Sunday, October 26, 2008

Weekend reading: Obama's coming victory

We're now into single digits--nine days out from election day. McCain was on Meet the Press this morning to say he was "happy" about where his campaign was and insisting that he will win. But the polls are saying something very different. Here's an indication of how bad things are going for Palin/McCain: Georgia has gone to toss-up status according to McCain's lead is just under three points in...Georgia!

Over at Newsweek Markos Moulitsas has an article for the November 3 issue that starts off "On Nov. 4, Barack Obama will be elected as the next president of the United States." No ambiguity there at all. More and more analysts are willing to bet it all that Obama will win on November 4, and win big. As he says, "the big question is, will Democrats nationwide simply 'win' the night—or will they deliver an electoral drubbing so thorough that it signals the utter rejection of conservative ideology and kills the notion that America is a "center-right" country?"

What has happened since 2000 and 2004? The answer is probably that Republicans actually never had a very strong grip on the country. George W. Bush didn't even win the popular vote in 2000. The Supreme Court had to stop the Florida recount and declare him the winner. Florida pushed Bush over the goal line by one electoral vote. In 2004 Bush defeated Kerry by 35, which was, except for 2000, still the closest election since 1968. Looking back, it seems clear that Karl Rove and company knew they were walking a thin line, which is why every issue had to be politicized and leveraged for maximum impact.

But now all of that appears to be ending. If current polls are accurate, Obama could win 381 electoral votes. That's without Georgia's 15. That includes states like Colorado, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, and New Mexico. All states which voted for Bush in 2004. Given the toss-up status of the country, politically, in 2000 and 2004, and add in the complete failure of Republicans over the last eight years, and you have the makings of a landslide. I can't remember the last time a party made such large gains in both the executive election, and in the congressional races. Along with Obama coming to the White House, the Democrats stand to win up to nine more seats in the Senate, and add to their majority in the House.

I always thought McCain was the best candidate for the Republican ticket this fall. McCain once showed concern for immigrants, and disgust for corporate greed. He was known as a pragmatic reformer with a real track-record to run on, including everything from immigration reform to challenging Department of Defense officials on torture. Not to mention McCain's own, powerful, personal story. As David Brooks writes in the New York Times, "His campaign seemed the perfect vehicle to explain how this old approach applied to a new century with new problems — a century with widening inequality, declining human capital, a fraying social contract, rising entitlement debt, corporate authoritarian regimes abroad and soft corporatist collusion at home."

Immediately after Obama won the Democratic nomination last summer, the McCain camp started positioning themselves as reformers. Reformers of their own party, and of the country. They seemed to understand two important facts: that the country was hungry for change, and disgusted with anything associated with George W. Bush. But as Brooks points out, McCain "never articulated a governing philosophy." All of his tactics were about "how to present McCain, not about how to describe the state of country or the needs of the voter. It was all biography, which was necessary, but it did not clearly point to a new direction for the party or the country."

Someone--I wish I could remember who--boldly declared McCain's campaign over the minute he selected Sarah Palin to be his VP. I was not as sure, but now it appears that person was correct. Palin was a wild card with a lot of upside. But as she has made her case in front of Americans, many view her as simply unqualified for the job. Her rhetoric has turned increasingly hostile, and Brooks gets it right when he says she "represents the old resentments and the narrow appeal of conventional Republicanism." She has done nothing but appeal to the conservative base, which is not enough to win in 2008.

McCain's choice of Palin has been highly scrutinized. Many openly asking "why?" a question Jane Mayer attempts to answer in her New Yorker article "The Insiders: how John McCain came to pick Sarah Palin." Palin seems to have done a masterful job of wooing beltway insiders to transport herself from Alaska to Washington. Her most influential early supporter turned out to be William Kristol, neoconservative writer for the Weekly Standard. Kristol met Palin when his Alaskan cruise ship stopped in Juneau. After one meeting he was completely struck and began to push her for VP consideration.

