Y’know, after watching Wednesday’s RNC festivities, I’m rather annoyed with myself that I titled the post about Tuesday night “Chimps on Parade.” I mean, the dismayingly chimpy Dubya notwithstanding, at least Fred Thompson can sometimes muster up the ornery menace of an aging silverback. But it was last night’s warm-up act, with also-rans Romney, Huckabee, and Giuliani sneering and snarling with abandon at Obama, “liberals,” the “elite media,” the home television audience, and just about everything else that crossed their path, that felt like the real flying monkey attack.
Now, I can’t say I have my finger on the pulse of the nation or anything, but, in terms of the sheer quantity of vitriol, last night’s flurry of bad mojo felt quite a bit to me like Pat Buchanan’s disastrous 1992 “Culture War” speech all over again. (The fur flew so thick last night that even the AP felt compelled to mention the blatant untruths today.) We’ll see how it plays over the next few days and weeks, of course, but I get a strong sense that the Republicans didn’t help their cause much at all last night. (And, if you were to happen to infer that, by calling that ridiculous trio of GOP Pep Boys “flying monkeys,” I was implicitly comparing Gov. Palin, who later dripped with similar derision and contempt from her unfortunate sea of black, to Margaret Hamilton, well, that’s all on you…sexist.)
At any rate, to, take ’em in their miniboss order…
Mitt Romney: “Is a Supreme Court liberal or conservative that awards Guantanamo terrorists with Constitutional rights?” This one’s easy…Douchebag. [Transcript.] Is there anything else one needs to say about the man? It wasn’t so long ago even the GOP was united in their dislike of the guy’s patent insincerity. But last night, of course, Republicans hooted and hollered through his manifestly idiotic remarks about a “liberal Washington” like he was Don Rickles killing at the Palms. “Is government spending — excluding inflation — liberal or conservative if it doubles since 1980? — It’s liberal!” Of course, self-proclaimed conservatives, and darlings of everybody in that room last night, have run the White House for twenty of those twenty-eight years…but you already knew that. “It’s time for the party of big ideas, not the party of Big Brother!” Uh…I guess Mitt hasn’t been following the news all that much of late, nor did he seem to pre-read his own speech. (See the first quoted sentence above.) I could go on, but you get the point: Douchebag. Let’s move on.
Mike Huckabee: “John McCain will follow the fanatics to their caves in Pakistan or to the gates of hell. What Obama wants to do is give them a place setting at the table.” Alright, I feel a bit bad for lumping in Huckaboom with the rest of the night’s speakers. [Transcript.] He’s clearly a smarter, abler politician than 95% of the Republicans out there (even if his weird anecdote about veterans and desks barely made a lick of sense), and his remarks wisely eschewed most of the angry invective that marked all of the other speeches. (His early nod to Obama’s candidacy — “Party or politics aside, we celebrate this milestone because it elevates our country” — went over like a lead balloon in the auditorium last night.) Still, even with his friendly, aw-shucks demeanor, Huckabee laid on the finger-pointing pretty thick at times, particularly once he set his sights upon the “elite media, whose “reporting of the past few days has proven tackier than a costume change at a Madonna concert.“
Governor Huck probably trod onto the thinnest ice last night when he tried to portray the GOP as the “real” party of poor folk and ordinary working joes. This is wildly implausible for many reasons, not the least because Huckabee himself deemed the Republicans “a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wall Street and the corporations” only a few short months ago. Plus, it’s really hard to buy into this sort of “broke-like-us” tripe when Cindy McCain is wearing $300,000 of bling to the big show.
Rudy Giuliani: “For four days in Denver and for the past 18 months, Democrats have been afraid to use the words ‘Islamic terrorism.’ During their convention, the Democrats rarely mentioned the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.” 9/11, 9/11, 9/11? Mayor Rudy 9iu11iani, it seems, is not above living down to his caricature. Of the three Pep Boy speeches, this is the one that will probably be remembered as the biggest misfire for the GOP. [Transcript.] Even if Romney’s was more intellectually dishonest as written, Giuliani’s shrill anti-Obama screed was emphatically the most poorly delivered. (Not that Giuliani scrimped on the intellectual dishonesty. See, for example, his resurrection of the hoary “present vote” meme.) For whatever reason — some say pique at his speech being moved — Giuliani came across as even more weaselly and intemperate than usual last night, and — I say this as someone who, despite everything since, gave him much credit for his original handling of 9/11 — Rudy seems weaselly and intemperate on the best of days. In any case, however much it may have fired up the faithful, Hizzoner’s rant didn’t play at all on TV. (While I’m linking TPM, Josh Marshall got off a great zinger last night: “I think I preferred this speech in the original German.“)
Over the past few days, I’ve refrained from posting every single revelation about the seemingly un-vetted Palin here, partly because I think little is gained by poring over the details of the awkward baby-momma story (even if the hypocrisy of the family values crowd has been stunning), and partly because keeping up with every facet of her creepy-craziness would’ve consumed the entire week. (If the Enquirer affair story gets locked down next week, that might well get a post here, tho’ — as did Edwards’ indiscretions. Also, a PSA for any kids who happen to stop by — watch what you write on your MySpace page, y’all. That’s one to grow on.)
