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Election 2008

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42 Doin’ Work.

“If there is part of him that secretly covets Obama’s job, he is burying it inside. ‘I like my life now,’ he said. ‘I loved being president and it’s a good thing we had a constitutional limit or I’d have made the people take me out in a pine box, probably. But we had a constitutional limit and I knew that in the beginning. And so when I left, I had to go out and create another life. And I did it, and I love doing it.’

In a wide-ranging piece in the NYT Magazine, Peter Baker checks in on the post-presidency of William Jefferson Clinton. Among the topics discussed: Election 2008 fallout — Obama is forgiven, Kennedy and Richardson are not — and Clinton’s retrospective view of his own administration’s economic policy in light of the “Great Recession.” “He added: ‘If you ask me to write the indictment, I’d say: “I wish Bill Clinton had said more about derivatives. The Republicans probably would have stopped him from doing it, but at least he should have sounded the alarm bell.”‘

Brooks Was Here.

James Whitmore, 1921-2009. “Although not always politically active, in 2007, Whitmore generated some publicity with his endorsement of Barack Obama for U.S. President. In January 2008, Whitmore appeared in television commercials for the First Freedom First campaign, which advocates preserving ‘the separation of church and state’ and protecting religious liberty.

You need us in that trough.

“The Republican Party’s suit was clearly prompted by its troubles in the 2008 election, in which Mr. Obama proved far more adept at fund-raising than John McCain. It is disturbing that the R.N.C. sees its salvation in clearing the way for corporations and other special interests to flood its campaign coffers once again.”

I missed this when it first went down, but the NYT just apprised me of it: On the verge of electoral oblivion — the retirements of Sens. Martinez, Brownback, Bond and Voinovich don’t help — the Republicans have filed two lawsuits aimed at overturning McCain-Feingold, apparently in the hope that they could then feasibly prostitute themselves back into power. (Feingold’s response.)

In 2003, in McConnell v. F.E.C., the justices upheld the precise provisions the Republicans are now challenging…The McConnell decision should end the matter. But the R.N.C. seems to be hoping that because of changes in the court — in particular, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s replacement by Samuel Alito — it can persuade the court to undo this recent and important precedent.” Hmm. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

In Minn: Cold, Mirth, and Franken (Sen).

With the recount winding down and enraged Republicans frothing up — where was this outrage in Dade County eight years ago? — it seems that Democrat Al Franken is up by 225 votes, and is likely slated to be the next Senator from Minnesota. Several potential legal challenges remain in the arsenal of Republican Norm Coleman (who also happens to be trying to fend off an FBI bribery investigation at the moment), but apparently it’s hard to see any outcome from these proceedings that will avail him the needed margin of victory.

So, Franken it is, then. Great, another Dem in the Senate is always excellent news. That being said, perhaps we should view recent events in Minnesota as the umpteenth wake-up call for this country to get its voting infrastructure in order? If I go take out a hundred bucks from an ATM at the local 7-11, I never have to wait in line for hours. The record of my transaction never goes missing, get displaced, or ends up being double-counted. I’ve got a paper trail of the withdrawal, and my bank and/or creditors in their faraway lands know the score immediately — there’s no waiting two months to tally up my recent expenditures. Truly, this is an Age of Wonders.

While taking into account some system of anonymity that will maintain the secret ballot, perhaps we can find a way to apply this magical 21st-century technology to the voting process? Heck, at this point I’ll settle for applying 20th century tech to the problem.

Regarding Harvey. | (And Rick.)

It took awhile to get here, but Gus Van Sant’s timely and vibrant biopic Milk, which I caught on Christmas day, is well worth the wait. In a year that witnessed a former community organizer take his message of hope all the way to the White House, and saw a majority of Californians vote for legislating and invalidating their neighbors’ marriages (my favorite pin: “Can we vote on your marriage now?“), Milk couldn’t feel any more of the moment. (If anything, I wish Milk had come out before the Prop 8 vote, when it might’ve done some good.) Arguably the best film about the realities of politics since Charlie Wilson’s War, Milk is blessed with excellent performances across the board — most notably Sean Penn, James Franco, and Josh Brolin, but also supporting turns by Emile Hirsch, Alison Pill, and others. And as a chronicle of a key moment in an ongoing civil rights struggle, Milk also feels like a watershed film of its own in its approach to its gay and lesbian characters. In short, it’s one of the best films of 2008.

My name is Harvey Milk, and I want to recruit you.” So began the oft-repeated speel of the San Francisco city supervisor and “Mayor of Castro Street,” who, in 1977 and after several attempts, became the first openly gay official elected to office in the US. But, seven years before those heady days, Milk (Sean Penn) was just a 40-year-old insurance man (and Republican, even), living a closeted life of quiet desperation in NYC. After a chance encounter and illicit proposition becomes an impromptu birthday party, Milk and new beau Scott Smith (James Franco) fall in love, talk about starting over, and decide to go West. Life is peaceful there…or is it? Even as Milk’s camera shop in the gay-friendly Castro district becomes a salon of artists, thinkers, and free spirits, bigotry is rampant even in the streets of San Francisco, and the cops at best turn a blind eye to — and at worst actively participate in — antigay violence. No more, says Milk. Taking a page from the ethnic political machines of an earlier century, he organizes Castro’s gays and lesbians into first a protest movement and then an organized voting and boycotting bloc. And when a redistricting plan emphasizing community self-rule in San Francisco is put into effect, Milk becomes an actual, legitimate political wheeler-and-dealer, with all the benefits and aggravations attending. (For more on the man and the movement, see the 1984 documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, now on Hulu for free.)

But, even as Harvey Milk rises to power in San Fran, a parallel movement stirs amid the churches and suburbs of Orange County. Led by former beauty queen, singer, and orange juice shiller Anita Bryant, the ever-so-Christian “Save Our Children” campaign gathers steam across the nation in its quest to roll back what meager protections gays and lesbians have managed to establish over the years. And when conservative state senator John Briggs (Denis O’Hare, seemingly forever destined to play assholes) brings the fight west in the form of Proposition 6, an initiative that would ban gays and lesbians from public schools, the battle for California is on. And even as Milk becomes the poster boy against Prop 6 and for recognizing gays and lesbians as full citizens and fellow human beings, he has to contend with trouble on the homefront — not only in his personal life (his new boyfriend Jack (Diego Luna) is more than a little erratic) but in his political backyard, where supervisor Dan White (Josh Brolin), from the Catholic, working-class district next door, is starting to act increasingly unstable. (But, I guess this is what happens when society is so permissive as to let a man get all hopped up on twinkies.)

