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John McCain

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The Guerrilla.

“I knew he was proud of his reputation as the ‘Red Napoleon,’ and I presumed he would welcome an opportunity to indulge my curiosity about his triumphs…But he answered most of my questions briefly, adding little to what I already knew, and then waved his hand to indicate disinterest. That is all in the past now, he said. You and I should discuss a future where our countries are not enemies but friends. And so we did.”

The man in the black pajamas, Dude: Upon the latter’s death at the age of 102, Senator John McCain remembers General Vo Nguyen Giap, architect of Dien Bien Phu and Tet. “Countries, not just their armies, win wars. Giap understood that. We didn’t. Americans tired of the dying and the killing before the Vietnamese did. It’s hard to defend the morality of the strategy. But you can’t deny its success.

Straight Talk about Torture.


I don’t mourn the loss of any terrorist’s life. What I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official neglect we confuse or encourage those who fight this war for us to forget that best sense of ourselves. Through the violence, chaos and heartache of war, through deprivation and cruelty and loss, we are always Americans, and different, stronger and better than those who would destroy us.

Showing a flash of his 2000 self in today’s WaPo op-ed page, John McCain argues anew that torture is un-American — and that Bush water-carriers like Michael Mukasey are lying about its efficacy in the Bin Laden hunt. He then followed up with a Senate speech to the same effect:

“In fact, not only did the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed not provide us with key leads on bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed; it actually produced false and misleading information…In short, it was not torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately enabled our intelligence community to find Osama bin Laden.

Roberts et al, meet Sotomayor.

“I chose to be a lawyer and ultimately a judge because I find endless challenge in the complexities of the law. I firmly believe in the rule of law as the foundation for all of our basic rights…Mr. President, I greatly appreciate the honor you are giving me, and I look forward to working with the Senate in the confirmation process.” Hearkening back to the pragmatists once again — “For as Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, the life of the law has not been logic, it has been experience” — President Obama chooses Judge Sonia Sotomayor as Souter’s replacement on the Court. [Wiki]

Naturally, conservatives are getting their opposition ducks in a row (with some help from Jeffrey Rosen’s recent dubious hit piece in TNR.) “But some Senate GOP officials privately conceded that, barring a major stumble, the judge will probably be confirmed with relative ease. ‘You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that we need to tread very carefully,’ said John Weaver, a Republican political consultant who advised Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for years. ‘The only way we’ll find ourselves in a political predicament is if we don’t treat her with the same respect that other nominees received.’” Yeah, good luck with that.

In any case, early word on Judge Sotomayor is that she is very far from the liberal activist of right-wing nightmare, but rather a “highly capable technocrat,” and exactly the sort of hypercompetent and moderate — perhaps to a fault — pick one would expect from this president. “‘She’s a lawyer’s lawyer,’ said Paul Smith, a partner at Jenner & Block who participated in the call…She’s a cautious lawyer…who was a corporate lawyer herself…She reads statutes narrowly.

U.S. History for Dummies.

As many readers here well know, I’ve spent a good bit of time over the past decade studying US history. (In fact, over the past few years, I’ve occasionally helped my advisor keep a textbook up to date that recently drew the ire of right-wing blowhard Bill O’Reilly. Apparently, those damn pesky facts were somehow mitigating O’Reilly’s ability to spew forth the usual idiotic blather.)

Anyway, over that period of time, I believe I have in fact learned me a few things. So, as a public service of sorts, and because, after this morning’s revelations, I’ve reached the limit of craven and/or patently stupid falsehoods that I can feasibly ingest over so short a time, some “U.S. History for Dummies.” I expect most everyone who comes by this site with any frequency knows all this, but ya never know. Apologies for the didacticism in advance — if this were this a Coors Light commercial, this would be where i vent. (And thanks to Lia for the timely visual tax lesson, above.)

  • The Tea Party: As you no doubt know, the Boston Tea Party of 1773 was recently appropriated by FOX News and the conservative group Freedomworks to simulate a widespread popular uprising against high taxes. (In other words, it was an “astroturf,” rather than a grass-roots, movement.) And, yes, the inconvenient fact that President Obama and the Democratic Congress actually lowered income taxes for 95% of Americans earlier this year didn’t seem to dissuade them from trying to jury-rig some rather dubious anti-tax ramparts and gin up enough disgruntled FOX-watchers to man them.

    At any rate, as most people remember from high school, the original 1773 Tea Party was not a protest against high taxes or high prices at all. (In fact, legally imported tea — i.e. that of the East India Company, which was both suffering serious setbacks over in India and losing market share to smuggled Dutch tea at the time — was actually cheaper in the colonies after the Tea Act, since it was now exempt from the usual obligations.)

