Monday, September 22, 2008

The End of Libertarianism

OK, I get it. We have to bail out Wall Street or face the wrath of Herbert Hoover. Ultimately, a trillion dollars will change hands and sleazebags everywhere will sleep easier.

At the moment, Congress is debating the conditions under which they will entrust the failed Bush administration with the money to undo its third greatest failure (after Iraq and Katrina).

So here's my condition. If we do this--and you know we're going to--I want Congress to pass a law enjoining libertarians from ever again showing their faces in polite society. Shutter the Cato Institute. Ship the collected works of Ayn Rand over to the comedy section at Barnes and Noble. Treat Phil Gramm with the same contempt reserved for the Marxist college professor who still defends Joe Stalin and the USSR.

My libertarian friends, we have tried it your way and your way is a failure. Your invisible hand mocks us with its large middle finger. The Reagan Revolution has ended, utterly discredited and beyond redemption. Time to re-re-name National Airport. Time for Grover Norquist and all the other proponents of radical deregulation to book their rooms in history's dustbin.

The era of small government is over.

Monday, September 8, 2008

How Not to Act Like a Real University

This morning I was looking for the latest polling data on But I accidentally typed When I did so, I was directed to the website of the University of Phoenix. I know it's common practice for some people and groups to buy up various url's and use them to direct unwitting web surfers to a specific (usually for-profit) site. But it never occurred to me that an institution claiming to be in the higher education business would consider it appropriate to do so.

I could add a comment here, but some things just speak for themselves.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

No Idea is Ever Original

Just found this from the front page of Daily Kos:

"The Obama campaign responds to Tracy Flick's speech:"

And as always, it is impossible to mention Kos without thanking him and his followers for helping to create the monster that Joe Lieberman has become. Their efforts in support of the Dukakis-like Ned Lamont, along with their pitiful ignorance of Connecticut election law, have combined to make the embittered Lieberman the most effective pitchman the Republicans have.

Don't get me wrong: I consider Lieberman to be a sanctimonious jackass, but at least he was our sanctimonious jackass. Now he's Exhibit A in the McCain effort to affect bipartisanship and to separate himself from Bush. Good job, guys.

Now I Know Who She Is...

I watched Sarah Palin tonight, and she reminded me of someone. But I couldn't place it. Then it suddenly struck me. She's Tracy Flick, the Reese Witherspoon character from "Election".

Friday, August 22, 2008

It's Keating Time

With the faultless logic of a third grader, John McCain's campaign now argues that Barack Obama's comments about the number of houses McCain owns has opened up the floodgates to all manner of personal attacks. Evidently, the presumptive GOP nominee has been holding back, though one would think that charging an opponent with putting his own electoral ambitions ahead of the security of the nation, as McCain did, would represent a more serious charge than anything Obama has concocted to date. Regardless, the Republicans are now promising to go nuclear, linking Obama to some guy named Rezko, an allegedly corrupt Chicagoan who once had close ties to the Illinois senator.

Corruption? Did someone mention corruption? If that's the route John McCain wants to travel, then it's time for Obama to make McCain answer for Charles Keating and the Lincoln Savings scandal of the late 1980s. Sure it was a long time ago, but I bet there are still a few people around whose life savings were wiped out by Keating's chicanery and have not forgiven McCain for his role in the affair. This seems like as good a time as any to demonstrate that, sadly enough, the experience of torture in a Vietnamese prison does not guarantee the development of an unassailable character.

It's Keating Time! (And it's about time.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Why Obama Needs Biden

The last vice presidential nominee to make a positive difference in a U.S. election was probably Lyndon Johnson in 1960. But that was another time, another world. To be sure, the vice presidency itself has become more important over time. Walter Mondale and Al Gore were key players in the Carter and Clinton administrations, and entire books will someday be written about Dick Cheney's central role in defiling nearly everything admirable and decent about the United States of America during the early years of the 21st century. Nevertheless, little evidence exists suggesting that vice presidential nominations move the electorate in any meaningful way.

That said, Barack Obama's candidacy has consistently defied conventional wisdom , and Obama has the opportunity to do so yet again in his selection of a running mate. It is critical, however, that he move past traditional notions of balancing a ticket, either by geography, experience, or ideology. Those white voters in Appalachia and elsewhere who reject Obama because of some combination of fear and bigotry will not be assuaged by the addition of Evan Bayh or Tom Kaine to the Democratic ticket. Nor would the resurrection of that crotchety old gay-baiter, Sam Nunn, reassure those who consider the presidential nominee too green and timid to be trusted with defending the nation. In the end, Barack Obama will win or lose based on his own ability to persuade voters that he is up to the job.

Regardless, at the moment, Obama's biggest problem remains the aura of heroism and rugged authenticity that surrounds his opponent. If voters go into November still believing that John McCain is a man of proven and unassailable character, a bipartisan maverick who puts country ahead of party and personal ambition, Obama will lose the 2008 presidential election. It is as simple as that. Either the Democrats find some way to raise doubts about McCain's character or they will fail to capture the White House during the worst Republican year since 1974. Since Obama seems unwilling to do the gut fighting necessary to save his faltering candidacy, he needs to find someone who is up to the job.

Enter Joe Biden. Sure, Biden has impressive foreign policy chops, but that's not really the point. Rather, the veteran Delaware senator possesses the ability to make the necessary attacks, and to do so in a style that suggests that he's really just joshing. It was Joe Biden who delived the coup de grace against another supposedly untouchable hero, Rudy Giuliani, hitting the smarmy New Yorker where it hurt the most. Every one of Giuliani's sentences, Biden joked, contains a noun, a verb, and 9/11. Clearly, Rudy created many of his own problems, and his presidential ambitions would have petered out with or without anyone else's help, but Biden's jab nevertheless drew blood.

It is this ability and willingness to wield the shiv--and to do it with a wink and a smile--that would make Biden invaluable to a presidential nominee who needs to even the playing field on the character issue. Evan Bayh can't do this. Nor can Tom Kaine or Kathleen Sebelius. Hillary Clinton probably can, but her own persistent ambitions would likely make her unwilling to play bad cop for a former rival whose success would defer her dreams for eight long years.

Barack Obama needs Joe Biden.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Obama's Unwise Visit to the OC

I can tell you at least one difference between John McCain and Barack Obama. Had a left-wing Unitarian minister in San Francisco invited McCain to attend a nationally televised interview from her Tenderloin mega-church, the senior senator from Arizona would have had the sense to say "no". Senator Obama, on the other hand, inexplicably accepted an offer from evangelical heavyweight Rick Warren to come to the heart of Republican Orange County, California, to be interviewed by a man whose affection for GOP politicians and their causes is rarely far from the surface. Worse yet, the agenda called for Obama to play warm-up for McCain, whose own conversation with the rotund reverend would immediately follow.

The result, of course, was preordained. Obama faced a barrage of questions on morality and social issues to which his answers were, to anyone who has watched him in this sort of format, predictably pedantic. McCain, obviously the crowd's darling, then proceded to knock nearly every softball query out of the park, his prefab responses punctuated by often-thunderous applause. Warren gave the soon-to-be Republican nominee endless opportunities to recount his Vietnam POW experience and well as numerous chances to reassure right-wing Christians that his election-year conversion to radical social conservatism is complete.

And this, my friends, is why Barack Obama will probably lose the 2008 presidential election. First, the eloquence and inspiration that characterize his speechmaking fail him entirely in more intimate settings. Hillary Clinton beat him in almost every one of their primary season debates, and McCain may well do so in the fall. Without a prepared text and an audience of hundreds, Obama becomes not just a law professor, but a practicing attorney, weighing each thought carefully, as though afraid of being called out in cross-examination. The hemming and hawing often strike the audience not as thoughtful, but evasive.

Second, Obama may lose because he seems truly to believe in his transformative power as a politician. It is that self-confidence--or self-delusion--that motivated him to travel to Southern California on Friday night regardless of any sensible cost-benefit analysis. For some reason, he still seems to believe that white evangelical voters are in play. Well, they aren't, and that's hardly likely to change in the wake of Obama's leaden attempts to parse such deal-breaking issues as abortion and gay marriage.

Finally, futile efforts to court "values voters" (and has a more offensive term ever been invented?) will only further delay the necessary decision to back away from his pledge to apply the Marquis of Queensbury rules to American national elections. The McCain campaign and its surrogates have wisely decided to make this election about Barack Obama. Unless Obama finally decides to turn the tables, the assaults will eventually wear down and defeat the Democratic nominee just as they did Michael Dukakis and John Kerry before him.

John McCain is competitive in the national polls despite the overwhelming unpopularity of his party and the popular rejection of most of his positions on key issues. He remains essentially tied with Obama even though he is a wooden on-stage performer with a tenuous grip on most major issues, foreign and domestic, and a disturbing penchant for embarrassing gaffes. He is Bob Dole without the depth and compassion (and yes, that's damning with nearly invisible praise).

The ONLY thing John McCain has going for him is his personal image. His experience in Vietnam has allowed him to claim the mantle of "character". His highly visible, but relatively rare, breaks with Republican orthodoxy have resulted in an unearned reputation as a maverick. His relentless self-promotion is celebrated by the media as straight talk.

If Barack Obama wants to be President of the United States, he simply must tear down John McCain's personal image. Attacking his policies is not enough. Moderate and independent voters who support McCain do so in spite of his positions on the issues. Rather, they thirst for an authentic hero who will put principle over party and tell the truth regardless of the consequences.