Which reminds me: A word of appreciation for Josh Brolin’s work here. Sean Penn is garnering kudos across the board, and a likely Oscar nod, for his portrayal of Milk, and they’re very well-deserved. It’s really an astonishing transformation Penn accomplishes here — not so much because he’s playing someone who’s gay (homosexual), but because he’s playing someone who’s gay (happy).This is the same guy who sulked through Mystic River?) And, while Brolin will likely — and, imho, justifiably in the end — get edged out for Best Supporting Actor by Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight, his work here suggests he’s got some serious chops. At first it seems as if Brolin will just be coasting on his recent Dubya impression — another good-natured, hard-hearted conservative fratboy for the resume. Then, just as you think Brolin’s endangering himself in terms of typecasting, it’s suggested Dan White might also be a deeply repressed closet case. (I tend to find the argument that all frothing-at-the-mouth homophobes are in reality trapped in the closet to be too simplistic by half, but apparently there’s some grounding for it in White’s story. In any case, Brolin underplays it beautifully ) As Milk progresses, we begin to sense other reasons why White is such a strange and ultimately homicidal bird — he’s envious of Harvey, he feels personally screwed over by him, he’s something of a friendless wonder, he’s not the brightest bulb on the tree anyway, he feels trapped by, and powerless before, the authority figures in his life (his wife, his cop buddies, his church). Brolin lets all of this play out without tipping his hand in any one direction. It’s a subtle, complex, and very worthwhile performance, and it’s a testament to the film’s heart that it extends such empathy even to its ostensible antagonist.

Speaking of empathy, this isn’t at all a surprise coming from Gus Van Sant, always a very humanistic director, but it should be noted regardless: When it comes to full recognition of gays and lesbians, Milk laudably practices what it preaches. Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia was good for its time, but nowadays (it’s on heavy rotation on AMC) it gives off a distinctly Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? vibe. And, as I said when it came out, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain often seemed “as somber, restrained, and delicate as Kabuki theater.” By contrast, the couples of Milk are passionate — both physically and emotionally — messy, flawed, and alive. Of course, there have been other well-rounded depictions of gays and lesbians in film in the past — in Van Sant’s earlier work, in the films of other gay directors like Todd Haynes, John Cameron Mitchell, and Kimberly Peirce, and in countless others. Still, Milk feels like an event of sorts. Unlike many of its forebears, it’s a mainstream Oscar-caliber movie that just takes its characters’ sexuality at face value and without apology. In that sense, it feels like a film whose time has come.

*****

I said earlier that Dan White was ostensibly the villain of Milk, but that’s not entirely true. Rather, to its credit, the film is pretty bold about pointing the finger where the trouble really lies: at the conservative-minded legions of organized Christendom — or at the very least its right-wing, for-profit flank — who’ve decided that arbitrarily upholding one proscription mentioned in passing in the Old Testament (shellfish, anyone?), and then ruthlessly enforcing it on the backs of their neighbors and co-workers, is more important than upholding the central tenet of the actual teachings of Jesus: “Love one another.” (Along those lines, expect a good bit of “godless liberal Hollywood” bluster from the usual corners if this film gets any Oscar buzz.)

Which brings us to that Wal-Mart of spirituality, Rick Warren, who as you all know will be delivering the invocation at Obama’s inauguration this month, and who has said all manner of intemperate things about gays and lesbians (as well as jews, pro-choice voters, and others) in the past, even going so far as to campaign for Prop 8 in California two months ago.

Now, when the Rick Warren pick first came out, I didn’t say anything here for two reasons. One was deeply selfish: That was the week I was finishing up my speechwriting app, and it didn’t seem like the most opportune time to be too critical of the administration around here at GitM. (In the end, it didn’t matter anyway, of course.) More importantly, though, I am — and still partly remain — of the mind that the bigger picture needs to be kept in mind here. If it keeps the right-wing fundies relatively happy and docile, and helps them to buy into the notion of a post-partisan Obama presidency, then Rick Warren can give all the one minute ceremonial speeches he wants, so long as Obama ultimately shows himself a friend to gay and lesbian rights in his presidential actions.

But, there’s a sequence in Milk that brought me around a bit. When Dan White mentions the “issue” of gay rights in one crucial scene, Harvey replies: “These are not issues, Dan. These are our lives we’re fighting for.” And, put that way, the calculus changes. To straight progressive folk such as myself, one can easily — too easily — get to thinking of gay rights as an “issue” among many. But, for gays and lesbians all around the country, this is their lives. And, when considered thusly, the president of these United States — least of all a president who ran and won on a campaign of hope — should not be legitimizing bigotry, such as that continuously expressed by Warren without apology, in any kind of forum, let alone the most portentous and culturally significant inauguration in at least fifty years, perhaps ever.

In an eloquent column last week, the NYT‘s Frank Rich articulated basically where I stand on Obama’s decision at this point: His choice of Warren is “no Bay of Pigs. But it does add an asterisk to the joyous inaugural of our first black president. It’s bizarre that Obama, of all people, would allow himself to be on the wrong side of this history.” Let’s hope that Obama doesn’t follow in the footsteps of the last Democratic president, who very quickly started backpedaling on gay rights once in office, vis a vis “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And, while I’m sure he’s pretty busy these days, the president-elect (apparently a movie buff of sorts) could do worse than spend a few hours to reflect on the story of another community-organizer who believed in the transformative power of hope, who carried the hopes of his constitutents into higher office…and who faced unflinching and unwavering contempt from an irreconcilable opposition once he got there.

The Man of the Hour.

So, can you guess who TIME’s Person of the Year for 2008 turned out to be?

Not a huge surprise of course. Regardless, in honor of the occasion, and since now seems as good a time as any to fire up the 2008-in-retrospect train, below are some of the longer GitM essays on President-elect Obama over the past year and change. (And if you’re really a glutton for punishment, and want to relive all the debate coverage or somesuch, there’s always the election 2008 archives.)

