Saturday, September 06, 2008

Not Bad Enough? Just Add Obstruction of Justice

Newsweek reports:

Key Alaska allies of John McCain are trying to derail a politically charged investigation into Gov. Sarah Palin's firing of her public safety commissioner in order to prevent a so-called "October surprise" that would produce embarrassing information about the vice presidential candidate on the eve of the election.

In a move endorsed by the McCain campaign Friday, John Coghill, the GOP chairman of the state House Rules Committee, wrote a letter seeking a meeting of Alaska's bipartisan Legislative Council in order to remove the Democratic state senator in charge of the so-called "troopergate" investigation.

The move underscored the huge political stakes in the outcome of a legislative investigation that is being closely monitored by both the McCain and Obama campaigns because of its potential impact on the fall election. "How can this possibly be read as anything but a partisan attempt to shut down a legitimate investigation that was approved and funded with bipartisan support?" said one state Democratic legislative aide, who asked not to be identified because of the political sensitivities.

Apparently there is enough there to fear in this investigation, or why risk making the cover up so public? It's not the crime, it's the cover-up is the usual truism, along with getting caught for obstruction of justice instead of the underlying crime. But then, for the party so skilled at stealing elections, this is easy.

And it's so transparent! The McSame campaign obviously feels it can get away with everything. Even announcing that Sarah Palin, in line to be a heartbeat away from the red button, will not answer questions on her views or qualifications by American journalists.

What's next? That's obvious. Soon we'll hear: Citing Eastern liberal sexist media hostility, Senator McCain has concluded that VP candidate Palin will not participate in the vice presidential debate.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Remains To Be Seen

I'm frankly surprised that McCain's speech got such a big audience, marginally larger than Obama's. I suspect that there was little overlap in the two audiences, but I could be wrong about that, too.

However, it remains to be seen whether this audience was a plus for McCain, because the reviews on his speech continue to be bad. Joe Conason in Salon is the latest: John McCain deserved much better from his campaign staff than he got when they handed him that jumbled convention speech and set him out onto that strange stage. Even though many of the men and women who work for him undeniably belong to that "old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd" he scorns, there can be no doubt that they love him, so they should not have let him down so badly. His staff and advisors have had two years to prepare for that moment -- and they gave him words that literally put people to sleep.

The polls so far show some tightening, with Obama still ahead. Monday is the traditional day to measure the bounce. Then I guess polls taken a week after that tell us more about where the race actually is, especially the next round of state polls (the ones coming out now are quite favorable for Obama.)

Apparently Sarah Palin has some studying up to do before she meets the press. Word now that the Alaska investigation that the McCainites are trying to slow down may actually be speeded up.

This could be the beginning of a rebound for the GOPers, or it could be their high water mark, as good as it's going to get. Unemployment topped 6% today, a powerful number. It could be that the GOPer America is not just dying but dead, with just the remains to be seen.

Thursday, September 04, 2008


We spent a nice, quiet evening here. Autumn is our sunny time, and we took a walk in the afternoon. While Margaret tried a biofeedback game on her computer, I shot some hoops before twilight. After dinner we watched an episode of "Mad Men" on DVD.

Then I watched the Daily Show but it's a day behind. Some brief channel switching turned up the usual smarminess, but online it was a little different. McSame's speech got panned. Greg Sergeant at TPM predicted that not only won't McSame get a bounce, reaction to his speech "will smother Palin's sizzle like a wet blanket." Ex-Bush speech writer Michael Gerson called it disappointing and tired, and Jeffrey Toobin said it was "shockingly bad."

Republicans crow that they raised $1 million since Palin's speech. Unfortunately, unless that went to the party directly, the McSame campaign can't spend it. They're now on the federal dole.

And by the way, since Palin's speech, the Obama campaign has received ten times as much in donations: $10 million in 24 hours.

Palin is the heir to Bush without the taint. The GOPer convention never identified itself as the Republican party, and they're running on a platform of change--change from the current Republican presidency. That's apparently the strategy. If McSame were more likable, it might even work. Palin will pale eventually, perhaps soon. Obama and Biden are hitting the right notes about this convention on the campaign trail. They just have to make sure that every time they mention McSame, they mention that he's the Republican candidate.

