Joe-Mentum: The Final Chapter

I knew this would happen: the second they start nitpicking over the capital gains tax, the second the element of good-vs.-evil has been lost (which is essentially what sustained me through the primaries; that, and lots of good scandals), my eyes glaze over and I turn the station. I'm sure things will pick up once the Republican 527s hit the panic button. The amount of coverage on Tim Russert's death has been staggering. Of the two recurring caveats about him--and you'd have a hard time finding anything really nega- tive about the guy, although Sullivan unearthed something in the neighborhood--I was oblivious to one and would echo the other. A few commentators have indicated their antipathy towards Russert's signature "gotcha" line of questioning; I guess I've so internalized that style of interviewing that I wasn't even aware that Russert had a major hand in inventing it. But I would agree that he was uncomfortably buddy-buddy with a number of his guests. I especially remember the week of the Don Imus firing, when Gwen Ifill took him to task for being an Imus apologist. The loyalty was admir- able; his inability to see Imus for the creep he is was not. Having said that, I've been rushing home from my radio show the past few months to make sure I never miss him, and that says all you need to know about how much of a fan I am of his show. His most recent interview with Obama, the one I wrote about with trepidation a few weeks ago, was excellent: he asked everything that needed to be asked, gave Obama a chance to explain himself, and then he moved on. Whitey Ford, Whitey Herzog, Whitey from Leave It to Beaver--I'm 99% sure it's not true, but even if it is, what's the big deal? ----- A co-worker brought me back a pack of these from Buffalo. I won't open them, but I found an online listing of all the individual cards. Most make sense (Dick Durbin, Jon Stewart, Markos Moulitsas, etc.), three are rather puzzling: Vladimir Putin (eight of spades), Michael J. Fox (five of diamonds), and Michael Jordan (five of clubs). I guess Jordan belongs because of the Chicago connection. Guesses for the other two: Barack had a cameo back in 1988 as Alex Keaton's radical black law pro- fessor, and he did a short stint in the '90s as a KGB agent. No Jeremiah Wright, unfortunately; imagine how thrilling it would be to trump your opponent in euchre with Jeremiah and wild exhortations of "Goddamn America!" ----- Hallways and staircases, every day to climb To go up to my white-walled room out on the end of time Where I can be with my love, for she is all that is mine And she'll always be there, my love don't care about time I'm making the transition slowly: Hillary's gone, there's a new opponent. ----- Happy 78th, H. Ross! I'm dying to hear what everybody's favourite wingnut thinks about the political landscape at the moment. I did come across some criticism from him concerning McCain's post-Vietnam conduct--specifically McCain's treatment of his ex-wife--so I assume he's for Obama. I've been tending to the usual year-end chaos at work, so I haven't posted since last week. I stopped paying attention altogether for a few days--don't think I so much as looked at CNN from this past Sunday through yesterday. They're apparently going forward with the election with or without me, though, so it's time to recon- nect. And what was the big topic of discussion on Larry King last night? The Barack- Hillary rapprochement. A month into the general, and the most interesting show in town is still the race that's already been decided. That probably says something about McCain, but even more so, Obama-Clinton was one of those epochal cultural dramas that, for anyone who was caught up in it, will take some time to get over. It reminds me a lot of the O.J. case: just about anything that people are apt to get really worked up over was somewhere in the mix. As for Barack, I followed his general-election "repositionings" last week (campaign-finance and FISA, and there was also the embarrassing gaffe with the two Muslim women) with some disappointment. There's a strong argument to be made that he's not betraying his core objective (minimize the influence of corporate donors) at all on campaign-finance, and there's also an electability argument with regards to FISA--moving to the center and all that. Still, I don't think this inven- tory by Charles Krauthammer should be discounted, even allowing for some obvious we're-going-to-get-crushed sour grapes. And that does seem to be the general consen- sus at the moment: looming landslide. ----- If you've ever seen Michael Ritchie's The Candidate, you've probably taken note of how the McKay-Jarmon contest (for a California senate seat) makes for a nice adumbration of Obama-McCain. Stanley Kauffmann charged Ritchie's film with being somewhat facile in his original review, a complaint I've come across elsewhere. I don't know--when you catch yourself saying "Wow--that's right out of The Candidate" often enough over the past two or three decades, the film's claim on accuracy starts to deepen. Obviously Obama is this year's McKay, while McCain stands in for Jarmon, with one major reversal: I get the feeling it's McCain who was handed his party's nomination with a yawn, along with a little piece of paper that let him in on the one catch: "You lose." There's been a McCain commercial airing on CNN this week (it's called "Account- able" if you want to watch it on his website) that's almost spooky in its evocation of the Crocker Jarmon ad from The Candidate. Especially the voiceover--I swear it's the same guy, which of course is impossible. Probably less than one-tenth of 1% of people voting in November will have even ever heard of The Candidate, much less seen it, but I'm not sure this a connection McCain wants these voters to make. ----- I haven't had Sirius on for at least a week--probably closer to two. Fascinating for the first couple of months, but eventually it wore me down. Last time I checked, Hannity's mantra had gone from the "Stop-Obama/Stop-Hillary Express" to the "Stop-the- Radical-Obama Express"; comic-book hysteria ought to be hugely entertaining, but at a certain level of saturation it's just kind of dull. One thing I did find really funny was how he made the transition from the one slogan to the other once Obama's nomina- tion became official. The Stop-Hillary Express had succeeded, he'd say, now it was time to refocus on Obama--this after he'd just spent the last two months unabashedly supporting Clinton's attempt to derail Obama. It was more like the Help-Hillary-Stop- Obama Express, and it failed miserably. Sirius was a Christmas gift, so the subscription runs out in six months. Unless there's an all-Phil-Dellio station in the works, I won't renew. ----- He may have gotten his wish: he didn't live long enough to see the one thing he never wanted to see happen. You can never be sure with politicians. Maybe Jesse Helms believed very little of what he publically pronounced, at least with regards to race; maybe he just clung to an opening that would always ensure he got one more vote than the other guy (apparently about his normal margin of victory for his five senatorial wins). A quote from David Broder upon Helms' retirement in 2001 suggests otherwise: "What really sets Jesse Helms apart is that he is the last prominent unabashed white racist politician in this country--a title that one hopes will now be permanently retired." In any event, the world was passing him by. After Iowa, North Carolina was Obama's single most crucial win. And he got it, if you remember, by winning not just 90% of the black vote, but also a not-insignificant 35% of whites. Still a large disparity, but one that is moving in the right direction. Helms' famous "Hands" ad from 1990 is being mentioned up-front in a lot of today's coverage. I don't find it as creepy as Bush I's Willie Horton ad, insofar as the Horton spot appealed to voters through in- sinuation and code; the argument posited by "Hands" is right out in the open, and you either reject it or accept it. Which might be a convenient moment to bring up what I believe is really one of the taboo subjects of Obama's candidacy: why does he have such consistently strong support among university-educated voters? One theory is that this dovetails with his supposed elitism, and another is that because educated voters are presumably better off financially, they're less reluctant to hand over the econo- my to someone with minimal experience. What you're not allowed to say: Obama is the smarter, more forward-looking vote, and educated voters as an aggregate are smarter than those who aren't. The guy behind the "Hands" ad, Alex Castellanos, has been a regular commentator on CNN the past few months. He seems affable enough, but his resume is worth remembering. ----- I found this in a Wal-Mart junk bin for $7. Measured in pop-music terms, it's legit- imacy looked to lie somewhere in the neighbourhood of a La grande storia del ROCK LP, if that means anything to you--I was anticipating three discs of ancient footage out of a Melies film. It's actually pretty excellent. I've watched about two hours' worth so far, with another six to go. Mostly it consists of TV commercials for every election going back to 1952, four or five for each side, with the balance given over to things like Nixon's Checkers speech, debates (almost an hour of Carter and Reagan in '80), and campaign material. I looked at all of the commercials from '64 to '92 the other night. Anything involv- ing Nixon, of course, is a highlight for me. There's a bizarre ad from '72 meant to showcase his "human" side: dancing at his daughter's wedding, conducting business on the phone, taking the piano for a rendition of "Happy Birthday" in honour of Duke Ellington. (If you want a can't-lose bet, ask someone to name the presidential TV ad in which Duke Ellington appeared.) There's one moment you'd never see today: Nixon sitting with Ehrlichman inside the Oval Office, dismissively referring to some state politician who's giving Nixon grief on property taxes as a "clown." Also fascinating is an E.G. Marshall spot for Humphrey from '68, where one-by-one he stands next to oversized photos of the three candidates and offers his appraisal of each. So how appalled by/terrified of Wallace were mainstream Democrats? The commercial leads with him. (There isn't, unfortunately, any third-party ads included in the pack- age. I can live without John Anderson--I'm sure his spots were as electrifying as the man himself--but Wallace, Perot, and Nader all tipped elections, and it'd be nice if they were here.) Amazingly enough, the whole thing finishes with Obama, Clinton, and McCain ads from this year. I think the Wal-Mart truck must have been parked out back as DVDs rolled off the assembly line. ----- There's a new McCain ad that's been the subject of some back-and-forth on Sullivan's site. I think it's pretty effective, but then I find almost anything that evokes the chaos and antagonisms of the late-60s inherently dramatic. I suspect it falls woefully short of actually bringing any voters over to McCain, though. It parallels, in a way, today's weird Jesse Jackson flare-up. I had to go online to find out ex- actly what Jackson had said; Wolf Blitzer was stepping so lightly around specifics, you'd have thought he gave a full recitation of George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television." Pretty mild, in actuality, so seeing Jackson have to imme- diately embark on the Grovelling-Apology Tour was a little depressing. How so? I had the distinct feeling that the apology was less over what was said than a symbolic acknowledgement by Jackson that he's well aware he is no longer the most important black public-policy voice in America; Barack's the guy, nobody wants to hear what I have to say right now, and I need to remember to stay out of the way. Even his son said as much: "His divisive and demeaning comments about the presumptive Demo- cratic nominee--and I believe the next president of the United States--contradict [my father's] inspiring and courageous career." Rough translation, right out of The Godfather: "My father's way of doing things is over--it's finished. Even he knows that." I think McCain and Jackson are both confronting something I experience all the time with my students (not to mention a lot of younger teachers) when I start talk- ing about anything from the '60s or '70s. Excepting one or two of them (if I'm lucky), nobody cares--not at all, not in the least. Or as Steely Dan put it, those days are gone forever, over a long time ago. This is one of the reasons Obama looks to be headed for a sizeable victory, and all in all, that's a good thing. And in- stalling someone as president who's still fighting the Viet Nam War in some (under- standably large) corner of his mind--installing Travis Bickle, to exaggerate for effect--is obviously not desirable. Still, I don't like the idea that all that old footage of marching hippies and National Guardsmen is now viewed as politically quaint, or the thought that it will induce widespread yawns in a large segment of the electorate. Something gained, something lost. ----- I do two political impressions: Charlie Rangel, who ended up playing Goldwater to Hillary's Nixon during the nomination endgame, and Phil Gramm. They're not much-- basically I say their names in something approximating their voices--so Darrell Hammond needn't be looking over his shoulder. I'd all but forgotten about Gramm until he resurfaced with his "nation of whiners" comment on Thursday. You couldn't avoid him on the roundtables during Clinton's first term, but he more or less van- ished after his disastrous $10-million-per-vote run for the nomination in '96. I guess I can see why people are so worked up about the whiner charge, but really, it's Obama and San Francisco revisited. It would seem that the very worst thing you can do when running for office right now is appear to pass some kind of summary judgement on voters. People much prefer the Bill Clinton thing, where you listen intently to somebody's concerns, furrow your brow thoughtfully, and nod your head in agreement to whatever they're saying. Much more damaging in the long run to McCain, I think, will be the clip where he's cornered by a reporter on the Viagra/birth control disconnect. Ed Rollins says it's the most painful 90 seconds he's seen in his 30 years as a consultant, and I wouldn't just put that down to hyperbole--it's really bad. It reminded me of the time in