, never forgot what they considered a slight.

In fact, the campaign officials who made the decision said Casey was denied a speaking slot because he hadn't endorsed the Clinton-Gore ticket, as Michael Crowley reported in The New Republic:

According to those who actually doled out the 1992 convention speaking slots, Casey was denied a turn for one simple reason: his refusal to endorse the Clinton-Gore ticket. "It's [Casey's claim that he was denied a convention speech because of his pro-life views] just not factual!" stammers James Carville, apoplectic over Casey's claims. "You'd have to be idiotic to give a speaking role to a person who hadn't even endorsed you." "Why are you doing this to me?" moans Paul Begala, who, with Carville, managed two Casey campaigns before joining Clinton's team in 1992. "I love Bob Casey, but my understanding was that the dispute was not about his right-to-life views, it was about the Clinton-Gore ticket."

Media Matters further points out that anti-abortion speakers have repeatedly been given the opportunity to speak at Democratic conventions:

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Sens. John Breaux (D-LA) and Howell Heflin (D-AL), and five other governors who opposed abortion rights did address the convention in 1992, as detailed in a September 16, 1996, article in The New Republic on the Casey myth. In addition, anti-abortion speakers have spoken at every Democratic convention since 1992, including Breaux in 1996 and 2000, former House Democratic Whip David Bonior (D-MI) in 1996 and 2000, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in 2000 and 2004.

Unfortunately, the story reinforces an accurate narrative about the parties dividing more clearly on the abortion issue. As a result, it lives on as conventional wisdom more than fifteen years later.

Update: In its post on the controversy today, Media Matters unearths another salient fact: [T]he Times itself reported in an August 1, 1996, article that White House officials 'have always said that had [Casey] not declined to endorse Mr. [Bill] Clinton in 1992, he would have been allowed to speak to the convention.'"

Tom Maguire dissents, citing a 2005 post. I stand by what I wrote, but I do hope we can agree that the Times should have acknowledged that this claim is disputed.

Brendan blogs regularly at

The Blogosphere's Mandatory Script

By Jason Steck

Skimble, a political blog, is closing up shop out of annoyance with the endless triviality of the election debate in 2008. Over at TalkLeft, Democrat partisans have diagnosed the problem predictably as being one of insufficient extremism -- being moderate or centrist is, to them, the worst sort of boring. (The fact that right-wing blogs just completely ignore these posts merely reinforces my point.)

Skimble gets the symptoms right and TalkLeft gets the diagnosis precisely wrong, though. This election has become too annoying to write about. But the problem is not the lack of partisan zealotry, the problem is the relentless and predictable scripts of partisan zealotry.

Take a step back and review any political blog you like and you will immediately be struck by the sameness of the posts. They take the story of the day -- invariably some substance-free "gaffe", photo op, or partisan charge of corruption -- and attach a laundry list of catastrophic impacts foretelling the end of the world if that candidate would be elected. Any reference to actual policy issues will be brief, insubstantial, and driven entirely by stereotypes. Comments threads will be infested by cut-and-paste repetitions of well-worn slogans and talking points, bereft of any engagement with the issues of the real world or any recognition that disagreement could indicate anything other than demonic possession. The scripts rule the day without any tolerance for deviation or criticism of any kind:

Mandatory Script #1: Obama is a "socialist" who is simultaneously too intellectually lightweight to be President yet a Machiavellian genius enough to be bamboozling everyone

Mandatory Script #2a: McCain is "McSame" seeking a third BushHilter term so that he can sell Social Security to Halliburton and bomb every country where brown people live in order to establish an American Empire that will revoke the Bill of Rights in order to establish a theocracy.

Mandatory Script #2b: McCain is "Juan McCain" who will allow an invasion of brown-skinned immigrants that will destroy American culture by ruthlessly picking vegetables and mopping floors.

Mandatory Script #3: Ron Paul (pronounced RONPAUL!!!) is the "only honest man in Congress", a tragically misunderstood savior (like Lyndon LaRouche before him) put down by a vast conspiracy of party elites and the media who is nonetheless the only man who can save The Constitution from the other conspiracies of the Council on Foreign Relations, Da Jooooz, Ze Bilderbergs, The Illuminati, socialists, neocons, fiendish flouridators, Federal Reserve, communists, gray aliens, United Nations, and the vast right wing conspiracy.