    In small part a reaction of the East India’s commercial rivals to this sweetheart deal, the Boston Tea Party was mainly held to uphold the principle of No taxation without representation. Which I don’t think I need to explain. So, with the minor exception of DC-area conservatives who attended the tea gathering in Washington (without crossing over from Virginia or Maryland), the, uh, “teabaggers” don’t really have a leg to stand on here. This is particularly true after you consider that both ruthless gerrymandering and the vagaries of the Electoral College (I’m looking at you, Wyoming) actually tend to lead to over-representation of conservative Republicans in our halls of governance, even despite heavy losses for the “Grand Old Party” in 2006 and 2008.

  • The “Right” of Secession: Apparently, Rick Perry, the right-wing governor of Texas, really wants to keep his job. As such, he’s scared stiff of the forthcoming primary challenge by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who happens to be much more popular than he is among Texas Republicans. So, to sow up his “activist” (re: freak show) bona fides, this desperate fellow has been doing anything and everything he possibly can to prostrate himself before the paranoid ultra-right, including appearing before the current poobahs of the GOP’s lunatic fringe, Glenn Beck and Michael Savage. As you no doubt know, this recently culminated in Gov. Perry’s upholding Texas’ right to secede before a crowd of rabid teabaggers. Said the Governor: ““We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that…

    Well, in fact, no state in the Union has any legal right to secede. (Not even Texas.) The existence of such a right was posited and debated quite often in the early years of the republic: by Jefferson and Madison in the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions, by the members of the Hartford Convention, by South Carolina’s philosopher-politician John C. Calhoun, and countless others.

    But the illegality of secession was eventually confirmed — in blood — when eleven states attempted to pull out of the Union in 1861, due mainly to differing opinions on the institution of slavery and its expansion into the western territories. As a result of this insurrection by the southern states, a violent conflict broke out, which we call the Civil War. It lasted four years, and it was kind of a big deal.

    Prior to the war, the states of the Confederacy believed secession to be their natural right, while those remaining in the Union believed it to be tantamount to an act of treason. With the Union victory in that conflict, and the subsequent readmittance of southern states in such a manner that reaffirmed that no right of secession exists, the question was settled. So it remains to this day.

  • Waterboarding, Torture, and “Just Following Orders”: In the wake of recent revelations, there’s been a renewed push among certain conservatives to laugh off waterboarding as not being constitutive of torture. (See also Rush Limbaugh’s fratboy defense of Abu Ghraib a few years ago.) But (as even John McCain concedes), in the years after World War II, there was no question among Americans that waterboarding is torture. In fact, Japanese soldiers were tried and convicted of war crimes for waterboarding American GIs and Filipino prisoners. When you think about it, it’s not really a tough call.

    Another argument we’ve heard lately — today Sen. McCain made it with his usual comrades-in-arms, Sens. Lieberman and Graham, while trying to protect Dubya’s lawyers — is that the CIA officials who actually conducted these recent acts of torture should be exempt from prosecution, because they were following the legal dictates of those higher-up in the administration. (To follow the reasoning around the circle, the torturers should be exempt because they were listening to the lawyers, and the lawyers should be exempt because they didn’t do the actual torturing. Cute.)

    Anyway, whatever you think of the merits of this argument, this is usually referred to as the Nuremberg defense, and it is in fact no defense at all. Argues Principle IV of the Nuremberg Principles, devised by the Allies after WWII to determine what constituted a war crime: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.” Insert “CIA interrogator” for person in that last sentence and you can pretty much see the problem.

  • Is America a Christian Nation?: At the end of his recent European tour, President Obama told an audience in Turkey the following: “We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.” This statement — well the “not a Christian nation” part of it, at least — prompted no small amount of consternation from the porcine-moralist wing of the GOP — James Dobson, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, and sundry other freaks of the industry — all of whom fell over themselves to proclaim to the Heavens and preach to the FOX News choir that, yes, Virginia, America is a glorious Christian nation.

    America is not a Christian nation. This will be patently obvious to anyone who’s ever heard the phrase “separation of church and state.” Unlike, say, England, America does not have and has never had an official, established church. This is very much by design. For proof of this not-very-radical claim, see the very first clause of the very first amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

    If that doesn’t do it for you, see George Washington’s famous 1790 letter to the Jewish residents of Newport, Rhode Island. “May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.

    Or consider that Thomas Jefferson skipped his presidency on his tombstone to make room for his authorship of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom: “Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” (We could also make mention of the Jefferson Bible, but let’s start slow.)