Mayer writes how McCain came up to be linked to Palin. Originally he wanted Joe Lieberman but eventually backed down to advisers who warned that Lieberman was too liberal on social issues. Karl Rove wanted former rival Mitt Romney on the ticket, but hard feelings remained from the primaries. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was too conventional (McCain is now losing Minnesota by 12 points). McCain wanted his "maverick" image to be conveyed in his VP as well. Finally McCain's aides converged on Palin. "By the time he announced her as his choice," Mayer writes, "he had spent less than three hours in her company."

To read of how Palin came to be McCain's VP is almost laughable. The want ad would have read something like this:

Wanted: reformer and social conservative for the second highest position in the land. Female desired. Short resume a bonus.

The list of potential running mates was always pretty thin for the Republicans. Compared to the Democrats, their roster of stars is a joke. They knew a woman would be a plus, given all the angry Hillary supporters searching for a home. Palin fell right into their laps. But in 2008, capability trumps even gender.

One person close to McCain called the Palin pick "the fucking most ridiculous thing I've ever heard" and national reaction, after Palin finally gave a few interviews, wasn't far off. SNL quickly turned her into a national punch line, and her appearance on the show last weekend did nothing to buck that trend. A true maverick, Palin, with her $150,000 wardrobe, tanning bed in the executive mansion, and a makeup artist earning more on her payroll than her foreign policy adviser, seems to be all about brand Palin. She has certainly "energized the base" as McCain likes to say, but she has done nothing outside of that 30% of America. Many are openly saying McCain should have dumped her, and she is now an undeniable albatross on the campaign.

I find a few things particularly delightful about Palin's rise in correlation to McCain, and the Republican's, fall. One is William Kristol's participation in the matter. There's certainly no fool like an old fool, and that would be Kristol. Mayer's article, while certainly liberal, makes it clear that many Republican good ol' boys were takin in by Palin, the former beauty queen. Many described her--in print--as "a honey," or "a looker," etc. They stood no chance against a confident woman in a business suit. It must have been like meeting a modern-day Republican pin-up girl.

I noted before that America is fed up with Bush. Up to just recently, Kristol had been unceasing in his support of the president and the Iraq war. He was far behind the curve. That he applied his considerable judgment to the selection of the Republican VP pick, one which came to represent almost everything that is wrong about the Republican platform, is almost too good to be believed.

And poor McCain, a man who let his mavericky image trump what was once pragmatism. The right VP pick was Romney. Even before it went to hell, the economy was the number one issue on voters minds, especially to essential swing state blue collar voters. By picking the social conservative, McCain ceeded the center. He ceeded pragmatism for politics. And he lost the election.

McCain promises "bold new coal age"

I was just struck by how much McCain has been out talking about coal lately. Every time I catch one of his rallies he manages to woo the coal vote.

Yesterday, where ever he was, he said something about standing on top of the largest coal deposit in the world. Is this coal stuff a way to break our dependence on foreign oil?

It's just that, well...coal? Nothing says visionary like...coal, does it? What's next? Railroads? Manifest destiny?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Greenspan Shrugged: shocked disbelief

It has been said: blessed is the man proven right in his own lifetime. What, then, do we say about Alan Greenspan, a man who has watched his legacy as a financial "maestro" and reputation as an intellectual mastermind crumble with the tumbling economy. Summoned before Congress yesterday, Greenspan faced the scorn of Democratic leaders, harsh questioning, and admitting to making "a mistake" when it came to guiding the economy into our troubled times.

Even the New York Times could barely contain its contempt for the man, beginning its headline article about the hearings like this:

For years, a Congressional hearing with Alan Greenspan was a marquee event. Lawmakers doted on him as an economic sage. Markets jumped up or down depending on what he said. Politicians in both parties wanted the maestro on their side.

But on Thursday, almost three years after stepping down as chairman of the Federal Reserve, a humbled Mr. Greenspan admitted that he had put too much faith in the self-correcting power of free markets and had failed to anticipate the self-destructive power of wanton mortgage lending.

Greenspan, 82, is now blamed by critics and many economists, for the financial crisis sending the economy into depression. They say he encouraged housing bubble prices by keeping interest rates too low for too long and failed to support regulation which would have curbed fraudulent lending practices.

“You had the authority to prevent irresponsible lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. You were advised to do so by many others,” said Representative Henry Waxman of California, chairman of the committee. “Do you feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?”