  • Progressivism, a Born Loser?, “Progressivism Continued” — November 2007. Wherein the case is made that [a] Obama is more progressive than he is liberal and that [b], contra friend and colleague David Greenberg, that’s exactly what America needs right now.
  • IA-Day | GitM for Obama” — January 2008. An overview of the Democratic field as it stood the morning of the Iowa caucus, and an endorsement of Barack Obama.
  • The Future Begins Now,” “Iowa By the Numbers” — January 2008. On Senator Obama’s victory in the Iowa caucuses.
  • Barack Obama and the Generation Gap” — January 2008 — A plea to Baby Boom voters, borrowing heavily from my man Bob Dylan, to get behind Sen. Obama.
  • Greenberg: Missing the Thread” — January 2008. Arguing, again with friend David Greenberg, that there is much more to Obama’s candidacy than just the “Great White Hope.”
  • The Great Need of the Hour” — January 2008. An excerpt from then-Senator Obama’s MLK day speech.
  • Yes, We Can,” “Oh Carolina!” — January 2008. Excerpts from Sen. Obama’s speech, and parsing Obama’s victory, in my home state of South Carolina.
  • A President Like My Father,” It is Time Now for Barack Obama” — January 2008. Excerpts from Caroline and Ted Kennedy’s respective endorsements of the Senator.
  • “Empty Suit…with a Stovepipe Hat” — January 2008. The Tribune‘s Eric Zorn makes the Lincoln v. Seward comparison explicit.
  • Lakoff on the Dem Divide” — January 2008. Linguist and political theorist George Lakoff endorses Obama.
  • Showtime | Barack Obama for President” — February 2008. A round-up of Obama endorsements, and primary news thus far, on Super Tuesday.
  • We’re Going the Distance” — February 2008. Parsing the Super Tuesday results.
  • Obama Endorses La Follette” — February 2008. In Wisconsin, Obama rhetorically tips his hat to the progressives of yesteryear.
  • Dodd Comes Forward” — February 2008. Senator Chris Dodd becomes the first former primary opponent to endorse Obama.
  • We are Hope Despite the Times” — March 2008. Michael Stipe endorses Obama.
  • Stepping Back for the Big Picture” — March 2008. On the state of the race during the six-week Pennsylvania lull.
  • A More Perfect Union” — March 2008. On Senator Obama’s “Race in America” speech.
  • Our Five Year Mission” — May 2008. Barack Obama and others respond to the fifth anniversary of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.
  • So Happy Together… | It’s On.” — May 2008. The McCain-Obama general election unofficially begins.
  • The Lesson of the Ring” — June 2008. Some closing thoughts on the seemingly never-ending 2008 Democratic primary.
  • The Nominee” — June 2008. Excerpt from Sen. Obama’s nomination-clinching victory speech.
  • The Bygones are Bygones” — June 2008. Senators Obama and Clinton make peace.
  • Obama: Don’t Tread on Me” — June 2008. Thought on and excerpts from Sen. Obama’s “patriotism” speech in Independence, MO.
  • Wir sind alle Berliners” — July 2008. On Sen. Obama’s summer world tour and speech in Berlin.
  • That’s Me in the Corner…” — August 2008. On Sen. Obama’s visit to Chesapeake, VA, which I attended.
  • The Ticket” — August 2008. Sen. Obama chooses Joe Biden as his running mate.
  • Wow,” “Obama: The Main Event” — August 2008. Reflections on my visit to Denver, and Sen. Obama’s nomination speech.
  • Astride the Mad Elephant” — October 2008. On the sad turn taken by the McCain campaign.
  • Barack Obama for President” — November 2008. The closing argument for Sen Obama, on election day.
  • 44,” “Thoughts after the Quake” — November 2008. Early reflections on the election of Barack Obama.
    Phew, what a long, strange trip it’s been! Of course, in all the important ways, we’re only just getting started.

  • Thoughts after the Quake.

    “‘I was born in 1941, the year they bombed Pearl Harbor. I’ve been living in darkness ever since,’ Dylan said to introduce the song, or as a goodbye, or, as he hadn’t spoken before, as a hello. ‘But it looks like things are going to change now.’ At the end of the stage he stepped out from behind his electric organ and did a jig.

    Thus was the freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’s happy reaction to Obama’s election Tuesday night. (As you may remember, he publicly backed the senator in June.) For many others, including yours truly, the feeling of the evening might best be summed up by one of Dylan’s esteemed contemporaries, Leonard Cohen: “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Halleloooooojah!

    For the first time since 1994, we have a Democratic president and a safely Democratic Congress. For the first time since 1964, we have a Democratic president entering office with a commanding mandate from the people. For the first time since…well, ever, we’ve reaffirmed our founding principles by choosing an African-American to lead us into the future.

    I don’t want to overplay the “first black president” thing, because that’s not at all why we chose Sen. Obama. Still it must be said: With this election, we have shown the world — and ourselves — anew that the American ideal isn’t just a convenient myth, but a vision of the good that many of us still aspire to create every day. In the words of Cornel West, “To understand your country, you must love it. To love it, you must, in a sense, accept it. To accept it as how it is, however is to betray it. To accept your country without betraying it, you must love it for that in it which shows what it might become. America – this monument to the genius of ordinary men and women, this place where hope becomes capacity, this long, halting turn of the no into the yes, needs citizens who love it enough to reimagine and remake it.” And so we have, in a way the founders of our American experiment 221 years ago could barely have imagined.

    Meanwhile, even with crooks like Ted Stevens and Norm Coleman still floating for the moment, our old friends the Republicans are now not only in full rout, but appear to be set to tear each other’s throats out in assigning blame for their repudiation at the polls. (Expect several further symposia of conservative hand-wringing, and a lot more intraparty shivving, along the lines of “Palin thinks Africa is a country,” in the weeks to come.) This gang will regroup — they always do — but for now the GOP has enough problems of their own to keep them busy. And, whatever ever they manage to accomplish as the loyal(?) opposition, it seems a safe bet that the Conservative Era that began with the defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964 has now officially coughed up its last in 2008, with the defeat of fellow Arizonan John McCain.

    By the way, also joining the Republicans on the road to oblivion Tuesday night, alas, was my old laptop, a victim of post-return celebratory spillage. (Jamesons: Good for Jimmy McNulty and jubliant Dems, Bad for computer hardware in and around the television area.) Normally, inadvertently frying my growing-ancient-but-generally-reliable PC would’ve completely ruined my day. As it was, I took the news about like Baxter eating the whole wheel of cheese: “How’d you do that? Heck, I’m not even mad; that’s amazing.” (And, fortunately, the hard drive, and the dissertoral files therein, were salvageable regardless.)

    One much more depressing skeleton at the feast Tuesday night, about which Ted at Gideonse Bible, Chris at DYFL, and others have written eloquently: the passage of the idiotic Proposition 8 in California, which seemingly won with quite a bit of help from first-time Obama voters. It’s irredeemably sad not only that a day that saw so much progress was marred by Prop 8 and its like around the country, but that so many of the voters who helped strike a fatal blow against enduring racial prejudice at the national level seemingly had no qualms about encoding anti-gay bigotry into the California constitution.

    Perhaps I’m dense, but I fail to understand how the institution of marriage could somehow be threatened by the state recognizing the unions of same-sex couples, particularly in a day and age when so many straight folk (myself included) have already had marriages that failed. (As my old boss used to say of the thrice-married Bob Barr back when he supported the Defense of Marriage Act: “Which marriage is he defending?”) By the way, particularly galling on the Prop 8 front, I think, is the strong imposition of the Mormon church into the battle on the side of the anti-gay zealots. One would think, of all people, the Mormons might have some sense of the damage that can be wrought by the state involving itself in stringent definitions of marriage. But, no, apparently what was good for two ganders in the eyes of the Mormons isn’t good for the goose. For shame.

    Still, the Prop 8 debacle notwithstanding (I have every faith that within a decade, that law will seem as knee-jerk, narrow-minded, and embarrassing as it in fact is), Tuesday was otherwise a great night for America. What it now befalls us to remember is that, while we should savor them while we can, the path of progress before us will likely offer few such moments of jubilation in the months and years ahead. When it comes to change, it really is “uphill all the way.”

