Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Bush to Fanatics: I Was Right

Speaking to the National Religious Broadcasters' convention yesterday, George W. Bush declared that invading Iraq was the "right decision at this point in my presidency, and it will forever be the right decision." In his own mind. A very lonely place.

"The effects of a free Iraq and a free Afghanistan will reach beyond the borders of those two countries," Bush said, as though there were any indication that either country would be "free" anytime soon. "It will show others what's possible," he added. "And we undertake this work because we believe that every human being bears the image of our maker. That's why we're doing this." Every human being bears the image of our maker -- even if this meant what Bush thinks it means, it would be an absurd thing for a statesman to say; in fact, it's so baseless and irrelevant that you'd expect to hear it from a religious broadcaster. That's why we've invaded and occupied a country which posed no threat to us, and slaughtered perhaps a million of its people? Because every human being bears the image of our maker? That's like Eliot Spitzer saying he slept with prostitutes because the hills are alive with the sound of music.

In his lengthy speech, Bush also vowed to veto the Fairness Doctrine, should it reemerge, reminding us of his opposition to fairness of any kind. He picked the right audience for that one.

"It's a way of resetting a little bit," an anonymous White House official told the New York Times, when asked about Bush's speech. "There was a lot of talk about the surge, and then when the surge worked, it was like, 'Okay, it worked.'" Really? I think it was more like, "Okay, the more troops we put on the ground, the more we can milk the illusion of control; if only we'd thought of this four years ago." The anonymous sycophant continued: "Then ’08 heated up and people sort of moved on. People need to be reminded of who we're up against and what the stakes are."

That's true. We do need to be reminded. We are up against George W. Bush, a court-appointed dictator, a mental deficient, a man who's sublimated a lifetime of failure into one great success. There is no other terrorist in the world who can boast a body count as impressive as Bush's. No other terrorist has the advantage of the world's greatest military or the world's most bloated military budget.

We are also up against John McCain, who promises a continuation, and even an escalation, of Bush's disastrous foreign policy. So thanks for the reminder, anonymous White House official; you're right; the stakes are high.


Monday, March 10, 2008

You Suck! Be My Vice President!

As you may know, I've long wished for a joint ticket. First I wanted it to be Clinton/Obama; then I wanted Obama/Clinton. My high regard for both of them led to a crisis of indecision, and a choice made in the booth on Super Tuesday. Even though I'm decided now, I've still dreamed of the dream ticket, and somehow I wouldn't be completely happy about voting for a Democratic ticket from which either name was missing.

But, I'm sorry to say, I think it's time to let go of it. What once seemed like a beautiful statement of unity, and a double-historic ticket, has become a tiresome political tool in the increasingly tiresome campaign of Hillary Clinton.

The subject returned to the news last week, when the unpredictable Ed Rendell -- Clinton supporter and governor of Pennsylvania, which votes on April 22 -- told the National Journal that whoever wins should invite the other aboard.

"I think it's important that it be offered, and if the loser doesn't accept, I think the loser can say why. You know, obviously, I'd love to see a Clinton/Obama ticket. But if Senator Obama won, I think his offering it to Senator Clinton would be a great gesture. I'm not sure she would take it, I'm not sure he would take it, but either way, I think that it would be good if the offer were made."

In the three days since then, both Clintons and many surrogates have hit this talking point. Bill in Mississippi on Saturday: "If you put those two things together, you'd have an almost unstoppable force." Hillary in Mississippi yesterday: "I've had people say, 'Well I wish I could vote for both of you.' Well, that might be possible some day. But first I need your vote on Tuesday." She's playing on the widespread perception that he wouldn't pick her for V.P., but that if she wins, then we get both of them. You like Barack Obama? I like him too! Vote for me and I'll vote for him!

This might be acceptable if not for so many other recent statements pronouncing Obama unfit for the job of commander-in-chief. The Clinton campaign has even gone so far as to declare that McCain is a better choice than Obama. This was nasty. Obama may very well be our nominee, and now there's a useful soundbite in McCain's pocket. This is from Clinton's press conference on Thursday:

"I think that since we now know Senator McCain will be the nominee for the Republican Party, national security will be front and center in this election. We all know that. And I think it's imperative that each of us be able to demonstrate we can cross the commander-in-chief threshold. I believe that I've done that. Certainly, Senator McCain has done that. And you'll have to ask Senator Obama, with respect to his candidacy.

"...There are certain critical issues that voters always look to in a general election. National security experience, the qualifications to be commander-in-chief, are front and center. They always have been. They always will be. [Senator McCain and I will both] bring a lifetime of experience. Senator Obama will bring a speech he gave in 2002."

So, if Obama were to assume the presidency, this would be such a foreign policy disaster that we'd be better off with the Republican. In fact, the only thing he has accomplished is one speech delivered six years ago. If we are to believe this, Obama must rank somewhere between George W. Bush and mucous. But vote for Hillary and she'll make him vice president!

This always rubs us the wrong way, when the strategic motive behind a particular argument overrules the fact that the argument is in conflict with other strategic arguments. It's not a game. And it doesn't even work. It allowed Obama to look like he's winning, which he is:

"With all due respect, I won twice as many states as Senator Clinton. I won more of the popular vote than Senator Clinton. I have more delegates than Senator Clinton. So I don't know how someone in second place can offer the vice presidency to someone in first place. If I was in second place, I could understand, but I am in first place right now.

"I don't understand. If I am not ready, why do you think I would be such a great vice president? I don't understand. You can't say he is not ready on day one, then you want him to be your vice president."

Clinton campaign fella Howard Wolfson struggled to explain:

"We do not believe that Senator Obama has passed the commander-in-chief test. But there is a long way between now and Denver.

"...Senator Clinton will not choose any candidate who has not at the time of choosing passed the national security threshold. But we have a long way to go until Denver, and it's not something she's prepared to rule out at this point."

So Howard Wolfson is sticking to the argument that Obama has not "passed the national security threshold," but he remains hopeful that Obama will be a more qualified commander-in-chief by the time of the convention, this August. It sounds like Obama will only be fit to lead our country if Hillary Clinton gets the nomination.

So I have a bad taste in my mouth now, about the joint ticket.

The bad taste gets worse when I think about another possible joint ticket: McCain/Romney. This notion is flying around the Republican echo chamber like so much Silly Putty. It was advanced last week by Karl Rove by way of Bob Novak. We can now add Bill Kristol's name (Bill Kristol) to the list. "Mitt Romney would be good," Kristol said, when asked who he liked for V.P.

And The Weekly Standard is on board, arguing that Romney is now a nationally-known figure who has already been vetted, and besides:

"He's acceptable to conservatives and especially to social conservatives, who disproportionately volunteer as ground troops in Republican presidential campaigns. He's unflappable in debates. With the downturn worsening, the economy may surpass national security as the top issue of the campaign. And after years of success as a big time player in the global economy, Romney understands how markets work. He could shore up McCain's admitted weakness on economic issues.

"Romney has allies in the Bush wing of the Republican party. President Bush favors him as McCain's veep. Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, preferred Romney over McCain in the primaries, but never endorsed him publicly. Karl Rove, the president's political strategist, has hinted that he considers Romney to be McCain's best running mate.

"Romney thus appears to have the best ratio of virtues to drawbacks. But there's just one problem: McCain doesn't like him. Just how important compatibility is -- that is something McCain will have to decide."

Of course, there's lots of precedent for presidential candidates choosing vice presidents they personally dislike. Kennedy/Johnson, Reagan/Bush, Bush/Quayle. But does Romney pass the commander-in-chief threshold? Does he bring a lifetime of experience, or just an Olympics he salvaged in 2002? McCain would probably be better off with Barney.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Obama Wins Wyoming, Bush Wins Torture

Bush uses his veto to prevent Congress from preventing torture.

Obama wins Wyoming. Bill Clinton says that a Clinton/Obama ticket (I assume he's not thinking Obama/Clinton) would be "almost unstoppable," but Obama -- wisely, for the moment, given the situation -- says, "You won't see me as a vice presidential candidate."

And CNN's website has this cool delegate counter game, which allows you to allocate delegates and observe hypothetical paths to the nomination. What could be more fun?


Small States Do Count

That Samantha Power -- what a monster! But I don't want to talk about that. On Larry King Live last night, Jamal Simmons made an interesting point:

"You know, if Al Gore had won Missouri, or had won New Hampshire, or had won Colorado, or Iowa -- these states that Barack Obama -- and even Senator Clinton won, New Hampshire -- if he had won one of these small states, Florida wouldn't have mattered.

