Friday, October 17, 2008


Open Thread

Thread away, thread away, pixie land!

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Campaign Bile Steps Aside For Humor

Thursday night, John McCain and Barack Obama attended the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in Manhattan. A fundraiser for the Archdiocese of New York and city Catholic charities, the dinner is a a customary stop for presidential candidates every four years.

They engaged in some self-deprecatory humor and good-natured roasting of each other and a few other political dignitaries (Bill & Hillary, Mike Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani were favorite targets). Given the serious circumstances the country finds itself in, some people might not like the fact that our presidential candidates are bantering back and forth. I think this actually says something good about our country and its electoral process -- that politicians can put aside their very earnest, heart-felt differences, and get partisans on both sides laughing with each other instead of at each other

For what it's worth, I thought McCain was slightly better than Obama -- but probably because McCain has been a guest of honor at the dinner before (in a non-presidential year) -- and enjoys doing the stand-up stuff.

Anyway, Ben Smith at Politico provides direct links to both routines. I must say, as an amateur comic myself, I approve of their messages!

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RIP Levi Stubbs

Levi Stubbs, better known as lead singer of the Four Tops, died today at the age of 72.

While the Four Tops as a group have produced some of the most memorable music in Motown history, Stubbs himself reminds me best of one specific role he did in the movie Little Shop of Horrors:

God rest his soul. But at least dentists everywhere can now breathe a sigh of relief.


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Wednesday, October 15, 2008


"The Natural"

Throat-clearing caveats...blah, blah, blah...anything can happen, etc...

Sen. Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States.

John McCain had, without a doubt, his best debate performance tonight. Arguably, he won it on "points." He was focused; he was aggressive, particularly on the issue of Obama's tax-raising and wealth-distribution. He made Obama's exchange with "Joe The Plumber" such a recurrent theme that you would have thought that Joe was McCain's, um, No. 2 (heh, heh...). When the issue was trade, he managed to get in a dig on Obama happy to sit down with Venezuelas' Hugo Chavez. In addition to the spending freeze he had mentioned before, McCain identified three specific programs he would eliminate. Obama couldn't name one. On the contrary, he mentioned the need to "invest" or some variation of that word some nine times (KA-CHING!!). To turn a phrase, that's not "change" we can believe in -- that's big-time money.

But, even with all that, Obama's overall debate performance was fine. He was -- pick your favorite sports metaphor -- "playing prevent defense", "sitting on the ball", "four corners offense", whatever. The point was, he had a lead going in and all he had to do was make no "unforced errors" or "turn the ball over."

And, he did that. The big William Ayers moment -- smartly introduced by Bob Schieffer (easily the best of the four debate moderators) by getting the two candidates to identify things made by the other campaign that were inappropriate or unfair (or should be considered fair game). After an exchange about John Lewis' comparing McCain-Palin's tactics to ruthless segregationist Bull Connor, McCain said of Ayers, "We need to know the full extent of that relationship."

In response, Obama just mentioned several other people who were on the same board as he and Ayers -- fully respectable members of the Chicago business and academic community -- and moved on. Either McCain didn't know more on the Obama-Ayers connection or couldn't figure out how to counter Obama's response. By shoehorning ACORN into that question as well, it gave Obama license and ease to get rid of two potentially big headaches/distractions.

For the third debate in a row, Obama proved that he is always aware that he is on television and John McCain seems never to know that. Thus, even as McCain was doing well in the "debate qua debate" sense, when Obama was talking but a split screen showed both candidates, McCain would look either disdainful or pissed off. He seemed irritated when Obama was talking, while Obama looked focused or studious enough to jot down notes when McCain was making a point.

At least since 1960, the television atmospherics in debates matter. Obama isn't just telegenic; he makes an effort to use the camera as an ally -- to look back and forth between it, the moderator and McCain. In doing so, he metaphorically pays respect to the audience at home as well as the people he's sharing the stage with. It's a powerful gift and one he shown in all three debates. He's a natural performer. McCain just can't master that.

Thus, Barack Obama is leading going into the 20-day homestretch and,
barring anything unforeseen, will likely score a rather impressive victory on Nov. 4th.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan collects blogger debate reactions.

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Holy Debate Prep!!

Getting ready for tonight's debate finale:

And, on a sad, related note, Neil Hefti, R.I.P.:

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Palin's, Like, Other Problem, You Know?

The Manhattan Institute's Heather Mac Donald articulates her difficulty with Gov. Palin's syntax -- and the right's happy tolerance:
I know, it’s elitist to expect a candidate for president or vice president to speak like an adult. Sure, there are parents out there battling the “like” epidemic who might not appreciate having someone in the White House validating their 15-year-olds’ speech habits. But, hey: “Total role reversal here.” (Palin, of course, can sound adolescent even when she uses the right verbs, as when she disingenuously denied her snarky put-down of Joe Biden’s age while lauding herself as “you know, . . . the new energy, the new face, the new ideas.”) It’s even more elitist to expect a vice president to put together sentences that cohere into a minimally logical progression of thought. There was a time, however, when conservatives upheld adult standards—such as clarity of speech and thought—without apology, even in the face of the relentless downward pull of adolescent culture. But now, when a vice-presidential candidate talks like a teenager, mugs like an American Idol contestant, and traffics in syntactical dead-ends and non sequiturs, we are supposed to find her charming and authentic.
Apparently, the multigenerational Bush family war on the English language has inured many on the right to proper speech.