teacher's college when I was walking across the road with someone who experienced a petit mal seizure; if it's not something you're familiar with, it's very disconcerting. Seeing as the single biggest issue with McCain (along with Bush's shadow) is his age--and, even though it's rarely discussed openly, lingering questions as to how his time as a POW may have affected him--watching him zone out over a relatively straightforward question has got to hurt. The Viagra Curse: Bob Dole, Raffy Palmeiro, now John McCain. ----- Best controversy since Jeremiah Wright--first really good one of the general. I think it's a brilliant cover: Dr. Strangelove comes to mind, Country Joe's "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag," The Manchurian Candidate, anything where somebody said, "Let's take everything that's floating around out there and fol- low it to its logical conclusion--this is what we're all thinking about, right?" (David Remnick was on CNN today--he'll be everywhere in the next few days--and drew the more immediate parallels with Stewart and Colbert.) I realize there's a broad spectrum there as to the objectives of the creators: Kubrick's ridi- culing what's on the screen, The New Yorker's ridiculing not what's on their cover but the paranoid mindset that fantasized it into existence. I've already heard a couple of Obama operatives express their dismay, one calling for (yawn) a boycott of The New Yorker. They seem to be worried about the part of America that's not going to get the joke. It must be news to them that they probably won't be getting many of those votes anyway. (I've only looked at online scans of the cover so far--I'll buy a copy when it hits Canadian newsstands. I get the feeling it's like Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home cover, where you want to comb over it really closely for additional clues. I want to see if there are titles for those books sitting on the left-hand shelf. I'm hoping Barry Blitt, the artist, made one of them Favorite Sermons of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright or something like that.) ----- Two days later, and, having barely sampled the fallout, I'm even more convinced of the sublimity of Blitt's New Yorker cover. I really wanted to hear Hannity's reac- tion--and believe me, no one's been peddling some of Blitt's iconography harder than Hannity the past few months; not the Muslim angle, but the flag-burning and Michelle-as-secret-Angela-Davis have been just below the surface of a lot of his ranting--but didn't feel like sitting in my driveway in a parked car at four in the afternoon. Anyway, what could he possibly say? I bet he's somewhere close to Mark Hemingway's petulance in the National Review yesterday, which to me trans- lates as "How dare you make fun of us making fun of you." Obama's response on Lar- ry King last night was appropriate; he expressed guarded appreciation of The New Yorker as an institution, then more or less shrugged off the cover. That so many of his supporters are indignant, though, that baffles me. (One thing that makes this such a good controversy is that it's actually controversial: over 6,000 posts on Huffington's site, which is amazing using the rest of the comment-counters as a barometer.) I was watching McCain speak before the NAACP this morning, followed by Obama somewhere in Indiana. For a campaign that would seem to be 95% internet-driven, I swear it's 1960 all over again; the difference in how the two candidates come off on TV is staggering, with McCain at such a disadvantage that I don't see what he can do to overcome it. The content of what McCain was saying was fine, and I give him a lot of credit simply for showing up, something very few Republican presidential candidates bothered to do the past few elections; I think it takes a certain amount of courage to address an audience where you know you're getting no more than 2 or 3% of the vote nohow. And although he shaped what he said with an eye towards his audience, in terms of specific policy proposals, he didn't seem to pander. (Excepting perhaps his testimonials to MLK--there is that deli- cate matter of having twice voted against the national holiday...) The crowd seemed genuinely appreciative, although maybe in part they felt sorry for him. In any event, the content was one thing, his delivery another. McCain is just altogether wrong for television: he grimaces at odd moments, steps on his own punchlines, comes across as pushy when he tries to be earnest, doesn't look like he's having any kind of fun at all. Marshall McLuhan would have a more technical explanation of McCain's limitations, but short of the 5 o'clock shadow, he's as ill-suited to television as Nixon was in 1960. Obama, by contrast, liquefies in front of the TV camera, and everything suddenly seems all right--which is why, I think, he's been able to weather all these storms along the way. Viewed one way, all of this is to McCain's credit: Americans have opted for the more "regular guy" in presidential elections more often than not, and a healthy resistance to television's superficial trappings would seem to be a regular-guy attribute. But as a practical matter, I don't see how three or four more months of having to squirm along with McCain every time he's on TV is going to endear him to voters very much. ----- It's too bad for late-night TV that energy prices weren't such a big issue during Clinton's presidency. I imagine "offshore drilling" would have been a useful punchline for Letterman and Leno. Speaking of which--and, in the end, it might be the single biggest determinant as to whether Obama or McCain wins--I've come to the conclusion over the past few years that the gas industry's mastery of psychology ranks somewhere up there with Freud. Forget Katrina, forget war, forget every external factor that's supposed to trigger price fluctuations; I think I could sit down right now and draw a rough line graph that would mirror retail pricing over the past decade fairly accurately. Basically it goes like this: monstrous jump, hold for a few weeks, scale back a bit so that everybody happily accepts what just five weeks would have been unthinkable, then hang around there until the next monstrous jump. I'm as susceptible to this game as anyone; when I saw that gas was "down" to $1.25 today, my first reaction was "Good--that's more like it." More like what? Go back to early spring and $1.25 wouldn't have been anybody's idea of good news. Brilliant. ----- My main e-mail address is the one listed above; I also have a Hotmail account I rarely use and check infrequently. I'm not sure why, but when I contributed to Obama's campaign many months ago--and I still worry that my illegal contribution will be a major campaign issue come September and October--I gave them my Hot- mail address on the information form. When I checked the other day, my box was busy with correspondence from David Plouffe, Steve Hildebrand and Jon Carson (not sure who they are), and, yes, there were numerous e-mails from Barack him- self--good news or bad, he really makes an effort to keep me informed. When I got my very first e-mail from the candidate sometime around March, I printed it off and passed it around the class--meant to save it and forgot ('s been deleted