It is the comic book election, where the only roles anyone is allowed to play are "Captain America" and "the Legion of Doom". What bunk.

Who to blame for this trend? Ourselves. A recent study found that blog readers are overwhelmingly prone to only read blogs that simply reiterate scripts that they already agree with. There is little market for creativity or honesty in analysis. Blogs that attempt it are quickly marginalized in the market by readers from both left and right who object vociferously to their heresies and vote with their feet.

The result is a blogosphere dominated by "group-think", a psychological phenomenon whereby ideologically homogeneous groups become steadily more extremist and unrealistic as members compete within the group to one-up each other in their purity and passion and reinforce the group against incursions from demonized outsiders who might question precious presumptions.

What a waste of time. But the study findings are devastating in their implications. The extremist political culture blogosphere simply lacks the tools to even consider change, let alone reward those who attempt it. Thus, even blogs that attempt to break the hardened ideological mode (either by including multiple perspectives, like this one, or by a self-conscious commitment to equality of criticism), find themselves shunted out of the networks of link sharing in favor of more ideologically reliable sources. Many blogs that began with strong commitments to independence have long since surrendered themselves to de facto ideological purity tests on key points. In comments threads, either cut-and-paste spammers rule or else the posts go ignored. The sad end result is the same.

What to do? I have no idea. Few in the blogosphere seem interested in any change that would require them to give up their intellectually dishonest and ideologically-driven cherry-picking of available information. I predict that few will even read, let alone respond to this post. I am a heretic, long since condemned to the dustbin of the blogosphere for my obstreperousness and complete inability to shut up in the face of blind regurgitation of ideological scripts. I like Barack Obama and I like John McCain and I think Ron Paul is a ridiculous figure disengaged from the real world. That means I dissent from all of the Mandatory Scripts and have no significant audience to appeal to in the blogosphere.

Most of what I can find the time to write any more focuses on more analysis of foreign affairs where a lack of public knowledge about anything beyond a very narrow range of issues (e.g. Iraq) has inhibited the writing of hardened partisan scripts that can be enforced by the blogosphere's ideological stormtroopers of far left and far right. That means I can indulge in my inexplicable compulsion to share my opinions, but I'm not likely to encounter many readers who care about what I am writing about.

I care deeply about this election, but I find that writing about it publicly is pointless. Welcome to the brave new world of politics, where morons rule by rote.

Jason is an editor and regular contributor to

Independents Split Evenly Between the Candidates

By Justin Gardner

So goes the swing vote, so goes the election. At least that's what these numbers from Gallup suggest...

So who are these swing voters?


Major subgroups of the U.S. population giving neither candidate a large or consistent edge include 30- to 49-year-olds, 50- to 64-year-olds, college grads, those with some college education, those with no college education, political independents, and Catholics.

Many in the moderate/centrist/independent blogosphere have suspected this for quite some time, and with only 90 or so days until the election, it looks like this contest will be won or lost somewhere in the muddy middle.

So if you thought you had seen a lot of flip flopping before...just wait. It's about to become an art form.

Justin blogs daily at

The Democrats' Straw-Man Argument

By Betsy Newmark

Rand Simberg takes on a trick of arguing that has long irritated me. The Democrats have been setting up a false argument that they say the Republicans support and then ridicule that position.
When war opponents declare that there is no military solution, they are attempting to imply that those with whom they politically differ believe that there is not only a military solution, but that it is the sole component of the solution, and that no other solutions (e.g., diplomacy, reform of a corrupt government, etc.) need apply.

There is an additional false implication that the military will play no part of the solution -- that only their solutions are useful. Hence their extremist demands for years that the troops be brought out of Iraq immediately. After all, if there is no military solution, what is the military doing there, and what harm can there be in removing it?

Similarly, when we are told that we can't drill our way out of our current energy problems, they falsely imply that those who favor expanded domestic exploration believe that this is a panacea, and that no other measures need be taken to solve the energy shortage. But I'm aware of no proponent of looking for more sources at home who believes this.

He is exactly right. By simplifying the Republicans' position, they can demagogue their refutations of the straw-man that they themselves created. For both of these issues, the Republicans had a much more complex position, but the Democrats have been successful in minimizing those positions.

