Category Archives: Politics

Palin

Well, well. Fireworks on the 3rd of July.

As much as this is a (self-described) gift to the people of Alaska, I’m not sure it ends up being a gift to the conservative movement, the Republican party, or the lower 49.  As usual, more was left unexplained than was illuminated, and if the historical pattern of surprise-announcements-by-Republican-Governors is followed, many things in Palin’s statement will be revealed to be half-truths, deceptions, or outright falsehoods.

So the huge question is “Why?” and I can really see only three probable answers:

1) Household finances.

Palin has repeatedly cited the legal costs of defending the ethics claims against her (and erroneously cited the cost to the Alaska taxpayer oil industry) and has failed to raise the funds to pay her lawyers.  Pesky ethics rules prevent her from generating outside income while Governor, though her popularity is still strong enough that she could make up the nut in a book advance and a month of personal appearances.  It’s possible that this is just a kitchen-table choice: this job is costing her more than it’s paying her, and she could get out of debt fast and actually start being able to afford that Saks Fifth Avenue wardrobe if she quit.

I consider this the strongest theory because a) it fits the facts in evidence and b) she claimed her real purpose was otherwise.  (For most people, I take their stated reason as the most likely, but for her, that never works.)

2) Another shoe is about to drop.

There’s been little mention that her hand-picked, barely-qualified Attorney General also resigned, suddenly and without explanation, in February.  He was replaced by the head of the Criminal Division, and Palin’s attempt to nominate a heavily-armed good ol’ boy was soundly defeated in the Legislature.  She finally got a nominee confirmed last month, but meanwhile the investigation into whether she inflated the cost of an already-controversial sports complex to tag on construction and materials for a personal vacation home has continued.  The speculation is that subpoenas were issued last week and the Palins were notified that they were targets of at least a state criminal investigation, if not federal.

If true, it still doesn’t provide a full explanation. Resignation in advance of indictment isn’t a great idea; it sort of telegraphs guilt.  There’s certainly an element of wishful thinking, too.  Palin has dodged every single ethics complaint; the one set of charges that was well-founded came from a toothless Legislature.

3) She’s running for President.

The only evidence for this is her cryptic (and misattributed) quote of Douglas MacArthur about “advancing in a different direction.” If she is making a conscious attempt to run for President, the resignation shows almost zero deliberate planning for it; if somebody else is backing her, it is the most incompetently-staged campaign kickoff in history.  Her only credibility in 2008 was her experience in being the executive of a (geographically) large state; by not completing her first term, she will have ceded her only talking point, which was her lead on Obama in executive experience.

As for the other nutty theories—pregnancy, an adultery scandal, truly being sick of the toll politics is taking on her family, cashing in on her fame while she has it, etc.—they’re all pretty speculative and poorly formed.  If she truly doesn’t have the hide for the rough-and-tumble of American politics, her resignation speech was too defiant; if she’s really expecting further personal revelations, the speech was too political.

So, as real journalists say, “it’s too early to tell.”  But this is far from Palin’s swan song. It may be her rambling, incoherent take on a Checkers speech.

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Deke

Politico says that a panel of conservative judges may deny Obama the expanded executive powers established by the Bush Administration.

Progressives have been appalled that Obama is defending the Bush policies (even in word, if not in deed). These are the same executive powers that Obama decried as a Senator, and campaigned against in the general election.

One of two things is happening:

Obama is no dummy. He’s a constitutional scholar, and has deep respect for the institution of the Presidency. He realizes that the Presidency expands its power once in several generations; that normally the courts and Congress are continually chipping away at the Executive, not enlarging it. It’s his duty to the office to hold his ground, not just for himself but for future Presidents and the presidency itself. The last thing America needs is an impotent figurehead as Executive, with the Congress and Courts constantly sparring for power with no tiebreaker. So even if he never intends to use those powers, it’s his obligation to defend his right to.

Or the second thing, which I consider less likely, but more brilliant:

He’s aware that there are indeed biased, activist judges in the Judiciary, and that they are more likely to limit the executive powers of a [young, black] Democratic president than they were of Bush.

So this is a deke.

He’s inviting the Judiciary to do his job for him. Rather than ceding the ground that Bush took, he’s making the courts take it away from him, which establishes the precedent that the ground can never be retaken by future Presidents. And he’s letting the conservative circular firing squad put their firm endorsement on it.

He’ll make conservatives implement his policies to the point where they’ll claim it as their victory. And they might not even notice.

Again, I think the odds are long that he’s that Machiavellian. But if he is, and it succeeds, it will be the most masterful Presidential move in decades.

Threat

It seems that the greatest threat to heterosexual marriage is Republican politicians.

Cool

I have to remember, often, that Obama is right, and I’m often wrong, and that’s why he’s going to be President.  

Like so many on both sides, I want my candidate to land solid hits in the debates, below the belt if possible.  And Wednesday seems primed for it.  McCain has been accusing Obama of lying about his relationship with William Ayers, and Obama has quite correctly pointed out that McCain has said that in speeches and TV commercials but not to his face.  He’s essentially called McCain a coward.  