"If John Kerry had won a couple of these states -- Colorado and Missouri, for instance -- then Ohio wouldn't have mattered. Small states do count. And so this notion that because she won Ohio, that means no other contest in the country matters, is just farcical."

Transcript here.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Floridians and Michiganehs

I long for the halcyon days of, well, three days ago, when it looked like Obama might effectively lock up the nomination on March 4. Although I have gradually come to the conclusion that Obama is the better candidate, my yearning isn't actually about wanting to see Obama win. It has more to do with not wanting to deal with the Florida and Michigan mess. But now, with Hillary Clinton resurgent, the mess has to be dealt with, and boy, is it messy.

As you know, Florida and Michigan wanted to have their primaries early this year, and the DNC said no, that would be a violation of the rules. Florida and Michigan said, we don't care; we're going to do it anyway. The DNC said fine, go ahead, but your delegates won't be seated at the convention. Florida and Michigan said, oh, yeah, we're really scared. The Clinton, Obama, and Edwards campaigns agreed not to campaign in either state. In Michigan, Obama and Edwards were not even on the ballot.

And so, late in the very early month of January, Floridians and Michiganehs went to the polls. Both states are rich in delegates -- 210 pledged and 28 super in Florida; 156 pledged and 25 super in Michigan. In Florida, Clinton won with close to 50% of the vote; Obama got 33%. She won in Michigan too, racking up 90,141 more votes than her only rival on the ballot, "Uncommitted."

After winning Florida, Clinton appeared in the state to deliver a victory speech -- an odd thing to do after an election which didn't count -- and since then she has argued vehemently that Florida and Michigan delegates should be seated at the convention. "One-point-seven million Floridians turned out to vote," she said recently. "They clearly believed their votes would count." If that's true, they hadn't read the newspaper.

Lately there's been discussion of a possible do-over, in one form or another. But some, such as Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida), a Clinton supporter, are adamant that the vote from January be used. "With two outstanding candidates battling so closely for their party’s nomination," Senator Nelson says, "there’s no way you can tell nearly two million Florida voters they don’t count." Charlie Crist and Jennifer Granholm -- the governors of Florida and Michigan, respectively -- issued a joint statement yesterday:

"The right to vote is at the very foundation of our democracy. This primary season, voters have turned out in record numbers to exercise that right, and it is reprehensible that anyone would seek to silence the voices of 5,163,271 Americans. It is intolerable that the national political parties have denied the citizens of Michigan and Florida their votes and voices at their respective national conventions."

Mostly, this is bullshit. Though it's couched in irrefutable statements like "The right to vote is at the very foundation of our democracy," the Crist/Granholm message drips with bad faith. It would be "reprehensible" and "intolerable" if anyone did "seek to silence the voices of 5,163,271 Americans," but this is simply not what happened, and to paint it that way is, well, reprehensible and intolerable. What really happened is that the Michigan and Florida Democratic parties openly defied the rules set by the national party, in full knowledge of the penalty, and then expected the rules not to matter and the penalty not to stand. If voters in those states were so concerned about being disenfranchised, they should have taken their grievances to their state Democratic parties. They should have insisted that the early primary plan be abandoned, so that their votes would count. The DNC didn't do anything to disenfranchise Florida and Michigan voters. That was done to them by the leaders of their own state parties.

But there is, now, the question of what to do. Many analysts echo the Clinton campaign's insistence that denying convention seats to Florida and Michigan's delegates would be political suicide for the Democrats in November, but I'm not sure that holds water. Regardless of how upset you were that your state's primary was invalid, would that really stop you from voting in the general? I don't quite see it. But let's go along with the notion that something must be done, a compromise reached.

Certainly, seating delegates based on the primaries which took place in January would be supremely unfair. Because of the DNC's ruling, nobody campaigned in Florida, and that made it an easy win for Clinton, the more familiar candidate. Obama, as a newcomer, was at a huge disadvantage, and other primaries have shown his ability to win after voters get to know him. As for Michigan, even Hillary Clinton can't quite bring herself to argue for the validity of an election in which hers was the only name on the ballot. But she does say, "I don’t think that there should be any do-over or any kind of a second run in Florida. I think Florida should be seated."

Some are trying to say that if the January results are not honored, that would be a miscarriage of democracy. But the real miscarriage of democracy would be to change the rules midstream, and to award delegates to Clinton based on races in which her opponent didn't compete -- so as to comply with the rules. That leaves the possibility of do-overs. Clinton and others have dismissed the idea of holding caucuses, leaving a few options: voting by mail (as in Oregon), voting by firehouse (voters drop off ballots at their local fire stations), or entirely new primary elections.

The problem there is money. Neither state's government wants to pay another $12 million to $15 million to do it again. Governor Crist -- a Republican and possible John McCain running mate -- has hysterically demanded that the DNC pay for it. (Howard Dean: "We can’t afford to do that. That’s not our problem. We need our money to win the presidential race.") It's completely absurd that the DNC should have to pay for another round of primaries because its own rules were violated. Dean is right when he says that the Democratic nominee should be "determined in accordance with party rules, and out of respect for the presidential campaigns and the states that did not violate party rules, we are not going to change the rules in the middle of the game."

And just in case this situation isn't yet convoluted enough for you, there's this new wrinkle, brought to light by the Times:

"Should Florida hold a late-late do-over, some people are reading the national party’s bylaws to suggest that the state’s influence could increase greatly. In fact, a late primary/contest could give the state a 15-to-30-percent delegate boost over its already significant slate of 120 pledged delegates. That could add 51 more delegates to Florida’s sway."

My head hurts.


UPDATE: More Florid Michugos in Friday's paper:

"'We haven’t ruled out rerunning these contests,' said Harold Ickes, a top adviser to Mrs. Clinton and her chief delegate hunter...

"David Plouffe, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, floated the idea of allocating the delegates from the two states 50-50, which would erase Mrs. Clinton’s hypothetical advantage and essentially make the two states meaningless in the competitive delegate count. It would, however, allow Michigan and Florida delegates to participate in the national convention.

"Even if Florida and Michigan conduct new elections, it is unlikely that either candidate will have enough pledged delegates to win the nomination outright, advisers to both campaigns say. But their relative strength in pledged delegates could affect their ability to attract support from superdelegates, the elected officials and party leaders whose choices are likely to determine the outcome.

"...'If we don’t do anything, we’re looking at a train wreck,' [Senator Bill] Nelson said. 'I’m hoping reasonable heads with prevail and will see the Democratic Party doesn’t want to be at the convention in Denver two months out from the general election and having a major intraparty fight with two of the biggest and most important states in electing the next president.'"

UPDATE: A DNC rules committee member says a caucus is likely in Michigan:

"A member of the DNC's Rules And Bylaws Committee--the committee that stripped Florida and Michigan of its delegates for moving their primaries before February 5th--told me that Michigan plans to get out of its uncounted delegate problem by announcing a new caucus in the next few days.

"'They want to play. They know how to do caucuses,' the DNC source said. 'That was their plan all along, before they got cute with the primary.'

"Michigan Democrats had originally planned on caucuses after the legally permissible Feb. 5 date, but then went along with top elected Democrats, including Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who pushed for an early primary."

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

McCain: "I Don't Have Anything to Add"

Today John McCain picked up Bush's endorsement in a dull and anticlimactic White House rendezvous. Neither of them said much of substance, but McCain did point out that he has nothing to add.

REPORTER: ...I'd like to ask both of you how the Republican Party, which has been here for eight years, is going to make the case that you're going to provide the change that the voters seem to want, both on Iraq and the economy?

BUSH: Let me start off by saying that in 2000 I said, vote for me, I'm an agent of change. In 2004, I said, I'm not interested in change -- I want to continue as President. Every candidate has got to say "change." That's what the American people expect. And the good news about our candidate is, there will be a new President, a man of character and courage -- but he's not going to change when it comes to taking on the enemy. He understands this is a dangerous world, and I understand we better have steadfast leadership who has got the courage and determination to pursue this enemy, so as to protect America. John McCain will find out, when he takes the oath of office, his most important responsibility is to protect the American people from harm. And there's still an enemy that lurks, an enemy that wants to strike us. And this country better have somebody in that Oval Office who understands the stakes, and John McCain understands those stakes.

McCAIN: Thank you, sir. I don't have anything to add.

REPORTER: Can I follow up, sir? How would you --

BUSH: No, you can't follow up. Thank you.