As anyone who has studied his record and his post-war history well knows, John McCain is not that man. He was not only at the center of one of the most costly corruption scandals of the 1980s (the Keating Five affair), he remains even to this day a tool of lobbyists and business interests. Despite a few high-profile splits with his party, he has been a remarkably consistent right-wing enabler of nearly all of the Bush administration's excesses. His vaunted straight talk is little more than media manipulation; the man has flip-flopped more often than a land-bound minnow.

Obama himself doesn't have to go negative, but he simply must allow his campaign and his surrogates to do so. At the very least, he should make Charles Keating the Willie Horton of 2008. He should allow the story of the real McCain to be told, the unappealing tale of a rage-fueled, reflexively sexist hypocrite whose belligerence extends from personal relationships to senatorial duties to America's relationship with its allies and adversaries. He must, in short, make McCain the risky choice.

Or he can be one of those honorable Democrats who always seem to lose in November.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Alanis Morrissette Watch

Here's an occasional feature of this occasional blog: Alanis Morissette Watch. It is, of course, named after the Canadian singer/songwriter whose song "Isn't It Ironic?" presents a number of situations (e.g., rain on your wedding day), none of which is actually ironic. In Alanis's honor, we will feature examples of writing that misunderstands the concept of irony (hint: it is not the same thing as coincidence).

Today's spotlight is on's "Political Ticker", which writes about John McCain's decision to cancel a scheduled appearance in Miami due to concerns over Tropical Storm Fay:

"Ironically, McCain had his plans changed by Hurricane Dolly last month. He was supposed to go by helicopter to an oil rig off the Louisiana coast for a high-profile drilling event at the same time Obama was in Europe. But the effects of Dolly in the Gulf caused that trip to be canceled."

So Senator McCain had to change his plans twice because of weather disturbances in the Southeastern United States. That is probably frustrating. It is certainly coincidental. It is not, however, ironic.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Panty Raid!

So let me make sure I have this straight. John Edwards, neither serving in office nor currently running for anything, admits to having an affair with a campaign film producer. This is not only the biggest story on the weekend that Russia and Georgia go to war, it is also generally understood to have extinguished whatever future political plans Edwards may have had.

John McCain, sitting senator and presumptive Republican presidential nominee, not only admits to having an affair during his first marriage but actually left his wife and children and married the rich young heiress with whom he was dallying. This is understood to be old news which has no bearing whatsoever on McCain's presidential ambitions.

As I've noted below, I have no interest in what politicians do once they flip the deadbolt on their hotel room doors. Good people do bad things; bad people do good things. I have no idea where Edwards or McCain fits along that continuum. Indeed, the best presidents of the 20th Century have generally been proven philanderers (FDR, LBJ, JFK, Clinton) while the worst (Nixon, Ford, Carter, W.) have generally been considered faithful to their wives, if not (in some cases) to their solemn oath of office.* I'm not saying we should elect tomcats; I'm simply saying that we shouldn't care one way or the other.

But if we're going to make sheet-sniffing a regular feature of our political process, then the same rules ought to apply regardless of how much journalists like or dislike the politician in question.

*Yes, I left out Reagan. I have no idea what his personal history was back in his Hollywood days and I don't think he was an especially good president, a view that was shared by roughly half of all Americans at the time of his presidency.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Note to Sports Journalists

The U.S. is composed of fifty states. Forty-nine of them couldn't care less what Brett Favre is doing this very moment, what he will be doing at this time tomorrow, or what he plans to do next month. If we want to follow the adventures of some narcissistic has-been, we'll flip over to C-Span and watch John McCain on the campaign trail.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Georgie Mac, Michael, and John

Has anybody here seen my old friend Georgie Mac?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He was smeared by Nixon's liars
But he never would fight back
I just turned around and he's gone

Has anybody here seen my old friend Michael?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
They called him unpatriotic
But he never would fight back
I just turned around and he's gone

Has anybody here seen my old friend John?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
The Swiftboat veterans slimed him
But he never would fight back
I just turned around and he's gone

Didn't you like the things that they promised?
Didn't they try to find some good for you and me?
But it was not to be
You gotta knock down every bully

Has anybody here seen my old friend Barack?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walkin' the road to defeat
With Georgie Mac, Michael, and John

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Question of Character

If you've surfed the web at all over the past two weeks, you are probably aware of the hot new rumor about a well-known Democratic politician, his mistress, and their secret love child. The National Enquirer has been riding this horse for several months now, and bottom feeders like Matt Drudge and Mickey Kaus (of have now taken their turns wading into the sewage. Right-wing blogs are indignant about the fact that the traditional media have yet to find the story worthy of their attention. If this had been a Republican, they caterwaul, it would be a Page 1 story on every newspaper in the country and Katie Couric would be doing a victory dance around her teleprompter.

Except, of course, that a similar story (sans baby) actually did involve a GOP presidential nominee a generation or so earlier. There was no internet at the time, of course, but the Enquirer and its competitors took their turns rummaging through the underwear drawer, making accusations and naming names. Finally, in desperation, one high-level Democratic operative blurted out the rumor in a roomfull of reporters and was immediately relieved of her duties. The supposedly liberal media then let the whole thing die.

And that is as it should be. The personal and sexual lives of candidates are generally not newsworthy. Indeed, until 1987 everyone agreed on that. It was then that Gary Hart, Democratic frontrunner for president, stupidly told the working press not only that he was not philandering, but that he had no objection if they followed him around 24/7 to satisfy their curiosity. They did, and the result was that Gary Hart ceased being the Democratic frontrunner shortly thereafter.

From that moment on, we have been forced to weight the "character issue" when judging our presidential candidates. This has been enormously destructive in multiple ways. First, it deprives us of the services of men and women who, but for irrelevant personal weaknesses, might be outstanding presidents. Gary Hart was and is a bright and creative thinker. He almost certainly would have been a better candidate than Michael Dukakis and a better president than George H.W. Bush (with the added advantage that the defeat of the father would likely have ensured that the arrogant, reckless, and incompetent son would never have entered the White House again without a visitor's pass).

But it's not just Hart. Outstanding people, unwilling to endure the full body cavity search of today's presidential politics, simply pass up the opportunity to run. This, in turn, leaves us with only the hyper-ambitious, the sixth-grade class president types who are willing to crawl through broken glass to satisfy their craving for power and affirmation. Surely, out of 300 million people, we ought to be able to do better than John McCain and--sorry--Barack Obama.

The other problem with the character issue is that it causes voters to elevate truly immaterial portions of a candidate's biography and turn them into decisive criteria. Wesley Clark, for example, spoke an undeniable truth when he pointed out that John McCain's POW experience had no bearing on his qualifications for the presidency. There is, in fact, no time during the next four years in which the Commander-in-Chief will be required to languish in prison and be subjected to brutal torture.

Oh, but wait! Doesn't this show what kind of man John McCain is? Well, I suppose it shows what kind of man he was forty years ago, but it's still irrelevant to the task at hand. The job he is currently applying for requires no particular physical courage. Indeed, it is possible to be heroic in one context and hopelessly venal in another. Just as former Top Gun pilot Duke Cunningham.

The same John McCain who refused early release from the Hanoi Hilton also aided and abetted (and won favors from) Charles Keating, one of the nastiest swindlers of the Savings and Loan Era. Doesn't that also speak to the issue of character? Indeed, doesn't it speak quite a bit louder, since it happened more recently and involved the conduct of his public, elected office?

So getting back to the question of extra-marital sexual activity, the rules seem pretty clear. The only time it should be considered newsworthy is when it intersects--or potentially intersects--with a politician's day job or involves violation of the law. Larry Craig fits both categories, having been arrested for conduct that he regularly condemned on the Senate floor. Likewise, if you choose to ambush a sitting president at deposition with questions about his sex life and then impeach him when he lies, you better keep your zipper locked and in the upright position. There was, in that sense, nothing wrong with exposing the hypocrisy of Newt Gingrich and Henry Hyde back in 1998.

Also, the JFK rule: if you're shtupping the girlfriend of an organized crime boss, that, too, should be made public.

But otherwise, public people ought to be allowed private lives. And we should stop pretending we have any insight as to the "character" of our public officials. First of all, we don't. Second of all, despite our desire to pigeon-hole and summarize, "character" is not some trait that is greater than the some of its parts. Character is the sum of its parts, nothing more, nothing less. We all have people that we know and love who are wonderful in hundreds of ways who nevertheless occasionally make terrible, hurtful choices in their private lives. If we can understand that about our friends, we should be able to understand it about our politicians as well.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Latest Fox News Democrat

Susan Estrich, who once managed Michael Dukakis's campaign from a 17-point post-convention lead to a one-sided loss to George H.W. Bush, is now employed by the Fox News Network. Her job, of course, is to play Washington Generals to Brit Hume's and Sean Hannity's Globetrotters. With her grating voice and generally wimpy defense of all things Democratic, she makes Hannity's designated piƱata, Alan Colmes, sound like Keith Olbermann.

Anyway, she has an opinion piece up at entitled, "Arrogance Won't Win the Election." You already know what it's about and you already know which candidate it's directed at. All Fox News house Democrats know how to use Republican talking points when writing supposedly pro-Democratic articles.

But, hey, Suzy, as long as you're dispensing advice to the Obama campaign about how to win elections, I have a great suggestion: Why don't you tell him to strap on an oversized helmet, jump in a tank, and ride around in circles while the media and public laugh incredulously?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I'm Back, Sort of...

So here I am again, after a hiatus of a good month or so, during which I lost all ten of my regular readers. For a while, the day job simply demanded too much of my time; after that I just kind of hit the wall. But there was something else, too.