Republicans do the same thing when, for example, they pretend that Obama's sole energy plan is to inflate our tires.

This is where the media could help us all out. Every time a politician played this straw-man argument, the journalists should call them on it and clarify for the public what is going on. Instead, too often all we get is a quote from a Democrat and one from a Republican and the journalist thinks he or she has done the job of presenting a fair picture of the arguments involved.

Betsy blogs daily at Betsy's Page

McCain Distorts Obama on Nuclear Power

By Brendan Nyhan

When are the media going to start pointing out that John McCain and his campaign are misrepresenting Barack Obama's position on nuclear power?

On Monday, McCain said "[Obama] doesn't want nuclear power" and claimed that "[Obama] continues to oppose the use of nuclear power." Similarly, during a press conference yesterday, McCain adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin claimed "[Obama] has said no to nuclear power."

However, as Time's Michael Scherer points out, these claims are all false:

Does Obama oppose the "use of nuclear power"? No. But he is more cautious about expanding nuclear (which would require significant federal spending, say most analysts) than McCain.

Here's what Obama's position paper on energy says (PDF):

Safe and Secure Nuclear Energy: Nuclear power represents more than 70 percent of our non- carbon generated electricity. It is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power from the table. However, there is no future for expanded nuclear without first addressing four key issues: public right-to-know, security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage, and proliferation.

And here's what he said in New Hampshire last year:

On one specific energy matter that is important to many in New Hampshire, he would not pledge to stop all new nuclear power plants.

"When you're a politician, you're always tempted to get some applause, but on this one I have to be more qualified," Obama said.

"We shouldn't simply remove nuclear power from the equation," Obama said. "But there has to be a high standard and a high threshold. ... I'm not going to automatically rule it out as a reasonable option."

None of this is particularly hard. Yet the New York Times failed spectacularly at fact-checking McCain today, referencing McCain's misrepresentation of Obama's position in an oblique, "he said"/"she said" aside:

Even before Mr. McCain left South Dakota, where he campaigned at the freewheeling Sturgis Motorcycle Rally on Monday night, and headed to the plant in Michigan, Mr. Obama's campaign had put out a statement rebuffing what it called Mr. McCain's misrepresentation of Mr. Obama's position on nuclear power."

The Times then quotes the passage from Obama's policy paper above. However, the reader is not told what McCain said or why Obama's campaign alleged that he was misrepresented. And the wording used by the Times ("what [the Obama campaign] called Mr. McCain's misrepresentation of Mr. Obama's position") offers no indication that McCain actually did misrepresent Obama's position.

Brendan blogs regularly at

Please Explain the Constitution to Gloria Steinem

By Betsy Newmark

Chrystia Freeman in the Financial Times had lunch with Gloria Steinem and talked a bit of politics. Steinem had this to say about whether or not Hillary Clinton should take the vice presidential nomination if Obama offered it.

She believes women will vote for Obama even if Clinton doesn't get the much-mooted consolation prize of the vice-president's spot on the Democratic ticket - a job Steinem doesn't think is good enough for her anyway. Why? "It's not an independent position, to put it mildly. I would rather see her as the president of the Senate."

Oops. I guess that Steinem doesn't understand that the vice president is, under the Constitution, automatically already president of the Senate. And it's not a powerful position anyway. All he can do is preside over the Senate (hence the name) and break a tie. Perhaps she needs some remedial civics.

I'll give Steinem credit for not blaming Clinton's loss on being a woman. I'm sick of all the whining about how Clinton was treated because she is a woman. However, Steinem does overreach when she talks about how it's still so terrible to be a woman today.
Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life.

I think that poverty or a bad family background without a father around and a teen mother is a lot more restricting than being a woman.

Betsy blogs daily at Betsy's Page

Myth of the Democratic Landslide

By Brendan Nyhan

John Sides reiterates an important point: the perception that Barack Obama "should" be winning by a huge margin (echoed today by David Brooks) is not supported by empirical evidence. The leading statistical models of presidential election outcomes forecast a narrow Obama win.