One of the most important duties of our next president will be supporting the investigation and prosecution of the criminals who ran the previous administration. But John McCain, for all his bluster about fighting corruption in Washington, won't do that part of the job. When asked yesterday if he would investigate corruption in the Bush administration, this is what McCain said:

"I do not agree with your sentiment that there has been widespread corruption. I just don't accept that. And by the way, my friends, do you think it would be nice if the President of the United States got a little bit of credit for the fact that there has not been another attack on the United States of America since 9/11? I think he deserves some credit for that. I really do."

Okay...well, your second point has nothing to do with your first point, or with the question you were asked, but thanks very much, my friend. Absurd though it may be to claim that there has not been widespread corruption in the Bush regime, perhaps it's unreasonable to expect the Republican presidential nominee to beat a drum over it.

As for the second part of McCain's answer -- sure, I suppose Bush deserves some of the credit for the fact that there hasn't been a catastrophic attack on American soil since 9/11, but if we're going to go there, we also have to acknowledge that Bush deserves some of the blame for the attack we've had. So thank you, George W. Bush, for only allowing terrorists to attack my city and kill thousands of my neighbors once. That was very good of you.


March Forth

Well, we all had a feeling, going into last night's primary contests, that the Democratic race would not be much closer to resolution than it was yesterday morning. Sure enough, here we are -- nowhere. By winning Ohio (decisively) and Texas (narrowly), Hillary Clinton established that she is unquestionably still in the race, fulfilling her husband's recent prediction that winning those two would keep the campaign afloat.

"No matter what happens tonight," Barack Obama told supporters, "we have nearly the same delegate lead that we did this morning, and we are on our way to winning this nomination." He's right. Clinton's success in Ohio did not close the delegate gap, and although it'll be a while before we know exactly where the Texas delegates land, it's possible that Clinton's victory in the popular vote will net fewer delegates than Obama's loss. (Texas, the most complicated Democratic contest, awards some of its delegates by caucus, a format favorable to Obama.) The AP delegate totals are now 1,477 (Obama) and 1,391 (Clinton), with 170 from yesterday yet to be assigned. NBC News has Obama with 1,307 and Clinton with 1,175.

Clinton is right, too, when she says that her campaign has "turned a corner." She did what she needed to do. Last night, aglow with triumph, she pointed out that "no candidate in recent history — Democratic or Republican — has won the White House without winning the Ohio primary," and this is a meaningful point. Yes, Obama won eleven in a row, but Clinton has won California, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas -- the big ones. It helps her electability argument.

This morning on the Early Show, she was feeling confident enough to entertain the old question of a joint ticket: "That may be where this is headed, but of course we have to decide who's on the top of the ticket. And I think that the people of Ohio very clearly said that it should be me." Obama on the same subject: "We are just focused on winning the nomination. That is my focus. I respect Senator Clinton. She has been a tenacious opponent. It is premature to talk about a joint ticket."

So, anyone who didn't get it before has learned the lesson: Don't count Clinton out. The Clinton campaign, meanwhile, has learned another lesson: Attacking Obama is working. Presumably, Obama will also go negative in the coming weeks.

We're all nervous about the Democratic race remaining undecided for months, but that's what's happening. Looking forward, we have Wyoming this Saturday and Mississippi next Tuesday; Obama is considered the likely winner of both. After that comes Pennsylvania, the last big state left in the primaries. An Obama victory there would be huge, but at the moment Clinton seems more likely. Pennsylvania Democrats are closer to her established constituency than his; it's also a closed primary, and Obama has yet to win a race in which independents cannot vote. But the worst thing about the Pennsylvania primary is that it won't happen until April 22.

And even April 22 is unlikely to be the end. If Clinton does win Pennsylvania, we'll look forward to Indiana and North Carolina (May 6), Nebraska and West Virginia (May 13), Kentucky and Oregon (May 20), and more, all the way up to the last primary (Puerto Rico, June 7) and the Democratic National Convention (August 25 - 28). It sure would be nice to see this wrapped up, but it's hard to imagine why Hillary Clinton would drop out if victory is still possible. We're back where we were before Obama's eleven-state sweep: Staring down the barrel of a race which could be decided by superdelegates, or by a solution to the tricky problem of Florida and Michigan.

And then there's John McCain, who locked up his party's nomination last night, after a gracious concession speech from Mike Huckabee. It was nice having Huckabee around, but at least we won't have to listen to him talk about the Alamo anymore. "I have never believed that I was destined to be president," McCain said last night in a rather sleepy victory speech. I don't think anyone else believes it either, but this is a good moment for McCain. The worst thing about the continuing Democratic race is that it gives McCain a head start on the general election. He'll be raising money all this time. He'll announce a running mate soon. And today, he'll appear at the White House to collect the official endorsement of George W. Bush. Part of the tragedy of John McCain is that this former maverick is now running for a third Bush term. Particularly regarding foreign policy, McCain promises so much more of the Bush Doctrine that we might as well start calling him John Hussein McCain.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Bush's Pick for V.P.

Unless Obama cleans up today, we'll continue not knowing who will be the Democratic nominee. But John McCain is so close to being the official Republican nominee that talk on the right has turned to the question of a running mate. Kay Bailey Hutchison says she doesn't want the job. Charlie Crist is being elusive. Karl Rove is talking up Mitt Romney. But what many don't know is that George W. Bush has also made a suggestion:

Is that a dream ticket? When asked for a comment, Barney remarked that in dog years, McCain is 297 years old.


Friday, February 29, 2008

The Last Refuge of Scoundrels

Last year, when I first saw the above photograph, I was excited. I thought that perhaps a more enlightened political age was at hand, because like many others, I assumed it was a picture of Barack Obama boldly abstaining from the ridiculous Pledge of Allegiance. Of course some would attack him for this -- like this guy, for instance, who declares himself "fed-up in Barack Obama" because Obama "doesn't hold true to the words that define our Country as 'the home of the Free.'" Anyway -- the picture filled me with hope that Obama might inspire others to step forward and say: I love my country; I love the Constitution; flags are meaningless.

I was disappointed to learn that it wasn't a picture of that at all. It's a picture of Obama not putting his hand on his heart during the national anthem -- which isn't a required nationalistic gesture, even among nationalistic gesture enthusiasts. The flag etiquette site helpfully suggests, "When the national anthem is played or sung, citizens should stand at attention and salute at the first note and hold the salute through the last note." Unless, of course, citizens do not wish to look like idiots.

I know I'm being snarky here, but I'm just so tired of hearing people equate empty gestures and recitations with actual patriotism. Mouthing the Pledge of Allegiance, saluting the flag, standing up when you hear "The Star-Spangled Banner" -- which is just not a very good song, whether it's our national anthem or not -- none of these things have anything to do with actual love of country. I believe that the people who pretend otherwise have a limited understanding of the American experiment. Unequipped to discuss the issues, they instead get worked up about flags and symbols and nonsense.

It hardly seems worth it, then, to refute the Obama/anthem accusations, but Media Matters helpfully notes that on other occasions, Obama has put his hand on his heart during "The Star-Spangled Banner":

And, as long as we're discussing it, what does it mean if you hear the national anthem and put your hand on your stomach?

And then there was the lapel pin thing. It's hard to think of anything less important than a lapel pin, but if you think the right was hysterical about the picture of Obama without his hand on his heart, you should hear their reaction to Obama's smart and admirable decision not to wear an American flag pin. This one, unlike the hand-on-heart non-issue, is actually a choice Obama has made, and explained:

"You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin. Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we're talking about the Iraq War, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest.

"Instead, I'm going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism."

"Why do we wear pins?" shrieked Sean Hannity. "Because our country is under attack!"

Well, a lapel pin ought to take care of that, Sean. Our country is under attack! Should we rethink our foreign policy? Our approach to the energy crisis? Nah -- wear this pin; that'll show those terrorists. The fury was so resounding that Obama was asked to explain himself again:

"I'm less concerned with what you're wearing on your lapel than what's in your heart. You show your patriotism by how you treat your fellow Americans, especially those who serve. And you show your patriotism by being true to your values and ideals. And that's what we have to lead with, our values and ideals."

Not our jewelry.

Here's Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Georgia) on the Dan Abrams show this week:

"Those are just questions that the American people want to know about. When you listen to why he doesn't wear an American flag button, it's a very convoluted answer. ... Everybody wears them ... and it's curious that suddenly there's a guy that doesn't want to do it. ... You're running to be the number one cheerleader in the country, so I think these questions aren't off-limits."