    Is the reasoning here too circuitous for Rove, Gingrich, et al to follow? Ok, then, here’s the cheat sheet: the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, passed by a Congress of our Founders without declaim and signed into law by President John Adams. It begins: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…” Did y’all catch it this time? Good, let’s move on.

  • A Smile for Chavez: Our new president also attended the Summit of the Americas recently, at which he was photographed smiling and shaking hands with Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chavez, a particular bete noire of the right who has said all manner of unpleasant things about America over the past few years.

    After the picture was taken, conservatives went predictably livid, with Matt Drudge headlining the offending photograph with the usual red text, Dick Cheney deeming Obama “a weak president” on FOX News, and Gingrich arguing that it made Obama look “weak like Carter.” “We didn’t rush over, smile and greet Russian dictators,” said Newt, and he wasn’t the only potential 2012′er aghast at Obama’s behavior. Sen. John Ensign of Nevada called the president “irresponsible” and the consistently shameless Mitt Romney painted Obama a “timid advocate for freedom”.

    Um, ok. Well, let’s see here…


    I could go on. With regards to that last one — Reagan yukking it up with Mikhail Gorbachev, then of “the evil Empire” — it didn’t take long before (surprise) Newt was caught in a contradiction. Apparently, Gingrich had previously argued on his website that Ronald Reagan’s good humor with Gorby was a sign of strength, not weakness.

    Speaking of which, as Lawrence O’Donnell noted on MSNBC the other day, saintly old Ronald Reagan didn’t just smile and shake hands with America’s enemies. His administration sold them weapons under the table. So, please, assorted puddin’-heads of the GOP talkocracy, spare me your warmed-over tripe about poor diplomacy and weak leadership. As with everything else above, I’ve swallowed enough of your swill over the past few weeks to last me a lifetime.

  • Obama: Give Peace a Chance.

    “‘I’m here tonight to say a few words about an American hero I have come to know very well and admire very much — Sen. John McCain. And then, according to the rules agreed to by both parties, John will have approximately 30 seconds to make a rebuttal.’” Now here’s a prez worth hugging…On the eve of his inauguration, Sen. Obama publicly makes nice with his former adversary, John McCain.

    And, apparently it’s not just for show: According to the NYT, the president-elect has been trying to forge a bond with McCain (and his No. 2, Lindsey Graham) since soon after the election. “Mr. Obama arrived for their Chicago meeting on Nov. 16 with several well-researched proposals to collaborate on involving some of Mr. McCain’s favorite causes, including a commission to cut ‘corporate welfare,’ curbing waste in military procurement and an overhaul of immigration rules.

    Hey, rapprochement is good, bipartisanship is good. And working Senators McCain and Graham (and, I’d presume Maine’s moderates, Snowe and Collins) is simply smart politics. Still, when push inevitably comes to shove on Iraq, health care, and a host of other issues, hopefully the president-elect will remember to dance with who brung him.

    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.

    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.

  • The Situational Ethicists.

    [Obama] should have, right from the beginning, been more forthcoming.” Uh…what? Former White House consigliere Karl Rove, he of the missing e-mails and the congressional contempt citation, takes it upon himself to lecture the incoming Obama administration on issues of transparency vis a vis the Blagojevich situation, which is a bit like listening to Dirty Harry tsk-tsk someone for not following standard police procedure. I’m sorry, Karl, but you don’t have much credibility when it comes to the “forthcoming” department. Not. at. all.

    The larger story here, of course, is the Republican attempt to ascribe nefarious deeds to the Obama team when it’s patently clear, from the transcripts and otherwise, that the incoming administration’s hands are clean in the Blagojevich matter. We’ve seen this movie several times before during the Clinton era, when conservatives, abetted by the lazy groupthink tendencies of certain scandal-hungry media outlets, conspired to create full-blown, prolonged investigations out of Whitewater and the like. Let’s hope we’re all a little bit wiser to the origins of such manufactured controversies nowadays.

    The Senate: Never Again.

    “‘The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of “a few bad apples” acting on their own,’ the panel concludes. ‘The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.” A new bipartisan report by the Senate Armed Services Committee lays the blame for detainee abuse squarely on Donald Rumsfeld and his top deputies. “Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.

    Also of note, the statement today by Sen. John McCain, the ranking GOP member who signed off on the investigation: “The committee’s report details the inexcusable link between abusive interrogation techniques used by our enemies who ignored the Geneva Conventions and interrogation policy for detainees in U.S. custody. These policies are wrong and must never be repeated.” It’s good to be on the same page again, Senator.

    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.

    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.”

    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.

    …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.

    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.

    Round One: Obama by Decision.

    “John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007. The war started in 2003…You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong. You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shia and Sunni. And you were wrong.”

