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Ron & Rand Paul

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Score one for Paul.

“Barack Obama of 2007 would be right down here with me. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul delivers an old-school, 13-hour filibuster against Obama’s drone policies, and — with the exception of Ron Wyden — the Senate Democrats go almost completely AWOL. “Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also took to the floor twice, but mostly to defend the U.S. government’s authority to target American citizens in ‘extraordinary circumstances.'”

Wrong answer. The policy FAIL here is obvious and egregious — Why would anyone of a lefty bent support giving a president unitary and unchecked authority to kill anyone he or she wants, without even a semblance of due process? Would they be this sanguine about it if Dick Cheney was holding the kill button? But even notwithstanding that, Democrats are making a terrible political mistake by letting Senator Paul, along with opportunistic slimebags like Mitch MConnell and far-right asshats like budding McCarthyite Ted Cruz, get to the left of them on this issue.

I get that some senators had procedural issues with the filibuster of a Cabinet nominee. But, at a certain point, this just looks like typical Dem spinelessness and situational ethics — Is preserving proper Senate procedure really more important than preserving constitutional due process? And if Rand Paul is the only person who’s going to stand up and call shenanigans on the administration for this chilling executive overreach, then thank you, Rand Paul.

Game of Votes.

Still taking a break. Nonetheless, this was too on-the-nose not to share, for election 2012 is dark and full of terrors. Enjoy.

A Kraftwerk Orange.

Not exactly the Avatar story we’re all waiting for, but nonetheless: In the near future, where cybernetics has advanced by leaps and bounds but hairpiece technology isn’t doing so hot, Bruce Willis tries to catch a murderer “offline” in the new trailer for Jonathan Mostow’s Surrogates, also with Radha Mitchell. Even before you throw in rasta Ving Rhames and (the underused) Rosamund Pike as the age-inappropriate wife — she’s 24 years Willis’ junior IRL — this screams “what’s on TNT after the game” B-movie to me. (Then again, that pretty much sums up all of Mostow’s oeuvre. But, hey, ya never know.)

And, speaking of “the return of Bruno,” this has been out for awhile but has recently been officially released domestically — the trailer for Sasha Baron Cohen’s Borat follow-up, Bruno. It looks like Ron Paul needs better advance people.

Ron Paul, Head Case.

“[T]he newsletters I saw all had one thing in common: They were published under a banner containing Paul’s name, and the articles…seem designed to create the impression that they were written by him — and reflected his views. What they reveal are decades worth of obsession with conspiracies, sympathy for the right-wing militia movement, and deeply held bigotry against blacks, Jews, and gays.McNulty might be acting like a nutjob these days, but, as TNR‘s James Kirchick writes today, he still has nothing on Ron Paul. “In the early 1990s, a newsletter attacked the ‘X-Rated Martin Luther King’ as a ‘world-class philanderer who beat up his paramours,’ ‘seduced underage girls and boys,’ and ‘made a pass at’ fellow civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy. One newsletter ridiculed black activists who wanted to rename New York City after King, suggesting that ‘Welfaria,’ ‘Zooville,’ ‘Rapetown,’ ‘Dirtburg,’ and ‘Lazyopolis’ were better alternatives.” (When asked about Kirchick’s story today, Paul called King “one of my heroes because he believed in nonviolence and that’s a libertarian principle,” but he didn’t exactly disavow this garbage: “Paul’s position is basically that he wrote the newsletters he stands by and someone else wrote the stuff he has disowned.” Sigh. The libertarians among us, and the libertarian philosophy, deserve a more sane spokesman.

Manchester Divided.