It's not that these questions are off-limits; it's that they're stupid. There was nothing at all convoluted about Obama's explanation, but if you're someone who describes the president's role as "number one cheerleader in the country," perhaps Obama's meaning is hard to grasp.

I'm excited about the prospect of a president whose regard for his country runs so deep that it cannot be expressed on the flap of a blazer or the bumper of a car. But I wince when I think of how adamantly the right wing will object to Obama's intelligence and integrity.


Brian Williams on The Daily Show

STEWART: Would you vote for a Jew?

WILLIAMS: Look at the time.

Monday on The Daily Show: Hillary Clinton.


Thursday, February 28, 2008


John McCain can't have it both ways. He can either be the respectful, honorable, decent patriot he so clearly wants to be, or he can be a Republican. There may have been a time when those two ideas were compatible with each other, but George W. Bush has destroyed whatever vestige of honor his party may have had. It's not me -- it's not liberals -- saying that John McCain has to make this choice. It's conservatives.

Bill Cunningham, a right-wing talk radio host of very little brain, warmed up the audience at a McCain campaign event on Tuesday. Referring to Barack Obama as a "hack, Chicago-style Daley politician" -- he meant to say Daley-style Chicago politician, though it hardly matters -- Cunningham unleashed a torrent of vitriol more noteworthy for its supreme ignorance than anything else. "All is going to be right with the world," he mockingly declaimed, "when the great prophet from Chicago takes the stand, and the world leaders who want to kill us will simply be singing 'Kumbaya' around the table of Barack Obama." He pronounces kumbaya as kumbay-ay, and Barack Obama as Barack Hussein Obama.

Here's another clever little passage from the Cunningham cavalcade of wit:

"At some point in the near future, the media, the stooges from The New York Times; CBS, the Clinton Broadcasting System; NBC, the Nobody But Clinton network; the All Bill Clinton Channel, ABC; and the Clinton News Network at some point is going to peel the bark off Barack Hussein Obama."

How does he come up with this stuff? I wonder what he thinks FOX stands for? Anyway, John McCain sure was upset:

"It’s my understanding that before I came in here a person who was on the program before I spoke made some disparaging remarks about my two colleagues in the Senate, Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. I have repeatedly stated my respect for Senator Obama and Senator Clinton, that I will treat them with respect. I will call them Senator. We will have a respectful debate, as I have said on hundreds of occasions. I regret any comments that may have been made about these two individuals who are honorable Americans...

"Whatever suggestion that was made that was any way disparaging to the integrity, character, honesty of either Senator Obama or Senator Clinton was wrong. I condemn it, and if I have any responsibility, I will take the responsibility, and I apologize for it."

Well, that's very nice, and very John McCain, but it's ultimately unconvincing. McCain's campaign obviously arranged to have Bill Cunningham speak at the event, and they must have known that Cunningham was a spewer of toxic invective. What did they expect? My guess is that they expected exactly what happened. I'm not inclined to believe much of what Cunningham says, but he did tell his friend Sean Hannity that "McCain's people told me to give the faithful red meat. Give them red, raw meat."

I'm sure that McCain himself, at least on the surface, will honor his promise of a respectful, smear-free general election campaign. But that's just John McCain. The Republicans, of course, will attack Obama, and they'll do it with racism, xenophobia, ignorance, and incoherence, and it will be nasty and deceptive and deplorable. In fact, they're already doing it; the Tennessee Republican Party issued a ridiculous statement this week, alligning itself with "a growing chorus of Americans concerned about the future of the nation of Israel, the only stable democracy in the Middle East, if Sen. Barack Hussein Obama is elected president of the United States." Not only can't McCain do anything about this; he is actually a part of it, whether or not he wants to be. Whatever claim he may have had to independence has been obliterated by his seven-year love affair with George W. Bush.

"John McCain threw me under a bus -- under the Straight Talk Express," Bill Cunningham huffed on CNN on Tuesday, before slipping right back into it, implying that Obama is a Muslim without quite saying it. Obama's middle name, Cunningham said, is "a proud Muslim name," and "I have nothing but respect for my Muslim brothers and sisters." This is as clever a verbal game as we're likely to hear from Bill Cunningham, a man to whom Alan Colmes is "a left-wing radical extremist to the left of a Bolshevik." Cunningham knows Obama isn't a Muslim, and his choice of phrasing makes it possible for him to claim that he never said otherwise. "His parents called him Barack Hussein Obama, not me," Cunningham told Hannity. Yeah, but not every five seconds.

John McCain is responsible for a hate speech delivered at one of his campaign events. He's responsible for the hideous conduct of his party, because he would like to be its standard-bearer. Soft-spoken contrition after the fact won't work. Despite what some conservative Republicans say, John McCain is a conservative Republican. He should never be president.


Now Bloomberg's REALLY Not Running

In a New York Times op-ed today, Mayor Mike Bloomberg announces definitively that he is not running for president. He's doing the right thing. Bloomberg is an interesting politician, and it's conceivable that he could bring something valuable to a race for the presidency -- just not this one. Bloomberg has made nonpartisanship his cause; he's decided to be about unity. It's not the right war to wage against Obama and McCain. So what would Bloomberg bring to the table? Just however much money it costs to run for president.

His piece in the Times is classy and honorable. I get slightly queasy when the unity crowd lays it on too thick; I agree with a lot of the general criticism of the two-party system, and I agree that partisan warfare is clogging the legislative machinery, but I also think the Republicans are wrong. But he makes his case well, embodying the unity he preaches. He attacks no one. And there's no denying that he's correct when he says that "forces that prevent meaningful progress are powerful, and they exist in both parties."

Bloomberg is the best mayor the ultimate American city has had in a long time. One of his better points -- largely because so few seem to be making it -- has to do with the importance of our cities:

"In every city I have visited — from Baltimore to New Orleans to Seattle — the message of an independent approach has resonated strongly, and so has the need for a new urban agenda. More than 65 percent of Americans now live in urban areas — our nation’s economic engines. But you would never know that listening to the presidential candidates. At a time when our national economy is sputtering, to say the least, what are we doing to fuel job growth in our cities, and to revive cities that have never fully recovered from the manufacturing losses of recent decades?"

Anyway, here's where he says he's not running:

"I believe that an independent approach to these issues is essential to governing our nation — and that an independent can win the presidency. I listened carefully to those who encouraged me to run, but I am not — and will not be — a candidate for president. I have watched this campaign unfold, and I am hopeful that the current campaigns can rise to the challenge by offering truly independent leadership. The most productive role that I can serve is to push them forward, by using the means at my disposal to promote a real and honest debate.

"In the weeks and months ahead, I will continue to work to steer the national conversation away from partisanship and toward unity; away from ideology and toward common sense; away from sound bites and toward substance. And while I have always said I am not running for president, the race is too important to sit on the sidelines, and so I have changed my mind in one area. If a candidate takes an independent, nonpartisan approach — and embraces practical solutions that challenge party orthodoxy — I’ll join others in helping that candidate win the White House."


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Obama Rejects and Denounces Farrakhan

In tonight's debate, Tim Russert mentioned the unfortunate fact that Louis Farrakhan had endorsed Obama. Russert kept asking if Obama rejected Farrakhan's support, in addition to denouncing Farrakhan himself. Clinton kept the issue on the table: "You asked specifically if he would reject it. And there's a difference between denouncing and rejecting."

OBAMA: Tim, I have to say I don't see a difference between denouncing and rejecting. There's no formal offer of help from Minister Farrakhan that would involve me rejecting it. But if the word reject Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word denounce, then I'm happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce.

CLINTON: Good. Good. Excellent.


BRIAN WILLIAMS: Rare audience outburst on the agreement over rejecting and denouncing.


Another Democratic Debate Tonight

IN DODD WE TRUST: Chris Dodd, Democratic Senator from Connecticut and former 2008 presidential candidate, will endorse Barack Obama today.

JOHNNY CAN'T DECIDE: In a confusing sign that he may still be alive, John McCain has apparently realized that a promise of endless war might not be the best electoral strategy. In January, McCain
infamously declared, "I don’t think Americans are concerned if we’re there [in Iraq] for one hundred years or a thousand years or ten thousand years." Yesterday, McCain changed his tune. "My friends, the war will be over soon," he said yesterday, "the war for all intents and purposes, although the insurgency will go on for years and years and years. But it will be handled by the Iraqis, not by us, and then we decide what kind of security arrangement we want to have with the Iraqis." Think Progress notes that McCain has often "misjudged the length of conflict in Iraq, repeatedly telling the American public that the war will be over soon." In January of 2003, he predicted victory "within about three weeks;" three months later, he said it was "clear that the end is very much in sight;" in November of 2006 he decided "we’re either going to lose this thing or win this thing within the next several months."