Greenspan conceded: “Yes, I’ve found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I’ve been very distressed by that fact.”

The ideology in question was Greenspan's zealous adherence to Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy. In 1963 Greenspan wrote: Capitalism is based on self-interest and self-esteem; it holds integrity and trustworthiness as cardinal virtues and makes them pay off in the marketplace, thus demanding that men survive by means of virtue, not vices. It is this superlatively moral system that the welfare statists propose to improve upon by means of preventative law, snooping bureaucrats, and the chronic goad of fear.

Or, to strip the rhetoric away and put it into working-class terms: the markets regulate all. The markets are their own highest form of ethics. Thus, what do we need regulation for? The markets regulate themselves.

It is the writing of a naive fundamentalist, one who happily believes one system can solve all problems, even the problems it creates, written by one who would become the most powerful figure in modern economics.

In the 1950s Greenspan found his way into Ayn Rand's inner circle, a group known ostentatiously as The Collective. It was a group who fancied themselves intellectuals, discussing and dreaming up financial utopias that would also free people of old moral and ethical constraints. Rand's book "Atlas Shrugged" was published in 1957. The book grandly suggests that man's highest virtue is the morality of self-interest. Capitalism, built on self-interest, had long been criticized for being uncaring and selfish. Here was a book that confidently posited that capitalism was its own grand morality. It quickly, masterfully, bridged the gap between being selfish and being ethical. It has been bedtime reading for executives ever since.

But concepts dreamed up over martinis in Manhattan high-rises sometimes have a tricky way of being falling short in the real world. In the real world greed drives banks to sell fraudulent mortgages at low introductory rates to potential home owners, then repackage them as complicated mortgage-backed securities, and sell the securities to other banks. What are they really worth? No one really knows.

This was one thing when Greenspan's housing bubble was inflating, and everyone was winning and trying to get in on the action. But once people got stuck in their ARMs at higher levels, once the housing bubble cooled and deflated and they couldn't get out from under their homes, owners began to default in large numbers, and the banks who bought the mortgages faced huge losses.

For years Greenspan argued successfully against government regulation on the market, insisting that the markets themselves were the best regulators. Greenspan also seemed to be the last person aware that a housing bubble was occurring--citing no evidence in the past that housing prices had ever declined--an explanation which can only be read as shockingly lazy. That is the problem when you replace common sense with blind faith in an ideology.

As Greenspan told Waxman: "I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms."

Last year at this time I wrote of Greenspan's new book "The Age of Turbulence":
The problem with people like Greenspan and Bush is not necessarily what they believe, but that they believe their point-of-view can't possibly fail. There is no stopping someone like Bush because he has the power of religion and an almost childlike faith in America to filter his decisions. Greenspan, on the other hand, uses reason and the computational power of economics. Two very different methods of induction, yet the results are the same. Groups of power, like the Collective, like Washington think tanks, are nothing more than self-serving entities wrapped in a philosophy. It does not take long to see their morality when it comes to using other people's lives.

Greenspan slouching his way up Capitol Hill, to face an angry mob of Democratic leaders representing an American public thirsty for blood, had an almost Biblical feel. Oh, it must have been hard for the "maestro" to concede failure, and he chose his words very carefully, lest what he clothed himself in would be stripped in an afternoon.

But at the end of it all, the great man was revealed to be just a man behind the curtain, mashing the buttons and pulling the levers of the economy, perpetuating an illusion. Ironic that what he held onto so tightly has ushered in, for at least a short time, an age of economic socialism in America. I wonder what Rand, who came to America from Communist Russia, would write about that?

Tim Rutten has written a column in the Los Angeles Times called "Greenspan's Blindspot" wondering this:

Did Greenspan really believe that the people in power, presented with a chance to make a killing, would put the interests of their institutions and stockholders ahead of their own?

Put aside for a second the fact that the former Fed chairman spent more than 20 years of his life as a disciple of the novelist-turned-barely-baked-philosopher Ayn Rand, whose concepts of "rational egoism" and "individualism" put the "R" in ruthless and have provided generations of gullible undergraduates an intellectual rationale for their lingering adolescent self-absorption. Has Greenspan lived through the same times the rest of America has recently experienced?