now), but I printed three key ones from this batch: the post-North Caro- lina mailing, post-Oregon, and a final declaration of victory entitled "It's Our Time." Generic mass-communication, preserved forever. There was also a personalized endorsement from Al Gore in there, while news of the endorsements from Edwards and Hillary was handled by the campaign. I don't understand how Gore managed to hijack the campaign's account to send out his own missive--you know, I think he really did invent the internet. ----- When Obama reversed course on the FISA bill a couple of weeks ago, there was a lot of genuine anger voiced by some of his supporters, but you knew that a) there'd be just as many who'd rationalize what he did with an eye towards November, and b) among non-supporters, it probably wouldn't make a bit of difference (beyond pro- viding more ammunition for the "flip-flop" argument, which, as soon as you took a good look at McCain's numerous vacillations, wasn't worth much). Not an honorable move, and, as a friend points out, probably completely unnecessary this particular election, but, politically, a wash at worst. This latest decision to bar Ryan Lizza (author of the New Yorker piece that accompanies the big-deal cover) from the overseas press plane, though, is an awful move about six different ways--I don't think you're going to see much rationaliza- tion from any direction this time. 1) Lizza wrote the article, he didn't illustrate the cover. 2) If the objective, then, is to punish the magazine, Obama hasn't been paying much attention; thus far The New Yorker has been very favorably disposed towards his candidacy. 3) To repeat what I said below, Barry Blitt's cover helps Obama--it totally disarms his most irresponsible critics preemptively. 4) Even Lizza's article does more good than harm, I think. It's a long, inter- esting piece on Obama's rise through the political landscape of Chicago. It presents a disappointing portrait to anyone still holding on to some version of Barack the Saint (which, I won't lie, I was feeling the night he took South Carolina); for any- one else, it will feel a lot like Claude Rains discovering all that gambling going on in Casablanca. You learn of a guy who really wants to be president (a good thing, you would think, if you're aiming to win), and has gotten himself into position to do exactly that by slogging his way through the ranks like everybody else--making opportune decisions when necessary, but nothing even remotely scandalous. 5) Do you really want to start looking like Nixon in the payback department-- least of all when you haven't even been elected yet? I don't get this decision at all. ----- Posting is erratic because of...confusion? It's hard to get a handle on where this election is headed. Polls seem to be tightening, but for no discernable reason that I can see. There haven't been any gaffes or revelations on Obama's side, yet every day some new state poll will come out that shows movement towards McCain. Minnesota was the real eye- opener yesterday: one of two polls has Obama's lead down to 2. (The other's got him at 13--how can there be such a gap?) McCain and media outlets supporting him are working overtime trying to construct symbolic gaffes on Obama's behalf, like the idea that Americans will recoil from the sight of him addressing a quarter of a million swooning Germans. Disagree totally. Not that I claim to understand the American mindset, but the single main reason I thought Obama could win the presidency going back months before Iowa was the feeling that even though Bush and his administration seemed to stubbornly court the world's disapproval, the country itself was kind of getting tired of being hated, and the quickest way to fix that (partly having to do with Iraq, but even more so because of the images that came out of Katrina) was to elect a black president. I suppose I'm essentially making the argument that got Geraldine Ferraro into so much trouble, that Obama's going to win because he's black, but I think you can make that argument two different ways--one grounded in resentment, one in something more positive and hopeful. (I should mention that I haven't yet watched his Berlin speech, which is a telling indicator that I've again become a little disengaged from the campaign.) Meanwhile, McCain makes a new spectacular blunder every day, but none of it seems to hurt him. I've been coming across two different versions of what's happening: 1) It's 1980 all over again. Carter was hugely unpopular, voters were desperate to get him out of there, but there was a great deal of apprehension about Reagan. So the polls were close through the summer, until Reagan pulled away as the election neared. 2) It's just about every other election since 1964 all over again. The Democrat starts strong, like Dukakis leading by up to 15 points in '88, but in the end, the Republicans win (or at least come amazingly and surprisingly close, like Ford in '76). I remain hopeful that we're dealing with the first scenario here. I saw Alex Gibney's Gonzo the other night. Good backdrop for an election year. I'm not sure what Thompson would have thought of Obama--would he have seen him as he saw McGovern, the last honest guy standing, or would he have despised him as much as he did Humphrey and Muskie? (The contempt that Thompson felt for Muskie--almost as pathological as his long-standing Nixon hate-on--was one of the film's most fasci- nating sidebars.) The obvious guess is that he would have seen McGovern at first, and would be moving more and more towards Humphrey as events unfold (especially in light of all the press grumbling developing towards Obama's campaign). A better and poten- tially funnier question: what would Obama have made of Thompson? ----- If I personally contact all concerned parties, I'm wondering if they'll move the election up to sometime in mid-August. Three more months of Barack making no sudden movements as he tries to solidify his "acceptability" to Joe & Marjorie Apprehen- sive from Idaho, while McCain fumbles around with Plans A, B, and C, right through to Plan 9 from Outer Space ("Germans love Senator's also a well known fact that Germans love space aliens...My friends, Senator Obama may in fact be a space alien!"), well, I'm not sure I can take it. Meantime, how can I work the very excellent Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired into this? Phillip Vannatter shows up, the L.A. cop (now retired) who was so inte- gral to the O.J. case. And there's the hook: Obama appears at the end of a long road that took a wild detour through the O.J. case. Barack would have turned 33 just after the murders, 34 just before the verdict. I know this because we were born in the same year. (He's got a couple of months on me, which spares me for at least another four years of a president being elected who's younger than I am.) Now there's a photo that would sink his candidacy: a visible part of some large crowd, perhaps Jeremiah Wright beside him, cheering on the O.J. verdict. I bet there's a 527 somewhere Photoshopping away right now. ----- Nothing makes me happier than droll humour perfectly executed. And it has to be perfect--a word too many and the joke's ruined. Here's Hendrik Hertzberg in his current column devoted to