EGGS ARE PEOPLE TOO: We know that despite his folksy charm,
Huckabee is scary. Yesterday, he endorsed a proposed Colorado amendment which would define a fertilized egg as a human being. "With this amendment," Huckabee said, "Colorado has an opportunity to send a clear message that every human life has value. Passing this amendment will mean the people of Colorado will protect the sanctity of life from conception until natural death occurs." Supporters of this insanity must gather the signatures of 76,000 registered Colorado voters to get the amendment on the ballot in November. If approved, the Denver Post notes, the initiative "would extend state constitutional protections to every fertilized egg, guaranteeing the right to life, liberty, equality of justice and due process of law."

OUR DEMOCRATS: The punditry spent yesterday buzzing about the "two Clintons" -- not Bill and Hillary, but Hillary and Hillary -- the magnanimous, conciliatory good sport who wrapped up last Thursday's debate so gracefully ("
I am honored to be here with Barack Obama"), or the livid fighter who's been talking to the press this week ("Shame on you, Barack Obama"). We expect tonight's Ohio debate to be combative. In the polls, Clinton has a small lead in Ohio, and Obama has a small lead in Texas. But we still have a whole week to march forth to March fourth, and neither lead is significant enough to call this anything but a dead heat. The New York Times has Obama leading Clinton by 54 to 38 nationally, and recent analysis of the Clinton campaign has had the ring of postmortem. "As for countering what she sees as the empty Obama brand of hope, she offers only a chilly void: Abandon hope all ye who enter here," writes Frank Rich. "This must be the first presidential candidate in history to devote so much energy to preaching against optimism, against inspiring language...No sooner does Mrs. Clinton lose a state than her campaign belittles its voters as unrepresentative of the country."


Monday, February 25, 2008

Santos and Vinick, Obama and McCain

On Saturday, making a point about the use of the word liberal, I recalled a relevant moment from an episode of the seventh season of The West Wing. I'm struck lately by the similarities between that fictional race -- pitting Democrat Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) against Republican Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) -- and the actual, hypothetical, but probably imminent race between Barack Obama and John McCain.

Before we get into that, though, some general thoughts about the show. The seventh (and final) season, though it was almost a return to form, was part of the series' decline. It's more interesting now than it was then, because it now seems to have been remarkably prescient. (I'll be happy to tell you where you can buy the seventh season, but of course I would never tell you where you can download it for free.)

I wrote about The West Wing, when the series concluded (5/15/06):

These recent years, since we've had a monster in the White House, I've taken special solace in the other White House. Since we've had crushing corruption and bad intentions in the government, I've cherished the weekly visit with the other government, where mistakes are made but intentions are always good. I'm talking about that parallel Washington where Martin Sheen is in the Oval Office, and even the Republican presidential nominee is such a decent and capable guy that he's played by Alan Alda. I'm talking about The West Wing, which concluded last night with an Inauguration Day series finale, after seven seasons.

The first four seasons of The West Wing contained some of the best television of all time. Aaron Sorkin, who created the series after having written A Few Good Men and The American President, wrote most of those four years' worth of scripts. His writing for The West Wing was so good that there was no prior comparable achievement in the medium; you had to compare it to film and theatre.

After the fourth season, when Sorkin left the show, it began to falter. The fifth season was a struggling, stumbling mess...Just as the real West Wing was taken over by the Bush regime, the fictional one was taken over by a more conventional television mentality. It started playing like ER or Law and Order. Not that those are bad shows. But The West Wing had always been more.

The sixth season was also disappointing, but it had more high points than the fifth. With the seventh season, The West Wing finally felt like a great show again -- still not what it used to be, but intelligent and funny and worth watching. It rarely touched the rhetorical heights of its early years, when you tuned in just to hear what these characters said; it was now more reliant on the usual trappings of TV series. You tuned in to see what happened in the storyline. But at least you wanted to know.

Matt Santos had more than a little in common with Barack Obama. He was Hispanic, not African-American, but he was a young candidate of color whose soaring rhetoric helped to energize young voters. The season's eighth episode, "Undecideds," dealt with the African-American community's mixed feelings about a Latino candidate; these questions have been reversed in recent conversations about California and Texas, but they ring a bell. In another episode, Leo McGarry (John Spencer) noted that young people "haven't had anyone like him to vote for since Kennedy."

Santos was a member of the House of Representatives, not the Senate, and his candidacy remained a longshot to the triumphant end, while Obama has become the candidate to beat. Here's a nice six minutes from "2,162 Votes," the sixth season finale (written by John Wells). We're at a brokered Democratic Convention, and Santos -- running for the Democratic nomination against Vice President Bob Russell (Gary Cole) and Pennsylvania Governor Eric Baker (Ed O'Neill) -- has been pressured to step aside. Doesn't his convention speech sound like it should be received with impassioned cries of "Yes we can?"

Arnold Vinick, meanwhile, is the Republican candidate. Like John McCain, he's a much-respected figure with a long history in American politics (though not a war hero). Vinick, like McCain, is a moderate who appeals to independents, and has often been seen as an outsider, not to be trusted, by the far right of his own party. Also like McCain, Vinick would be the oldest president ever to take office. Here's an exchange from "Here Today" (the fifth episode of the seventh season, written by Peter Noah), in which Santos advisers Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) and Louise Thornton (Janeane Garofalo) discuss the age factor:

JOSH: Look, Arnold Vinick isn't some old feeb, doddering from one campaign stop to the next. He's got more energy than I do.

LOU: He is inconveniently spry.

JOSH: Use that.

LOU: What?

JOSH: Spry. It's a word that's only used to describe old people. Ever hear of anybody under the age of 70 being called spry? It says "old guy versus young guy" without even mentioning age.

This is exactly the strategy Obama is employing when he refers to McCain's "half-century of service to his country." He's saying "old guy versus young guy" without mentioning age.

Like McCain, Vinick is at odds with the right flank of his party, and is not entirely disliked by mainstream Democratic bastions. Here's a scene from season seven, episode three, "Message of the Week," written by Lawrence O'Donnell:

So of course the next question is, how does it all wind up? Unfortunately, the seventh season of The West Wing doesn't really help us in this department. Santos does win the presidency, but under circumstances which are unlikely to arise in the current election: Vinick, a longtime advocate for nuclear power, is sunk by an unexpected nuclear accident at a power plant he had helped to activate. At the time the series concluded, we were told that the writers had planned for Vinick to win the election, but the death of cast member John Spencer -- playing Leo McGarry, who by that time had become Santos' running mate -- changed their minds. It would have been too downbeat a finale to have Leo die and Santos lose the election.

But the similarities are interesting. And although the seventh season was still a pale shadow of The West Wing's glory days, if you revisit some of those episodes now, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised to find them more relevant than they were.


Darph Nader

"It's hard to believe, I know," writes Marty Kaplan, "but there is now an entire generation of 20- and 30-something Americans who don't know that Ralph Nader wasn't always a total asshole."

Indeed, before the 2000 election, Nader was one of the most admired figures on the American left; his achievements as a grassroots organizer and consumer advocate are important. But in recent years, yes, Ralph Nader has been a total asshole. The great tragedy of his dotage is that so much of the good he has accomplished has been mitigated by the supremely corrupt Bush administration, which would never have taken the White House without Nader as spoiler.

Appearing on Meet the Press yesterday, Nader made the announcement we all dreaded and expected: He is running for president again. Watch it here:

RUSSERT: As you know, Ralph Nader, there'll be Democrats all across the country who are going to find this very disturbing news, and they'll point again to 2000. This was the vote count. Al Gore winning the popular vote, but you've got 2.7 percent, nearly three million votes, in 2000. Then Florida, Florida, Florida. As you remember, George Bush won Florida by 537 votes. You got 97,488. Democrat after Democrat says to this day, Ralph Nader, if your name had not been on that ballot, Al Gore would've carried Florida. Exit polls show he would've carried Nader voters 2-to-1. Gore would've been president and not George Bush. You, Ralph Nader are responsible for what has happened the last seven years.

NADER: Not -- not George Bush? Not the Democrats in Congress? Not the voters who voted for George Bush? But there were Democrats in Florida, 250,000 of them. You know, I wish we'd have Al Gore on this program someday, Tim, and ask him, "Why did you not become president in 2000?" And I think what he's going to tell you is he thought he did win Florida, but it was taken from him before, during and after the election from Tallahassee. Katherine Bush -- you know, the secretary of the state...