    Given the economic and diplomatic travails already before President-elect Obama, he’ll have his work cut out for him from jump street. And those out there old enough to remember President Clinton’s first days in office, and how quickly things seemed to go south then (the sanity-restoring ’93 budget bill notwithstanding) will know that a Dem president and Dem Congress is no guarantee of progressive legislation in the offing. We won’t see the change we want — and voted for — without maintaining steady and unyielding pressure on all the machinery of government in the months and years to come. Now is not the time to sit back and let our new president try to do all the heavy lifting, but to stay involved as citizens and keep the progressive ball moving forward. (And, hey, keeping one’s head in the game may help to mitigate those postpartum existential crises The Onion warned us about.)

    In an election held eighty years ago (i.e. in the living memory of one Ann Nixon Cooper), Herbert Hoover, the longstanding Secretary of Commerce widely revered as “the Great Engineer” and “the Great Humanitarian,” decisively defeated Al Smith, the Catholic Governor of New York. “Given a chance to go forward with the policies of the last eight years,” Hoover had promised in his nomination speech, “we shall soon with the help of God be in sight of the day when poverty will be banished from this nation.” And, while he obviously had his detractors, many across the country viewed Hoover as a miracle-worker who could singlehandedly steer the country to these new great heights. “We were in a mood for magic,” journalist Anne O’Hare McCormick wrote of the Hoover inauguration. “We summoned a great engineer to solve our problems for us; now we sat back comfortably and confidently to watch the problems being solved.

    For his part, Hoover was less sanguine about his prospects. “They have a conviction that I am some sort of superman, he fretted. “If some unprecedented calamity should come upon the nation…I would be sacrificed to the unreasoning disappointment of a people who expected too much.

    Who among us think Hoover a superman now? History doesn’t stop with a war or an election or the collapse of a governing ideology, be it Communism or Conservatism. It grinds inexorably on, always uncertain, always equal parts danger and opportunity, and all too often deeply laced with irony — Time and time again in our American story, nothing succeeds like abject failure, and nothing fails like a great success. So let’s not rest on our laurels by any means: The election of 2008 was a campaign hard-fought and hard-won, but the battle continues, and in many ways the real work before us is only now just beginning.

    Let us look to navigate the turbulent waters ahead with a deep and abiding faith in our new captain, but also with our own eyes to the sea.

    (Presidents pic via Hal at Blivet and Patrick at Supercres.)

    44.

    Sen. Barack Obama (and family), the 44th President of these United States.

    More soon. For now, woot! Goodbye to all that, and welcome to the new. :)

    Barack Obama for President.

    So, here we are at last. After the interminable Democratic primary, the mile-high heights of Denver, the RNC’s sputtering lows, all the ignominious Palin follies, and the ugly throes of conservative crack-up we’ve witnessed over the past month or so, it’s at long last decision time.

    Not that it’s going to be any big surprise to you, but I myself will be voting for Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, for the reasons I listed back in January and for many others, and I strongly encourage you to do the same.

    Of course, voting for Obama tomorrow is a much easier call than choosing among the Democratic field a year ago. If any undecided voters actually swing by GitM (a proposition I highly doubt), well, all you really need to know right now is this:

  • We are where we are today, be it in Iraq, on Wall Street or anywhere else, as a consequence of eight years of Dubya’s leadership.

  • John McCain voted to support George W. Bush 90% of the time.
  • That’s it. End of story. If you think Dubya was right 90% of the time, that everything from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina to the sub-prime mortgage meltdown to national embarrassments such as Gitmo and Abu Ghraib were handled smoothly — heck, even competently — by this administration, then John McCain is your man. If you don’t, then you should vote Obama.

    Similarly, if you think Congress should spend more time pursuing the interests of immensely wealthy corporations and K-street lobbyists rather than representing the American people, that criminals like Duke Cunningham, Boss DeLay, and “Casino Jack” Abramoff should be allowed to plunder the nation’s coffers for personal gain, and that the House and Senate should really be devoting their time to such all-consuming issues as flag burning and the fate of poor Terri Schiavo, then you should vote Republican. If, on the other hand, you want to finally move past all that, and help see real change enacted in this country under a President Obama, then you should vote for your Democratic House and Senate candidates, as I plan to.

    Now, of course, I myself would take it farther than that. Y’see, I personally don’t believe that conservatism works as a governing philosophy — it never has, and it never will. You wouldn’t ask a vegetarian to prepare you a steak, and you don’t hire someone who despises government and/or sees it only as his personal bankroll to run a country for you. Unlike the faith-based arguments of all too many Republicans out there, I’d submit that we’ve got almost two decades of data now to back this assertion up. But, you don’t have to take it that far, if you don’t want to — Just look at the record of the last eight years, and that should help clarify who to vote for tomorrow.

    As for McCain himself, well, I confess, I’m disappointed in the man. If we’d seen the candidate who ran in 2000, the one who deplored all the right-wing pettiness, racism, and wingnuttery he’s now wallowing in, we might’ve had the first win-win choice for president since…I dunno, Woodrow Wilson and Charles Evans Hughes in 1916? (Update: Upon more reflection, I’ll say since Ike and Adlai in ’56.) But, the Saruman analogy holds here too. In pursuit of power, McCain turned from that path a long time ago — he enabled the Dubya administration in its idiocies, he began to coddle the hardcore right-wing fundies rather than stand up to them, he sold out his own campaign finance reform stance, and he even started to traffick in the same lowest-common-denominator, Rovian filth that was used to bring him low in South Carolina eight years ago. His choice of Sarah Palin for veep, so pathetically craven in its attempt to appease the stark raving fundies and grab disgruntled Clinton voters, was merely the cherry on top.

    In short, when the worst impulses of right-wing gutter politics came a-knockin’ at his door, John McCain — for whatever reason — blinked, and completely caved to their onslaught. In this election campaign, he has put His Own Ambition First, and in so doing, he has sold his soul. For the choices he’s made during this election season alone, John McCain has lost any credibility he might’ve had to serve as our nation’s commander-in-chief.

    Fortunately, I firmly believe that, after tomorrow, John McCain and the sad, tired remnants of his cause will be old news. We have an exemplary, once-in-a-generation-type candidate in Barack Obama, and I refuse to believe I live in a country that would squander the amazing opportunity before us to elect him our president.

    But, you never know… So, yes, the polls look great, but they looked good in 2004 as well (even the exit polls did, in fact), and we all know how that story turned out. So, let’s handle our business tomorrow, get out to vote, and get to work on rebuilding this country. We have so much work to do.

    Vote Obama, 2008.

    McCain the (Bull) Moose-Hunter?