Obama's trip: Even after Americaís rise to global power, the only overseas travel seen as obligatory for a Presidential hopeful was to what pols called the Three-I League-- Ireland, Italy, and Israel, venues that had more to do with the lingering tribal identities of big-city ethnics than with anything as highfalutin as foreign policy. (Let us note, in the currently fashionable spirit of joke-explaining, that the base- ball allusion is to a long-defunct Class B circuit made up of teams from Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa.) In the currently fashionable spirit of joke-explaining, let me point out that Hertz- berg writes for The New Yorker, where recently...ah, figure it out for yourself. (Hertzberg is lower left; Chris Matthews is to his right. There's some former president in the back row.) ----- More Obamabilia from co-workers--thanks, Tina! (And Dianne, whom I failed to mention by name, for the cards above.) I couldn't dig up an exact image of my hat (blue, with an "Obama for President" logo), but this is close enough. The lesson here is obvious: 1) Make it clear to everybody you work with what you're interested in; 2) Be nice to everybody; 3) Sit back and wait for them to bring you stuff. You can even fudge #2, like I do, and skip right from #1 to #3. My friend Scott, meanwhile, says he's collected some 25 Obama magazine covers-- not just obvious ones like Time and The New Yorker, but such offbeat items as Cigar Afficianado, Brazilian Business Week in Review, Kerrang!, Tractor-Pull Monthly... he wasn't too specific. I suggested he treat October polls like the Dow; in the unlikely event it looks like a guaranteed McCain win, dump the whole lot on E-Bay. Myself, I'm hanging on to my scandalous New Yorker issue for dear life. With only three-quarters of a million people also holding copies, it's bound to be worth at least $10 by 2024. ----- I was watching Obama engaging in some mild ridicule of McCain yesterday, well de- served after some of McCain's recent thrashing about, and he threw in a variation on a line that goes back many months, dryly observing that he (himself) doesn't look like all the presidents who appear on the back of currency. It's not that big a deal, but I instinctively winced. Sure enough, CNN's all over it today-- charges, counter-charges, etc., etc. Obama doesn't need to do this. In a general sense, what he says is true--if he looked like every other president who's ever appeared on currency, he'd be 10 points up right now instead of 5--and, more specifically, I'm sure there's no shortage of insidious stuff still floating around right-wing radio and blogs. But unless I've missed something, I don't think McCain has come close to muck- ing around with race thus far. That's actually one of the more charming things about his recent ineptitude: if the nastiest thing you have endure is an ad that cries "Celebrity! Celebrity!", well, that's not bad. So, while it might be nice to be up 10 instead of 5, 5 is still good. Open up that particular Pandora's Box at a moment when it's not really necessary, and it's hard to say what'll happen. Speaking of which, I hardly know a thing about the Ludacris song Obama was de- nouncing, disowning, and condemning yesterday (did I get the order right, or are you supposed to condemn first?), other than it attacks Hillary and McCain. As one who was deeply moved a few years ago by Luda's tribute to all the big-time pimpin' that goes on here in Toronto, I'm most disappointed. I finally caught up with something I've wanted to see for years: Arguing the World, a documentary on the 50-year paths travelled by Irving Howe, Daniel Bell, Irving Kristol, and Nathan Glazer. As I tend to do these days, I start thinking about Obama through the prism of these other things I encounter. (I'm not sure if that makes me more or less in the tank than if I viewed everything through the prism of Barack; I'm not even sure if there's a difference.) Is there some kind of line that connects him to them--a way of thinking, a degree of engagement, a seriousness--or does he, in the end, belong more to the world of Nixon, triangu- lation, and internal polling? Obviously a false choice: anyone like Obama (Nixon, too) who moves from the one world to the other inevitably forgoes several degrees of intellectual loftiness in the pursuit of political office. So he belongs to both, then, and while I'm sure I'm not alone in believing there's more Irving Howe than Nixon in Obama, you can only hope. Most off-putting thing about the movie: the eerily close resemblance between William Kristol and his father. ----- This must be an especially gratifying election for American Muslims. It's like one long Seinfeld episode: "Let me state categorically and unequivocally that I am NOT of the Muslim faith--not that there's anything wrong with that..." I don't blame Obama for this. Let me backtrack a bit on my last post. I think I'm usually pretty aware of possible subtexts in how Obama has been portrayed these past few months--by Hil- lary, by the media, and now by McCain. When Karl Rove called him "arrogant" a few months ago, the meaning behind his words seemed obvious to me, and I wrote about it (somewhere in the Barack I section elsewhere on this site). But until I took in some of the fallout from Thursday's race-card flare-up on CNN, the connection between Obama's remarks and the Britney/Paris ad hadn't occurred to me. The ad was so inane on the face of it, the possibility of it conveying any- thing beyond McCain's petulance flew right past me. But Donna Brazile, Roland Martin, and probably a whole lot of other people are raising the question: why Britney Spears and Paris Hilton rather than Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt (or Oprah Winfrey and Tiger Woods)? Hmmmm...worth considering. Obviously, the ubiquitous tagline "I'm X and I approved this ad" doesn't mean that X also conceptually engineered the ad, so I wouldn't even doubt that in McCain's eyes, it's strictly an ad about cele- brity and nothing more, but that whoever dreamed up the ad in the first place had a dual purpose in mind. I'll stand by what I wrote about how Obama should handle the issue, though--stay clear. If the subtext is indeed there, whoever notices will either be appalled or will buy into it, and if it's the latter, it's not a vote that was going to be won anyway. If it's not there, or if the viewer is oblivious to it (like I was), then you're just creating prob- lems for yourself for no reason by bringing the subject up. I don't know if this is a blip or an opening shot. Mr. Yes We Can, meet Mr. Yes I Can and Mr. Yes He Did. ----- Jake Tapper (This Week) and Scott Woods (Meet the Press--I was surprised too) both point out something I again missed in the Britney-Paris saga: if the premise of the ad is that Obama's celebrity is the beginning and the end of his appeal, you can't substitute freely for either of the famously famous blondes or the point is under- mined. Although I'd argue that ultimately I don't consider Oprah Winfrey all that much more "substantive" than the Warhol twins--sorry, not a fan--it's a valid point. So the ad earns a little more wiggle room. As Jon Stewart might say, "Well played, Senator--check and mate." Not me, though; I still think the ad's