RUSSERT: Katherine Harris.

NADER: Harris, rather, and Jeb Bush, all the way to that terribly politicized Supreme Court decision. But the -- the political bigotry that's involved here is that we shouldn't enter the electoral arena? We, all of us who, who, who think that the country needs an infusion of freedom, democracy, choice, dissent, should just sit on the sidelines and watch the two parties own all the voters and turn the government over to big business? What's really important here is, if you want to look at it analytically, is there -- Mr. Gore would, would tell you if he won Tennessee, anything else being equal, he would've been president. It's his home state. If he won Arkansas, everything else being equal, he would've been president. The mayor of Miami sabotaged the Democrats because of a grudge, didn't bring thousands of votes out. Quarter of a million Democrats voted for Bush in Florida. There is all kinds of thievery in Florida.

So why do they blame the Greens? Why do they blame the people all over the country who are trying to have a progressive platform, not just the environment. What was their crime? Why, why, why isn't there tolerance for candidates' rights the way there is a building tolerance over the last 50 years for voter rights? Because without voter rights, candidate rights don't mean much. And without candidate rights--more voices and choices--voter rights don't mean much. I--I'm amazed at the liberal intelligencia here. They are analytic and they deal with all kinds of variables, but when it comes to 2000 election, it's just one variable.

And I might add that Solon Simmons and other scholars--he teaches at George Mason--have shown that by pushing Gore to take more progressive stands, he got more votes than the votes he allegedly--were withdrawn from for the Green party. Twenty-five percent of my vote, according to a Democratic pollster, exit poll, would've gone to Bush. Thirty-nine percent would've gone to Gore and the rest would've stayed home. Every major--every third party in Florida got more votes than the 537 vote gap. So let's get over it and try to have a diverse multiple choice, multiple party democracy the way they have in Western Europe and Canada. This bit of, of spoiler is really very astonishing. These are the two parties who've spoiled our electoral system, money, they can't even count the votes, they steal--the Republicans steal the votes, and the Democrats knock third party candidates off the ballot. That's their specialty these days.

A total asshole. First of all, anyone who truly cared about "a progressive platform" in 2000 saw that the worst thing for that goal was a George W. Bush presidency, and that almost nothing was worth that -- certainly not siphoning off a few Democratic votes just to make a point. Nader is severly deluded if he thinks his presence in the race "push[ed] Gore to take more progressive stands." And even if that were true, what good is it if Gore didn't take office?

Nader can be very proud of himself. He supposedly pushed a Democratic candidate to take more progressive stands, and then ensured, by his mere presence on the ballot, that that candidate would have no power in the federal government. So when Al Gore was off licking his wounds and growing a beard, rather than taking his rightful place at the Resolute desk, I hope Nader was happy he'd pushed Gore to take more progressive stands. That really helped.

Of course, Nader is correct when he says that Bush took office not by legitimately winning in the state of Florida; he took office through electoral fraud and a Supreme Court appointment. But when Nader equates that with the supposed Democratic "specialty" of "knock[ing] third party candidates off the ballot," he sounds like a man with blinders on, too absorbed in his own myopic narcissism to see the wider implications of his choices.

Needless to say, reactions to Nader's announcement have fallen along party lines. The Democrats greeted it with a groan, while the Republicans can hardly contain their glee. Barack Obama noted that Nader "thought that there was no difference between Al Gore and George Bush and, eight years later, I think people realize that Ralph did not know what he was talking about." Hillary Clinton, calling Nader's decision "very unfortunate," recalled that "when he ran didn't turn out very well for anybody -- especially our country. She also injected some irony into Nader's affiliation with the Green Party, since he "prevented Al Gore from being the 'greenest' president we could have had." Mike Huckabee, on the other hand, practically clapped his hands: "I think it always would probably pull votes away from the Democrats and not the Republicans, so naturally, Republicans would welcome his entry into the race."

Naturally. Nader himself claims that even if he was a spoiler in 2000, he won't be a spoiler this time, because "if the Democrats can't landslide the Republicans this year, they ought to just wrap up, close down, emerge in a different form." But for those of us who did see the difference between Bush and Gore in 2000, and Bush and Kerry in 2004, and McCain and Obama in 2008, it's Ralph Nader who ought to wrap up and close down.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bush: Paragon of Electoral Intergrity

Bush's comments about Castro constitute some of his funniest material in years:

"I believe that the change from Fidel Castro ought to begin a period of a democratic transition...Eventually this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections, and I mean free, and I mean fair, not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as being true democracy. And we're going to help."

This is George W. Bush talking about the importance of fair and democratic elections -- you know, as opposed to staged elections foisted off by a pair of unscrupulous brothers. Hilarious.

Bush and Castro -- two dictators who have devoted their offices to securing broad unitary power -- are different in many respects. For one thing, Castro's crimes have mostly been inflicted upon his own people, while in five short years Bush has slaughtered over one million people in a country which never attacked, nor threatened to attack, America.

Bush is a more successful terrorist than Castro, but you could argue that Castro is a more successful dictator, having managed to stay in office for longer than anyone else in the world. Here in America, on the other hand, we are hopefully awaiting the inauguration of the first president since Bill Clinton to be legitimately elected by the American people.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

It's Good to be Liberal

Why Won't Our Candidates Admit It?

The right-wing extremists have largely succeeded in making liberal a dirty word. We can be sure that if Obama is the nominee, John McCain will make frequent mention of the fact that National Journal rated Obama the most liberal senator. The fact is that the allegedly-nonpartisan National Journal is quite conservative, and that the National Journal declared in 2004 that John Kerry was the most liberal senator, and that the National Journal will always say that the Democratic nominee is the most liberal liberal in the whole liberal world. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a self-described socialist, is less liberal than Obama in the eyes of the Journal.

But Obama is a liberal, and so am I, and I won't let the Republicans define that world, and I hate to see Democratic politicians reject it. I had hoped that Barack Obama, of all people, would straighten this out. But yesterday, campaigning in Austin, Obama disappointed me. Rather than say, Yes, I am a liberal, and I'm proud to be a liberal, and I believe that American ideals are basically liberal ideals, this is what he said:

"Oh, he's liberal. He's liberal. Let me tell you something. There's nothing liberal about wanting to reduce money in politics; that is common sense. There's nothing liberal about wanting to make sure [our soldiers] are treated properly when they come home. There's nothing liberal about wanting to make sure that everybody has healthcare, but we are spending more on healthcare in this country than any other advanced country. We got more uninsured. There's nothing liberal about saying that doesn't make sense, and we should do something smarter with our health care system. Don't let them run that okie doke on you!"

But the real okie doke is that Obama is being disingenuous for political reasons. There is something liberal about making political candidacy less reliant on personal wealth, and there is something liberal about providing universal health coverage. These are mighty, noble, liberal ideas, and Barack Obama -- to whom everyone is listening right now -- should be able to say so.

Hillary Clinton is no better on this point. In the July 23 debate, she was asked, "How would you define the world liberal, and would you use this word to describe yourself?" Her answer:

"You know, it is a word that originally meant that you were for freedom, that you were for the freedom to achieve, that you were willing to stand against big power and on behalf of the individual. Unfortunately, in the last 30, 40 years, it has been turned up on its head and it’s been made to seem as though it is a word that describes big government, totally contrary to what its meaning was in the 19th and early 20th century.

"I prefer the word progressive, which has a real American meaning, going back to the progressive era at the beginning of the 20th century. I consider myself a modern progressive, someone who believes strongly in individual rights and freedoms, who believes that we are better as a society when we’re working together and when we find ways to help those who may not have all the advantages in life get the tools they need to lead a more productive life for themselves and their family.

"So I consider myself a proud modern American progressive, and I think that's the kind of philosophy and practice that we need to bring back to American politics."

She couched her answer in historical background, and acknolwedged that the definition has been altered, but she still let the right have its way. She still wouldn't own the word liberal, even though most of her millions of supporters probably describe themselves as liberals, and without apology.

The only candidate I have ever heard give a satisfactory answer to the liberal question is a fictional candidate. In episode seven of season seven of The West Wing, in a debate between Democrat Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) and Republican Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda), we were treated to this exchange (written by Lawrence O'Donnell):

VINICK: ...Now, an unthinking liberal will describe the airline bankruptcies as the evil capitalists screwing the workers.