And McCain’s own supporters are losing patience with his reluctance to throw a punch.  Last time he promised to “get ’im.” And he made no mention of Ayers, Wright, Rezko, or Acorn.  Again this week he’s promised to “whip his a**” but that, too, is probably cowardly bluster.

Should Obama actually call him on it?  

Part of me really, really wants to see the famous McCain temper come out on national teevee, and hear his honest characterization of his African-American fellow Senator.  I think Obama knows the exact few, well-chosen words to say to just make him pop at the seams.

But he won’t, because it’s un-Presidential.  It’s not fitting. It might alienate people who are sympathetic to him but still slightly afraid of him.  And it is completely unnecessary.  McCain is making a hash of his Presidential run all by himself (just as Hillary Clinton did); he needs no push from Obama to complete his descent into blithering irrelevance.  

All Obama needs to do is stay cool, present his case, walk in his own shoes, and let lesser men like McCain use fear, anger, and frustration.  It is not only the way to win, but it’s the way to win over America.

Debate

Last night’s debate got astonishingly high ratings, which is excellent it was one of the better national political debates in recent history.

The Governor did a fine job.  Yes, she’s had five weeks to go from zero to National Political Figure, and she faked it well enough.  In an America not in crisis, and with a pre-Cheney, pre-Gore definition of the job of Vice President, and a more physically robust top of the ticket, her effort would have certainly been enough to tread water, and perhaps even to win against a weaker opponent.  

The fact that she hardly answered a single question and instead turned most questions toward her pre-canned answers was typical for national political debates.  Evasion, redirection, and finesse are par for the course, and she did it well.

Getting past personal style, winks, gaffes, there was actually a fair amount of substance to the debate.  The triangulation where both candidates tried to contrast with each other while both distanced themselves from the Bush Administration was fascinating.

When quizzed as to who was responsible for the mortgage meltdown, both sides pointed at the banks.  The current meme in the right wing is that it was irresponsible low-income borrowers (and their liberal advocates).  But while that argument might move the base, it plays less well with the undecided voters than the populist “blame Wall Street greed”  angle.  Palin took that tack, and ended up on the losing side of the regulatory argument.  In this fight a Republican candidate is playing well against type when calling for increased Government intervention in and oversight of the free market.

Similarly, when cornered on gay marriage, both candidates got trapped in ideological dogma versus realpolitik.  Biden was forced to dance around the fact that Democrats are full-throated for gay rights, but have not yet fully accepted gay marriage; and Palin was trapped into acknowledging that the Republican opposition to gay marriage is not ”intolerant” and at least begrudgingly accepts gay rights as civil rights.  This is an amazing turning point for America, in a very short period of time, and indicates to me that the battle for universal gay marriage is nearly won.

Finally, I’m very pleased that the focus on sexual politics was almost nonexistent.  If you recall Ferrarro’s run in 1984, she was overtly asked whether having a female vice president would show weakness to the Warsaw Pact nations.  There was no such piffle this time, even considering the Republican candidate’s brief and superficial exposure to world affairs.  The question of her ability turned on the facts of her experience and knowledge, not on her sex.  Just as with the complete absence of racial dynamics in the Presidential debate, this is a great moment for liberalism.  There will be sexists in the electorate, and there will be racists, but the race and sex of the candidates are not issues in themselves.

That doesn’t mean that we’re now a sex-blind, race-blind nation, far from it. But I was delighted that the most notable, moving moment of the entire debate focused entirely on sexual politics and was won decisively by Biden:

He was responding to Palin’s personal narrative with his own.  “The notion that somehow because I’m a man I don’t know what it’s like to raise two kids alone… I don’t know what it’s like to have a child who’s… who’s not gonna make it… I understand. I understand.”  I nearly cried.  I still do, watching that again.  The loss of a spouse or child is one of the most powerful fears that humans have, and he experienced that fear, and still does.  And he showed it in a deeply human, deeply connecting way: he used a euphemism and choked up.  In a way that Palin doesn’t when talking about Trig, and that McCain doesn’t when talking about his imprisonment in Viet Nam.  

Watch the CNN response dials.  The men go way up, and the women peg the needle.  Where Palin talks about being a parent connects her with the voters as if it is something novel in politics and proprietary to mothers, Biden just connects, and snatches the issue from her.  “The notion that somehow because I’m a man” is the strongest attack on sexism that we’ve seen in this campaign so far, and it came from the white guy, and it won the day.

Update: Seventy-one million households tuned in. That’s astonishing. And I’m informed that the rules prohibited prepared notes, though both candidates read from their note pads throughout the debate.

Irrelevant

There are plenty of good topics in the current political cycle and Presidential race.  And as usual there’s a Silly Season of fake issues that don’t matter in legitimate political discourse.  As much fun as it might be to score these points, let’s get real, people.  

We are the Board of Directors of the United States of America, and every four years we have to hire a CEO.  Do we really want some of these questions to bear heavily on the interview process?