The polls should be fluid for the next week or so. There's always counter-evidence. A CBS poll showed the race tied, though the swing from their last poll was too extreme for it to seem reliable. And there's a poll showing that independents were "reassured" by Palin's speech. Whatever that means. It seems that for any number of reasons this campaign is going to look close for awhile, whether it actually is or not.

The New York Times editorialized: Thursday night, Americans mainly saw the old John McCain...But there were also chilling glimpses of the new John McCain, who questioned the patriotism of his opponents as the “me first, country second” crowd and threw out a list of false claims about Barack Obama’s record, saying, for example, that Mr. Obama opposed nuclear power. There was no mention of immigration reform or global warming, Mr. McCain’s signature issues before he decided to veer right to win the nomination.

There could not have been a starker contrast between Mr. McCain’s night on the stage and the earlier days of the convention, a carnival of partisan rancor. It was not a forum for explaining policies or defining ideals, certainly none ever associated with Mr. McCain.

On Wednesday, the nastiest night of the week, Mr. McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, and other speakers offered punch lines, rather than solutions for this country’s many problems — ridiculing the Washington elite (of which most were solid members) and Barack Obama. “Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America, and he’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights,” Ms. Palin said. Mr. Obama, in reality, wants to give basic human rights to prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, only a handful of whom are Qaeda members, and shield them from torture. So, once upon a time, did Mr. McCain, but there was no mention of that in St. Paul, or of the bill he wrote protecting those prisoners.

Mike Huckabee dismissed Mr. Obama, the first black candidate of any major party, as a mere “symbolic” choice for president.

At the same time, the Republicans tried to co-opt Mr. Obama’s talk of change and paint themselves as the real Americans. It is an ill-fitting suit for the least diverse, most conservative and richest Republican delegates since The Times started tracking such data in 1996. It was, in short, a gathering devoted almost entirely to the culture war refined by Mr. Rove in Mr. Bush’s two campaigns.

On Thursday, Mr. McCain said he would reach out to “any willing patriot, make this government start working for you again.” Mr. Bush, too, promised the same bipartisanship in his campaigns, and then governed in the most divisive, partisan way. Americans have a right to ask which John McCain would be president. We hope Mr. McCain starts to answer that by halting the attacks on Mr. Obama’s patriotism and beginning a serious, civil debate.

Did somebody say debate? In just a few weeks.
Big Audience, Bad Impression?

Estimates for VP candidate Palin's speech were just over a million short of Obama's record. But at least with one focus group, she made a bad impression.

The Detroit Free Press assembled another focus group: GOPers liked her, independents universally did not.

Update: other focus groups of women show Palin didn't go over with Hillary supporters.

The audience was high among over 55. I'll be interested to see that focus group.

Meanwhile, a Democracy Corps survey concludes: "Barack Obama emerged from the Democratic convention with the Democratic Party unified behind him and a solid lead in the presidential battleground states."

A "rumor" is circulating that the Obama campaign took in $8 million in the first twelve hours or so after Palin's speech.

A pretty devastating "apology" to Palin from the media in Politico.
Excerpts: On behalf of the elite media, I would like to say we are very sorry. We have asked questions this week that we should never have asked. We have asked pathetic questions like: Who is Sarah Palin? What is her record? Where does she stand on the issues? And is she is qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency?

But where did we go wrong with Sarah Palin? Let me count the ways: First, we should have stuck to the warm, human interest stuff like how she likes mooseburgers and hit an important free throw at her high school basketball tournament even though she had a stress fracture. Second, we should have stuck to the press release stuff like how she opposed the Bridge to Nowhere (after she supported it). Third, we should never have strayed into the other stuff. Like when The Washington Post recently wrote: “Palin is under investigation by a bipartisan state legislative body. … Palin had promised to cooperate with the legislative inquiry, but this week she hired a lawyer to fight to move the case to the jurisdiction of the state personnel board, which Palin appoints.”