The consequences of this are actually more serious than most people realize. In the seminal work on mandates, Jim Stimson, David Peterson and two other political scientists argue that "mandates" are a collective interpretation of election results that carries an informational signal to nervous incumbents worried about re-election. As a result, members of Congress briefly shift their voting behavior in the direction of the perceived mandate (the three times in which this happened, Stimson et al argue, are 1964, 1980, and 1994). With expectations about Obama so high, there's almost no way that anything short of an LBJ-esque landslide will be perceived as a "mandate," which will make it harder for him to enact his legislative agenda.

Brendan blogs regularly at

Cheney May Not Attend GOP Convention

By Alan Stewart Carl

Some politicians are unpopular. Some are toxic. Vice President Dick Cheney is apparently the latter. Looks like the most powerful (and most unpopular) veep in recent history will be sitting out the Republican Convention. Seems John McCain's people would rather not have viewers at home reminded that, you know, McCain is in the same party as Cheney.

With the McCain campaign already considering timing the announcement of the VP choice to minimize coverage of President Bush during the convention, you have to wonder what else McCain might do to distance himself from the current administration. Look for his acceptance speech to be chock-full of criticisms of the White House and promises for change.

Alan blogs daily at

Obama's Dollar Bill Comment Triply Distorted

By Brendan Nyhan

Has anyone else noticed that Barack Obama's comment that George W. Bush and John McCain are going to remind voters that he "doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills" is being distorted in multiple ways? It's a reminder of how disturbed the national debate on race can be.

Here's what Obama said:

Obama began his day Wednesday in Springfield, Mo., charging: "Nobody really thinks that Bush or McCain have a real answer for the challenges we face, so what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know. He's risky."

In Rolla and then in Union, Obama issued similar lines. "They're going to try to say, 'Well, you know, he's got a funny name, and he doesn't look like all the presidents on the dollar bills and the five-dollar bills,' and they're going to send out nasty e-mails," he told an audience in Union.

First, as commenter Seth, Mark Thoma, and others point out, McCain did superimpose Obama's face onto a $100 bill in a previous campaign ad -- a fact that has been omitted from most coverage of the controversy:


Second, the tense of Obama's comment has been distorted by reporters and the McCain campaign, who are asking Obama to back up a claim he did not make. Here's what Dan Balz wrote on the Washington Post website:

Four things are already clear from the controversy. First, Obama campaign officials, lacking any example of McCain ever pointing directly or indirectly at Obama's race as an issue in the campaign, have backpedaled rapidly away from any suggestion that their Republican opponent is using the very tactics Obama suggested on Wednesday.

Campaign manager David Plouffe was pressed hard during a conference call on Thursday for examples and could not point to any. An inquiry to the Obama campaign later in the day produced no immediate response and later no answer to a direct question asking for evidence to buttress Obama's suggestion that McCain would try to scare people into not voting for Obama because he's black.

In fact, however, Obama's statement was a prediction, not a description of events to date. To review, he said "what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me... You know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills." Obama did not say that McCain and Bush have appealed to racial stereotypes and prejudice thus far (though they have in various ways, including highlighting Obama playing basketball in an ad, suggesting that only McCain puts "country first", and accusing him of "intellectual laziness"). Predicting future misbehavior is a cheap way to attack an opponent, but it doesn't excuse distorting what Obama said.

Third, as I noted on Friday, Obama's statement that Republicans would make race salient has been distorted by the McCain campaign into the (false) claim that he accused John McCain of being a racist -- a frequently used tactic designed to delegitimize criticism of the political exploitation of race. McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said on "Today" that "We are not going to let anybody paint John McCain, who has fought his entire life for equal rights for everyone, to be able to be painted as racist." Similarly, McCain official Steve Schmidt said "we will not allow John McCain to be smeared by Senator Obama as a racist for offering legitimate criticism." And yesterday, Senator Joe Lieberman even invoked McCain's adopted daughter from Bangladesh to justify his claim that McCain "does not have a bigoted bone in his body."

As a result of these attacks, Obama consultant David Axelrod was forced to deny another claim that Obama did not make, saying "Barack Obama never called John McCain a racist." Obama later added that "In no way do I think that John McCain's campaign was being racist; I think they're cynical."

The reality is that non-racist politicians can and do exploit the issue of race. McCain's personal beliefs prove nothing about the political strategy of his campaign. Shouldn't reporters understand this?