With the death of George Carlin a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of one of his less celebrated comments. I think it came from one of his books. He said (and I'm taking this from memory, so it may not be exactly right), "Whenever I hear someone propose a political solution to a problem, I know I am not dealing with a serious person."

Obviously, I don't entirely agree with Carlin. I teach political science, so it wouldn't make much sense for me to argue that politics is meaningless. Some problems demand political solutions; I suspect that even George understood this.

But I think Carlin was making a deeper point, one with which I do agree: people who expect politicians to rescue us from ourselves are almost certain to be disappointed. I say this not as some sort of libertarian rant, but as a simple statement of truth. It's not that we don't need government, because we do. Indeed, we need more government than we have now. The current economic and social meltdown in health care, environmental degradation, and rapacious capitalism cries out for greater regulation in any number of areas. If the past quarter century has taught us anything, it is the simple fact that unregulated or barely regulated markets will never lead us to peace and prosperity, much less justice and human decency.

Rather, my point is that politics will always be a blunt instrument and politicians will always be unreliable heroes. Take Barack Obama, for example. His recent desperate, amateurish lurch toward the center has been a keen disappointment to those lefty bloggers who honestly thought that he was something other than a hyper-ambitious politician willing to do whatever it takes to satisfy his burning need for power and personal validation. This, of course, is only a dress rehearsal for the disappointments to come should Obama win the presidency in four months. (In this sense, of course, John McCain is not one bit better. He now embraces nearly everything he once rejected, groveling before the same vicious theocrats and scorched-earth reactionaries who were once willing to destroy him and slander his family. It is difficult for those who don't burn with the single-minded ambition of a top-tier presidential candidate to understand that nothing--issues, principles, or even basic personal integrity--matters more than the quest.)

In my lifetime, I have seen politics and politicians do far more harm than good. And that's not just because the Oval Office has been filled mostly with Republicans for the past two generations. The Democrats may have done less harm, but they also accomplished very little of lasting merit. Seriously, what do we have to show for twelve years of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton? Camp David, I guess, and maybe a decent economic run during the 1990s.

This is not to say that politics doesn't matter. The past eight years have certainly shown us that politicians, willing to lie, ignore the law, and place lockstep party support over all other principles, can overwhelm and render moot James Madison's brilliant constitutional design. Today, yet another White House alumnus brazenly defied a congressional subpoena, knowing that nothing bad would happen to him as a result. Yesterday, a craven Congress once again gave a power-mad administration still more power to intrude on the lives of innocent Americans and overturn decades of civil liberties. Politics retains the ability to visit enormous harm on people at home and abroad. Perhaps the best we can hope for in any election is to limit the damage that our ballots can wreak.

Sure, there have been some rare shining moments of progress. But even these exceptions prove the general futility of hoping for political solutions. It took the assassination of a president to move Congress, decades too late, to extend basic rights to its African American citizens. It took a complete economic meltdown to give Franklin Roosevelt the tools to trasform American society. And even then, much of his success depended on the onset of a cataclysmic world war.

The most pressing concern of the moment is health care. Our system doesn't work, is ridiculously expensive, makes American industry less competitive, and--worst of all--causes, both directly and indirectly, the untimely deaths of thousands of Americans. Yet, even Hillary Clinton's timid, inadequate work toward a solution in 1993 was shot down by a powerful industry and its political enablers who easily convinced an ignorant nation that they already had the best health care system in the world, even as families were being ruined by the sort of catastrophic illnesses that would never force Canadians or Britons into the poorhouse.

Anyway, all of this makes it a little depressing to blog about the 2008 presidential election. If we choose Door Number 1, we get four more years of dangerous and destructive foreign entanglements, four more years of tax cuts for the wealthy and trickle-down misery for everyone else, and, with the likely forthcoming changes at the Supreme Court, twenty years of backsliding toward unchecked police power and unshackled corporate dominance. If we choose Door Number 2, we get an untested rookie politician, obsessed with re-election from Day 1, who, when not triangulating on a Clintonesque scale, will find himself hamstrung by the take-no-prisoners tactics of a fanatical minority and the cowardly careerism of a majority that has already internalized an unwillingness to stand up to bullies. Oh, and there is no Door Number 3.

I'll choose Door Number 2, of course, but without a lot of enthusiasm.

In the meantime, forgive me if my blogging is sporadic and if I talk less about the election than I have previously.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Say Goodnight, Dick

The passing of Dick Martin seems as good a time as any to recall a moment from "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-in" forty years ago. Dan Rowan, reading the News of the Future, refers to "President Reagan" serving in 1988. It was, of course, a punch line; the very idea that Ronald Reagan would ever be handed the world's most powerful job by any sane country was the stuff of comedy back in 1968.

Today we're living in Ronnie's world, so I guess the joke's on us.

Friday, May 16, 2008

In the Year 2013...If Man is Still Alive

I'm still buried by work, but when John McCain dons his psychic's turban, I have no choice other than to put down the grade books and pay attention. It seems that Senator McCain, desperate for any attention these days, decided to look ahead to the year 2013, telling us what we can expect by the end of his first term if he is elected president this November. Most candidates, of course, take an eight-year perspective, so some talking heads wondered aloud if McCain was trying to tell us that he would not seek to break Ronald Reagan's old age record by running for re-election in 2012. But anyone who expects a man this consumed by ambition to be a one-term Johnny is apparently still besotted with the notion that there is something "different" about the presumptive GOP nominee other than the fact that he was born only a year after Babe Ruth retired.

Anyway, McCain has apparently provided the following vision of the world after only four cleansing years of straight talking:

* The Iraq War will be won
* Osama bin Laden will be captured or dead (perhaps of old age?)
* No significant terrorist attacks will occur on U.S. soil
* Health care will be "available to more Americans than at any other time in history" (I guess if he meant "universal", he wouldn't have needed to use nine words)
* "Both parties" will have decided to fix Social Security without a decline in benefits
* Congressional earmarks will be eliminated
* You'll be able to talk to your dog and understand what he's saying to you
* The Tooth Fairy will be forced to find another line of work because teeth will never fall out

How we will get to this Golden Age remains unrevealed at this point. Presumably McCain has some "ideas" and "proposals" that will soon be unveiled, or maybe he'll just summon his straight-talking superpowers and make the whole thing happen overnight while we're sleeping. Maybe he'll do it all with a big loan from Lincoln Savings.

But that's not what I want to talk about. Rather, I am more interested in the media's reaction to what was, to even the most untrained eye, a fairly obvious case of election-year excess. I mean, how exactly will the Great Man persuade Congress simply to cede its institutional perogatives and bend to the new president's will? Has John McCain ever read Federalist 51?

None of this stopped some of the fools on CNN from gushing over McCain's courage in making promises by which he will be judged should he win the 2008 election. One of them marveled at the senator's willingness to stick his neck out in a way that most politicians would not. It was left to Jack Cafferty, ever auditioning for Andy Rooney's curmudgeon job on "60 Minutes", to point out to his starstruck colleagues that "the devil's in the details", a cliche that roughly translates to "McCain didn't tell us anything about how he would actually govern, you blow-dried airheads!"

Just to be clear, Senator McCain has done what politicians have done since the invention of elections. He has made promises that he knows he can't keep in order to win higher office. Like all the others, he figures he can finesse everything else once he's elected. By the time 2012 comes along and most of his pledges remain unfulfilled, he can blame the Democratic Congress or the terrorists or the United Nations or the freemasons.

Seems to me that some callow young Texas governor eight years ago was promising a humble foreign policy and compassionate coservatism. And look how well that turned out...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Day Job...

is a little overwhelming at the moment, so blogging will be sparse for a couple more weeks.

Not much to say about the election right now, anyway, except this:

1. After losing the special congressional election in Mississippi tonight, Republicans must be terrified at the prospect of losing the House for a generation in November.

2. John McCain's "I am not Bush" tour still has to face the problem that on the two issues people really care about--the economy and Iraq--he's pretty indistinguishable from the incumbent.

3. Barack Obama will not win West Virginia in the general election.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

It's Over

The window was there for a brief moment. The problems that have plagued Barack Obama over the past month or so provided Hillary Clinton with the chance to do something she had yet to do--mount a comeback in a state that had already been conceded to her opponent. Had she done so, had she somehow squeezed out a victory in North Carolina or even made the race close, it would have been a crippling blow to the Obama campaign.

But it didn't happen. Instead, Barack Obama swept to an easy victory in the Tar Heel State, leaving Indiana, where Clinton needed a strong victory, as the evening's nail biter. Whatever momentum Hillary gathered with her 10-point Pennsylvania triumph is now gone. Only the cold reality of mathematics remains, and it is not her friend.

It is quite possible that the Super Delegate dam will now burst, and Obama will be the presumptive nominee even before the next state votes. But it doesn't matter. The race is over. For better or worse, Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States. Whether or not he is the strongest candidate (and it says here that he isn't) no longer matters. The sound you hear this evening is Hillary Clinton's window closing.

At this point, there is no need for her to continue seeking the nomination. As my seven or so readers know, this blog has generally argued for Clinton's candidacy on the basis of electability. But the question is now moot. Senator Clinton should withdraw from the race and allow her colleague to begin his general election campaign.

There is no longer any benefit in hanging around.

Monday, May 5, 2008

A Must Win State for Clinton and Obama

I'm on the road at the moment, so blogging will be sparse for the next day or two.

I just wanted to take note of an interesting fact. So far, we have had must-win states for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Tomorrow, we will see the first state vote that is a must win for both of them: North Carolina. If Hillary doesn't win the Tar Heel State, the delegate numbers will finally, irreversibly overcome her candidacy. By now it is clear that the Super Delegates will not overturn the will of the voters, however inadequately expressed through caucuses and the like. A loss in North Carolina will largely erase the gains Senator Clinton made a fortnight ago in Pennsylvania.