Why go there? What trees does that plant? Fourth, we should stop making with all the questions already. She gave a really good speech. And why go beyond that? As we all know, speeches cannot be written by others and rehearsed for days. They are true windows to the soul.Unless they are delivered by Barack Obama, that is. In which case, as Palin said Wednesday, speeches are just a “cloud of rhetoric.”

Fifth, we should stop reporting on the families of the candidates. Unless the candidates want us to. Sarah Palin wanted the media to report on her teenage son, Track, who enlisted in the Army on Sept. 11, 2007, and soon will deploy to Iraq. Sarah Palin did not want the media to report on her teenage daughter, Bristol, who is pregnant and unmarried.

Sarah Palin thinks that one is good for her campaign and one is not, and that the media should report only on what is good for her campaign. That is our job, and that is our duty. If that is not actually in the Constitution, it should be. (And someday may be.)

Demonizing "Community Organizers"?

But why? Billmon has some shrewd interpretations that point to dog whistle messages to hard right GOPers that amount to racism. What a surprise.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Big Chill

After the Palin speech and the media reception, I have little to add that I didn't write this morning, well in advance of the event. The media in general is fauning all over her, in precisely the terms I predicted.

The viewing audience may be a different story. Some will either already know or will even read stories about the many inaccuracies, which being intentional and repeated, are simply lies. But even those who just discount most of what politicians say about each other will have noted what several MSNBC panelists called sarcasm, insult and condescension towards Barack Obama. Others mentioned that it is one thing to hear this kind of rhetoric from a voice you know, and another from someone who has tried to introduce herself moments before.

So to add to the earlier list of voting groups Palin probably loses, I think she turned off independents, who are also most likely to be troubled by her lack of qualifications. Being a moose-hunting mother is not much in the way of credentials for being next in line as Commander in Chief. Her only mention of the vice-presidency was that she would be an advocate for special needs children and their families. While laudable, it doesn't bear on the vice presidency.

Where Palin obviously scored was with the people at the convention. But who are they? Many Republican office-holders and especially reelection-seekers skipped this convention. The people who are there are Bush Cheney hard right Karl Rove fans, mostly old and mostly white. The McBush people may be trying to pin sexism on liberal media, but Palin's tone and the images of that convention make you really wonder about racism.

So the hard right wing base is fired up--apparently money and volunteers are coming in. The TV audience Tuesday was a bit over the 20 million threshhold--not as big as the Dems at the start, but respectable. Palin's speech was late--she finished past 11 eastern. I'm not sure this helped with anybody other than the people in the hall, the rabid rightists at home, and of course, the media.

Tom Edsall wrote this: "John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin puts his campaign firmly on track toward a hard-edged drive to mobilize the GOP's conservative base, threatening to erase what remains of his centrist maverick image and his appeal to moderate and independent voters...McCain and Palin now head a ticket that is emerging as more red-bloodedly conservative than Bush-Cheney in 2004 -- when conservatism would have appeared to have reached its zenith -- with a platform substantially further to the right on issues ranging from education to immigration."

The gamble is that with an energized base, McBush might be able to hoodwink enough people into forgettting he's the Republican candidate and believing he's for change, too. (Though when supporting this idea, Palin used the most mean-spirited and personally insulting lines aimed at Obama: "In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change.")

McCain is betting that the politics of resentment, the small politics that worked for Bush, would allow him to squeak through in another close election.

So now it's clear if it wasn't before: this election is a struggle for the soul of America.
On the Media

In defense of the media, Joe Klein wrote this, responding to the orchestrated attack by McCain and the Republican convention: "There is a tendency in the media to kick ourselves, cringe and withdraw, when we are criticized. But I hope my colleagues stand strong in this case: it is important for the public to know that Palin raised taxes as governor, supported the Bridge to Nowhere before she opposed it, pursued pork-barrel projects as mayor, tried to ban books at the local library and thinks the war in Iraq is "a task from God." The attempts by the McCain campaign to bully us into not reporting such things are not only stupidly aggressive, but unprofessional in the extreme. "

In his convention wrap-up Wednesday, Brian Williams of NBC quoted that paragraph in full. According to one report, when Sarah Palin criticized the media from the podium, the shouted approval from the crowd included some hostile chants of NBC, NBC.