Brendan blogs regularly at

It Always Comes Down to Racism

By Betsy Newmark

Why can't the know-it-alls get it through their heads that it's perfectly possible to not want to vote for Barack Obama for reasons that have nothing to do with the color of his skin? This Sunday we have Maureen Dowd rambling on with some inexplicable comparison between Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice and Barack Obama. She meanders about from complaining about Clinton dead-enders to those women in the Wall Street Journal article who were wary of Obama because he's too fit.

But Dowd's insight this week is that Obama is actually Mr. Darcy, good-looking and cool, but proud. And the Elizabeth Bennets in the electorate out there find him just too full of himself. And that's where the rest of the extended metaphor come in - you guessed it - people don't like Obama because they're prejudiced. Not prejudiced against Mr. Darcy's arrogance, but against Senator Obama's race.
In this political version of "Pride and Prejudice," the prejudice is racial, with only 31 percent of white voters telling The New York Times in a survey that they had a favorable opinion of Obama, compared with 83 percent of blacks.

And the prejudice is visceral: many Americans, especially blue collar, still feel uneasy about the Senate's exotic shooting star, and he is surrounded by a miasma of ill-founded and mistaken premises.

So the novelistic tension of the 2008 race is this: Can Obama overcome his pride and Hyde Park hauteur and win America over?

Can America overcome its prejudice to elect the first black president? And can it move past its biases to figure out if Obama's supposed conceit is really just the protective shield and defense mechanism of someone who grew up half white and half black, a perpetual outsider whose father deserted him and whose mother, while loving, sometimes did so as well?
Oh, please. I'm not sure which poll results Dowd is referring to. This July 15 poll from CBS and the New York Times finds that 37% of white registered voters polled say that they plan to vote for Barack Obama. This Pew poll from May 29 finds Obama with a 41% favorability rating from whites polled. Even with Dowd's figure of only 31% favorability from whites polled, that is not all that different from John Kerry's share of the white vote in 2004 at 41%. The Democrats haven't won the white vote since LBJ's landslide in 1964. Even in 1996, Clinton still only won 43% of the white vote. OSo, rather than jumping to the conclusion that people aren't warming up to him because of his race, Dowd might want consider the possibility that he's facing a bias against Democrats rather than one against his race. In fact, considering that McCain is only getting 2% support from registered black voters in the CBS/NYT poll, perhaps it's time to talk about racist black voters who won't support a white candidate. OR when asked if John McCain's age would make the job too difficult for him to do the job, 55% of the Democratic respondents said yes compared to 13% of Republicans. Why not talk about the ageism of Democrats? Of course, if the Democratic candidate were the one who is 71 what do you want to bet that those numbers would be reversed?

And was it racist when Democratic white voters wouldn't vote for Michael Steele in Maryland or Ken Blackwell in Ohio? How come it is only when the black candidate is a Democrat that we have to tug on our chins and talk about racism among the voters?

And Maureen Dowd better watch out when she talks about Obama being proud. Apparently, that is code language and it takes David Gergen to translate that for us. Today on ABC's show This Week, Gergen told us that everyone with a southern heritage knows that when the McCain campaign juxtaposes Obama with Moses and calls him "The One" (something both Maureen Dowd and I have also done) that every southerner knows that that is just code for calling him "uppity." Really!? Does that mean that no one can ever point out that Obama seems quite arrogant and full of himself without Gergen saying that we're playing to subliminal racism? Baloney! Remember the trouble that Biden got in for saying that Obama was articulate? Apparently, that was also racist. What is it when a white guy like John Kerry was ridiculed for being arrogant? And just as there is no defense against this sort of attack where every word is a hidden attack of racism, there is no arguing against Gergen's logic here. He knows this because he's from the South so that gives him an extra spidey-sense to detect this sort of thing. If you disagree, it's either because you're not from the South and don't know whereof you speak or you're from the South and probably just sublimating your inner racist.

This is quite a gig that these people have. Basically, they've drawn the rules so that whatever you say about Obama, you can be called out for catering to racism. I know that the Democrats would like to make Obama immune from all criticism, but this is an election, dang it! Candidates criticize each other in elections and Republicans refuse to unilaterally disarm just because Obama had an African father.

And why won't pundits such as Dowd and Gergen and all the rest worried about hidden racism keeping white voters from supporting Obama show enough respect for voters who just might not like Obama or his policies. Basically Dowd and Gergen and their liberal talking-head buddies are calling about half the public out there racist. Maybe that is why they have their own trouble identifying Obama's elitist attitudes - because they share it.