On the other hand, Barack Obama also needs to win the North Carolina primary, Unlike most states in recent days, this one has been regarded as a lay-up for Obama for several weeks. But Clinton has closed the gap of late and if she somehow won this southern state, with its large African American population, it would strike fear in the hearts of the Supers. Obama has been bleeding support over the past few weeks. Losses tomorrow in Indiana and North Carolina would turn that bleeding into a hemorrhage.

There is an emerging consensus that Barack Obama has been critically weakened by the recent negative press he has received, particular the Jeremiah Wright controversy. Should he suffer a loss in his southern breadbaskets, the whispers and murmurs will turn to shouts. For the first time since Super Tuesday, a Hillary Clinton nomination would be not only plausible, but even likely.

Grab the popcorn: tomorrow will see either the effective end of one candidacy, or the possible beginning of the end of the other.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


Here's another one you can add to that list of things you didn't think you'd see in your lifetime. You know the list, right? You never thought you'd witness a president actually impeached by Congress, or an election so close that the Electoral College overturned the will of the voters, or a Vice President become the most powerful man in the world. This is not a list of good things, you understand. It's simply an accounting of occurrences that everyone assumed would only happen (or happen again) after the Cubs won the World Series, the fifty-first state was added to the union, and we all drove around in our personal hovercrafts.

Well, here's the latest one: never in your wildest dreams would you have envisioned a scenario in which anyone on our side of the International Date Line cared how the people of Guam voted in a presidential primary. If you're like most Americans, you probably had no idea that Guamians (Guamanians? Guamsters?) actually participated in the presidential selection process. Actually, if you're like most Americans you probably don't know anything about Guam other than the fact that it's a Pacific island.

But that's how close the current Democratic race for president is this morning. In a jurisdiction far closer to Manila than Miami, a couple thousand people caucused while the rest of us slept. Four—count 'em—four delegates were at stake. And CNN actually interrupted the Saturday re-run of the Lou Dobbs Hour of Hate to tell us that Barack Obama had been projected the winner in a place so far away that (according to a friend who was once stationed there), the locals watch Tuesday Morning Football. Is this unbelievably cool or what?

But it gets better. Evidently, Obama beat Clinton in Guam by exactly seven votes. In one sense, of course, it doesn't matter. The candidates will each pick up two of the four delegates. But wait! It turns out that Obama's seven-vote margin may gain him an additional Super Delegate, since Pilar Lujan, who was concurrently elected the island's Democratic Party Chair, has said that she will support whichever candidate receives the majority of the caucus vote. Can you say "recount"?

I know there's a lot at stake here, but it's still fun to take a step back every now and then and reflect on how amazing this primary season has been. If Indiana and North Carolina don't settle things on Tuesday, the final result may come down to yet another island that rarely receives political attention on the mainland. Puerto Rico votes on June 7.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Educating Jazmine

Yesterday's on-line Wall Street Journal features an opinion piece by the newspaper's "deputy Taste editor", one Naomi Schaeffer Riley. I don't read the Journal on a regular basis, so I don't really know what a deputy Taste editor does other than assist the Taste editor. I presume from the capitalization that Ms. Riley works for that section of the WSJ that other papers refer to as "Style" or "Living". That is, her life is devoted to whatever it is that the spouses of mortgage bankers do on weekends before their mates are carted off to country club prisons for swindling the public. Or something like that.

Anyhow, Ms. Riley has decided that a devotion to Taste shouldn't prevent one from throwing one's in-laws under the Uptown Express. So she tells us the story of her niece Jazmine, a young lady who, in Ms. Riley's gentle opinion, "goes to one of the worst schools in Buffalo, N.Y." Now, I have no metric to judge such an assertion (for all I know, Buffalo schools are fabulous), but I'll proceed from the assumption that poor Jazmine attends one of those prisons with blackboards that Tom Berenger was forced to come in and clean up several times in those awful 1990s movies. "There are," Ms. Riley helpfully informs us, "security guards at the door", something that evidently shocks the conscience of the deputy Taste editor.

As an act of what sounds a great deal like noblesse oblige, Ms. Riley invites Jazmine to her side of the tracks to help the youngster complete a successful college application (this notwithstanding the fact that "Jazmine has learned very little in the last four years"). The deputy editor is forced to shoulder this burden because Jazmine's "parents and teachers seemed disinclined or unable to help." The niece's name may be a pseudonym, of course, but Ms. Riley's surely isn't, so by now Jazmine's mom and dad, their neighbors, and their friends probably know exactly which set of parents have been outed in the national press for dereliction of duty. One suspects that Thanksgiving at the Rileys' will be a little awkward this year, even assuming that people "with incomes of less than $40,000" actually know how to eat turkey that doesn't come in a plastic wrapper.

This would obviously not be the Wall Street Journal without a little editorializing about the supposed failure of public education, and Ms. Riley makes her de rigueur contribution:

"Public schools used to be the great equalizer in America -- the institutions that allowed the children of immigrants and the descendants of slaves to become fluent in the English language and prepare them for careers. In too many urban areas, they don't perform such basic educational functions. But they don't offer structured environments, either, for the few students who are trying to lift themselves up and get a better educational experience at college."

To her credit, however, the deputy editor offers not a single aside about the need for private school vouchers, that persistent right-wing hobby horse. Indeed, once she's done with the hackneyed public school bashing, Ms. Riley finishes with a fairly reasonable case against the unnecessary bureaucracy involved in the college admissions process. Jazmine evidently had to contend with some schools that were prepared to write her off simply because one small piece of her application package was incomplete and others that required additional letters and essays just to qualify for a vitally needed scholarship. If all of this is true, it is certainly something that American universities should correct. No teenager should be required to decode the Rosetta Stone just to further her education.

And what about the public schools? Well, Ms. Riley favors us with stories about teachers who couldn't be bothered to write meaningful letters of recommendation or even correct the grammar and punctuation on those they did manage, reluctantly, to generate. One teacher supposedly hand-wrote an illiterate paragraph ("Jazmine is enlightened by the journey of academia the twist, turns and heights elevated to farthest stretch imagined") and then told the girl to type it up herself.

The problem with all discussions of failing public schools is that writers tend to speak about the school entirely out of the context of its environment. Thus, Ms. Riley can oversimplify the issue by opining that "kids need a real high-school education, complete with literate, motivated teachers". Well, of course they do, so let's fire this sorry lot and airlift in Mr. Chips, Jaime Escalante, and that Robin Williams character from "Dead Poets Society". Or better yet, let's start a voucher system and auction these kids off to the lowest bidder.

Even Ms. Riley seems vaguely aware of the complications inherent in talking about failing schools. The security guard who so shockingly guards the school house door is not employed to protect the kids from grammatically clueless English teachers. He (or she) is there because the environment outside the schoolyard is one of hopelessness, violence, and desperation. As a society, we allow our inner cities to rot and then wonder why the only teachers willing to walk past the security guard every morning are those who are otherwise unemployable.

The other unintentional revelation involves Ms. Riley's swipe at Jazmine's parents, who "seem disinclined or unable to help". What superhuman motivation is required on the part of a teacher in the face of a classroom full of kids whose parents don't care? Presumably, since Ms. Riley refers to parents in the plural and speaks of her niece as "a smart, respectful young lady who has steered clear of trouble", Jazmine represents the best-case scenario at Buffalo's high school from Hell. And yet, even her mom and dad apparently won't gather themselves together sufficiently to contribute to their daughter's upward mobility. And this is primarily the teachers' fault?

Sure, there are some lazy, stupid, and burned out teachers operating in our nation's classrooms. But everyone who has been within ten miles of a public school anywhere in the country knows that they are a small minority of the total. Levels of competence vary, of course, but the overwhelming majority of school teachers works hard and cares about their students. Indeed, many of those who have given up have done so only after decades of walking past security guards and being stood up after scheduling meetings with parents who stopped trying years earlier.

If you can’t throw money at a problem, as conservatives invariably insist, then why is it that everyone wants to become rich? There are no doubt pathologies in our inner cities (and elsewhere!) that will not lend themselves to monetary solutions. But money can attract more talented men and women into public education. It can reduce the size of classrooms and allow for more individualized instruction. It can pay for the technology and other supplies that will allow poor kids to enjoy the same classroom benefits as youngsters whose parents read the Wall Street Journal's Taste section. And it can support early morning and late afternoon programs for latchkey children who must otherwise negotiate dangerous neighborhoods on their own.

In short, an infusion of financial support might just give hope to Jazmine's classmates who are neither so lucky as to have a successful aunt willing to help, nor so unlucky as to have one eager to spill the entire story on the pages of a national newspaper.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Lowest of the Low

It is now official. George W. Bush is the most unpopular president in American history, or at least the portion of history that post-dates the creation of computer punch cards. The Gallup Organization has been conducting public opinion surveys since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and they periodically ask their sample to weigh in on the performance of the current occupant of the White House. When asked recently to rate President Bush's seven years on Pennsylvania Avenue, fully 71% of respondents reported dissatisfaction with the incumbent. The director of the poll, commissioned for CNN, provides the following perspective:

"No president has ever had a higher disapproval rating in any CNN or Gallup Poll; in fact, this is the first time that any president's disapproval rating has cracked the 70 percent mark."