Perhaps only an economic education prepares a man to draw as his conclusion from catastrophe the gnomic declaration that fallible human beings are not infallible. Some things, however, are true 100% of the time: Societies in which the few are allowed to fatten themselves without limit on the labor of many are not just; they aren't even particularly productive for very long. Countries -- like companies -- that cling to notions that allow some to pursue their own interests by behaving indecently toward others come to bad ends.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

WTF: Jeff Dubay's cocaine charge

What has happened to Minnesota since Labor Day?? The Twins lost their one game play off, 1-0 to the White Sox, and eliminated their post-season hopes. The Vikings are HORRIBLE. Michele Bachmann is a moron. And now KFAN radio host Jeff Dubay, of the "PA & Dubay" morning show was arrested for posession of cocaine.

What the hell is this?

Dubay, driving with a suspended license, was pulled over by a Maplewood police officer. He then threw something out the passenger window (dude..!!!). It happened to be a bag of crack cocaine and a drug pipe. He has been charged with 5th degree possession of a controlled substance.

I'm only really writing about this because I dislike the PA & Dubay show. Actually, it wasn't Dubay that bugged me, but Paul Allen (PA), and his inane idioms ad nausium like "Long story LONGER!"

Cocaine is for the Marv Alberts of the world. The Joe Bucks of the world. Maybe even the Thom Brenammen's of the world. But certainly not for small-time radio personalities. Stick to shrooms.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bachmann's "macaca" moment

Usually when politicians talk, all that can hope to be discerned is doublespeak and talking points. They are so scripted and mechanical, news anchors have to try extremely hard to pry anything real from their lips. This was not the case when Michele Bachmann decided to make her first appearance on “Hardball” a memorable one. She was very, very excited to talk about terrorists, leftists, liberals, and anti-Americans, combining them all into some strange soup, and stirring it by dropping Barack Obama’s name into the middle, and adding a layer of white foam from her frothy mouth. All host Chris Matthews had to do was ask the obvious follow-up questions, and by the end of the interview Bachmann’s re-election chances had veered into the darkness.

The show opened with Matthews playing a clip from a McCain “robo call” linking Obama and liberals to terrorists like Weather Underground co-founder Bill Ayers. Bachmann was asked to comment on this. She too attempted to connect Obama with Ayers and even complained that the (liberal) news media had not done enough to expose this relationship.

When Matthews asked why this was any concern, given the other important problems this country is facing, Bachmann again said that Obama’s associations with Reverend Wright, and Ayers call into question his character. But then she made a subtle transition by also mentioning his liberal associations—Joe Biden, Harry Reed, Nancy Pelosi, essentially lumping liberals, terrorists, and anti-Americans all into one happy family.

Matthews then asked, “If you have liberal views, does that mean you have anti-American views? What’s the connection? I don’t get the connection? What’s the connection between liberal and leftist and anti-American? If you’re a liberal are you anti-American?”

Bachmann claimed that people like Ayers, Rev. Wright, and even Michele Obama were “over the top anti-American.”

Matthews asked “So you believe that Barack Obama may have anti-American views?” Bachmann was so excited to answer this question that she cut Matthews off at the end with an enthusiastic, “Absolutely! I’m very concerned that he may have anti-American views.”

Matthews then attempted to help Bachmann clarify what she meant. Are all liberals anti-American? Bachmann continued to hammer away at Obama’s associations, including Tony Rezko.

“I thought he was a business guy, I didn’t know he was a leftest,” Matthews said.

“Yeah, that’s troubling too,” Bachmann said.

When asked how many others in Congress Bachmann suspects could be anti-American, she called for a news media investigation to run a “penetrating exposé” and find out who in Congress has pro-American or anti-American views.

Bachmann’s statements don’t require much commentary, but Colin Powell found them interesting and derided them as “nonsense” on October 19. “This business of…a congressman from Minnesota who’s going around saying, ‘Let’s examine all congressmen to see who’s pro-America and who’s not pro-America. We have got to stop this kind of nonsense and pull ourselves together and remember that our great strength is in our unity and our diversity.” He also stated that his decision to endorse Obama was driven, in part, by comments like those made by Representative Michele Bachmann.