ridiculous, and I sincerely hope its impact on these recently dicey polls for Obama has been minimal. And now, a new feature: Republicans Really Are Swell People. I give credit to David Gergen and Ed Rollins for being much more sympathetic to Obama's campaign than just about any ex-Reaganites making the rounds on TV. Gergen has pretty much been with Obama the whole way, and when race moves front and center, he's right there with Donna Brazile (as he was this morning on Stephanopoulos, as he often has been) to point out what many shy away from: let's not kid ourselves, this is going on. Rollins isn't nearly as enamored of Obama himself, but he's surprised me a few times with his poor team play, and he's been especially tough on McCain recently. Gergen's like the ultimate Zelig in and around Washington, so I wouldn't rule out that he threw his lot in with Obama early and he's angling for a job. Rollins, I think, is still making amends a decade later for hitching his wagon to Ross Perot, good for a lifetime of residual humility. ----- I mentioned a few posts ago the close proximity of my birthday to Obama's. His just passed (August 4), mine's October 25, both of us are 1961. I've got the '60s volume of Joel Whitburn's Billboard Hot 100 Charts series, which reproduces every Top 100 chart from the decade, so I started wondering: which songs would have appeared on both Obama's Top 100 and my own? If a song entered the Top 100 the week Obama was born (I'm using the July 31 chart, which is designated as "for the week ending August 6"), it needed to hang around for another 12 weeks to still be there on my chart. I haven't done any kind of a systematic study, but I'm pretty sure the average shelf-life of a pop hit in 1961 (and for at least the next couple of decades) was much shorter than today. That would explain why we have only five songs in common: Dick and Deedee's "The Mountain's High," the Jive Five's "My True Story," Ike & Tina Turner's "It's Gonna Work Out Fine," Ray Peterson's "Missing You," and the Highwaymen's "Michael." A quick rundown: "The Mountain's High": debuts on Obama's chart (#90), 13th week (#26 and falling) on mine. This is one of my favourite songs ever--I listed it very high on personal Top 100s I once compiled for CIUT-FM and Radio On. Great start. "My True Story": I like it, and included it on more than a couple of doo-wop mix- tapes for friends, but it's not something I ever feel the need to hear these days. "It's Gonna Work Out Fine": I know I have this on a compilation, but I haven't got a clue how it goes. "Missing You": Again, no clue...Same guy that did "Tell Laura I Love Her," which is pretty lame. "Michael": I think it's folk, unless I'm mixing it up with "Michael Row the Boat Ashore." Don't have it. Best song just about to drop out of the Top 100 the week Obama is born: the Everlys' "All I Have to Do Is Dream," in its 19th week. Best song just coming onto the Top 100 the week that I'm born: Patsy Cline's "Crazy." (Or at least I'll assume that's the best--the Miracles and Jackie Wilson both debut titles I don't recognize.) Chubby Checker song on Barack's chart, "Let's Twist Again" (#9): on mine, "The Fly" (#10). No Elvis in August, but he's back with two really good ones in Octo- ber: "Little Sister" (#34) and, in the running for my favourite Elvis song of all, "(Marie's the Name) His Latest Flame" (#41). Tomorrow I'll explain how all of this will affect November's electoral map. ----- Nothing much to say about Edwards--didn't care for him in his junior-cheerleader guise four years ago, and his harangues about poverty this time round seemed even less convincing ("Where can I get some footing in this thing?"). I can't see that the story will hurt Obama at all. I was more disgusted by something else on CNN tonight. They were talking about Obama's vacation, and somebody jokingly said that he needs to be careful about what pictures come back from Hawaii. Up comes the infamous photo of Kerry windsurfing, and instead of explaining the damage it did in terms of its specious connection to a silly stereotype--saying, in effect, that a lot of voters were stupid enough to buy into the idea that windsurfing = unfit to be president--Blitzer and Cafferty (whose targets of scorn I agree with about 93% of the time) just piled on. "I was with Charles Rangel when I first saw that picture," said Blitzer (I'm paraphrasing), "and we both agreed that that might be the end." "Yeah," echoed Cafferty, "that was really bad." I would love to hear a rational explanation of what windsurfing has to do with anything that goes into electing a president. The picture of Dukakis in the tank, the fallout from that I understand--beyond the obvious pandering, he looked like a clown. And I understand the phony argument that windsurfing is a signifier of elitism--like I say, a rational explanation. My own three favourite sports, wheth- er as a viewer or a participant, are baseball, badminton, and golf. I guess I'd get a pass on baseball if I were running for office (although football would be much more advantageous at the top of the list), but surely I'd get crucified on badminton--can you find a prissier sport? I think just about every president from Eisenhower on has been an unapologetic golfer, but how is it that golf is somehow more rugged and less elitist (golf--hah!) than windsurfing? It all amounts to a truly moronic explanation of how Kerry lost the election that has now, apparently, passed into convention wisdom. Thank god Barack favors basketball, which I believe is on the bi-partisan list of Acceptable Physical Activities for Would-Be Presidents. Shudder to think he gets caught participating in any exotic local sports next week. ----- Camile Paglia's restless, and so am I. I'm not sure yet whether the conventions should more logically mark the end of this section of my prize-winning campaign coverage or the beginning of the next. Sullivan and Kos and I imagine many others are making, and will continue to make, creative arguments as to why what's going on overseas strengthens the case for Obama, some of which are undoubtedly true. Good luck--if the story persists, "Obama," "Rus- sia," and "tanks" will not be a helpful mantra come November. Quotes from a couple of film books, the first from Mark Harris's Pictures at a Revolution, an exceptionally lucid explanation of how the American film industry travelled from Mary Poppins to Midnight Cowboy in the space of five years. Because it focuses on the five best-picture nominees from 1967, Sidney Poitier looms large throughout: [Poitier's] acceptance by white moviegoers was used as evidence of how out of step his movies were with the needs and frustrations of his own people. Even journal- ists sympathetic to Poitier were starting to portray the actor as being aloof from the contemporary realities of the late 1960s; almost every profile and article made a point of referring to his Central Park West penthouse and its luxurious trappings, as if he were at an ivory-tower remove from the revolution taking place in the streets below. I liked Harris's book so much, I immediately embarked on J. Hoberman's The Dream Life, which covers more or less the same time frame, albeit with very different ob- jectives. I'm only 60 pages into it, but I was stopped