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:

  • Nobody likes Mitt Romney. At various points Huckabee, McCain, Thompson, and Giuliani were all cracking wise about his flip-flopping and such, and he’s not even the frontrunner anymore. (McCain’s up six.) I guess the rationale is a poor Romney showing in New Hampshire might knock him out early. That, and he’s been throwing his money around in negative ads. Either way, Romney was the primary punching bag for the majority of the debate.
  • Fred Thompson seemed older, more slothful, and less presidential than I remember him. His lazy contributions basically involved making fun of Ron Paul every so often. No wonder he hasn’t been catching fire.
  • Speaking of Ron Paul, he had the gleam of a true believer about him (the vaguely Gandalfian looks help), and it’d have been nice to see his brand of old-school, Robert Taft conservatism get a fairer hearing from his opponents, just so its more frightening aspects could be exposed. (Paul’s libertarianism sounds refreshingly anti-imperialistic on the foreign policy side. But on the domestic front, it’d mean the Gilded Age all over again.) Still, I can see why he’s drawing so many disgruntled young Republicans to his standard. And at least he’s trafficking in the realm of ideas.
  • Perhaps the trail is getting to him, but John McCain seemed like he was on autopilot all night. Still, as George Stephanopoulos noted in the post-game, he spent the night touting his conservative bona fides rather than his maverick cred, which will hopefully pay dividends for Obama among undecided independents.
  • Rudy Giuliani stayed in typical 9/11 9/11 9/11 form, with the aid of Ron Paul’s speaking of uncomfortable truths about our overseas involvements. Still, it seemed clear he’s just biding his time until Florida. He barely went after frontrunner (and his most obvious rival) John McCain at all.
  • I actually thought Mike Huckabee displayed some impressive kung-fu, for the most part. I still think he’s fundamentally unelectable (From his son’s Frist-like murdering of a stray dog to the horrible Wayne Dumond case to the AIDS quarantines, Gov. Huckaboom’s closet has more skeletons than Undercity.) Still, given his evangelical backing, his aw shucks delivery, and his wilier-than-you’d-first-expect responses, I could see him causing serious problems for his GOP competitors, and he gave the best answer to WMUR announcer Scott Spradling’s Obama question.
  • Speaking of which — yes, in case you missed it, the Republican field was asked how they’d run against Senator Obama should he be the Democratic nominee. (Remember the earlier claims that Clinton was being treated unfairly in the Russert debate? Well, Obama got the exact same frontrunner treatment from Gibson and Spradling tonight in both debates, and, by and large, he handled it fine.) Anyway, in case you’re wondering, Huckabee and Paul praised the Obama phenomenon, Romney tried to claim the mantle of change for himself, McCain touted his own experience, Thompson muttered some stale two-decade old tripe about “liberals,” and Giuliani brought up…wait for it, wait for it…national security. (Obama’s later response to all this: “I was going back and forth between the Republicans and football…[But] you know, we’ve seen this movie before. We know the Republican playbook.“) The point being, none of these guys seemed to have anything close to an answer yet for the Obama phenomenon. (All they wanted to do was voice their tried-and-tested soundbites about Hillarycare.) Which brings us to:

    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…

  • I thought Barack Obama did a solid job overall, and was strongest in the first half of the debate. He seemed knowledgable, thoughtful, decisive, and, most importantly, electable. He showed an ability to discuss specifics about the issues on the table, kept his larger narrative about hope and change intact, and made no serious blunders that would impede his post-Iowa momentum, which is all he really had to do. Obama scored his best response to Senator Clinton’s blunderbuss offense early on, when he calmly explained the differences between their two health plans and put the lie to her flip-flopping charges coolly and succinctly. For the most part, though, and as the evening progressed, he exercised his frontrunner privilege and stayed above the fray. Of course, he was aided in this strategy by… (Cue “Aunt Jackie“: “If that’s your man, then tag him in….“)
  • John Edwards, who performed just as well as he usually does. Clearly, the Edwards team made the tactical decision to try and knock out Clinton now and get it to a race between he and Obama. Thus: “‘Any time you speak out powerfully for change, the forces of status quo attack. He [Obama] believes deeply in change, and I believe deeply in change. And any time you’re fighting for that, I mean, I didn’t hear these kinds of attacks from Senator Clinton when she was ahead.‘” (The NYT is casting this as “Two Rivals Go After Defiant Clinton,” but that’s not in fact correct. Clinton went after Obama, expecting help from Edwards, who instead returned fire at Clinton. At that point, Clinton boiled over and Obama — recognizing Edwards would be an ally for the night rather than an adversary — magnanimously withdrew from the field. He didn’t “go after” anybody, and, as the frontrunner, why should he?)