Powell's thoughts aside, Bachmann he has always been known as a hard-line conservative. She is demonstratively pro-Bush, embarrassing herself by swooning over him after his 2007 State of the Union speech. Honestly, I don’t find her “liberals are dangerous anti-Americans” line all that surprising. Conservatives have been employing this tone for decades. But what's odd is that she'd try it in 2008, a year when Republicans everywhere are ducking for cover. And what’s laughable is her call for the media to investigate Congress. The media, an institution Bachmann surely considers liberal and elite (and anti-American), so much so she believes they are uninterested in investigating Obama's own "terrorist" ties.

But it’s OK to talk about associations and draw inferences from them. Obama was eight years old when Ayers was a member of the Weather Underground. Twenty years later Obama sat on an education board with him. Obama seemed so unconcerned about this “association” that he freely took a few minutes to talk about it during the last debate, nationally televised. Compare this with McCain's association with the Keating Five scandal, which has a direct tie to banking deregulation. Or Sarah Palin’s husband Todd, who was a member of the Alaskan Independence Party from 1995-2006, a group whose founder was so definitively "anti-American" that he refused to be buried under the American Flag (he was buried in Canada). Which of these three matter most?

The 2008 answer is actually none of them. People really don’t care about what clubs others were a part of, considering the fantastic array of problems this country is facing today. If you looked at any person’s life you’d find associations that seem questionable. People are willing to let Todd and Sarah Palin slide for sending Christmas cards to a succession group. In the same way they’re willing to look the other way that Obama has no meaningful link to Bill Ayers. What they want now, above all is, competence, and that is trumping race or religion or associations. And that is what makes Bachmann and her comments look so incredibly tired and outdated.

Why Bachmann, who was all but penciled in for re-election in November, ever went on Hardball is anyone’s guess. She claimed she was not familiar with the format of the show. This seems incredulous, but if taken as true, makes her seem extra foolish for going on with so much to loose. Matthews needed someone to defend McCain and Palin and he got Bachmann? My only guess, bolstered by her enthusiastic tone, was that she was thrilled to shed light on just how anti-American Barack Obama and all the other liberals in Congress really are. The rest is television history.

Bachmann’s appearance was so strident, so over-the-top, and so inflammatory, it reminds me of George Allan calling a Democratic supporter “macaca.” After that slur hit the airwaves, the arrogant Allen's campaign was derailed. He lost a few weeks later to Democrat Jim Web. Rule number one: you never open your mouth unless you know what the shot is. Since Bachmann’s appearance on Hardball, the race for her seat has grown increasingly close with challenger Elwyn Tinklenberg (hampered by a terrible name). That the district's polling has gone to toss-up status shows people care less about inane attempts to connect well-known political figures to revolutionaries, then they do about the tired absurdities tumbling out of a politician's empty head.


According to the AP:

National Republicans have yanked TV advertising for Bachmann's re-election bid after she suggested Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama may have "anti-American" views and urged an investigation of unpatriotic lawmakers.

Bachmann is one of four at-risk Republican incumbents left to fend for themselves by a cash-strapped House campaign arm in the crucial final days of the campaign amid a tough political environment for the GOP . The National Republican Campaign Committee has also canceled planned TV ads to help GOP Reps. Marilyn Musgrave in Colorado, Tom Feeney in Florida and Joe Knollenberg in Michigan, spokeswoman Karen Hanretty confirmed.

Looks like her career may be coming to an end. It's time to vote her out. She never should have been there in the first place.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How McCain Blew It

As this election comes to a merciful close, I can’t help but think that McCain could have won this thing. As a Republican with a brand linked to reform and pragmatism, he was the best in his party for the times. Guiliani, Huckabee, Thompson, and Romney, were all far too conservative, ideological, or political to turn swing voters in the middle. McCain, a guy who was openly mentioned as a possible VP candidate for John Kerry in 2004, was perfect. He also had the added bonus of Hillary Clinton exposing Barack Obama’s weaknesses prior to the general campaign. McCain could have won this thing, everyone knows that now, and he blew it.