The previous nadir of presidential support stood at 67 percent disapproval and that record lasted for over a half century. George W. Bush has wandered into territory of failure previously unexplored by even the hapless Jimmy Carter or the reflexively corrupt Richard Nixon. Unlike Carter, Bush is the author of most of his own troubles. Unlike Nixon, he can claim no compensatory progress either in foreign or domestic affairs.

We've discussed this before, but Bush clearly continues to take heart in the fate of the man whose record for unpopularity he has now surpassed. Harry Truman, who has finally found the Roger Maris of futility to erase his own Ruthian standard, was not just the most unpopular president prior to last week, he was also the least popular. That he remains: a deluded 28% of the American public is still willing to rate W's performance in office as acceptable. On this measure at least, Bush has not yet dropped either to Truman's low mark of 22% or Nixon's of 24%. But it's only spring.

Truman, of course, is now generally regarded as having been an above average president. He was honest and forthright, which now, sadly, stands as something to praise in our leaders rather than something to expect. He oversaw the U.S. victory in World War II, the highly successful Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, and the reconstruction and democratization of Japan. By executive order, he required the integration of the American military. History has been kind to Truman because subsequent results have borne out the wisdom of many of his decisions: Europe, Japan, and South Korea, for example, are now free and thriving nations.

For his part, Bush looks to Truman and sees the possibility of his own rehabilitation, perhaps even while he is still alive to see it. It's a far-fetched scenario. Certainly, his legacy would be helped by the advent of a prosperous, de-fanged, democratic Middle East, but there is, at the moment, no reason to anticipate such an outcome. But then again, few back in 1945 would have predicted that the 21st Century would open with multiple Asian democracies contributing both to world prosperity and world peace. So anything is possible, though it speaks volumes about Bush's historical prospects that all he has left in his pocket is this single Iraqi lottery ticket.

More likely, George W. Bush will be viewed by history as a composite of the worst characteristics of every unsuccessful president who preceded him. He possessed Truman's bullheadedness without his vision; Johnson's deluded arrogance without his social conscience; Nixon's contempt for constitutional principles without his strategic brilliance; Carter's fumbling incompetence without his transcendent morality and goodness; and his father's patrician obliviousness without his intellectual depth and diplomatic skills. Bush even borrows the worst characteristics from two far more successful chief executives: he possesses Ronald Reagan's lazy over reliance on poorly supervised and power-hungry aides and Bill Clinton's overeager willingness to sacrifice civil liberties in the service of his political ambition.

For the first time since the sorry days of Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, we have a president who is unable, at least plausibly, to lay claim to even a single domestic or international success. Bush's economic policies have resulted in (or, to be more generous, perhaps failed to stave off) rampant joblessness; the simultaneous collapse of the dollar and the U.S. housing market; spiraling oil prices; historically high budget and trade deficits; pervasive corporate corruption; and rising poverty and homelessness. As we speak, the country teeters on the edge of an economic meltdown that would make Jimmy Carter's 1970s look like a golden age.

The international side is obviously even bleaker. Two wars fought with such breathtaking ineptitude that America's very world leadership is imperiled. Under George W. Bush, international distaste for the United States has grown, terrorist recruitment has been made easier, and other global powers are gaining on and passing us while we spend ourselves in futile combat. The most powerful military in the history of the world has been extended to the breaking point, with four thousand young American lives lost so far. And the Iraqi people have experienced unceasing death and misery, rather than the democracy and prosperity that they were promised.

Say what you will about Jimmy Carter, but very few Americans or innocent foreign nationals lost their lives on his watch. Furthermore, despite his failings, Carter negotiated the most significant Middle Eastern peace treaty since World War II. The 1978 accord between Egypt and Israel represents an accomplishment that we take for granted these days, but will, I suspect, be recognized and applauded by future historians long after the Iranian hostage crisis of 1980 is long forgotten.

By contrast, the best anyone can say about Bush these days is that he overthrew Saddam Hussein (sure, but at what cost?) and that he threw a few paltry million dollars at the catastrophic AIDS crisis facing Africa. He promised more, of course, and could have—and should have—answered this fundamental test of world citizenship more vigorously. But even his strongest efforts have been inadequate.

I haven't even mentioned torture, but that, too, looms over the Bush legacy as a stain from which he will never escape.

The fact that George W. Bush is the most unpopular president in history should not even merit a headline from the national news organizations. The real surprise is that it took this long for the reality to sink in. Indeed, the headline should be the fact that, in the face of overwhelming evidence of incompetence, malfeasance, and corruption, more than one in every four people you meet on the street still insists that Bush is performing his job capably.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Mr. Bush's Five Year Mission, Unaccomplished

Today marks the five-year anniversary of George W. Bush's second most disgusting trip to San Diego, California. First place will forever belong to the morning of August 30, 2005, when a smiling Bush pretended to play a guitar emblazoned with the presidential seal while country singer Mark Wills and the traveling press corps looked on. At the same time the president was mugging for the cameras, coastal Mississippi was staggering from a blow that had leveled entire towns and the breached levees of New Orleans were distributing their deadly flood waters into some of the poorest neighborhoods in the United States.

Second place goes to one of the most widely publicized events of Bush's entire regrettable administration. On May 1, 2003, the cocky commander-in-chief, donning a ridiculous (for him) flyboy outfit, hitchhiked aboard a Navy fighter jet and landed on an aircraft carrier off the San Diego coast. He could have taken a five minute helicopter ride or even arrived via a Coast Guard speedboat. But this was Bush at his cockiest, the frat boy fulfilled and ready to lord it over every girl who had ever dumped him for a richer, smarter, or nicer kid. Sailors were used a props for this made-for-television spectacular and some genius in the White House P.R. office decided that the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, named for a far nobler president, should be defaced by a banner reading "Mission Accomplished".

Five years doesn't seem like a long time once you get past a certain age. But sometimes it's important to remind ourselves of just how long it actually is. If you are fifty years old, ten percent of your life has passed since Bush's act of maritime hubris. Entire classes of high school and college students have passed from their first day as freshmen through their graduation ceremonies. Anyone who bought a car on May 1, 2003 (and I hope, for your sake, it wasn't a low mileage SUV) just finished paying it off. Many of the men and women who will vote for president this November were in junior high school the day Bush dishonored the uniform he refused to wear when he was their age.

The problem with the passage of time is that what was once aberrant eventually comes to seem normal. Five years ago, nobody would have believed that the country would still be at war less than nine months before George W. Bush's presidency passes into the pages of what will certainly be scathing history books. Yet now the twin conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are such an accepted part of life that they even have their own regular slot on CNN, a program called "The Week at War".

Half a decade earlier, even after the horrors of 9/11, most Americans would have been repelled by the very idea of torturing prisoners of war. Torture was something that other, less civilized countries did, and our renunciation of it was a source of national pride. When we first learned about the atrocities of Abu Ghraib, the news was met with disgust and shame. But here we are now with the President of the United States admitting to the world that he personally approved the imposition of "enhanced interrogation techniques" on suspected bad guys and the story can't even break through the sideshow media obsessions with incestuous Austrian fathers and pitiful wives of West Texas polygamists.

Five years ago, the death of even a single American during wartime was cause for a headline. Each time the precious life of soldier or Marine was lost in combat the nation collectively mourned. Today, between one and two brave Americans die every day in the unforgiving deserts or the demolished cities and nobody screams out loud when the president calls it progress. In the month that just ended, 51 names were added to the list of those whose limitless futures were snuffed out in a hopeless war that arrogant, prideful politicians refuse to end. Almost nobody noticed.

In 2003, we were promised that our economy was slowly recovering from the devastation caused by the 9/11 attacks and that the cost of the mission that had supposedly been accomplished would remain in the millions. Today, the president's failure costs us over $300 million per day and the overall tally has exceeded half a trillion dollars. Even if all that money had been allotted to pork barrel spending, those "earmarks" that John McCain keeps yapping about, the country would have been far better off. Instead, our economy crumbles and the best solution the president can summon from his sycophantic advisers is a one-time rebate of a few hundred dollars in taxes.

And of course, sixty months ago, our military and civilian defense infrastructure was the envy of the world. Now recruitment is down to the point where we are enlisting felons, soldiers' families are dissolving under the strain of repeated deployments, and the stop-loss program reminds anyone who might consider a career in the reserves or National Guard that the only way they can be assured of getting out is never to get in. We are one international crisis from catastrophe and every honest general and politician knows it.

As for the Guard, much of our first line of homeland defense has been sent overseas to keep Bush's Mesopotamian house of cards from collapsing entirely. Thus, when the water rose on the streets of New Orleans in 2005, Louisiana's hapless governor knew she could not rely on the full contingent of troops that she needed. Perhaps the logistics of the disaster would have made their presence futile, but we'll never get another chance to find out. Or at least we fervently hope we won't.

If it were up to me, the FCC would require every television station every year on May 1 to replay Bush's "Mission Accomplished" ceremony in its entirety. Very rarely has a better cautionary tale been committed to video tape. It is almost as though we raided the catacombs and found the actual film of Nero plucking his violin amidst the flames of a dying Roman Empire. We may be far from finished as a nation, but we must never forget how little time it takes for incompetent, vainglorious politicians to push us toward the brink of disaster.

Happy Mission Accomplished Day, Mr. President.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

News Judgment

Over at the website of, it's not difficult to determine the single most important news story of the day. The lead headline reads, "Incest Family Holds 'Astonishing' Reunion." Above, a blood red banner alerts us that "[p]olice are investigating possible links between man suspected of imprisoning his daughter and unsolved murder of a young woman." These are, as you probably know by now, references to the same story.