SANTOS: I didn't say that, Senator, and I don't think you should put words in my mouth.

VINICK: No. Of course you didn't say it. You're not an unthinking liberal. Are you?

SANTOS: I know you like to use that word liberal as if it were a crime.

VINICK: No. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have used that word. I know Democrats think liberal is a bad word. So bad you had to change it. What do you call yourselves now, progressives? Is that it?

SANTOS: It's true. Republicans have tried to turn liberal into a bad word. Well, liberals ended slavery in this country.

VINICK: A Republican President ended slavery.

SANTOS: Yes. A liberal Republican. Senator, what happened to them? They got run out of your party. What did liberals do that was so offensive to the liberal party? I'll tell you what they did. Liberals got women the right to vote. Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote. Liberals created Social Security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty. Liberals ended segregation. Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. Liberals created Medicare. Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act. What did conservatives do? They opposed them on every one of those things. Every one. So when you try to hurl that label at my feet, liberal, as if it were something to be ashamed of, something dirty, something to run away from, it won't work, Senator. Because I will pick up that label and I will wear it as a badge of honor.


Friday, February 22, 2008


The best and worst moments of last night's debate both belonged to Hillary Clinton. The latter, which drew boos from the audience, was when she inserted a cheap, canned put-down into a discussion about the plagiarism question: "That's not change you can believe in," she quipped. "It's change you can Xerox." Terrible. (So, incidentally, is the issue itself; Obama was right to characterize it as "silly season in politics.")

The best moment came at the very end. The final cue from the moderators was "describe what was the moment that tested you the most, that moment of crisis." Clinton's response began, "Well, I think everybody here knows I've lived through some crises and some challenging moments in my life." She then explained, in plain but affecting terms, that all she's been through is "nothing compared to what I see happening in the lives of Americans every single day." She wrapped it up with a generous acknowledgment of her opponent -- "And, you know, no matter what happens in this contest...I am honored to be here with Barack Obama." Obama reciprocated that, and they shook hands, and I was seized with a powerful desire for Hillary Clinton to be the next Vice President of the United States.

I've been pining for a joint ticket for a while now, but in recent weeks it's seemed increasingly unlikely. We've always said that Clinton/Obama was more likely than Obama/Clinton, and Obama is now poised to win the nomination. Also, the more acrimonious the race becomes, the harder it is to imagine the two candidates emerging as partners.

But the conciliatory tone Clinton struck at the end of last night's debate got me thinking about it again. She seemed, for the first time, to acknowledge the possibility of losing; it was another in a series of noteworthy moments when Hillary Clinton has showed some vulnerability, and it played extremely well. She did not insist that the race would go all the way to the convention, and she did not imply that superdelegates (which her campaign is now calling "automatic" delegates) would decide in the end. She wants to remain viable in future elections. In the event of an Obama administration, she wants to be an ally.

If you've spent years convinced that you were going to be the next president, it must be a terribly humbling thing to realize you might not. But eventually, I'm sure that line of thought leads to the realization that there are plenty of other good jobs in town. Hillary Clinton is one of the smartest and most capable people in our government. She could be the Senate Majority Leader. She could be Secretary of State. She could be Attorney General. She could be on the Supreme Court.

She could also be Vice President, and I think that if Obama gets the nomination, asking Clinton to be his running mate would be a very smart decision. It would repair any rift that their competition has created in the Democratic Party. It would answer any concerns about whether Obama is ready, or sufficiently experienced. It would also combine the historic significance of Obama's race and Clinton's gender, giving us not just one revolutionary candidate or another, but a revolutionary ticket.

Vice President Hillary Clinton would be a more central and more powerful figure than most vice presidents, but Cheney's reign of terror has set some precedence for putting the more seasoned pro at the bottom of the ticket, and Obama's stated goals of inclusion and collaboration should be compatible with a high-wattage second-in-command. He would have to give her power and leeway, perhaps by yielding to her on health care, and putting her in charge of it. The prospect of a Clinton vice presidency, as opposed to presidency, would probably not invoke so much concern about Bill Clinton's role, or about issues of dynasty. It would give us all the Clinton advantages, without so much of the Clinton baggage.

It's difficult to know whether Obama considers her a possible running mate, and whether she would accept. But nothing would make me more excited about the general election, and more hopeful about the promise of the next administration, than an Obama/Clinton ticket. Ever since the Democratic race became a two-way contest, we've seen that Democrats love these two candidates. I think we should have both.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Words Matter, So Let's Use the Right Ones

Barack Obama is right: words matter. Words are seldom enough, but they do matter; I've seen Dead Poets Society enough times to know that "no matter what anyone tells you, words and ideas can change the world." Because Obama's opponents are unable to come up with a decent charge against him, they attack him for being a good speaker. He's been careful, over the last week, to lace his speeches with more legislative substance, telling an audience last Tuesday, "Today I want to take it down a notch...a little more detailed, a little longer, with not as many applause lines." But to his credit, he hasn't allowed either Clinton or McCain to turn his positive into a negative. He's maintained, convincingly, that words matter.

That being the case, we should make sure we're using the right ones.

When Obama borrowed a talking point from his good friend Deval Patrick, he could have credited his source, and said so after the fact. But it is not plagiarism. Plagiarism -- a serious charge, a crime -- is using someone else's words without permission and claiming them as one's own. This is just not what happened. Words matter, and because plagiarism was not the right one, we came away from the episode discussing Clinton's desperation rather than Obama's supposed impropriety.

Here's another bad word choice we've been hearing a lot, with regard to Obama: cult. Those who say that the enthusiasm of his supporters adds up to a cult should know what that word means and how inaccurate it is in this case. Blogger Sara Robinson, in an excellent article on the subject, explains what a cult actually is. She's not an Obama acolyte; she describes his supporters' fervor as "offputting at best and worrisome at worst." However:

"There is no evidence anywhere that Obama is running front groups, using his campaign to enrich himself, sexually manipulating his followers, censoring anyone, or insisting that people isolate themselves from the larger society. There are no draconian efforts at dropout control. Nobody's arming up out of paranoia. And 'grimness' is about the last word you'd use to describe an Obama event.

"...This misguided 'cult' talk not only misunderstands how social change occurs; it's also giving the GOP a weapon it will use to the hilt if Obama is the candidate in the general election. They're going to demonize those energetic kids as the re-animated zombie ghosts of the dirty fucking hippies of the 60s."

Writing in The Nation, Cora Currier points out that "the 'cult' insulting to young voters," who "deserve more credit -- whether supporting Obama or rejecting him -- for being capable of making conscious, informed decisions."

Barack Obama is right: words matter. Knowing how to use them isn't a superficial gift to be undermined. It's a prerequisite for credibility.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I'm Decided

As you may know, I have spent most of this primary season without a favorite. Filled with admiration and respect for both Clinton and Obama, I felt equally thrilled at the prospect of either becoming the next president. I was undecided on Super Tuesday, and made my decision in the booth, somewhat arbitrarily, still feeling like I could go either way. I've wished for a Clinton/Obama or Obama/Clinton ticket, to have it both ways.

But in the two endless weeks since then, my feelings have changed. I want Barack Obama to be the President of the United States. I'm glad I voted for him.

The Clinton campaign just keeps doing things that rub me the wrong way, beginning with the disappointing conduct of Bill Clinton during the South Carolina primary. Then there's the openly-stated intent to win the nomination even if it means overturning the popular vote. Also the disingenuous attempts to attack Obama for speaking well. And this recent, absurd charge of plagiarism.

I feel a little sorry for Hillary Clinton. She is an outstanding candidate for the presidency, and her nomination was seen as inevitable for so long, we all got pretty used to it. She never expected a challenge this serious, and if the last two weeks have shown us anything, it's that her campaign was strategically unprepared to continue beyond Super Tuesday. Her former aura of inevitability has become her biggest problem; it's as though she's an incumbent, a part of the "old Washington establishment" Obama is challenging.

When she was the inevitable frontrunner, we proudly rallied around her. Yes, her enemies are bloodthirsty, and yes, her negatives are high, but watch her take the White House anyway. If we had to deal with a second Bush presidency, then damnit, we're going to have a second Clinton too.

But now that she's not the inevitable frontrunner -- now that there's another choice, and it's someone who consistently tops John McCain in national polls -- everything has been rethought. The Republicans, in disarray, would become galvanized, perhaps even united, against the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency; why give them that? If she were obviously the better nominee, then we'd accept her baggage as a condition, but she's not obviously the better nominee. Do we not have a better chance of winning the White House with a candidate whose appeal transcends the party -- especially considering McCain's following among moderates and independents?