    “When T.R. spoke of ‘swollen fortunes’ and ‘malefactors of great wealth,’ socialism was a genuine force in American politics, perceived by many to pose a serious threat to the social order. When T.R. first called for a ‘graduated income tax’ in his 1907 State of the Union, he was proposing a measure that the Supreme Court had ruled unconstitutional. Indeed, the federal income tax struck down by the Court wasn’t even ‘graduated,’ or progressive; it was a flat-rate tax.” One from a few days ago that Ted at The Late Adopter just reminded me of: As Slate‘s Tim Noah aptly points out, John McCain can either continue to decry Obama’s purported “socialist” tendencies, or he can continue to claim Teddy Roosevelt is his hero, but he cannot plausibly continue to do both.

    At the very least, it would seem McCain, what with his coterie of lobbyist attendants, has either never read — or is flagrantly ignoring — TR’s “New Nationalism” speech: “There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done” (See also one of my favorites: “The prime problem of our nation is to get the right type of good citizenship, and, to get it, we must have progress, and our public men must be genuinely progressive.)”

    Time to Lawyer Up.

    “Briefcase-to-briefcase, wingtip-to-wingtip, the legal emissaries of both Barack Obama and John McCain seem to be taking their cues from the 2000 election, which — according to some accounts — was either decided in a Florida skirmish known as the ‘Brooks Brothers Riot’ that ended the manual recount in Miami-Dade County, or — according to more mainstream accounts — in the august halls of the U.S. Supreme Court along crassly partisan lines. Ready or not, here they come.”

    How can you tell when Election Day in America is right around the corner? Sadly, it’s when both the Dems and the GOP feel compelled to ready their respective battalions of lawyers. With that in mind, Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick surveys the massing legal armies. “One can’t help but wonder what it says about public confidence in our voting systems, then, that despite our almost complete lack of faith in them, we will rely almost exclusively on lawyers to protect the integrity of this election.

    The Unsinkable Movement.

    “There’s something surreal about how fast the GOP has gone from arrogant triumphalism to its death throes. Just yesterday, the GOP’s mighty Titanic was cruising along, its opulent decks lined with fat-cat financiers and neoconservative warmongers, all smoking cigars, drinking champagne and extolling the deathless virtues of their fearless captain. The compliant media issued glowing dispatches. Karl Rove cackled with glee as he plotted out a permanent Republican majority. Then the luxury liner hit an iceberg known as reality…It’s a historic shipwreck, and the American people are diving off the foundering GOP hulk in droves.”

    You already know the story by now. Still, at the risk of further wallowing in (highly dangerous pre-election) schadenfreude, here’s another timely obit for the conservative movement, by Salon‘s Gary Kamiya. Now I know that, no matter how good the polls look, linking these sorts of pieces before the returns are in (one week to go!) is a highly dubious proposition, karmically speaking. As Norman Wilson rightly warned Mayor Carcetti of Clay Davis, “You don’t dance on Clay’s grave until you’re sure the motherf**ker’s dead.”

    Still, given that the McCain, Palin, and Dubya camps are now all openly shivving each other for spots on the lifeboats — Team McCain has now taken to calling the governor a “diva” and a “whack job,” Palin herself is now apparently eyeing 2012 (ooh, please run!), and everybody is naturally running from Dubya — the Titanic metaphor, however hoary a cliche, seems a safe bet regardless.

    Hulk Smashed.

    “‘In another state, he would be toast,’ said Charlie Cook, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. ‘In Alaska, you gotta make him a significant underdog.‘” How’s this for a sign of the times? Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate (and the only one to famously favor a Hulk tie), is very quickly found guilty on seven felony counts of lying on his non-disclosure forms. As you may remember, the indictments broke in July, and Stevens — asking for a quick pre-election trial — got one.

    And yet, despite the desperate entreaties of Senator McCain and the governor of his home state, one Sarah Palin, Stevens has vowed to fight on for re-election next week, thus further boosting the chances of a Dem Senate pick-up in the Last Frontier…and beyond. “‘It’s a horrible year for Republicans, in a horrific fall, and this is yet another horrific event,’ Cook said. ‘This throws them off message; it puts them back on the defensive again. It makes it harder to separate themselves from the party.‘” Well, thanks for that, at least, Senator.

    The Empty Wagon is the Noisiest.

    Another Greenville, another Magic Mart, Jeffer, grab your fiddle… So, pop quiz: What do old-school R.E.M. and Sarah Palin have in common? They’ve both sung paeans to “Little America,” or as Governor Palin rather awkwardly put it recently, the “pro-America areas of this great nation.” In case you somehow missed what she was trying to get at, NC GOP candidate Robin Hayes said it even more plainly: “Liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God.” Or consider Minnesota freakshow Michele Bachmann, soon after deeming Senator and Michelle Obama enemies of the people: “I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out if they are pro-America or anti-America.

    Now, I realize the once-powerful conservative movement is now entering the late, terminal stages of its malignancy, that these floundering insults and echoes of McCarthy are all just part of the right-wing death rattle, and that it’s probably best just to look away from their interminable gesticulating and shrieking while the right melts away into electoral oblivion. But, really, eff these people. I’m so utterly sick of these conservative assholes wrapping themselves in our flag every time their narrowness and stupidity is exposed before all the world. America is so much more than the pathetic litany of grievances and bigotries these jokers trot out every time their flank is exposed. And if they truly loved America as much as they claim to, they’d know this, and stop embarrassing us all by conflating their ignorant and unprincipled antipathies with what’s good and true in our national life.

    The consul a horse. Jefferson, I think they’re lost.

    Too Close for Comfort, Wah-Wah. | Who What Now?

    Would you think about that a moment, my friends? Whenever you’ve seen Batman, who’s he with? Criminals, that’s who!” Before Atwater and Ailes, there was…Cobblepot: I know the comparison was already floating around after the veep debate. Still, this contentious Batman-Penguin matchup of thirty years ago now seems eerily on the money… (Via Neilalien.)

    Also, this is unrelated, but while I’m borrowing fun fanboy youtubes from other places, I also got a tickle out of this compelling compilation of Dr. Who clips, by way of Return of the Reluctant a week or so ago. What are you doing here? What are you doing here? What are you doing here? What are you doing here?



    Fleeing the Festering Corpse.

    “So, I have been effectively fatwahed (is that how you spell it?) by the conservative movement, and the magazine that my father founded must now distance itself from me. But then, conservatives have always had a bit of trouble with the concept of diversity. The GOP likes to say it’s a big-tent. Looks more like a yurt to me.” Old news by now, but just to get it on-the-record: Shown the door by the editors of his late father‘s magazine for his recent prObama apostasy, columnist and satirist Christopher Buckley bids farewell to the conservative “movement”. “While I regret this development, I am not in mourning, for I no longer have any clear idea what, exactly, the modern conservative movement stands for. Eight years of ‘conservative’ government has brought us a doubled national debt, ruinous expansion of entitlement programs, bridges to nowhere, poster boy Jack Abramoff and an ill-premised, ill-waged war conducted by politicians of breathtaking arrogance. As a sideshow, it brought us a truly obscene attempt at federal intervention in the Terry Schiavo case.