So, how did Palin attempt to distract us, however briefly, from the fact that she’s an unqualified, uninformed, scandal–ridden, pro-life, creationist, secessionist, wolf-massacring, book-banning Buchananite fundie? Well, mainly by channeling Rush Limbaugh for forty minutes: “When the cloud of rhetoric has passed, when the roar of the crowd fades away, when the stadium lights go out and those styrofoam Greek columns are hauled back to some studio lot. When that happens, what exactly is our opponent’s plan? What does he actually seek to accomplish after he’s done turning back the waters and healing the planet? The answer — the answer is to make government bigger and take more of your money and give you more orders from Washington and to reduce the strength of America in a dangerous world.” Uh, yeah. 1988 called…they want their talking points back.
I wish there was more to Palin’s coming-out address to recommend it, but 99.44% of her speech was just this sort of smarmy, deeply-negative, over-the-top ridicule for Obama-Biden, delivered for the sole purpose of firing up the tired remnants of the fringe right. (Another case in point: “My fellow citizens, the American presidency is not supposed to be a journey of personal discovery.“) Even elements of her biography that I somewhat respect were grossly mismanaged. True, being the cleanest Republican politician in Alaska is kinda like being the world’s tallest pygmy — and, as noted above, Palin’s hands aren’t all that clean anyway. But, still, I’d have respected the Governor more this morning if she hadn’t openly lied to us last night about her reform credentials. (“I told the Congress ‘thanks, but no thanks’ on that bridge to nowhere.” — I believe Peggy Noonan has an apt phrase for this kind of blatant falsifcation. For shame.)
Update: “Obama was working for a group of churches that were concerned about their parishioners…They hired Obama to help those stunned people recover and get the services they needed –job training, help with housing and so forth –from the local government. It was, dare I say it, the Lord’s work — the sort of mission Jesus preached (as opposed to the war in Iraq, which Palin described as a ‘task from God.’) This is what Palin and Giuliani were mocking. They were making fun of a young man’s decision ‘to serve a cause greater than himself,’ in the words of John McCain. They were, therefore, mocking one of their candidate’s favorite messages.” By way of DYFL, TIME‘s Joe Klein angrily rallies to the defense of community organizers.
“As easy as it is for those of us who are white to look back and say ‘That’s a terrible statement!’ … I grew up in a very segregated South. And I think that you have to cut some slack — and I’m gonna be probably the only conservative in America who’s gonna say something like this, but I’m just tellin’ you — we’ve gotta cut some slack to people who grew up being called names, being told ‘you have to sit in the balcony when you go to the movie. You have to go to the back door to go into the restaurant…And you know what? Sometimes people do have a chip on their shoulder and resentment. And you have to just say, I probably would too. I probably would too. In fact, I may have had more of a chip on my shoulder had it been me.” Jeremiah Wright is defended by a brother from across the pew, Mike Huckabee. Gotta say, I don’t agree with basically any of Huckabee’s policy positions, but, he can be a seriously likable guy at times (even if he did fold a defense of Falwell into his remarks.)
In South Carolina, Barack Obama wins in a rout, beating Hillary Clinton by 28 points and winning more votes than Clinton and Edwards combined. (And, as Andrew Sullivan noted tonight, Obama also scored more Palmetto votes than McCain and Huckabee combined…something to consider for the general election.) Some of the interesting numbers:
So now, we move to Super Tuesday, and the main demographic problem facing Senator Obama — the generation gap among whites — remains. (How the generation that coined the term “Don’t trust anyone over 30” became so distrustful of Obama’s Kennedyesque appeal remains, frankly, more than a little depressing.)