    I doubt y’all missed it (even if the ratings were surprisingly low.) Nonetheless, Senators Obama and McCain held their first of three debates Friday night in Mississippi, ostensibly on foreign policy matters (although the economic situation on Wall Street took up the first half-hour.) [Transcript.] And the verdict? Well, to no one’s surprise, I’m going to go with Obama on this one. I’m just not going to pretend to be as fair and balanced as John King, David Gergen, and the other seemingly randomly selected poobahs of our Fourth Estate (who was the Aussie guy holding court next to Christine Amanpour?), who went out of their way on CNN to convince me that McCain seemed knowledgable, spry, and at ease during this event. Nope, I think I’ll side with the polls, which have a cool, level-headed, and magnanimous Sen. Obama winning the event handily.

    The thing is, even more than with Sen. Hillary Clinton, whom I agreed with most of the time on the issues even when I disagreed completely with her GOP-lite campaign tactics, I just can’t take John McCain at all seriously at this point, and particularly after both Palin and the non-suspension suspension. So, when McCain tries to tout a career ostensibly spent in the service of congressional ethics, my inelastic brain just keeps thinking “Uh…Keating 5?” Anybody watching the past few years knows that McCain was as AWOL in the fight against Boss DeLay as he has been in countering Dubya these past two terms. And, whatever happened to McCain since 2000, speaking-truth-to-power is not something that comes readily to him anymore, if it ever did. So most of his early “I’m a proven maverick” speel Friday night fell on deaf ears from jump street in this household, and thus I can’t speak to how it might’ve played to those still-undecideds out there willing to buy into his craven sham.

    That being said, I had a sense while watching — and the polls seem to bear this out — that McCain was making a critical error with his oft-repeated “Sen. Obama doesn’t understand” routine. That might’ve worked if Obama had seemed greener up there next to McCain, or if Obama was as inarticulate and incompetent as, say, Sarah Palin. But as it was, Sen. Obama came across as unruffled, competent, and conversant on all the issues the mythical maverick tried to paint him as naive on (and/or lie about.) And thus the strategy (or was it a tactic?), imho, backfired massively. Instead, McCain — missing the soft touch of Ronald Reagan, who turned age to his advantage against Mondale in 1984 with a joke and a smile — basically came across as a cantankerous old coot, dripping with undeserved contempt toward that damn whippersnapper in his yard.

    It’s mainly for this reason that I think, however much the debate is being painted as a draw by the punditariat, Obama came out the clear victor: Sen. Obama did not seem callow or inexperienced in the slightest, but lordy did McCain — squinting, smirking, and drowning in derision — come across as aged. And I may be wrong about this, but I just don’t think the Old Man Withers strategy plays with the undecides. I know that many lefties out there wanted to see a more forceful Obama on the attack Friday night, but I don’t think that was his mission: It was more important that he, like Kennedy in 1960, seemed presidential, level-headed, and the very opposite of the risky gamble that the McCain folks would try to make him seem. In that, I think, he succeeded, particularly in contrast to the snarky old man standing across from him. Advantage Obama.

    Suspension of Disbelief.

    “I am confident that before the markets open on Monday we can achieve consensus on legislation that will stabilize our financial markets, protect taxpayers and homeowners, and earn the confidence of the American people. All we must do to achieve this is temporarily set politics aside, and I am committed to doing so.” Uh, but I thought the fundamentals of our economy were strong! Apparently now cognizant of our recent economic travails, John McCain announces he’s temporarily suspending his campaign to focus on the Wall Street bailout, and has asked for Friday’s foreign policy debate to be delayed.

    If we learned anything from the Palin debacle, it’s that the mythical maverick isn’t above pulling a ridiculous and transparent stunt when he’s starting to sweat the polls. Well, here we go again. Update: Sez Obama, the debate is on. Damn right.

    A Small-Town Cheney.

    “Ms. Palin walks the national stage as a small-town foe of ‘good old boy’ politics and a champion of ethics reform…But an examination of her swift rise and record as mayor of Wasilla and then governor finds that her visceral style and penchant for attacking critics — she sometimes calls local opponents ‘haters’ — contrasts with her carefully crafted public image.

    As if Sarah Palin’s recent spate of lies weren’t enough to cast doubt on her fitness for the Oval Office, the NYT delves into the Alaska Governor’s backstory…and finds ugly shadows therein. “Throughout her political career, she has pursued vendettas, fired officials who crossed her and sometimes blurred the line between government and personal grievance, according to a review of public records and interviews with 60 Republican and Democratic legislators and local officials.

    Throw in Palin’s attempts to evade disclosure of gubernatorial e-mails, and her refusal to cooperate with the investigation into her illegal firings, and it all starts to sound so very familiar

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