On the minus side, and it's a big one, I was very disappointed--though not thoroughly surprised--that the media did not strongly cover the arrest of Amy Goodman and members of her reporting and production staff from Democracy Now! Whatever their politics, the media should defend these reporters, and they don't appear to be doing so. Moreover, in the absense of media outcry, felony charges against Goodman and the others are still pending, they have not been dropped.
Where Palin is Failin

Tonight she's the center of attention, and we're likely to see her whip the hard right crowd into a frenzy. But including Palin on the ticket has its costs:

1. The national security wing of the Republican party, with a VP nominee that is less qualified to be commander in chief than anyone ever within a heartbeat of that office. The "open mike" comments of a couple of longtime GOPer insiders that are making the blog rounds today is but one indication that this is being taken seriously.

2. environmentalists who thought that McCain was pretty good on the environment for a Republican. Whatever hope McCain had of picking up some college student votes is now gone.

3. Older voters who are skeptical of Obama's experience, and aren't hoodwinked by talking points saying hers is equivalent or better. They've been hearing about Obama for at least a year, and they never heard of Palin. They know all too well what that heartbeat means. They also have to wonder about McCain's judgment in doing this.

4. Women who resent the cynicism of this pick. Women who would like to have the right to choose. Women who right now are calling in to talk shows expressing their misgivings about a woman with a Downs Syndrome infant, and a teenage daughter about to give birth, who is suddenly thrown into an intense presidential campaign.

5. If today's revelation about Palin being present for an overtly anti-Jewish sermon make the rounds--and in certain parts of Florida, for instance, that's pretty much guaranteed--then Jewish voters are not going to support McCain--with Palin as the deal-breaker.

The number I'm looking for right now is the TV ratings. The preliminary indications from the rough broadcast network ratings (excluding cable, and since CNN has been beating the networks at times, that's significant) show last night's audience was smaller than for any night of the Dem convention. Everyone is expecting a big audience tonight for Palin--but how big is big? I think the ratings are going to be a more significant indicator than daily flucuations in the tracking polls.
The Real Story???

Failin but not Flailin?

Except with the very hard core Republican base, the Palin VP pick is failing. The latest to weigh in is the New York Times editorial this morning:

If John McCain wants voters to conclude, as he argues, that he has more independence and experience and better judgment than Barack Obama, he made a bad start by choosing Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

But all the revelations of the past few days, could yet be followed by redemption. And that's perhaps the scariest part of this whole repulsive episode.

Sarah Palin is scheduled to speak at the Republican convention tonight. She hasn't been heard from in days. She cancelled all scheduled interviews and appearances. So the stage is set.

If she gives a rousing good speech, will all be forgiven? Will the media as well as the GOPers in the room forget that she is the most extreme Rabid Right vice presidential candidate in history?

That she believes God makes political decisions. That she supports teaching creationism as science, and doesn't believe the science of global heating. That a librarian who wouldn't let her censor books in the public library in the town where she was mayor deserved to be fired for that. That her beliefs mean that rape or incest victims can't legally have the choice to terminate that pregnancy, that birth control should not be taught in schools, and that pregnant teenagers should not be helped if they are in need? It's her God's way--her interpretation of her God's way--or you get fired, you're on your own, or you go to jail?

The bar is now so low, and the attention so pitched, that the reviews of her speech can be written right now. She's feisty, she's funny, she's poignant, she's real, she can dish out the red meat, she's a breath of fresh air. That she's also ignorant, out of her depth, a religious zealot whose dogmatic decision-making can be masked by the apparent pragmatism of the image she assumes. Sarah Palin is not a joke. She is dangerous.

John McCain, already an old and frequently addled man with a hair-trigger temper and no center to him except blind egotism and a heart of bile and resentment he's learned to mask in affable smiles and a soft voice, has shown himself to be even more cynical than Cheney. Only a cynical opportunist and a reckless gambler would nominate a completely unqualified and unknown person for vice president, and force his party to squirm through idiotic lies and transparently dishonest gambits (every criticism of Palin is sexism--those sexist liberals! After being lambasted for decades because they promoted sexual equality, now liberals are chauvanists! These people really have no shame.)