It's a horrible story, obviously, something about a guy holding his daughter captive while fathering several children by her. For this, his relatives have, in the insensitive shorthand of the mass media, earned the title of the "Incest Family". But really, there are some truly twisted people in the world who do unspeakably awful things to one another. This is news when it happens on your block, or perhaps even in your home town.

In this case, however, the "Incest Family" hails from Austria. What happens in Central Europe rarely qualifies as news in the United States unless casualties number in the dozens or some celebrity gets buried in an Alpine avalanche. To my knowledge, CNN has never before featured local crime news from Vancouver, let alone Vienna (or, in this case, some place called Amstetten).

The interest in this sordid tale, then, must be seen as almost entirely prurient. In the battle for ratings, the Cable News Network has decided to travel the globe to update us on a local matter involving kidnapping and incestuous rape. In Austria.

It is tempting to make an immediate appeal to nostalgia, to the days before 24 hour cable broadcasting, when the Big Three networks had only thirty minutes to bring us the news and simply did not have the time to regale us with tales of Austrian incest or guys named Peterson who kill (or may have killed) their wives. But as early as the late 1980s, ABC began regularly squandering part of their precious half hour with some fluff about naming the "Person of the Week". And CNN, around that same time, remained fairly true to its middle name, bringing the public a relatively steady diet of hard news.

It's easy to blame the Fox News Channel for the degradation of cable journalism. By mixing confrontational right wing politics with interchangeable hot blonde newsreaders and spiffy graphics, Fox quickly made CNN look as anachronistic as a black and white Movietone Newsreel. But the sad truth today is that Fox seems far more likely than CNN to concentrate on hard news and leave the blood and gore stories to their elders. The reactionary bias on Fox is unmistakable, of course, but on an average day, you're more likely to see political coverage on FNC than wall to wall coverage of the latest missing white woman.

But if the fault does not rest with Fox, neither does it entirely lie with CNN. People vote with their channel changers. Networks follow their ratings closely and they do so on more or less a daily basis. The reason that the murder of Lacy Peterson was turned into a national soap opera was presumably because the folks in Atlanta noticed that the story produced higher viewership than some dreary discussion of health care or the economy. Same thing with Natalee Holloway. If the old CNN Headline News had generated decent numbers, Nancy Grace would still be toiling on the lower rungs of cable TV hell and Glenn Beck would be nothing more than another forgettable right-wing jerk with a radio show.

The tragedy here is that there are real stories to cover. Few Americans truly understand the forces that have driven housing prices down and gasoline prices sky high. Surely, someone could find a way to make these fairly complicated stories interesting. They are, after all, matters that concern Americans a great deal more than the fate of the Austrian "Incest Family".

One of the "traditional" networks, ABC, recently scooped the full-time news outlets by reporting on direct White House involvement in the decision to torture terrorism suspects. President Bush actually confessed on camera (though he likely didn't view it as a confession) that he was fully engaged in the decision to use "enhanced interrogation techniques" on captive prisoners of war. This represents an extraordinary moment in American history, made no less so by the fact that some attractive young schoolteacher may have been caught seducing one of her students.

Or how about the Supreme Court decision that just came down reaffirming a law in Indiana requiring photo identification in order to exercise democracy's most fundamental right, the right to vote. The justices were unmoved by the knowledge that this law would almost certainly disadvantage poor and minority voters. Nor did they show any concern over the fact that this is a solution without a problem; evidence of rampant voter fraud is rare to nonexistent. Everyone recognizes that laws such as Indiana's are bald faced attempts by Republicans to discourage traditionally Democratic constituencies from casting their ballots. While it's true that the cable networks gave this issue a little attention yesterday, they characteristically did so in the usual, useless point-counterpoint fashion where opposing spokespersons exchange talking points and the public emerges no wiser for watching. A real news organization would investigate the issue of fraud itself as well as the political history of attempts to limit turnout.

But who has the time for that? Apparently, the American people would prefer to watch the 5,000th story about that polygamist cult in West Texas while their economy tanks, gas prices rise to $4 a gallon, more people lose their jobs, and another family is evicted from their home. And "the most trusted name in news" is more than happy to deliver.

Maybe Barack Obama is wrong. Maybe the rot in politics today doesn't begin on the banks of the Potomac. Maybe it originates in the average American living room, where the new flat screen TV hangs on the wall bringing the latest news from Austria's "Incest Family".

At least ancient Rome managed to provide bread along with its circuses.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Art and Exhibitionism

I'm an academic and a blogger, but I typically don't think of myself as an academic blogger. Now and then I'll have a word or two to say about the right wing's attack on academic freedom because I think that's an issue people should care about even if college is neither in their past nor in their future. The United States boasts the greatest system of higher education in the world, and the desire of ultraconservative culture warriors to dismantle it should be a serious concern to everyone.

Most on-campus controversies, however, are either arcane or meaningless to those who are not closely connected with the academy. But once in a while, some issue makes its way from the ivory tower to the popular press and hits the radar screen of Middle America. Such an event is taking place right now at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, the school that improbably produced both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

A senior art major named Aliza Shvarts decided that her going away present to her fellow Elis would be to ensnare her alma mater in one of the ickiest dilemmas imaginable. For her graduation project, Shvarts decided on a performance piece commenting on "the relationship between form and function as they converge on the body" (that's ok, I have no idea what it means, either). The particulars? Let's go with the description offered by

"A Yale University undergraduate said she repeatedly inseminated herself and induced multiple miscarriages to produce a senior art project."

Suffice it to say that the project itself included display of the results of her efforts.

Now let me begin here by saying that not only do I not know what art is, I don't even know for sure what I like. I went with drama—rather than music or art—to satisfy my fine arts general ed requirement in college. That means that the last time I actually studied the subject, I was very young and we were making plaster casts of our right hands for Mother's Day.

Shvarts efforts, which will apparently never find their way into a Yale studio, have simultaneously generated three separate threads of controversy. The first, of course, involves the morality of abortion and the definition of life. The second concerns the nature of art and the dividing line between creativity and exhibitionism. The third involves the responsibility of a university and its personnel to monitor the choices its students make, particularly if those choices might put a student at some level of danger.

I actually find the third controversy to be the most interesting, so we'll start there. First of all, Yale insists that the school was told by Shvarts that her performance piece was a hoax. She replied in an article in the Yale Daily News that her efforts were authentic, and that she did, indeed, artificially inseminate herself with samples from volunteer donors and then deliberately attempt to induce miscarriage.

The distinction here is critical. Every reputable university has a board of faculty members and/or administrators that weighs in on research projects that involve human beings. The complication, of course, is that this was, strictly speaking, not a research project and Shvarts was jeopardizing nobody's health other than her own. Nevertheless, academic advisers presumably have an obligation to keep students from harming themselves, and there is the non-trivial issue of the sperm donors and whether or not they were fully informed as to what would occur in this course of this project. If the Yale Art Department and its adviser(s) understood Shvarts' work to be a provocative hoax, then they have presumably committed no wrongdoing; if not, their judgment is certainly open to question. (Oddly, while insisting on the hoax story, Yale has nevertheless disciplined Shvarts' adviser. That seems inconsistent with logic, though consistent with the CYA attitude of many college administrators.)

As to the question of what is art, I will leave that to the experts. Several years ago, a young man placed a crucifix in a jar of urine and displayed the piece at one of America's finest museums. He was defended against the predictable public outcry on the grounds of free artistic expression, even though the entire concept struck me as something a couple of drunken high school sophomores might come up with before dissolving into an evening of Beavis and Butt-head giggling. If "Piss Christ", as it was called, is art, then I don't see how Shvarts' more complex and creative piece is not (my point here is not to defend Shvarts, but simply to compare her work to other controversial exhibits that have been supported by the artistic community).

It is, interestingly enough, the abortion controversy that provides perhaps the greatest justification for Aliza Shvarts' efforts. If one purpose of art is to get people to think (and that is what many critics argue), then she has succeeded brilliantly. I don't mean that she got the world thinking about "the relationship between form and function as they converge on the body", whatever the hell that means. But she did provide an interesting challenge to both sides in the debate over abortion.

Pro-choice groups have been quick to condemn Shvarts for trivializing abortion and miscarriage. They are, of course, worried that public revulsion at her project will play into the hands of those who wish to criminalize the voluntary termination of pregnancy. But they also find themselves in a sensitive situation here, since Shvarts' supposed terminations all occurred during the first trimester of the gestation period, a time in which abortion rights advocates claim that the product of conception is emphatically not a child. Perhaps they can take issue with the safety concerns of inducing repeated miscarriages, but their efforts to distance themselves from Shvarts betray an ambivalence about abortion that does their cause no favors.

But the pro-life groups also face problems. Those who oppose abortion rights like to conflate abortion at all stages of development. Their protest signs regularly display fetuses, usually from the second trimester or later, that appear human in their basic anatomy. But if Shvarts actually did induce spontaneous miscarriage (and inducing miscarriage is clearly equivalent to abortion), she did so at such an early stage of pregnancy that few outside the pro-life camp would seriously believe that she had actually killed a baby.

The first trimester, of course, is the Achilles heel of the anti-abortion movement: it is both the time period in which most Americans are comfortable with the abortion procedure and the one in which most elective abortions take place. Nobody who forced themselves to view Shvarts' project (if it were allowed to be displayed) would observe anything resembling a baby in the gory byproduct of her efforts. The success of the pro-life movement, however, depends on us "seeing" the baby every time an abortion is performed. Even more problematic for the pro-lifers is the fact that Shvarts claims never to have visited an abortion clinic, but rather to have used natural herbal methods for inducing miscarriage.