But, hope remains, while the company is true. I’ve been volunteering at Obama events over the past week and expect to continue to do so over the next nine days. Let’s each of us do what we can. The stakes are too high not to give it our all…And, if South Carolina is any indication, the times are definitely a-changin’.
So, the debates.
Of course, every big show has an opening act, and the undercard tonight was the Republicans. I realize I’ve been slipping on the GOP coverage around these parts of late, and I apologize…I promise to catch up once the Dem side quiets down (As a show of good faith: hey, look! Romney won Cheney country.) Still, part of the reason I’ve been losing interest in the GOP’s internecine disputes this cycle is because — even notwithstanding the moldering albatross that is Dubya — their candidates are all so lousy, and everyone knows it. (The Iowa attendance numbers, where the Dems outnumbered Republicans 2-1, tell most of the story.) Still, my main impressions of the GOP side tonight were thus:
The Democrats. First off, I should say — and I’m sure it’s obvious by now anyway, judging by the content here the past few days — that I watched the debate not only as an Obama partisan but as someone profoundly irritated by Sen. Clinton for her lowball maneuvers of recent days. So, grab that shaker of salt and let’s proceed…
At any rate, Edwards’ decision to go after Clinton rather than Obama may seem like “ganging up,” but I can see the sense of it. For one, it’s clear to all now that Obama’s tapped in to a yearning for change that transcends the usual political categories, and, Edwards has decided he might be able to win the populism versus progressivism discussion between two “change” candidates if Clinton’s out of the picture. (It’d be a fascinating debate.) For another, I’ve been reading a lot of online coverage about the election post-Iowa, and it seems pretty clear that Edwards supporters are livid that he’s still considered the forgotten man in the race. Given that he bested Clinton in Iowa and is still being treated as an also-ran, he has a legitimate axe to grind with her.
The Senator’s attack-mode, to my admittedly jaundiced eye, was unseemly. For one, this was the first time I can remember Clinton playing the “first woman president” card so flagrantly, and it reeked of desperation. (To his credit, Obama didn’t feel the need to return the wallowing in identity politics.) For another, her anger blazed through at certain moments, particularly after Edwards showed he wasn’t going to be her friend tonight, and I doubt it played very well to New Hampshire’s undecided. (But again, I’m not a good judge of this sort of thing by now. Lines like “We don’t need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered” just drive me to distraction.)
Speaking of which, one of the more intriguing volleys between Clinton and Obama happened late in the game, when Clinton once again tried to push the “false prophet” angle against Obama. Said Clinton: “So you know, words are not actions. And as beautifully presented and passionately felt as they are, they are not action. What we’ve got to do is translate talk into action and feeling into reality.” Obama’s response: “There have been periods of time in our history where a president inspired the American people to do better. And I think we’re in one of those moments right now. I think the American people are hungry for something different and can be mobilized around big changes; not incremental changes, not small changes…The truth is actually words do inspire. Words do help people get involved. Don’t discount that power, because when the American people are determined that something is going to happen, then it happens. And if they are disaffected and cynical and fearful and told that it can’t be done, then it doesn’t. I’m running for president because I want to tell them, yes, we can. And that’s why I think they’re responding in such large numbers.” That sums up a good deal of Obama’s oratorical appeal, and explains why Clinton, no matter what she says to the contrary, could never be the candidate of change. She just doesn’t get it. As I said in my progressivism post of a few weeks ago: Without vision, the people perish. America’s left is plumb sick of the poll-driven, over-triangulated brand of GOP-lite policy wonk Clinton represents. Put aside the V-Chips and school uniforms: We are looking to dream big again.
“The two faiths have struggled with each other for years…In fact, probably no other organization in the nation has played a bigger role in perpetuating the idea that Mormonism is a cult than the Southern Baptist Convention.” In light of the Huckabee-Romney race to be seen as Christian-in-Chief (subliminal ads and all), friend and colleague Neil J. Young of Little Bit Left ruminates on the enduring Mormon-Baptist divide for Slate. And, in related news, DoL Robert Novak argues that Huckabee may suffer from lingering internecine disputes within the SBC — Apparently, for some of his co-religionists, he hasn’t been conservative enough. (Finally, while on the subject of Republican candidates, religion, and history, I was heartened to see Ron Paul knows his Sinclair Lewis.)