short by these words from (John Bircher) John Wayne, part of an ad he took out in Life to promote The Alamo in 1960: Very soon the two great political parties of the United States will nominate their candidates for President. Who is the man who, after the political merry-go-round has stopped, will hold in his hand the gold ring of victory? Do we know him? Have we ever known him? Will we ever know him? Who has written his speeches? Who--or what board of ghostwriting strategists-- has fashioned the phrases, molded the thoughts, designed the delivery, authored the image, staged the presentation, put the political show on the road to win the larg- er number of votes? Who is the actor reading the script? Plus ca change, etc. Finally, I've come to the conclusion that Obama is fighting a losing battle on the elitist-celebrity front, and that the time has come to adopt a Britt strategy of brazenly transforming perceived vulnerability into unabashed celebration: "This is who I am, America, now love me." (And in the final analysis, America does love celebrities, right?) In that spirit, his arrival in Denver needs to be choreographed like the greatest Busby Berkley musical ever. He descends onto the stage from above, a stunning blonde on each arm, 75,000 chanting groupies in sway, Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good" blaring from the soundsystem: "My Masarati does one-eighty-five/I lost my license, now I don't drive/I have a limo, ride in the back/I lock the doors in case I'm attacked." And just to drive the point home, the Republicans can relocate their convention to that neighbourhood supermarket where McCain knocked over all the applesauce, bringing them ever closer to the common folks. ----- "Obama/Powell ticket poised to sweep 525 electoral votes; support in Kentucky and West Virginia plummets." No, I don't have any inside information--just a-wishin' and a-hopin'. I don't even have any outside information. ----- I don't think there's much validity in the idea that Obama's concessions to Clinton reflect ominously on how he'd handle a foreign-policy showdown, and even less to any suspicion that she's going to sabatoge the convention somehow. She can't; she'd be as finished as Edwards if she comes through with anything less than the phony magnanimity that's expected of her. That she has no choice in the matter is in fact one of the strongest arguments as to why he shouldn't have been so accomodating, but why not let her and her most fanatical followers have their say before they skulk off and begin silently rooting for McCain to win? By the time Obama gives his ac- ceptance speech--and definitely through September and October--I doubt whether you'll hear much about Clinton at all. Even on her best behaviour, though, I don't think she'll get the nomination next time, whenever that may be. The three possible scenarios: 1) Obama loses in November, nomination opens up in 2012. If this happens, I think the party will be so incredibly stunned and dispirited that it will want to erase everything connected to 2008 from memory; Clinton will become a part of that psychic purge no less than Obama, especially in view of all the negative energy during the primaries. Any "we told you so"s issuing forth from surrogates after the election, no matter how much fake regret in which they're packaged, will only exacerbate the situation. (And besides, if Obama loses, the party will be so spooked that its next nominee will be somewhere to the right of the first Bush; he or she will be a Demo- crat in name only.) 2) Obama wins but loses in 2012, nomination opens up in 2016. That would be more than enough time to erase whatever bitterness lingers from the primaries, but sure- ly by that point, the party will want to look elsewhere. She'd be 69 in 2016, and the Democrats have not run anyone that old for president in ages. The post-WWII roll call for non-incumbent bids: Kerry was 61, Gore 52, Clinton (the other one) 46, Dukakis 55, Mondale 56, Carter 52, McGovern 50, Kennedy 43, Stevenson 52/56. (I eliminated Johnson's '64 nomination as a special case, but even he was only 56 at the time.) By then, she might find a more receptive audience in the other party. 3) Obama serves out two terms, nomination opens up in 2016. Same as above, but even more so--if you've just held the White House for eight years, would you real- ly want to backtrack to a time two decades earlier? I actually think Hillary's best chance to seize control of the party at this point would be for Obama to win (thereby freeing her from all blame for a November loss), but for these rumours about him being the Antichrist to be proven conclu- sively sometime during his first term. At that point, assuming the military can step in and remove him from office--I'm not sure where you'd detain the Anti- christ while he awaits trial; wherever it is, maximum security would seem to be in order--Obama's VP will take over, be it Biden, Bayh, or whomever else he picks next week. Whether or not the VP does a good job in whatever's left of Obama's first term, whenever he or she runs again in 2012, the mere fact of his involve- ment with the Antichrist Administration is going to be a major stumbling block in securing the nomination. I can easily see where the party might then turn to Hillary and give her another chance. "Yes, she's really annoying, and she's also a little bit evil. She's not the Antichrist, though, and it's time to take this party in another direction." ----- Before Obama's VP pick and then the conventions reshape the race, I want to mark this past week. It's been like one of those Twilight Zone episodes where somebody wakes up and the whole town's changed, except the change is almost imperceptible, and what caused the change is a complete mystery. Everybody--even such steady-in- the-face-of-panic Obama cheerleaders like Sullivan, Kos, and Nate Silver (and a secret cheerleader like David Gergen)--agree that the contest has suddenly become closer; not dramatically in any one place, but there's been erosion in Obama's support across a number of states, and Pollster's electoral projection has him under 270 for the first time (264 strong + leaning, toss-ups don't count). I'm baffled as to why, and no one that I've yet come across has produced a convincing explanation. 1) Fallout from the overseas trip. Don't believe it--there may be some resistance out there to having a president who's actually liked around the world, but I can't accept that the concept is all that frightening to Americans. 2) The celebrity ads. No chance--to believe that, you'd have to ascribe a level of stupidity altogether unreasonable to anyone who's changed his allegiance. They got a lot of attention, yes, but did they actually move votes? Again, I don't believe it. 3) That Oprah-type thing that took place Saturday night. I could only take about 20 minutes of Obama--it's painful to watch somebody subject himself to really personal questions knowing that one poorly worded answer could set off a firestorm--so I have to go by what I've read here. Obama had a couple of awkward moments (awkward in a political sense only; in the real world, claiming to know definitively when life begins is delusional...), while McCain, in the time-honoured Quayle/Bush cal- culus, "exceeded expectations." Whatever. The gap started closing last week, so that can't be the reason in any event. 