Once again the Republican Party is the party of resentment, the party of unconsciousness and projection, of primitive rage masquerading as religion. The march to the Dark Ages could get its clarion call tonight. And the media, caring only about a sensational story line, will amplify it.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Leading the CBS Evening News tonight
Palin On

She is the governor elected to throw out the corrupt, who is under investigation for acts of corruption. She was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it. She's supposed to support McCain's supposed campaign against earmarks, and in today's Washington Post: "Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin employed a lobbying firm to secure almost $27 million in federal earmarks for a town of 6,700 residents while she was its mayor, according to an analysis by an independent government watchdog group.

In introducing Palin as his running mate on Friday, Sen. John McCain cast her as a compatriot in his battle against wasteful federal spending. McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, hailed Palin as a politician "with an outstanding reputation for standing up to special interests and entrenched bureaucracies -- someone who has fought against corruption and the failed policies of the past, someone who's stopped government from wasting taxpayers' money." McCain's crusade against earmarks -- federal spending sought by members of Congress to benefit specific projects -- has been a hallmark of his campaign. "

And in the department of "Ya think?" The New York Times intones: "A series of disclosures about Gov. Sarah Palin, Senator John McCain’s choice as running mate, called into question on Monday how thoroughly Mr. McCain had examined her background before putting her on the Republican presidential ticket."

Monday, September 01, 2008

Palin Pre-Panned

Two of MSNBCs more conservative commentators
are among those panning Palin as vp choice, before
McCain announced her. Several therefore were
against her before they were for her. TPM catalogs
the Palin revelations of just today.

Update: Chris Bowers makes this point: these polls show the "undecideds" shrinking in number, so the Obama bounce is actually larger--and maybe longer lasting--than it appears at first. "Relative to the number of undecideds needed to win the election, Obama's advantage has actually quadrupled."

The standard for bounce measurement is Gallup, and today's USA Today/Gallup poll story begins like this: "The Democratic National Convention significantly boosted Americans' views of Barack Obama as a strong leader who "shares your values" and can manage the economy and Iraq, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Saturday and Sunday finds.Republican John McCain's advantage in handling terrorism was dramatically reduced and his "unfavorable" rating ticked up to its highest level this year."

On personal characteristics, Obama has eliminated McCain's advantage over him as "a strong and decisive leader." By 46%-44%, those surveyed say that characteristic applies more to Obama than McCain. Before the convention, McCain held an eight-point advantage. Obama has a 13-point advantage as someone who "shares your values," double the edge he held before the convention. He has an eight-point advantage as someone who is "honest and trustworthy; before the convention, they were ranked equally on that quality."

Obama leads by 7 points, and significantly, is at 50% (50-43%.) Crossing the 50% threshhold would be better, but this is good news. It also factors in immediate reaction to the Palin pick.

Though the CNN poll yesterday showed negligible movement, two other polls today showed Obama did get a convention bounce. The Gallup tracking poll shows a 4 point bounce, "fairly typical" of past conventions. It's Obama 49% to McCain 43%. A CBS poll gives Obama an 8 point lead, 48-40%. Obama made significant gains among women and independents in this poll.

The convention bounce is usually temporary, but I am still looking for the point where Obama consolidates a lead. It's true that these national polls don't mean a lot--state by state means more, and even those don't always reflect reality, based on models used, cell phones, etc. But people notice the national polls, if not on their own then through media coverage. And people are more comfortable with their voting decision if it is shared by others. This used to be called the bandwagon effect. It's about enthusiasm as well as numbers.

So far enthusiasm seems to be holding. The Gallup: In the poll, Democrats continue to benefit from a "enthusiasm gap." By 57%-28%, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they are more enthusiastic than usual about voting this year. By 47%-39%, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they are less enthusiastic than usual.