John Hawkins
sums it up,
As evidenced by Gergen's bizarre criticism, we've gotten to the point where almost any criticism aimed at Obama for any reason is now being treated as some sort of racial attack.

So, let's see; Obama was a member of an anti-white church for 20 years, talks about "typical white people," only won the Democratic primaries because he was black, and now he and his supporters are trying to rule all criticism off limits because of his race.

Some "post-racial" candidate Obama turned out to be.

I'm so tired of these talking heads telling me that it must be racism for me not to like Senator Obama. Let me repeat it again slowly. Not every criticism of Obama is racist. Just as sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, sometimes a criticism is just that, not a secret racist attack.

Betsy blogs daily at Betsy's Page

Obama's Smart Move

By Jon Keller

I don't know if offshore oil drilling will be a significant part of the solution to our energy problems. I don't trust either the don't-worry-be-happy hype of the oil industry types or the reflexive nay-saying of the no-drilling-anywhere crowd. And I certainly don't want to see the search for more oil take precedence over the long-overdue development of reliable, renewable alternative energy resources.

But I do think Barack Obama's about face on offshore oil drilling is good news, not least because it suggests the man is serious about being a pragmatic, effective leader. (Rather than stifle the buzz, I'll ignore his phony comment that his shift really isn't a shift at all. It's the heat of the campaign. Two-thirds of the stuff he and McCain are saying on any given day is liable to be preposterous political spin.)

"We have to compromise," Obama told the Palm Beach Post. "The Republicans and the oil companies have been really beating the drums on drilling. And so we don't want gridlock. We want to get something done." Yes, exactly right. Desperately-needed energy-policy reform has gone nowhere in Washington because the baby-boom political culture appears to abhor compromise of any kind. If gridlock and failure are the result, so what? Better that an entire nation should suffer than a single self-satisfied boomer activist should have to settle for half a loaf on a "matter of principle."

Obama's move is clearly a concession to political reality; his no-drilling stance was bombing with the voters. And his modest conversion won't please the droolers of the left who insist he be pure on all their hot-button fantasies. The slobbering right that sees deceit and conspiracy in everything Obama does will be similarly outraged. But what better signs can you have that a politician is on the right track?

Is it possible that the most overused political charge of modern times - that of "flip-flopper" - might have jumped the shark? It was overdone as a weapon against John Kerry in 2004, although he did beg for it with his "voted for it before I voted against it" gaffe. George W. Bush ran in 2000 as a non-interventionist in foreign affairs; what followed might well be called a flip-flop of gargantuan proportions. You need a fast computer to keep track of all of John McCain's policy compromises during the last year alone.

If it's purity you crave, buy a fancy diamond. The last thing we need in Washington is more ideological rigidity, litmus testing, and inaction caused by egotistical refusal to bend.

Jon Keller blogs regularly for WBZ-TV Boston at Keller @ Large

Fundraising Season Begins in The Hamptons

By Reid Epstein

Forget about Republican John McCain's attack ad deriding Barack Obama as "the biggest celebrity in the world." The Hamptons fundraising season has taken off, with the famous and the near-famous leading the way in raking in dough for the Democrat.

Star Jones, the formerly fat co-host on "The View" -- she lost 160 pounds after gastric bypass surgery and then was fired by Barbara Walters from the daytime TV gig -- is hosting an Obama shindig at her Hamptons home Saturday that's dubbed "Under Star's Tuscan Sun."

But Jones, who filed for divorce in March and has been spotted this summer with NBA star Dwyane Wade, looks like a C-lister compared to the roster of boldfaced names hosting a brunch Aug. 17.

Billy Joel, Alec Baldwin, Russell Simmons, Barry Sonnenfeld and Gwyneth Paltrow are among 40 co-hosts for the Sagaponack event that features Caroline Kennedy as the star attraction. (Also listed: painter Ross Bleckner, Nassau public-relations guru Robert Zimmerman).

Obama won't be at either event -- nor will he be at a Fire Island brunch next Sunday with Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean. But the fundraisers are talking of a hefty haul.

Reid blogs regularly for Newsday's Spin Cycle blog

Why Won't Tim Kaine Be VP?