Barack Obama is a Democrat who could win Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama. And even if he were to lose those states, they would still be close. McCain, who can't take those states for granted the way Bush could, would be forced to spend time and money fighting for states most Republican presidential nominees count on.

These are political arguments for an Obama nomination. I don't have anything new to say about Obama's ideology, which is nearly identical to Clinton's; they're both mainstream Democrats, slightly left of center. I also don't have anything new to say about Obama's status as an inspirational leader and a great orator -- except to say that Clinton looks desperate when she tries to turn this positive into a negative.

It's not over yet. Opinion is divided over whether it ends for Clinton if she doesn't win by strong margins in Ohio and/or Texas on March 4. Opinion is always divided. But personally, for the first time since this race began, I'm rooting for someone specific.


Friday, February 15, 2008

The George W. Bush Presidential Library


In October, NERO FIDDLED will present its next live theatrical event, Life After Bush. The final performance -- November 4 -- will culminate in an unprecedented Election Night marathon, featuring realtime election coverage, live on stage, until we have a winner (or a "too close to call"). The show and the election are still a while away, but we'll periodically offer a tantalizing preview here on the blog. Here, then, is a conceptual design for the George W. Bush Presidential Library, which is featured in the show, or at least in the present draft.

Click for larger image


Thursday, February 14, 2008

"Work! Work! Work! Work!"

And Other Clever Things Said by Republicans

Led by the ridiculous John Boehner, pissed-off House Republicans marched out of the chamber on Thursday, chanting, "Work! Work! Work!"

And so, it was by a vote of 223 to 32 that the House approved motions to begin criminal and civil contempt proceedings against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers. (Last year, Bolten and Miers were issued subpoenas to testify in the case of the U.S. attorneys who were groundlessly fired in a savage partisan housecleaning. Bush cited executive privilege, and Bolten and Miers failed to comply with the subpoenas, thus the charges of contempt.)

The position of House Democrats, articulated by Nancy Pelosi and John Conyers, was that there are three branches of government -- Democrats refer to these as the "executive," "legislative," and "judicial" branches -- designed to keep one another in check, and to prevent too much power from accumulating in one place. House Republicans argued that there is actually only one branch of government, and he is from Texas. They don't realize that he is actually from Connecticut.

"Let's just get up and leave," Boehner said to his friends, and off they went: "Work! Work! Work! Work! Work!"

White House press secretary Dana Perino, livid at the temerity of all who question, issued a hysterical statement, shrieking that by refusing to testify before Congress, Bolten had "acted at the express direction of the President in the exercise of executive privilege for the purpose of protecting the institution of the Presidency." As for Miers, "it is clear that House Democrats want to punish [her] for no reason other than that she was the President’s top lawyer." It's an attempt to "appeal to the far left in their party by trying to embarrass the President and his close advisors." Trying to embarrass the president. Holding the administration accountable for its crimes is a bad idea, because that could be embarrassing. It certainly could be.

So that does it! Work! Work! Work! Those Republicans were so upset! They felt that instead of dealing with the Bush administration's abuse of power, Congress should give the Bush administration more power. Don't prosecute criminals, they said -- expand the government's ability to spy on its citizens. Don't hold Bolten and Miers in contempt; put telecom immunity into the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. "We have space on the calendar today for a politically charged fishing expedition," huffed Boehner, "but no space for a bill that would protect the American people from terrorists who want to kill us."

This has been a standard Republican refrain for a couple of days now -- the absurd suggestion that America will be more vulnerable to terrorist attacks unless Congress immediately provides retroactive lawsuit immunity to telecommunications companies. It makes absolutely no sense.

But it is a nice classic example of deception and fear-mongering on the part of the Bush regime. To convey urgency when there is none, Bush threatened to delay his planned trip to Africa this weekend, if that'll help pass FISA.

"The lives of countless Americans depend on our ability to monitor terrorist communications," said Bush, speaking to reporters outside the White House. "Our intelligence professionals are working day and night to keep us safe, and they're waiting to see whether Congress will give them the tools they need to succeed or tie their hands by failing to act." When a reporter asked Bush to explain the specific security implications if the House doesn't bend to his will, he couldn't. "But clearly," he said, breathing heavily, "there will be a gap. And of course, we won't be able to assess that gap until the time. Step one is, I guess you got to come to the conclusion that there's a threat to America, or not a threat. And evidently some people just don't feel that sense of urgency. I do. And the reason I do is I firmly believe that there's still people out there who would do us harm."

Thank you, sir, that's very clear. There's actually nothing in what you say, but there's always the danger of a gap, unassessable until the time, and everyone is trying to kill us.

Congressman Silvestre Reyes, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote a brilliant letter to Bush. In this letter, Reyes vows not to back down when faced with either of America's two greatest threats -- the terrorists, or our president. Forgive me for quoting almost all of Reyes' letter, but it's just too good to cut:

"Because I care so deeply about protecting our country, I take strong offense to your suggestion in recent days that the country will be vulnerable to terrorist attack unless Congress immediately enacts legislation giving you broader powers to conduct warrantless surveillance of Americans' communications and provides legal immunity for telecommunications companies that participated in the Administration's warrantless surveillance program.

"Today, the National Security Agency (NSA) has authority to conduct surveillance in at least three different ways, all of which provide strong capability to monitor the communications of possible terrorists.

"First, NSA can use its authority under Executive Order 12333 to conduct surveillance abroad of any known or suspected terrorist. There is no requirement for a warrant. There is no requirement for probable cause. Most of NSA's collection occurs under this authority.

"Second, NSA can use its authority under the Protect America Act, enacted last August, to conduct surveillance here in the U.S of any foreign target. This authority does not 'expire' on Saturday, as you have stated. Under the PAA, orders authorizing surveillance may last for one year – until at least August 2008. These orders may cover every terrorist group without limitation. If a new member of the group is identified, or if a new phone number or email address is identified, the NSA may add it to the existing orders, and surveillance can begin immediately. We will not 'go dark.'

"Third, in the remote possibility that a new terrorist organization emerges that we have never previously identified, the NSA could use existing authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to monitor those communications. Since its establishment nearly 30 years ago, the FISA Court has approved nearly every application for a warrant from the Department of Justice. In an emergency, NSA or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may begin surveillance immediately, and a FISA Court order does not have to be obtained for three days. The former head of FISA operations for the Department of Justice has testified publicly that emergency authorization may be granted in a matter of minutes.

"As you know, the 1978 FISA law, which has been modernized and updated numerous times since 9/11, was instrumental in disrupting the terrorist plot in Germany last summer. Those who say that FISA is outdated do not understand the strength of this important tool.

"If our nation is left vulnerable in the coming months, it will not be because we don't have enough domestic spying powers. It will be because your Administration has not done enough to defeat terrorist organizations – including al Qaeda -- that have gained strength since 9/11. We do not have nearly enough linguists to translate the reams of information we currently collect. We do not have enough intelligence officers who can penetrate the hardest targets, such as al Qaeda. We have surged so many intelligence resources into Iraq that we have taken our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a result, you have allowed al Qaeda to reconstitute itself on your watch.

"You have also suggested that Congress must grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies. As someone who has been briefed on our most sensitive intelligence programs, I can see no argument why the future security of our country depends on whether past actions of telecommunications companies are immunized.

"The issue of telecom liability should be carefully considered based on a full review of the documents that your Administration withheld from Congress for eight months. However, it is an insult to the intelligence of the American people to say that we will be vulnerable unless we grant immunity for actions that happened years ago.

"Congress has not been sitting on its hands. Last November, the House passed responsible legislation to authorize the NSA to conduct surveillance of foreign terrorists and to provide clarity and legal protection to our private sector partners who assist in that surveillance.

"The proper course is now to conference the House bill with the Senate bill that was passed on Tuesday. There are significant differences between these two bills and a conference, in regular order, is the appropriate mechanism to resolve the differences between these two bills. I urge you, Mr. President, to put partisanship aside and allow Republicans in Congress to arrive at a compromise that will protect America and protect our Constitution.

"I, for one, do not intend to back down – not to the terrorists and not to anyone, including a President, who wants Americans to cower in fear.

"We are a strong nation. We cannot allow ourselves to be scared into suspending the Constitution. If we do that, we might as well call the terrorists and tell them that they have won."

Oh yeah? Well, take this: Work! Work! Work! Work!