Mac Donald also addresses the central point I raised in "The GOP's Palin Problem -- and Mine":
Conservatives will also have a hard time backpedaling from the hypocrisy they displayed regarding Palin’s family situation. Pundits and talk radio hosts rushed to explain why the pregnancy of Governor Palin’s 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, was a wonderful thing. Answer: because the baby would not be aborted. But every born baby of a teen parent has not been aborted, by definition. While from a pro-life perspective, the decision to carry any child to term is laudable, the celebration of Bristol's decision became difficult to distinguish from a celebration of teen motherhood itself. In the past, conservatives have not flinched from pointing out the social and economic costs of teen pregnancy; taking up that theme again, after the happy family-values face put on Bristol’s imminent motherhood, is going to be awkward, to say the least.

And to further underscore Heather's point, Bristol's baby daddy Levi gave an interview this week where he revealed that, yes, he still plans to marry Bristol, but, well, he's dropping out of high school to take a job as an apprentice electrician. Now, if that doesn't perfectly summarize the "problem" with teen pregnancy -- along with the baby comes along things such as interruptions in education.

Forgive me for being old school, but you'd think that somebody could explain to this young man that it might be smarter to at least stick around to get the high school diploma before getting the apprenticeship.

But, hey, like Heather Mac Donald, I'm just one of those Northeast elitists.

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The Parting of WFB's "Offspring."

So, there were ramifications from Chris Buckley's decision to endorse Barack Obama.

He apparently is no longer writing for the magazine his father founded:
Tuesday in a phone interview with the Austin American-Statesman he revealed another surprise: After NR readers raised holy heck over his perceived betrayal of the right, he offered to resign his column - and it was accepted.
“It upset a great number of people - a huge number of canceled subscriptions, apostasy, the whole thing,” he said from Washington.
When he offered his resignation to the magazine’s editors, “I was sort of hoping for, ‘Well, let’s hink about it,’ ” Buckley said. “But to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, I didn’t leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left me.”

And so it goes.

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Brown-Out Beats Blackout

Kinda funny what crises can do for politicians -- and parties.

In the UK, the Labour Party -- in power for the last 11 years -- has been in almost as dire shape as the GOP here in the states. And, as we've all seen, the financial tsunami has thrown John McCain for a complete loop -- plunging him to as much as 10 points behind Barack Obama nationally and Republican candidates with him. Linked to that is that George W. Bush remains at historically low levels of popularity.

If you're in the Labour Party and there is a worldwide financial crisis, guess it helps when your prime minister is the former Chancellor of the Exchequer (the UK version of Secretary of the Treasury) -- and knows what he's doing. In contrast to the Bush-Paulson team that first suffered a humiliating loss in the House of Representatives before finally getting the $700 billion "rescue" package approved, and then engaged in some dithering over whether the money should go toward collecting so-called "toxic assets" or in a different way, Gordon Brown immediately stepped up and made equity purchases in several UK banks.

That is now the model that Paulson is adopting. And with the world following the UK, Brown is not the dead man walking he was just a few weeks ago.
But the financial crisis has been a gift for the sombre Scotsman, who grabbed the opportunity with a set of financial initiatives that have been followed by governments around the world.
While the Bush administration dithered and the European Union's major players were divided, the British leader quickly proposed that governments needed to go beyond simply providing extra liquidity and had to buy directly into banks to restore their balance sheets and their public credibility.
"I am very pleased that a large number of countries across the world, from Australia and New Zealand to Sweden, to the euro area, have moved towards the proposals that seem to me to now be common ground for the way forward," he said last night.
"I see that there are 'similar' announcements in America as well, so that is the basis -- it is really a conclusion that simply the flow of liquidity could not actually deal with the problem unless we got to the root of the fundamental failings in the system."
Of course, Brown is able to take advantage of the parliamentary system that grants flexibility for the calling of elections. Thus, he has time to build back his popularity by coming across as the smart leader in a crisis. Not only does he know the issue, he manages to draw a contrast as the sober "experienced" adult in dealing with an international crisis -- as opposed to his younger charismatic Conservative Party opponent, David Cameron. And, he's going beyond just dealing with the "problem of the day." Instead, he's raising ideas like a new Bretton-Woods pact for the world's leading financial players to craft.

The contrast with what is happening in the US couldn't be stronger. The "experience" line isn't working for John McCain, because the nature of the crisis isn't in his skill set -- in the way it is for Brown. Thus, Obama has been able to appear mature and calm, while McCain as bounced from one tactic to another in trying to deal with the economic and political whirlwind recently unleashed.

Another aspect of this is that, unfortunately, the U.S. is no longer looking like the lead dog in financial affairs. As we noted last week, Iceland is turning to Russia to help bail it out. And now, it's the UK coming up with the main idea to rescue the world financial system.

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