By Justin Gardner

Well, first off...he keeps on talking...

There has been a long list. It seems to be getting shorter. And I'm still being mentioned. A lot can change day-to-day. But we'll see.

...and talking...

Kaine insisted that he has "no hints about timing" for the veep rollout, whoever the choice may be. But he doesn't seem to mind the spotlight in the meantime. "It's nice to be speculated about," he said with a smile.

...and talking about it.

Of course this is just my own opinion of how this stuff goes, but I think him speaking so openly about it pretty much means he won't get the nod. It's just bad form, and the "gee gosh golly" routine doesn't seem very presidential.

Also, Brendan Nyhan raises a very superficial, but very real point about the look and feel of Kaine. Yes, it does matter, regardless of how much we don't want it to.

So no, I don't think he's the guy, and I think it's down to Biden and Sebelius at this point.

Justin blogs daily at

Democrats Don't Care About Saving the Planet

By Betsy Newmark

Charles Krauthammer does today what he does best - apply logic and intelligence to the prevarications and illogic of politicians. He takes on the Democrats' avowals that they are, as Nancy Pelosi vowed, trying to save the planet. As he points out, just because we limit exploration for American oil does not mean that we will be limiting the world consumption of oil. So, in order to protect American landscapes, the drilling shifts to areas of the world that won't be as concerned with protecting the environment.

A lovely sentiment. But has Pelosi actually thought through the moratorium's effects on the planet?

Consider: 25 years ago, nearly 60 percent of U.S. petroleum was produced domestically. Today it's 25 percent. From its peak in 1970, U.S. production has declined a staggering 47 percent. The world consumes 86 million barrels a day, the United States, roughly 20 million. We need the stuff to run our cars and planes and economy. Where does it come from?

Places such as Nigeria, where chronic corruption, environmental neglect and the resulting unrest and instability lead to pipeline explosions, oil spills and illegal siphoning by the poverty-stricken population -- which leads to more spills and explosions. Just this week, two Royal Dutch Shell pipelines had to be shut down because bombings by local militants were causing leaks into the ground.

Compare the Niger Delta to the Gulf of Mexico, where deep-sea U.S. oil rigs withstood Hurricanes Katrina and Rita without a single undersea well suffering a significant spill.

The United States has the highest technology to ensure the safest drilling. Today, directional drilling -- essentially drilling down, then sideways -- allows access to oil that in 1970 would have required a surface footprint more than three times as large. Additionally, the United States has one of the most extensive and least corrupt regulatory systems on the planet.

Does Pelosi imagine that with so much of America declared off-limits, the planet is less injured as drilling shifts to Kazakhstan and Venezuela and Equatorial Guinea? That Russia will be more environmentally scrupulous than we in drilling in its Arctic?

He goes on to point out the damage that we're doing with the congressionally mandated use of biofuels. We're driving up the prices of food which adversely affecting poor people around the world. And biofuels are not the panacea for the environment that supporters would like to contend.
The other panacea, yesterday's rage, is biofuels: We can't drill our way out of the crisis, it seems, but we can greenly grow our way out. By now, however, it is blindingly obvious even to Democrats that biofuels are a devastating force for environmental degradation. It has led to the rape of "lungs of the world" rain forests in Indonesia and Brazil as huge tracts have been destroyed to make room for palm oil and sugar plantations.

Here in the United States, one out of every three ears of corn is stuffed into a gas tank (by way of ethanol), causing not just food shortages abroad and high prices at home but intensive increases in farming, with all of the attendant environmental problems (soil erosion, insecticide pollution, water consumption, etc.).

Given the illogic of the Democrats arguments about how they're trying to save the planet while causing unintended consequences that harm the planet, we're left to wonder what is really going on. I think that they are so dependent on environmentalists who oppose any increase in America's oil exploration that they don't care about what happens elsewhere. They just don't want to give Republicans a victory on this since they've been opposing expanded drilling for so long. Instead they'll make accusations about speculators or oil companies somehow holding off on exploiting the leases they already have. These accusations make no economic sense, but they sound good in soundbites and give the Democrats something to say when people complain about oil prices. Their arguments are phony, but who cares if they can make a good soundbite in an election year?

Betsy blogs daily at Betsy's Page