Remember how Obama lost state after state at the end of the Democratic primaries? Remember how Hillary, found her niche, reinvented herself as a working class hero, and chided him for not being able to “close” the deal? The minute she finally had to cede the nomination to Obama, McCain should have picked up the torch she was carrying and ran with it full bore. He should have rolled up his sleeves and waded into Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan—states battered by job losses and a faltering economy—and vowed to fight for them in Washington. Looking back, I’m stunned he didn’t seize the chance to honestly address the needs of three pivotal swing states and champion them.

Instead he pulled out his maverick card, but never made the connection with the average voter what that should mean to them. Hillary--with her years of experience, with her husband’s knowledge of the presidency--had made the connection that she was going to be people’s surrogates in Washington. Those desperate for a voice found it in her. But McCain ended up becoming a bumper-sticker politician and nothing more. Even without the looming economic collapse, he could have shown that he understood the needs of the average person in a way Obama has never quite been able to connect on. Obama can’t be everything—he’s philosophical, he’s intellectual, he’s holistic. McCain can’t touch him in any of those areas, and Hillary couldn’t either. But McCain should have carved out some area of his own—as a fighter for the a common man, a reformer for the middle class.

And then there was Sarah Palin. It’s obvious why McCain picked her, but can that decision be defended on anything other than political grounds? It took little effort for Katie Couric to expose her as nothing more than an amateur one step away from the most powerful office in the world, and for SNL to turn her into a laughable caricature. McCain’s selection of her, while creating much media buzz, and augmenting his “maverick-y”image, left him open to the accusation that he is too unwieldy for such important times. Can anyone really posit that Sarah Palin is ready to run the country? Such an idea should scare the hell out of anyone who loves this country, and should indict John McCain as treasonous. Yes, as McCain said in the last debate, maybe she does understand families with special needs children. Maybe she is a reformer in Alaska. But does any of that prepare her to run a country?

Finally, there was the economic meltdown. McCain’s dramatic suspension of his campaign, his appeal to Obama to delay the debate so that he could go to Washington and oversee the formation of the $700 billion bailout bill, only to do nothing, show up at the debate as promised, and rubber stamp the bill a few days later, was the moment he jumped the shark. Had McCain, the maverick, come out and denounced the bailout as nothing more than a blank check for the Treasury Secretary and a fee pass for robber barons pilfering the middle class, perhaps he would have appeared sympathetic to millions of voters. Perhaps he would have appeared as a merciful champion of the taxpayer, or, a real maverick. At the very least he would have had something real to stake his campaign on during the debates, apart from Obama.

Instead, they both endorsed the bill, they both voted the same way at a key juncture in American economic history, so what’s the point? Why not give voice to millions of disconcerted, hurting tax paying voters, by articulating a unique position at a crucial moment in American economic history? For McCain, sagging in the polls, an economic meltdown was a blessing in disguise—a chance for his campaign to stake out an essential section of the American electorate apart from the base. Instead, he played it the same way Obama did, and then, as the economic crisis deepened, he began talking about Weatherman Bill Ayers.

McCain realized, too late, that Americans wanted a fighter. What Obama offered up in cold calculus, pragmatism, and fresh ideas, McCain finally decided to match by finding his inner Hillary, growing a pair, and pledging to fight for the American people. He came out in the last debate swinging wildly, keeping Obama on the ropes, denouncing, trashing, rolling his eyes, scribbling furiously on his pad, but it doesn’t seem like that will be enough. McCain has been a victim of his own wild swings. The final debate was a metaphor for his entire campaign: manic, angry, and desperate.

To me, the McCain has always seemed plagued by a “let’s just get through the next month” mentality. Ever since his campaign was broke last December, he has been running a month-to-month insurgency…trying desperately to beat the next opponent and stay on the field for one more round. The problem with this is no one is able to articulate what McCain’s vision for the country is. What does he want to do? Why should we make him president? Now that he has arrived, what will he do for the next for years? In the absence of a clear message it is not hard for Obama to tie him to Bush and the last eight years—which has become the swiftest form of death by association. McCain left this opening for Obama, and never closed it.