    Along the same lines, see also former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan’s most recent WSJ column. (Noonan, remember, is also on the outs with the stark-raving fundies because of her recent open-mic remarks regarding Palin on MSNBC.) Buried under the obligatory (if fanciful) McCain-won-the-debate lede is this telling passage: “In the end the Palin candidacy is a symptom and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics. It’s no good, not for conservatism and not for the country. And yes, it is a mark against John McCain, against his judgment and idealism. I gather this week from conservative publications that those whose thoughts lead them to criticism in this area are to be shunned, and accused of the lowest motives…In all this, the conservative intelligentsia are doing what they have done for five years. They bitterly attacked those who came to stand against the Bush administration. This was destructive. If they had stood for conservative principle and the full expression of views, instead of attempting to silence those who opposed mere party, their movement, and the party, would be in a better, and healthier, position. At any rate, come and get me, copper.”

    The Curse of Monkey Nation.

    By way of a high-school friend, Palin as President. As a big fan of Sam and Max and Monkey Island-type games, I for one am ecstatic to see pixel-hunting problem-solving now being applied to our lefty agitprop. (It reminds me of this still-great Dubya Infocom adventure.)

    All McCain’s (Former) Base Are Belong to Us.

    “We thought this election would be a serious fight over the future of this country, but only one candidate showed up…Not even the presidency is worth what it’s made John McCain do to himself.” While it’s been quiet here, Ted of The Late Adopter has been keeping tabs on big newspaper and magazine endorsements. Announcing for Obama of late: The Denver Post, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, the Seattle Times, The New Yorker (shocking, I know), the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune (its first-ever Dem endorsement), and Esquire (its first-ever endorsement, period — the quote above is from them.)

    Keep in mind, though, that the mainstream media hate Republicans (except, of course, when they’re starting wars of choice.) And really, who in the hell do these bigheads think they are, trying to confuse us with their words?

    Reinforcements: The General…and an Army.

    “‘They’re trying to connect [Obama] to some kind of terrorist feelings, and I think that’s inappropriate,’ Powell said. ‘Now I understand what politics is all about — I know how you can go after one another. And that’s good. But I think this goes too far. And I think it has made the McCain campaign look a little narrow. It’s not what the American people are looking for. And I look at these kinds of approaches to the campaign, and they trouble me. And the party has moved even further to the right, and Gov. Palin has indicated a further rightward shift.'”

    The general is fed up, and he’s not alone. On a weekend when the Obama campaign announced a record-breaking $150 million September, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Dubya Secretary of State Colin Powell officially endorses Barack Obama, arguing the Senator he is a “transformational figure” who, unlike his opponent, “has displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge…not just jumping in and changing every day, but showing intellectual vigor.

    The GOP’s most famous drug-addled carnival grotesque, Rush Limbaugh, has taken to trotting out more sad McNabb-style race-baiting to try to deflect this unfortunate turn-of-events for the right, but other Republicans out there know — and will own up to — the score. “‘What that just did in one sound bite — and I assume that sound bite will end up in an ad — is it eliminated the experience factor,’ said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich…’How are you going to say the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the former national security adviser, former secretary of state was taken in?’…’This Powell endorsement is the nail in the coffin,’ said one Republican official, speaking anonymously to offer candid thoughts about the party’s nominee. ‘Not just because of him, but the indictment he laid out of the McCain campaign.’

    The Old Man and the Plumber. | Enough.

    “Mr. Osborne, may I be excused? My brain is full.” Have you ever seen that old Far Side cartoon? That basically sums up my overpowering sentiment during last week’s third and (mercifully) final presidential debate at Hofstra University. [Transcript.] Now, I think I usually enjoy following politics more than the next guy, but something about that debate gave me the urge to run screaming into the hills (or at least flip over to the NCLS.)…Hence, one of the reasons for the tardiness of this post. I didn’t switch over to baseball — My fellow prisoners, I sat through the whole durned thing — but the event still left a sour taste in my mouth.

    Why such an adverse reaction? I mean, McCain’s campaign has been making disturbingly stupid arguments aimed at the lowest common denominator for awhile now. What’s another 90 minutes of it? Well, for one, the endless paeans to that ostensibly most American of Americans, “Joe the Plumber” (nee “Sam the Not-a-Plumber“), got seriously old. Now, I know we’re all meant to enjoy wallowing in our appreciation for the “real” Americans — as opposed to us egg-headed surrender-monkey lefty types — but perhaps we can find a genuine, working-class Joe to discuss next time who isn’t yet another obvious McCain plant. (And bonus points if they’re not tied to the Keatings.) The McCain team has already force-fed us one one fake working class hero in Sarah Palin. Piling on another one at this point is really pushing it past my (admittedly low) threshold for right-leaning, poor-little-rich-folk. (That being said, I’ll concede that the McCain camp could probably really use a good plumber right now, backed up in swill as it is.)

    And, hey, speaking of seriously old, McCain’s “Crotchety Old Man” routine was jacked up to eleven the whole night, making his usual indefensible contentions that much more irritating. What with all the hemming and hawing and scroonchy faces McCain was making throughout, he made the sighing-Gore of 2000 seem a model of forbearance. (Conversely, I thought Obama’s slightly bemused smile, which seemed to suggest that he was getting as sick of all the sideshows as we were, spoke highly of his presidential temperament. In this day and age, a sense of irony about the idiocies of media-driven politics is not a bad thing.) In short, the mythical maverick was a complete mess last Wednesday. Endlessly spewing contrivances and inanities about William Ayers, socialism, and/or the dangers of eloquence, McCain got himself so bizarrely worked up and angry during the debate that I thought he might set off his Life Alert.

    If I sound a bit glib, well, I apologize. Just as I eventually grew tired of the inanities of the Clinton campaign, which lingered on for months after its fate was mathematically sealed, I’ve lost my patience with the sad remnants of the right-wing freak show attending John McCain at this point. This is not to say this election is in the bag, and we can now just sit back and play the Fill the Cabinet game — Far from it. (Unlike the primaries, there’re no points on the scoreboard just yet, and who really wants to wake up a few Wednesdays from now with a President-elect McCain?) But the GOP’s Hail Mary strategy has gotten so pungent and idiotic at this point that I’m hard-pressed to treat them with anything but contempt.

    Serving on a Republican-financed education committee with an old Weatherman does not make one a terrorist, and tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy is not the solution to every economic problem. What’s more, repeating these two obviously stupid contentions over and over again, more and more loudly, does not make them any less false. End of story. If that’s all the McCain team has got, which would seem to be the case, then it’s time for them to get swept away into the dustbin of history like they deserve. Hey, news flash to the right: We tried governance along the lines of your idiotic talking points, and look where it got us? It’s time for a change.

    Astride the Mad Elephant.