“Nor would I separate us from our religious heritage. Perhaps the most important question to ask a person of faith who seeks a political office, is this: does he share these American values: the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty?” Well, Governor Romney, that’s the question. I was busy the day of the “Big Speech,” so I ended up watching some of it on Youtube [2, 3] and reading the rest online. And, while I’d definitely quibble with the notion that “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom,” it seems Mitt waited too long to pander to the evangelicals regardless: Huckabee’s doubled up on him — and everybody else — in Iowa, and is now running second nationally behind Giuliani. And, as Drudge dredged up this morning, Huckabee has been doling out red meat to scary religious conservatives for well over a decade now, including recommending the quarantining of AIDS patients in 1992. Even though Romney will say pretty much anything, It’ll be hard for the Governor to catch up with that kind of crazy, especially if he expects to remain at all electable.
Another new poll, by way of the Des Moines Register, puts Obama slightly in the Iowa lead at 28%, to Clinton’s 25% and Edwards’ 23%. (All candidates are within the margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.) Also, it seems Obama may well have cut deeply into Clinton’s impressive support among Iowa women: “In the new poll, Obama leads with support from 31 percent of women likely attend the caucuses, compared to 26 percent for Clinton. In October, Clinton was the preferred candidate of 34 percent of women caucusgoers, compared to 21 percent for Obama” Still, Clinton maintains her generational ace in the hole: “Clinton is the top choice among caucusgoers 55 years old and older. The largest share of Democratic caucusgoers — exactly half — are in this age group.” Meanwhile, on the GOP side, Mike Huckabee leads Mitt Romney 29%-24%, with no one else even close. “That’s a gain of 17 percentage points since the last Iowa Poll was taken in early October, when Huckabee trailed both Romney and Fred Thompson.” We have a ways to go yet, but it’s looking like we’ve got ourselves a barnburner on both sides of the aisle, and I’m obviously pleased as punch that Obama is not only in the running but leading the pack. Onward and upward.
Update: “Now the fun part starts“? Sensing the obvious danger to her candidacy in Obama’s Iowa lead, Hillary Clinton announces she’s going negative, and illustrates thus by insinuating Obama has character issues. “‘I want a long term relationship,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to just have a one night stand with all of you.'”
Is this it? Is this all you can conjure, Republicans? Perhaps it was because I was feeling mighty under the weather when catching up with it on TiVo, but last Thursday’s GOP debate was more than a little underwhelming. Of the top tier, Mitt Romney probably acquitted himself the best: He seemed a bit blow-dried and canned, sure, but we were at the Reagan library, after all, and he didn’t do anything to hurt his standing as a front-runner with money to burn. Frankly, John McCain‘s act seemed stale to me: The “Gates of Hell” notwithstanding, he seemed to possess little-to-none of the from-the-gut, truth-to-power charisma that propelled him through 2000. (And his pained, convoluted stance on Iraq — everything got screwed up for years but now we’re hunky-dory — doesn’t make a lick of sense.) Rudy Giuliani proved once again that he’s a better candidate in theory than in practice, and I don’t see his half-hearted shrug over Roe V. Wade playing too well to the conservative cheap seats. (Let’s not forget, three of these ten folks — Brownback, Huckabee, Tancredo — wouldn’t even admit to believing in evolution.) Speaking of which, Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback seemed like the two among the rest with the best shot to jump up a notch, particularly as either could conceivably become the favorite son of the Dobson wing of the party. Ron Paul’s ardent libertarianism was a surprising X-factor in the debate, and I thought it was kinda fun to have him around. (He also came across better, IMO, than the Dem’s official monkey wrench, Mike Gravel.) Jim Gilmore, Tommy Thompson, Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter? Meh. If I were Fred Thompson, I wouldn’t be dissuaded from a run by this lot. I mean, the GOP field already looks like one of those WaMu ads with the gang of disgruntled bankers (Indeed, an Obama-and-GOP Youtube remix seems inevitable) — why not add one more to the mix?
Probably the most telling fact of the evening was the dog that didn’t bark: Dubya. Watching these ten prominent Republicans squirm and equivocate every time anyone mentioned the president and his current policies tells you everything you need to know about 2008 — After eight years of GOP mismanagement and corruption, the election is the Dems to lose.
“‘We tried to explain to the folks in Boston early on that it’s a little different here,’ says Terry Sullivan, a veteran political operative who is running former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in the Palmetto State. ‘It’s kind of a knife fight.'” Meanwhile, right down the road in my home state, the Republicans already seem to be fighting in the gutter, as Salon‘s Michael Scherer reports. “‘The person who wins the South Carolina primary generally becomes the nominee,’ explained South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham…’It’s a test of a red state. It will be a real test of strength among conservatives in general. So you have to have your best game on.’“