Again, I have no idea if Aliza Shvarts is an artist. Nor do I have any interest in sickening myself by viewing her project, should that ever become possible. But she has, for better or worse, raised several uncomfortable issues that go beyond the ickiness factor. In the end, I would not, as an adviser, allow a student to do potential harm to herself in the name of art or research, but it is hard to deny that Shvarts has provoked a national conversation on several levels.

Monday, April 28, 2008

America's Sweetheart

So I'm channel surfing last night and I can't find anything worth watching. The network fare was typically worthless. The cable news channels were still obsessing over Barack Obama's pastor, wondering why he chose this week to make a round of highly publicized speaking engagements and broadcast interviews (maybe because he doesn't much care for his current national image as an anti-American, conspiracy peddling lunatic?). Depending on the channel, ESPN was offering up NFL draft coverage, more NFL draft coverage, or classic women's bowling.

So I found myself flipping over the C-Span, something I almost never do. Don't get me wrong: I think C-Span is a wonderful resource and provides the best unfiltered coverage of politicians and other political types doing what they do best: speaking, debating, and conferencing. But most of their programming is, for lack of a better term, excruciatingly boring. And the call-in shows represent the worst of both worlds of that particular genre—nutty, uninformed callers being given respectful treatment by hosts who are apparently instructed to let them ramble on, no matter how idiotic they appear.

But anyway, there I was parked on C-Span watching Michelle Obama addressing some audience in Nowhere, Indiana. I like Michelle Obama, probably more than I like her husband. She seems as smart as he is, but a great deal more authentic. With Barack, there's always the sense that the audience is being lectured to, even talked down to a bit, by a very bright college professor who knows that most of the class probably won't earn passing grades for the semester. Michelle, on the other hand, seems less practiced, her eloquence less ringing but more personal. She also conveys a toughness that her spouse seems reluctant to harness even in the heat of battle; you just know that she would have come to that Pennsylvania debate the other day and put Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos in their place and probably dusted off Hillary a time or two, as well.

But as I watched Michelle Obama entertain this crowd of mostly white Hoosiers, something else struck me, too. In many ways, she is the equivalent of the 1992 Hillary Clinton. Like Hillary, she is a successful professional in her own right, someone whose self-image and personal standing are not dependent on her husband's accomplishments. She feels no need to project that first lady stare, the one that conveys both adulation and hero worship, but also self-abnegation. She is, in short, no wifey.

If we are in a celebratory mood, I suppose we can remark on how much things have improved in just 16 years. Hillary's independence was considered problematic by many observers back in '92 and people openly questioned whether this outspoken career woman really met America's expectations of a First Lady. Her flippant comment that she didn't plan to stay home and bake cookies was treated as blasphemy by many pundits, the violation of a 200-year old tradition that had been honored by every women in the White House, with the possible exception of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Up until the emergence of Hillary Clinton, the role of First Lady had been updated only cosmetically, the way General Mills had gradually modernized the image of Betty Crocker on their food packages. Maybe Betty had graduated from stay-at-home June Cleaver to contemporary soccer mom, but she was still the lady who baked the brownies. Likewise, Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter helped modernize their office after 22 years of Mamie, Jackie, Lady Bird, and Pat. But they still conformed to America's outdated expectations of the job.

But here we are in 2008 with another strong, successful woman fiercely defending her husband while refusing to merge her identity with his. This time, however, it doesn't seem to matter. Indeed, the only time Michelle Obama has been controversial was when she chose her words poorly and said that public reaction to Barack's candidacy had made her proud to be an American for the first time. But even then, the attack was not based on the notion that the woman didn't know her place. And in fact, the incident really didn't gain much traction. We all knew what Michelle really meant.

This is progress, I guess. We seem unlikely to get a woman president this year, but at least we are no longer arguing about the proper behavior of the president's wife. What was the stuff of heated debate 16 years ago barely registers today. Of course, Michelle Obama is a successful woman with her own career and her own mind. It's the 21st Century, after all.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Fifty Bullets and One Body

I'm pretty sure I don’t have the psychological makeup to be a police officer. I'm not attracted to risk and excitement, I have a relatively low tolerance for mortal danger, and I would be highly disinclined to kill another person in an ambiguous situation. It's obviously a good thing that other people are willing to take on this responsibility; I'm just glad it's not me.

I try to bear all of that in mind when evaluating cases like the one that is currently dividing New York City. You probably know the story by now: three unarmed men, all African American, left a bachelor party at a Queens strip club around 4:00 in the morning. Some sort of argument followed with other patrons who turned out to be undercover detectives. Stories differ as to what happened next, but two facts remain undisputed. Three officers fired fifty rounds from their service weapons and a 23-year old man named Sean Bell died on the morning of the day he was to be married.

On Friday, the three officers were cleared of all counts resulting from Bell's death. The judge in the case (the defendants waived jury trial) determined that reasonable doubt existed as to whether the policemen might have been justified in believing that their lives were in danger. Witness testimony was contradictory. The cops say that they were worried that Bell was using his vehicle as a weapon. Someone suggested that a shattered window in the victim's car—the result of the officers' fusillade—was mistaken for return fire. A defense expert persuaded the judge that fifty rounds could be fired so quickly that intent and premeditation were impossible to assess.

On the one hand, the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" that protects us all must also protect officers of the law. This is a criminal case, after all, and the rules don't change just because the alleged perpetrators wear badges. On the other hand, if you or I had killed someone under these circumstances, the only remaining question is whether our resulting prison sentence would be twenty years for second degree murder or five for voluntary manslaughter. No judge or jury on the planet would entertain the notion that our actions were justified.

But you and I are not police officers. We are expected to walk—or even run—away from deadly confrontations and to let the bad guys get away rather than risk our own lives. We are not obligated to consider the danger our adversaries pose to others, nor are we charged with enforcing any law.

Still, the Bell case presents a number of disturbing issues that somehow always seem to dominate matters such as these. First, the waiver of jury trial is problematic because many judges are drawn from the ranks of criminal prosecutors, whose predispositions may well favor law enforcement. Although that was apparently not true in the present case, it is still possible that even those judges without prosecutorial backgrounds will identify with the professionals rather than the public (more on that in a moment). Juries are valuable precisely because their members are not otherwise participants in the criminal justice system and are drawn from all sectors of society.

Second, anyone who has watched even a couple of episodes of "Law and Order" should be familiar with the extent to which police and prosecutors not only work hand in hand, but also come to depend upon one another. When district attorneys bring charges against law enforcement officers, a potential conflict of interest automatically exists. Any deficiencies in the subsequent prosecution raise questions—fairly or not—as to whether the D.A.'s office is really fighting to win, or merely going through the motions. These sorts of cases cry out for an independent prosecutor.

According to the trial judge, one of the key factors in acquitting the three police officers was the inconsistency between witness' statements at the time and their later testimony. Here's the judge's statement:

"The court has found that the [prosecution's] ability to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt was affected by a combination of the following factors: the prosecution witnesses' prior inconsistent statements, inconsistencies in testimony among prosecution witnesses, the renunciation of prior statements, criminal convictions, the interest of some witnesses in the outcome of the case, the demeanor on the witness stand of other witnesses and the motive witnesses may have had to lie and the effect it had on the truthfulness of a witness's testimony. These factors played a significant part in the people's ability to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt and had the effect of eviscerating the credibility of those prosecution witnesses. And, at times, the testimony just didn't make sense."

Let's parse these words for a moment. To being with, details are commonly misremembered, particularly in the heat of a violent and traumatic altercation. Further, the "interest of some witnesses in the outcome of the case" and the "motive witnesses may have had to lie" would logically apply much more strongly to the police officers—who faced prison sentences—than to those who sided with Bell. As to the demeanor of witnesses, what does that mean? Does anyone expect a polished performance from young men and women who have never before taken the witness stand, especially compared to cops who do so routinely? Reduced to its essentials, the judge's statement basically boils down to this: "I didn't believe any of these thugs."

I'm not arguing that this case was necessarily wrongly decided. Nor am I suggesting that police officers should be presumptively disbelieved; quite the opposite: they are entitled to the presumption of innocence as much as anyone else. But the fifty spent bullets and one dead body provide testimony unimpeached by issues of consistency, criminal conviction, or demeanor. Something wrong happened here and justice was obviously not served.

At the very least, even if criminal culpability cannot be proven, these officers should clearly be excused from further participation in law enforcement at any level. Having never worn a badge, I am willing (albeit reluctantly) to concede that split second judgment calls can go terribly wrong and innocent people can die without criminal responsibility on anyone's part. But I would feel better about reaching that conclusion if there was no conflict of interest in the prosecution and a jury was impaneled to weight all of the evidence without bias.

I would also be a bit more comfortable if these mistakes on the part of law enforcement--and the number of bullets fired--didn't always seem to correlate so highly with the race and social class of the victim.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

John McCain's Southern Strategy

Thirty-eight years before John McCain's Monday photo op in front of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, another Republican presidential hopeful made his own symbolic nod to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Ronald Reagan kicked off his third bid for the presidency in 1980 by offering a speech on states' rights before a nearly all-white crowd in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Reagan himself was no student of history, but his advisors obviously knew that Neshoba County, of which Philadelphia is the county seat, was the scene of a ghastly murder of three young civil rights workers in 1964. It was a cynical bid on the part of the Gipper, an attempt to appeal to the votes of white bigots who may have supported Reagan's rival, Georgia-born President Jimmy Carter, four years earlier out of regional pride.