Obama, on the other hand, has struck millions as a leader. He has become a refreshing change. Ever since his victory in the Iowa caucus, he has cast his vision and challenged Americans to stand up and take ownership of the country’s problems and help fix them. His has always been a mix of addicting foresight, and unapologetic hindsight. McCain never captured the average American’s imagination, never appealed to hope, never channeled energy, never really had any ideas apart from nuclear power, offshore drilling, and trying the surge in Afghanistan. Most importantly, none of it seemed believable. From his ideological shifts starting in 2006, to Sarah Palin, to the final debate, McCain seemed to be improvising his way through. Making it up as he went along.

2008 will be a year of characters and stories. Obviously there is Barack Obama. But there is also his vanquishing of the Clinton brand. Hillary’s inept management again de-railed her ambitions. Her reach, again, went beyond her grasp. Once, she was in the shadow of her husband Bill, the one they called The Natural. Now, she resides in the shadow of the one they call The One.

And then there is McCain: the decorated Navy pilot, the Vietnam POW,
the Senator, the man of courage and principle. In 2000 he was subjected to a different kind of torture at the hands of Karl Rove and George W. Bush, as they smeared him and his wife, to win the South Carolina primary, and go on to steal the presidency. This year, again, Bush has denied McCain. By 2008 Bush so badly damaged the country that perhaps nothing McCain could ever have done would have earned a victory in November. Bush had stacked the odds so far against him that to watch McCain fight for it, one last time, was itself a Sisyphean event, agonizing to watch.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Presidential Debate 3: Up with lefties!

I have dutifully sat through all three presidential debates, the final one tonight, and what ever else may happen, this much is clear: it has been a victory for southpaws everywhere. By observing closely--specifically as Obama and McCain scrawled on their legal pads--I ascertained that no matter who wins, the next leader of the free world will be a lefty (just another thing both agree on).

This has happened before. I dug through Google and discovered that in 1992 all three candidates--Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ross Perot--were left handed. In-fact, lefties have dominated recent White House races. Six of the last 12 presidents have been written with the wrong hand: Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and now either Obama or McCain. Why do lefties--approximately 10% of the population--continually rise to the top in presidential elections? And was this key in Hillary Clinton's defeat? (she's a righty)

It's a well-known fact that left-handers are not only cooler, but better equiped for the job as president. To compare Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton by their lateral brain functions is almost a succinct rundown of their prevailing attributes.

Left-brained (Hillary): analytical, verbal, logical, exact, present and past, literal.
Right-brained (Obama): intuitive, holistic, synthesizing, and forward looking.

No need to even mention George W. Bush, who is presumably a righty since he was not on the list above, but probably isn't sure which hand to write with, or when to write, or what part of his brain to use.

So I, for one, welcome our new left-handed overloards. I'd like to remind them, as a leftie myself, I can be very helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves.

In-case you're wondering, Obama off-set any left-brained deficiencies by selecting righty Joe Biden as his running mate. McCain picked Sarah Palin, who, even if she is right-handed, had a tanning bed installed in her executive mansion in Juneau, Alaska.

So, I give a Debate III (this time it's personal) victory to Obama, who wrote with a stylish thin pen. McCain scrawled over page after page with a big fat sharpie. Creepy.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The stump week that was: ugly Americans

Watching angry Republicans stand up at rally after rally, confront McCain, shout and boo him down, and toss out bigoted remarks about Obama, it's hard not to sense that the wheels are slowly coming off his campaign. Many Republicans, sensing the election slipping away, have grown increasingly restless and unhappy about the way McCain has waged his campaign, and they are now vocalizing it on at stump speeches around the country.

Plain/McCain unveiled a new strategy on October 6, when a top adviser was quoted as saying "if we talk about the economy we'll loose." Since then the camp has subtly attempted to paint Obama as a shadowy, untrustworthy, anti-American (moves straight out of Hillary's playbook). This began with Palin's comments on October 4 that Obama "... is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country." She also said, "This is not a man who sees America as you see America and as I see America." Recently the McCain camp has been trying to link Obama with William Ayers.