    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.

  • Bill Richardson was there too.

  • Her back to the wall, Hillary Clinton was more combative than we’ve seen in any previous debate, calling Obama a flip-flopper right out of the box and not letting up much thereafter. (Obama’s jujitsu was solid, though, and he deftly deflected most of her attacks with specifics and a smile, until Edwards took over the fight. His only misstep may have been not playing along nicely enough with Clinton’s “I’m just a girl” act, although given everything Clinton’s been throwing at him in recent days, I’d say it’s a forgivable sin.)

    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.

  • Preaching to the (Re)Converted.

    “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.)

    Paul for Vendetta.

    “‘The American Republic is in remnant status,’ he says. ‘The stage is set for our country eventually devolving into military dictatorship, and few seem to care.'” Remember, remember the 5th of November? The Ron Paulies do, raising over $4 million in one day for their man (with help from this site) to commemorate Guy Fawkes Day. “Mr. Benton clarified that Mr. Paul did not support blowing up government buildings. ‘He wants to demolish things like the Department of Education,’ Mr. Benton said, ‘but we can do that very peacefully, in a constructive manner.’” (Just to clarify, however much sense Paul makes occasionally on issues like the Wars on terror and drugs, I find him mostly wrongheaded and frightening.)

    My Clinton Concerns | State of the Field.

    “‘You can look at this stage and see an African American, a Latino, a woman contesting for the presidency of the United States,’ Clinton said. ‘But there is so much left to be done, and for anyone to assert that race is not a problem in America is to deny the reality in front of our very eyes.'” Unfortunately, I missed the third Democratic debate at Howard University debate last night, so I can’t comment on the performances of Clinton, Obama, Edwards et al. I can say that this new NBC poll showing that 52% of the electorate wouldn’t consider voting for Hillary under any circumstances conforms to one of my major concerns with her nomination. As I said before, she’s a smart, talented, and impressive politico who’d undoubtedly sail the ship of state much more smoothly than the current administration. (Of course, so would you, I, the night-janitor at the local McDonalds, or almost anyone else one can think of.) But, really: [1] she’s thoroughly lousy on campaign finance reform, to my mind the issue that bears on virtually all others; [2] she apparently didn’t have the wherewithal or leadership instincts to realize the Iraq war was a terrible idea in 2003 (it didn’t take all that much to figure it out, particularly when you figure how much more information Clinton had access to than we did); [3] her view of centrism is apparently to act like Joe Lieberman every so often; and [4] most of the nation has already decided for various reasons that they don’t like her. With the Republicans scattered and in retreat, their ideology in eclipse, why do we keep throwing up marginal, tired candidates — Gore, Kerry, Clinton — on the off-chance that the electorate will manage to surmount their strong negatives, hold their collective nose, and vote for them?

    To be fair, the other Dems haven’t been all that great at articulating a progressive alternative to Republican-lite DLC-ishness yet either, but at least there’s some potential for it there. Sen. Obama‘s got all the right JFK moves, and this all-things-to-all-people ambiguity may be one of his strongest political assets. But right now I think he’s relying too much on his initial spate of public goodwill, and missing a chance to really draw the nation’s attention to the issues that concern him. And John Edwards‘ son-of-a-millworker-made-good brand of populism, while laudable, doesn’t yet seem fully formed to me. But, at the very least, Edwards — unlike some of his more-willing-to-triangulate opponents — seems more often than not to let his flag fly, and act from the courage of his convictions. Right now, particularly with McCain hopelessly derailed by his blatant compromises of principle, Edwards may be the closest we’ve got to a Straight-Talk-Express this year (well, this side of Kucinich, Gravel, and Paul.)

    At the moment, I’m still leaning towards Obama, just because of his tremendous upside — he, unlike virtually every other candidate, has the possibility to transform, revitalize, and realign our current political debate if he plays his cards right. But, Edwards is still in my estimation, and I’ll be taking a long hard look at him over the coming months (and either, in my humble opinion, are preferable to Senator Clinton, for the reasons listed above.)

    The Simi Valley Ten.

    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.

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