    At McCain-Palin rallies, the raucous and insistent cries of “Treason!” and “Terrorist!” and “Kill him!” and “Off with his head!” as well as the uninhibited slinging of racial epithets, are actually something new in a campaign that has seen almost every conceivable twist. They are alarms. Doing nothing is not an option…What makes them different, and what has pumped up the Weimar-like rage at McCain-Palin rallies, is the violent escalation in rhetoric, especially (though not exclusively) by Palin…By the time McCain asks the crowd “Who is the real Barack Obama?” it’s no surprise that someone cries out ‘Terrorist!’ The rhetorical conflation of Obama with terrorism is complete. ” — Frank Rich, QFT, October 12, 2008.

    It’d be funny, if it weren’t so frightening, to see this current version of the GOP end as it began. Forty years after the New Right that coalesced behind Goldwater and Reagan saw its first national victory with the election of Richard Nixon on a, ahem, “law and order” ticket (in no small part thanks to the assassination of RFK), the conservative movement that gave us Helms, Falwell, Reagan, Gingrich, and Dubya is collapsing back into its original base state: a seething, festering cauldron of paranoia, race-baiting, inarticulate rage, and eminently justifable, easily exploitable working-class grievance.

    And, with no other game-changer left in the Atwater playbook, McCain the mythical maverick, his “Sarracuda” running mate, and the sad coterie of (lily white) GOP deadenders about them have now taken to doing the very opposite of “Putting Country First” — Instead, they’re stirring this pot, hoping the vile, unstable, and extremely combustible concoction therein can somehow propel them into the White House. Call it the Joker strategy: With no other way to win at this point, the McCain campaign is banking on the American people getting so scared, confused, and enraged by their lies and name-calling that we’ll up and decide to blow each others’ ferries out of the water. (In fact, now that I think about it, I guess that might go a long way towards explaining McCain’s bizarre recent “my fellow prisoners” slip. But, sorry, Senator, the prisoners’ dilemma isn’t going to play any better in November than it did in Gotham a few months ago.)

    Frank Rich is right: Even as a Hail Mary play in anything-goes politics, this is beyond the pale. John McCain should — and, given his body language of late, does — know what so often results — and has resulted — from that foul brew he’s toying with. In short, this is a new low, and half-heartedly attempting to walk back the hate after fiddling with the lock on this Pandora’s Box is too little, too late.

    Of course, we all eventually expected this of the Republican party — Their hold on power is at long last dissipating, and their sick, desperate movement, four-and-a-half decades old, is seemingly now in its ugly death throes, so why not trot out the oldest, saddest one-trick pony in their tiny stable? But McCain, from everything we’ve heard about the man, was meant to be better than this. A straight-talker, a man of honor, yadda yadda yadda. Well, horsepuckey. John McCain has brought everlasting shame on himself, and if there’s any justice left in this country, — and woe to you, Senator, I’m sure there is — his repudiation at the polls in a few short weeks will be devastating.

    Palin: More Lundegaard than Gunderson.

    “For the reasons explained in section IV of this report, I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act.” Well, golly. Just in case anyone didn’t already think she was Cheneyesque enough, the Branchflower Report, i.e. the Alaska state inquiry into Sarah Palin’s firing of her public safety commissioner, finds that the Governor (and her husband) abused her powers of office to pursue a personal vendetta. “‘Gov. Palin knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda.” In regards to Palin’s early defense that said ex-brother-in-law was a physical threat to her family, “‘I conclude that such claims of fear were not bona fide and were offered to provide cover for the Palins’ real motivation: to get Trooper Wooten fired for personal family reasons,’ Branchflower wrote

    It should be noted, by the way, that the Branchflower inquiry was not only initiated and authorized by a GOP-run state legislature, but released on Friday thanks to a unanimous vote by a committee of 10 Republicans and 4 Democrats. This seems to be in keeping with what we’ve seen in recent days, where any right-leaning talking head with even a modicum of intellectual honesty, from Chris Buckley to David Brooks, is now repudiating and rejecting Palin as “a fatal cancer to the Republican Party.” That she is…although, not to assail Brooks’ NYT-and-PBS-certified powers of punditry, it really shouldn’t have taken him over a month to realize it.

    …These People Aren’t Your Friends (My Friends)…

    There’s guards at the on-ramps, armed to the teeth. And you may case the grounds from the cascades to Puget Sound but you are not permitted to leave.” Well, it’s not falling off the stage, I guess. But McCain’s bizarre mix-up on the campaign trail today, an electoral coda for the “all-POW, all-the-time” candidacy if I ever saw one, clearly seems to signal a politician — and campaign — in serious decline. At this point, McCain’s presidential bid is rapidly progressing from appalling to just plain sad.



    Second Verse, Same as the First.

    Well, you know, Sen. McCain, in the last debate and today, again, suggested that I don’t understand. It’s true. There are some things I don’t understand. I don’t understand how we ended up invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, while Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are setting up base camps and safe havens to train terrorists to attack us. That was Sen. McCain’s judgment and it was the wrong judgment.

    As you know, the second of three presidential debates is now in the books. [Transcript.] And, while it’s still way too early to put this election in the fridge — there’s a lot of crucial get-out-the-vote work to be done first, and we all saw how that turned out last time ’round — we nevertheless seem to be moving away from the closely divided America of 2000 and 2004 and fast approaching an contest similar to Bill Clinton’s relatively smooth re-election of 1996. That year, the nation ignored the continued haranguing of an aging war hero about cultural matters to back the candidate with a clearly better grasp on both the economy and the way Americans really live. By all reliable accounts, Sen. Obama, who won the evening handily last night, is the Clinton candidate this time around, and it seems to be helping him across the board.

    Sen. Obama not only seemed to have a clearer grasp on the causes, consequences of, and potential remedies for our current economic travails last night, he came across as more competent, more discerning, more likable, and more presidential throughout. Meanwhile, for all McCain-Palin’s wallowing in the tired old culture war over the past few days, the Senator from Arizona seemingly left all of his new favorite talking points in his other suit. And, while desperately needing some kind, any kind, of game-changer last night, McCain instead just puttered around the town hall muttering the same stale GOP platitudes — he’ll raise your taxes! he’s won’t keep you safe! — that didn’t get the job done the first time ’round. In short, let’s not count our chickens just yet — we’ve got one more of these next week, and three weeks thereafter to keep the pressure on. But, right now, it’s looking pretty good, folks.

    The Imaginaverick. | Dispatch War Rocket Keating.

    Well, that didn’t take long. As Garrett noted in the comments below, an increasingly desperate Sarah Palin is already namedropping Wright and Ayers whereever she can. But the good news is Team Obama isn’t going to take this sort of garbage lying down, particularly from a candidate as compromised on issues of character as John Sidney McCain III. Witness Keating Economics — It’s about time somebody brought that up.

    Sinking beneath the Wave.