  •  “He/she uses a teleprompter.” So what. Every business, entertainment, and political figure does. Rehearsed versus spontaneous oratorical ability is a test of showmanship, but not a litmus test of knowledge or ability.
  • The gaffe.  It is extremely rare that a gaffe truly betrays bigotry or ignorance, but everybody wants to make it out as if it does.  Chavez doesn’t rule a mideast country. FDR wasn’t president in 1929. There are not 57 states.  To judge a misstatement, I wait until it is confirmed and discussed, to see if it represents actual thinking and policy.  Relentless public speaking is an extremely stressful, adrenaline-infused endeavor, and people say dumb things.
  • Vanity and ambition.  These people are not running for successor to Saint Theresa.  To want to be President of these United States requires massive self-assurance, ego, and to have preened for public appearance your entire life.  Please.  Shoes, haircuts, makeup: it comes with the territory.
  • Reckless supporters.  I have never considered guilt by association to be a valid argument, but the ongoing Festival Of Throwing Supporters Under the Bus has been beyond ridiculous.  While a candidate can control who speaks for the campaign, it ought to be obvious that the surrogate’s views are not necessarily the candidate’s, and the views of unaffiliated supporters are just not relevant at all.
  • Your Crazy Pastor.  Really, no good can come of looking at what church a politician attends.  Ronald Reagan, probably the most revered Conservative of the last half-century, attended church sporadically if at all.  We knew nothing of the pastors of Nixon, Ford, Carter, GHWB, or Clinton, and that was fine.  We have no idea what church McCain attends, and we should really not care about the rites at either Palin’s or Obama’s.
  • Family.  Off-limits except when the campaign places them in the arena.  Children, especially adult children, are not sole products of the parent’s responsibility; siblings, parents, and other relatives even less so.  Judging a candidate’s political management by their family management is folly.
  • Big Contributors.  Somebody once said that anybody who gives you a percentage without telling you the numerator and denominator is lying.  Similarly, absolute dollar amounts allegedly to have been given by contributors may sound large, but out of the context of a) how much they gave others and b) what percentage of the campaign’s income they represent is misleading.  

I’m not enamored with some of Obama’s recent ads.  Foreign cars? Rush Limbaugh an immigrant-hater? Please.  McCain’s have been far worse, with outright lies and fearmongering.  We have plenty to argue about this round: exiting from Iraq, dismantling the castles in the sky the credit industry built, not to mention what to do about the now obvious crimes of the Bush Administration (which has not been a campaign topic.)  Let’s get out of the silly season and on with the election.

Three plans

Paulson’s first plan was an affront to statecraft.  From the ultimatum-like tone to the audacity of its Section 8, it resembled outright theft more than anything else.  It was well-deserving of being DOA.

The cobbled-together Bipartisan Congressional Proposal was sausage.  The parts that were good weren’t good enough, and the parts that were bad were unmentionable.  As nicely symbolic and morally satisfying as it will be to make sure that the cheats and crooks who did this to us don’t get away with hundreds of millions of dollars, realistically that’s not going to affect the success or failure of the bailout, or the magnitude of our cost.

The House Republicans, backed by Helicopter McCain, dug in their heels and said “No!”  God bless ’em.  But what they said “Yes” to was the craziest: the Gingrich plan which substituted Conservative shibboleths for sensible economics.  Note to Newt: Cutting capital gains taxes does not affect people taking massive capital losses.

So we don’t have a deal.  What is Congress going to do?  Especially considering the entire House is running for reelection and the bailout is phenomenally unpopular, and everybody is triangulating how the fluid coalitions of the Bush administration, the Democratic majority, and the House Republicans will help or hurt the top of the ticket?

One alternative is to do nothing.  Walk away.  The Fed has handled six major collapses already with no panic and a significantly smaller exposure than $700B.  If the GOP declines to play ball with its President, the Democrats don’t have to play marriage counselor.  

But that leaves the risk of total, unmanageable collapse on the table.  Like in Iraq, it’s a risk that people are uneasy about taking, but Bush left us all once burned and twice shy.  And the worldwide credit crunch is real, and its effects are pretty predictable (unlike the effects of continuing to contain Saddam.)

We let them kite a system of worthless debt swaps up to a dizzying height of perhaps five trillion dollars. If we cut it loose, it collapses.  If we pull too hard on the string, it breaks.  We need to a) wind it in very carefully and b) reinforce it where we can.

The current talks seem to be circling around these notions:

  •  a piecemeal budget, enough to calm the markets and add liquidity but not a blank check
  • an equity stake so the taxpayers get something for their money (like in the AIG deal) instead of just sending up a hideously costly stronger kite string
  • some symbolic humbling of the firms involved
  • some component of preventing defaults by allowing individual home loans to be restructured

From what I know about the way the stripped mortgage-backed securities are packaged, the latter may be logistically the most difficult, but probably the most worthwhile to the economy as a whole.  There are two domino effects here: the top-down credit crunch of the Wall Street high flyers, and the pocketbook effect of people who get kicked out of their homes defaulting on their car loans and credit cards, and not spending money in the consumer economy.  Both sides need to be addressed.

I still fully expect a feint by the Republican House.  They’ll pretend to agree, then vote against it in a futile but face-saving gesture, so they can call the Democrats the party of socialism for the rich and campaign based on their noble defense of the “little guy” against rapacious Government and Big Business.  And McCain may just join their side.