How people feel about qualities and issues can also change, but gaining ground in these areas can be like gas prices--when they go down, they don't end up where they were before they started going up.

Obama is more patient about this than I am. He doesn't expect things to take shape until mid October, according to his 60 Minutes interview yesterday.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Palin Drone

More reaction. Reported by Time correspondents: Another week, another Frank Luntz/AARP focus group of undecided voters--this one in Minneapolis and with some bad news for John McCain: they don't like the choice of Sarah Palin for vice president. Only one person said Palin made him more likely to vote for McCain; about half the 25-member group raised their hands when asked if Palin made them less likely to vote for McCain. They had a negative impression of Palin by a 2-1 margin...

This reinforces my feeling that the Palin ploy was going to work worst with the demographic that Obama seemed to be having the most trouble with: older voters. Palin may help in Alaska (but maybe not), but she may have lost Florida, and there are a lot more older voters in PA than Rabid Right true believers.

This from Joshua Green via Ambinder, reporting from the GOPer convention. These are Republicans he's talking about, remember: Most Republicans have never met Sarah Palin and are processing the news of her selection as VP with the stunned-but-well-meaning emotions you might feel toward an acquaintance who just came out of the closet. Those given to caution when discussing such things at a brunch with journalists put a hopeful, might-be-a-stroke-of-genius spin on their astonishment. Those less inhibited--who are also better people--generally see the pick as irresponsible and politically motivated (and not in a good way). No one believes Palin was fully vetted. And no one has any idea how this will play out.

The best analogy I heard came from a bright young Republican operative, who--borrowing from the sports world, as the secret Republican-operative rulebook stipulates one must--likened the Palin pick to an NFL team using the top pick in the draft to select an unheralded, but promising, player from a small college. Looks great on paper: you just hope and pray they can adjust to the speed of the professional game. It's a useful analogy because it gives a good sense of the odds--for every Phil Simms (quick: name his alma mater*) there have been countless small-college players who put up great stats but never caught on in the pros.
Palin Comparison

The reviews are coming in, decidedly mixed, trending negative. Despite some reports of an enthusiastic crowd in Washington, PA (though when Palin mentioned Hillary, the crowd booed) and among the Rabid Right, the first polls are mixed and the first editorials are negative. Historians are blown away, but not in a good way, cf: “ I think she is the most inexperienced person on a major-party ticket in modern history,” said presidential historian Matthew Dallek.

A lacerating review in Salon that begins, "It is hard to think of a more cynical and contemptuous political act this year than John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate," is one thing. But big thumbs down from the two biggest newspapers in Alaska, something else. Editorials in other newspapers were no better.

Polls show the lowest percentage ever recorded for confidence that Palin is qualified, and slightly more women seem turned off--or angered--by the choice than view it positively. 9% of female Hillary voters are more inclined to vote McCain now--but 15% are LESS likely. This political analysis in Politico about why McCain made this choice is pretty acute.

But the bigger news at this hour is hurricane Gustav, a major threat to the Gulf and zeroing in on New Orleans, though it may make landfall a little west or as far west as Texas. It doesn't necessarily get better after it hits Monday night, either. Jeff Masters at Wunderblog suggests it could go offshore again and gather strength for a return somewhere (just as Katrina did), influenced perhaps by the storm right behind it, currently tropical storm Hanna.

Sunday the Republicans will decide how best to exploit the storm for political advantage. McCain and Palin are already planning a photo op in Mississippi, and McCain's acceptance address may be a movable feast: anywhere there happens to be enough photogenic wreckage. Like everything else dramatic, this is unpredictable. The split screen coverage of the storm and the convention could get the convention more viewers than it would have alone. But how will viewers react? Will they believe the images the Republicans hope to try to manufacture, of GOPer led state and feds doing a heck of a job? Or will it look like the Curse of Katrina?

Frank Rich has outdone himself this Sunday--I can't quote this without quoting it all, so go read it. He's right that the hot air networks got it wrong about the conflict at the Dem convention--I was particularly offended by the comparisons with 1968, when some of my compatriots had their heads smashed. But the phony drama may have gotten more folks to tune in.