    “‘If you turn the clock back two or two and half weeks, you could make a plausible argument that if a couple of things go our way we will lose three to four Senate races,’ said one Republican strategist. ‘Now we will lose six to eight.’” Reeling from both the economic collapse on Wall St. and the ensuing shenanigans surrounding the bailout — which passed on its second try yesterday, despite continued opposition from a majority of the House GOP — the Republicans prepare to be ousted en masse in a month. “Polling in most Senate races over the past 14 days has shown a five-point decline for the Republican candidate, the strategist said.

    Update: “‘Before the economic crisis, we had a number of races moving our way,’ said Matthew Miller, communications director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. ‘But now we’re seeing Republican numbers plummet.’ GOP officials largely agree. ” Is 60 in the Senate now in sight?

    Here Come the Dirtmongers.

    “‘We’re going to get a little tougher,’ a senior Republican operative said, indicating that a fresh batch of television ads is coming. ‘We’ve got to question this guy’s associations. Very soon. There’s no question that we have to change the subject here,’ said the operative, who was not authorized to discuss strategy and spoke on the condition of anonymity.”

    In related news, why just lose when you can lose and forsake your dignity? Confronted by the fact that their guy just isn’t connecting these days, the McCain team gets set to take the low(er) road. (Indeed, their ad buys across the nation are already almost universally negative.) In other words, expect a lot of Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers from now until November.

    The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations.

    To be honest, I don’t have all that much to say about last night’s lone vice-presidential debate in St. Louis, as I think the event speaks for itself. The general consensus congealing today is that Joe Biden won the debate, which he obviously did, but that Sarah Palin performed better than expected. Well, I guess she did, given that everyone was pretty much expecting another embarrassing and hard-to-watch Couric-style meltdown. But, remove that exceedingly low bar, and we still find ourselves confronted with a fundamentally unqualified and frighteningly obtuse candidate for the vice-presidency, one who has no business getting anywhere near the Oval Office, let alone only the heartbeat of a 72-year-old cancer survivor away.

    Biden was Biden — a bit wonky and/or self-aggrandizing at times, but clearly knowledgable about the issues and cognizant of the struggles that working people in America face, both as a result of the daily vagaries of the Dubya economy and of awful, unforeseen circumstances that can loom at a moment’s notice. (Imho, his emotion-filled nod to the tragedy in his past was a far more authentic moment than any of the “Aw shucks, I’m just a Wasilla hockey mom” patter emanating from Gov. Palin over the course of the evening.) If anything, I think Biden might’ve erred slightly on the side of gallantry, since Palin seemingly held no qualms about regurgitating easily refutable lies (Obama raised taxes on the poor, Obama voted against funding the troops, Biden supports McCain’s Iraq position — all hooey) throughout the evening. But, all in all, BIden definitely did himself and the ticket credit last night, and I expect he helped to solidify further Obama’s lead in the polls among independents.

    Sarah Palin, on the other hand, had the immediately recognizable air of the student who fills the air with digressions, non-sequiturs, and the occasional remembered idea in order to deflect attention from the fact that he or she didn’t really do the reading and doesn’t really understand the concepts being discussed. Even with Biden and moderator Gwen Ifill letting Palin slide on all sorts of evasiveness, the Governor often seemed scarily out of her depth whenever anything but energy policy was being discussed. (Her discussion of the Constitution and the vice-presidency was particularly galling.) As Paul Begala noted on CNN during the postgame, we already tried the whole “elevating the average Joe” thing with eight years of Dubya, and it’s turned out to be a miserable failure. And, while excellence may sadly be a rare commodity among our elected officials, I don’t think we the people are asking for too much when we expect basic competence from our leaders. Take away the memories of the Couric implosion, and Gov. Palin still failed to hurdle even that depressingly low threshold last night. Simply put, she wouldn’t be qualified to lead this nation even in the best of times. At it is, she’s a risk we can’t afford to take.

    The Lay of the Land | A Moment of Zen.

    “‘Obama has many more paths to the nomination than McCain,’ the source said. ‘They think they can defend the Kerry states. Iowa is gone. That’s five votes. New Mexico is in the bag. Then Obama has four or five different ways of winning. He can go Nevada or Colorado, Virginia, any of those, even Indiana. McCain has got to run the board, the whole Bush table.’” According to London’s Telegraph, Team Obama is feeling confident about victory these days. “We’re much stronger on the ground in Virginia and North Carolina than people realise. If we get out the vote this may not be close at all.

    In related news, the McCain camp currently seems lost in the quagmire, particularly after Obama’s post-debate bounce and recent developments on the economic front. “‘What begins to happen is that the margin that’s been in place begins to solidify more and more,’ said Matthew Dowd, who was Bush’s chief strategist in 2004 and is now an independent analyst. ‘There’s only two ways this can go,’ he added. ‘It will either solidify with an Obama four- to five- point lead, or it will loosen and go back to close and go back and forth.’” In other words, another McCain campaign stunt incoming.

    Update: I know the EW cover below is apropos of nothing above, really. On the other hand, it is election-related, and I found it laugh-out-loud funny. Hat tips to The Oak and Peasants Under Glass.

    Bailout, or we all sink.

    ‘Today’s the decision day. I wish it weren’t the case,’ said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).” Despite the apparent attempt by divider-not-a-uniter John McCain to kill a compromise he hadn’t even read last week, the Dubya White House and Congress hold their respective noses and come to agreement on Paulson’s $700 billion bailout plan, with debate in the House starting today. “The proposed legislation would authorize Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. to initiate what is likely to become the biggest government bailout in U.S. history, allowing him to spend up to $700 billion to relieve faltering banks and other firms of bad assets backed by home mortgages, which are falling into foreclosure at record rates. The plan would give Paulson broad latitude to purchase any assets from any firms at any price and to assemble a team of individuals and institutions to manage them.

    As I said here, I’m not all that happy about the nation having to subsume the risk, and ride to the rescue of, the many banks and Wall Street types that profited massively from these obviously suspect mortgage deals. But, what else is there to do? As with so much else occurring over the past eight years, it befalls us now to clean up the mess left by the free market fundies of late. I just hope we learn something from the economic consequences of this latest binge of free-market fraudulence, before they grow too dire. To wit, whatever the corporate-funded right tells you about self-regulating markets, we need, and will continue to need, real refs on the field.

    Update: Uh oh. The bailout compromise dies in the House, prompting the Dow Jones to swiftly tank 700 points. “The measure needs 218 votes for passage. Democrats voted 141 to 94 in favor of the plan, while Republicans voted 65 to 133 against. That left the measure with 206 votes for and 227 against.

    As the TIME article linked above noted before the vote, “the candidate with the most riding on Monday’s vote is McCain, who backed the concerns of conservatives in the House over the initial agreement…[I]f a majority of the House Republicans don’t vote for the measure, McCain could lose political face. ‘If McCain cannot persuade them, it is hard to portray him as a leader,’ said Clyde Wilcox, a political science professor at Georgetown University.” So, that’s the silver lining, I guess. But the bad news now, alas, is considerably worse.

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