The tension has built up over the course of the week, as supporters at the McCain and Palin rallies tarted randomly screaming "terrorist!" and "off with his head!" and "treason!" and even "kill him!" at the mention of Barack Obama's name.

"I don't trust Obama. I have read about him. He's an Arab." said a woman at a McCain rally in Lakeville, MN today.

McCain's response was honorable. "No, ma'am. He's a decent, family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with (him) on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign is all about."

He was met with boos when he said, "I have to tell you, he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States."

On Thursday in Wisconsin, when a man stood up to "ask" a "question" and, veins popping in his neck, delivered himself of the following: "I'm mad. I'm really mad. And what's gonna surprise ya is not the economy. It's the socialists takin' over our country. [Lengthy applause] Sit down. I'm not done. Let me finish, please [laughter] ... when you have Obama, [Nancy] Pelosi and the rest of the hooligans up there gonna run this country, we gotta have our head examined. It's time that you two are representing us, and we are mad! So go get 'em!" [Extended chanting: "USA! USA! USA!"]

Who, exactly, is the socialist? Obama, who has proposed to cut taxes for the middle class? Or McCain? Which one actively participated while the size of the government and defect ballooned under a Republican congress and a president who took six years to veto a spending bill? And what could be more socialistic than a plan to buy up bad home mortgages and renegotiate them? Whose idea was that? You might never know, but it wasn't Obama. It was McCain That One.

Meanwhile, yesterday in Alaska, a legislative investigator found that Palin violated state ethics laws and abused her power by trying to have her former brother-in-law fired as a state trooper.

Smear ads and attacks and frustration seem to be all that Palin/McCain have left after a week in-which Obama's lead has reached double digits. This also after the "maverick" Senator suspended his campaign to skip the last debate and look into the economic crisis, only to return to debate and rubber stamp a $700 billion rescue plan. This also after Palin's embarrassing interview with Katie Couric, calling into question her preparedness for even the governorship of Alaska, not to mention McCain's sanity for choosing her to be the second in line to running the country.

Perhaps those angry should look not to Obama, but the ones they have chosen to run the country. From Bush 2000 and 2004, to McCain in 2008, it has been an exercrise in perpetual ineptness. The end of this comedy of errors is near. The curtain is falling to shouts and boos for one more pathetic act before and era comes to an end.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

It aint gonna happen: Cubs swept by Dodgers

This was the year, as the signs said, that it was "gonna happen." "It" being a World Series title for the first time in 100 years for the miserable Cubs and their fans. That would have been unusual, to put it mildly. But all that happened was the usual: a complete post season meltdown. For the second consecutive season the Cubs were swept and out before the October bleachers were even warm.

It was business as usual. A surprise would have been a big hit with two outs, a perfectly placed bunt to advance a runner, a stolen base, a great defensive play, a rally, some execution, some fundamentals... none of these things happened in the quick three game series. The end occurred in the second inning of game two, when the Cubs folded up, booted two double play balls and allowed a bases clearing double, finally leaving the field down 5-0. That was it, and every true Cub fan knew it. The rest was just hope meeting futility--like primitive man trying to fly, fashioning wings, launching himself off the edge of a cliff, caught by the wind for a moment, hovering, then crashing to the canyon floor below. For the rest of game two, and game three, the Cubs threatened but never advanced--stranding no less than 253 runners over the final 16 innings.

It's not about curses, really. All of that talk is a bunch of crap--like reading tarot cards in the face of a cold, inconsolable universe. So let this be a lesson to all those who lately have found it fashionable to embrace and cheer the Cubs. From Mark Cuban on down. Those who find curse reversal a fun pastime, like priests purifying the Confines with holy water. Like those who hang out in Wrigleyville to be seen. Like those who boldly declare the end of a century of futility, while, happily, probably never having lived inside it. Like those who are among the chosen people who stock Wrigley Field game after game, and prop up inane signs like "It's Gonna Happen!" Behold! I give you the Chicago Cubs. A team who can make 97 regular season wins irrelevant faster than a black cat skirting across the outfield. Faster than Steve Bartman's life can be ruined. Faster than a Soriano hop. And as a lifelong fan, to all the pop fans out there, repeat after me: wait until next year.