So we can at least say this: it may have taken them nearly forty years, but the GOP is finally on the right side of the most significant moral divide of the 20th Century. McCain, to his credit, did not employ the language of white resistance as he stood before the scene of a bloody police riot in 1965. Indeed, the presumptive Republican nominee had nothing but praise for the courageous men and women who endured the billy clubs and attack dogs with persistence and dignity. This is progress, and we should bear it in mind the next time someone demands that we attach Ronald Reagan's name to yet another school, post office, or airport.

Still, there was an oddity about McCain's brief visit to Alabama that received notice even from his usually fawning media embeds. In a city which is 70% African American, McCain's Selma audience was nearly all white. The senator's graceful response to this rather embarrassing revelation was, in effect, that he wanted to show that his presidency will respond to the needs of all Americans, regardless of whether or not they support the GOP. Nobody, however, thought to ask McCain precisely how he would respond to the desperate poverty faced by rural black southerners, including those in Selma.

The next stop on McCain's "I Care" tour was New Orleans, the city that America pledged never to forget, and then promptly did. While in the Big Easy, the nominee-in-waiting took a couple of polite, if indirect, shots at President Bush, wisely separating himself from the incumbent administration's shameful record of obliviousness followed by neglect in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. If nothing else, McCain implicitly assured the country that the next time a major American city is overwhelmed by an epic natural disaster, he would not be 1,000 miles away sharing a birthday cake with an old rival on an airport tarmac somewhere, as President Bush did (the old rival, as you probably guessed, was none other than John McCain, though it's clearly not his fault that he shared the stage with his incompetent Commander-in-Chief on that terrible August day).

While in the Crescent City, Senator Straight Talk was asked what he would do about rebuilding the Ninth Ward, a devastated African American community that remains in ruins nearly three years after the city was flooded. He was unable to summon an answer, indicating that he would consult with experts or something. He also, to my knowledge, said nothing about the fate of the tens of thousands of Katrina evacuees, mostly African American, who have never been given the chance to return home.

I tend toward the cynical, but I suspect that even Pollyanna herself would have raised a few questions about John McCain's new southern strategy. What message did the senator hope to send by visiting towns that will never support him in states that almost certainly will? Was a Republican presidential candidate finally, at long last, reaching out to African Americans in a serious way? And if so, why was that not reflected in the crowds that came to hear him speak?

Well, obviously McCain has to know that he will lose the black vote by a margin of roughly 9-1, especially if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee. No campaign, especially one as cash-starved as McCain's, goes looking for votes in politically hostile or indifferent territory. McCain, then, was, at least in one sense, doing precisely what Ronald Reagan did in 1980: he was evoking symbols of the civil rights era in order to appeal to white voters.

To his credit, McCain was not making a pitch to the same kind of voters that Reagan wanted to persuade during his visit to that other Philadelphia. Rather, the Arizona senator was reaching out to an audience that was all the rage a decade or so ago, but is now largely forgotten: the soccer moms. White women will be a key swing constituency in an Obama-McCain general election contest and McCain knows he has some ground to make up.

Soccer moms, who inhabit the suburbs of Cleveland and Pittsburgh, Denver and Milwaukee, are political moderates who abandoned the GOP back in the early 1990s as Republican rhetoric on civil rights, women's rights, and religious freedom grew increasingly harsh and intolerant. Some returned to the fold in 2000 under George W. Bush's banner of "compassionate conservatism", while others were frightened into voting Republican in 2002 and 2004 out of fear that their children would grow up in a country in which every airplane ride could result in sudden death.

If we assume that the minority and youth votes go to Obama and the white male electorate sides with McCain, then it is quite possible that married white women will decide the 2008 presidential election. Further, the GOP hopes that many of them will be alienated from the Democratic Party because of Hillary Clinton's unsuccessful bid for the nomination (assuming, of course, that it is unsuccessful). Perhaps a straight-talking, maverick, compassionate conservative can convince some of these women that an untested, weak-willed Obama is too risky to entrust with their children's safety.

To do this, however, McCain must distance himself from the angry, edgy, testosterone-fueled Bush Administration and its reign of incompetence and insensitivity. His visits to Selma and New Orleans represented the first step in that process. Their key audience was not the children of the brave men and women who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, nor was it the desperately poor Katrina evacuees in Houston and Atlanta, praying for a chance to go home. Rather, McCain's target audience was the mother of two in Shaker Heights, Ohio, juggling a job, a marriage, and a family, discouraged by the mean spirited tone of contemporary U.S. politics, but also worried that her children will be in the wrong place at the wrong time when Osama bin Laden next decides to strike.

If John McCain can win their votes, he will take the oath of office next January.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Clinton, Obama, and Daily Kos

If you're trying to gauge a candidate's viability in April of an election year, you probably don't want to start with the polls. Public opinion is notoriously fluid in the spring and, with no immediate need to decide, voters regularly flirt with candidates about whom they still know relatively little. At this point in the campaign season, the best estimates of a potential nominee's strengths and weaknesses are probably derived from a dispassionate analysis of the issues, both personal and political, that are likely to dominate each party's talking points in the fall.

Nevertheless, the polls are out there and it is sometimes irresistible to take a peek and try to draw some tentative conclusions about where things might stand in November. The website provides a useful map of the 50-state match-ups between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, on the one hand, and John McCain on the other. Let's start with the headline before we get into the spin:


This alone obviously does not prove that Clinton is the most electable Democrat. It is, after all, still six months before Election Day and plenty can change between now and then. In addition, many of the states in which Clinton leads are very close, some within the statistical margin of error (this is also true for Obama). And there are some goofy results in there, indicative of a period in which voters have yet to give serious thought to the general election: California, for example, is improbably listed as a "weak Democratic" state.

Still, it is what it is. The Democrats win 289 electoral votes and the presidency with Hillary at the helm. They win 269 with Obama, one short of the magic number. Indeed, for Obama to win under this scenario, he would have to capture the one state on his map that is tied, North Carolina, which hasn't supported a Democratic candidate for president since Obama was a Hawaiian high school sophomore (i.e., 1976). On balance, then, this information would, if anything, support those who argue that Clinton is the superior choice to face John McCain in November.

But wait—you haven’t heard from the 24/7 pro-Obama spin machine that is Daily Kos, the premier left-wing blog. The site's proprietor, Markos Moulitsas, helpfully provides us with the following summary information:

Strong Dem: Obama, 67; Clinton 74
Weak Dem: Obama 144; Clinton 98
Barely Dem: Obama 58; Clinton 117
Tied: Obama 15; Clinton 10
Barely GOP: Obama 76; Clinton 13
Weak GOP: Obama 44; Clinton 89
Strong GOP: Obama 134: Clinton 137

Fair enough, I suppose, though he does leave out the grand total, which is, as we've noted, 289-269 in Clinton's favor. But then, in the best traditions of the cable TV pundits, Moulitsas proceeds to spin like a gyroscope. Here are his arguments for why a deficit of 20 electoral votes actually represents an Obama victory:

1. Obama does better if you look only at strong and weak Democratic states.

2. McCain does worse against Obama if you look only at strong and weak GOP states.

3. More Democratic electoral votes are "at risk" with Clinton because more of her support comes from the "barely Democratic" column. (Does Moulitsas not recognize that this is simply a re-statement of point #1, or does he think his readers' analytical skills are that dull?)

4. "Obama puts more pressure on McCain states." (A re-statement of point #2.)

5. "Obama holds the Kerry states better." It's not clear why this is an advantage since Kerry, you know, lost. But I guess Moulitsas had only two arguments but wanted to stretch them into five.

A couple of things the Daily Kos webmaster did not point out in his somewhat redundant analysis. First, both of the states that decided the past two presidential elections—Ohio and Florida—fall into the Clinton, but not the Obama, column. Indeed, with Obama heading the ticket, Florida becomes a "strong GOP" state. Moreover, to say that Obama "holds the Kerry states" sidesteps the fact that, other than a couple of very iffy pickups in Colorado and Nevada, that's really all he's got. Obama, of course, was supposed to be the candidate who expanded the Democratic coalition beyond the parameters of 2000 and 2004. But outside of Denver and Las Vegas, the evidence suggests that his electoral territory would be little different from that of Al Gore and John Kerry. So much for the new Democratic majority.

The problem with Moulitsas and many of his allies in the left blogosphere is that they have built a small empire that may be just as important to them as their original mission, which was to replace Republicans with Democrats. An Obama nomination validates Kos' mantra of "people powered politics"; a Clinton win renders his movement impotent and, perhaps, irrelevant. Moulitsas is a player now, with a gig at "Newsweek" and a regular seat at the pundits' table. There is more at risk for him these days than the mere fate of the Democratic Party. (Indeed, even now, he can't bring himself to concede that the amateurish anti-Joe Lieberman campaign of 2006 was an unqualified disaster for the cause.)

It goes without saying that none of us yet knows how the 2008 election will play out. It is quite likely that John McCain will never be stronger than he is right now, as he traipses around the hinterlands pretending to care about people (black Alabamians, displaced Katrina survivors, etc.) whose lives his economic policies would only further devastate. But it's also very possible that Barack Obama—like John Kerry before him—is currently enjoying his high-water mark in terms of popularity. Experience tells us that relatively unknown quantities—Carter in 1976, Dukakis in 1988, Kerry in 2004—generally see their appeal decline as the campaign wears on.

Say what you want about Hillary Clinton, but she is one of the best known quantities in American politics today. She has her deficiencies and a lot of people despise her beyond all cognitive understanding, but very few people have yet to decide how they feel about her. Of the three remaining candidates in the race, she is the one most likely to remain where she is in the polls, both nationally and at the state-by-state level. There's not much chance that she will win more than 310 electoral votes, but it's equally unlikely that the bottom will drop out on her come October.

But don't ever expect to read that in DailyKos.