4) Russia, off-shore drilling, etc.; the issues. Maybe, I don't know--to me it's all been a wash. 5) Obama fatigue. It took eight years for the idea of Clinton fatigue to take hold; the world moves ever faster. Here, I see some validity. It's impossible to maintain the level of enthusiasm that Obama had on his side back in March and April over a sustained period of months. Even Beatlemania in its more extreme manifestations had probably subsided somewhat by 1965. (Oops--I just opened up more celebrity fodder for haters.) So maybe there's been some drift, and maybe, hopefully, the enthusiasm will return when it matters most. If all goes well, this little valley will eventually be a forgotten blip. If Obama loses, though, it may be worth revisiting when it comes time to understand why. And the fact that there is no clear explanation may ultimately point to the one explanation no one's eager to talk about. ----- Posts will slow down until Obama's numbers pick up. Standing watch over this death- by-a-thousand-paper-cuts phase of the campaign isn't much fun. I took a bike ride down the Lakeshore into Port Credit earlier today. I stopped for a hot dog, and the vendor, noticing the Obama hat, pounced. The guy was some- where in my own age range, early 40s maybe; he looked a little like Charles Napier, the guy from all those Russ Meyer movies...I mean, the guy from Silence of the Lambs. His complaints began with Obama's inexperience, and the fact that he isn't smart enough to handle the presidency. I countered, completely off the cuff, that he probably stood alongside Clinton as the smartest guy to run for president in a long time. What was my evidence, he wanted to know. Well...He was a Harvard law instructor; that would seem to suggest a certain level of intellectual facility. (Got that one wrong--Obama was a law student at Harvard, but it was the Univer- sity of Chicago where he taught.) Doesn't mean anything, I was told, especially seeing as he got there because of preferential treatment. We kicked that around for a while, then Obama's other shortcomings began to make their way into the con- versation. He brought up the subject of "bro' culture" two or three times (includ- ing the charge that Obama had sold crack, which is news to me), and also something about "the family" that would follow Obama into the White House--he wasn't clear on that one, but he seemed to be referring to some rumoured extended family that was part of the package. He especially disliked Michelle Obama, and would be more amenable to Barack if he were married to a white woman. I pointed out that he'd be politically dead if his wife were white, and that seemed to amuse him. The guy was very politically engaged--he knew a lot about American politics over the past 40 years--and he was especially fixated on the recent developments in Rus- sia. I think I've accurately conveyed about 30 minutes' worth of back-and-forth. As I suggested yesterday--and even though it's tiresome and counter-productive to talk about it--race is still the unknown factor in all these polls, just as it will be the unknown factor in November. What percentage of the American electorate shares a mindset somewhat close to this guy's--5%? 15%? More? (If he's giving voice to some percentage of the Canadian viewpoint, it ain't gonna be better Stateside.) If it's even 10%, that means Obama would have to draw his winning 50.1% of the vote (forgetting about the electoral college for a moment) from the remaining 90% of voters--which would mean, essentially, winning 55% of the vote among people who are open to voting for him in the first place. I guess you could say that if 10% of the electorate is black, that more or less neutralizes the write-off 10%, except that now Obama would have to win better than half the remaining 80%, and he'd have to do so without the African-American base that was so crucial throughout the primaries. I'm just picking these numbers out of the air, but I sure hope they get out the white university vote when it counts. ----- Good, good, good--this has been pointlessly prolonged, but as of midnight Friday, Biden seems all but certain. Believe it or not, Hillary was actually my second pick at this point. I see an extremely nasty few weeks ahead, and the idea of setting down that road with Bayh or Kaine or Sebelius was unnerving. With a 10-point lead, maybe. The nature of the race has changed--in how close it is, and also in tenor. I hope they keep pounding away--hard--at this house issue. It's not that McCain deferred the answer to his staff; granted, that didn't look good, and whenever McCain stumbles around for an answer he automatically conjures up the age issue, but a very reasonable case can be made that he simply wanted to provide an answer that was wholly accurate in terms of living-quarters vs. investment-property. The much bigger issue is simply how extraordinarily rich McCain is, and how poorly that squares with all this idiocy they've been pedalling about Obama's celebrity elitism. It's the same ruse that got regular-guy Bush II elected twice, the same ruse that got his father elected. As nicely as possible, Obama needs to drive home this message: "Jesus, people, what's wrong with you? Can't you see through this act?" As an added bonus, it's not even McCain who's uber-rich, it's his wife. Glenn Greenwald at Salon has assembled an amazing dossier of quotes from 2004 showing how absolutely venal the idea of wealth-through-remarriage was to Republicans when the beneficiary was John Kerry. Can't wait to hear some of these people explain how McCain's situation is different. The swiftness with which McCain had response ads on the air, and the shrill- ness of them--Rezko-Rezko-Rezko! Ayers-Ayers-Ayers!--underscores how vulnerable they are on this. So yes, it does open the floodgates; Wright-Wright-Wright! will materialize soon, if it hasn't already. But there's no other choice, and judging from the last couple of days, Obama's side is aware of this. Biden will be a big asset. ----- On This Week this morning, Mark Halperin made what has to be the most absurd stra- tegical analysis I've yet heard from anyone in the media (or "mainstream media," if you'd prefer, since I guess it wouldn't be difficult to find much wilder stuff on the wingnut front). He was talking about how aggressively the Obama side has pounced on the house issue; there's a clip up on YouTube. Huh?! Three of the other people around the table seemed somewhat stunned by Hal- perin's assessment, and I bet even George Will was rolling his eyes off-camera. The idea that Obama would have let McCain's home-ownership ramblings pass without comment out of self-preservation, an insurance policy against Rezko and Ayers and Wright reentering the fray, is naive beyond words. This is especially priceless: "I think it would have been hard for John McCain, given the way he says he's going to run this campaign, to do all this stuff without the door being opened." Good point! McCain said it would be an honourable campaign, he's kept his word 100% so far, and now Obama's gone and shot himself in the foot by forcing McCain to get nasty. I've read a lot of ridicule of Halperin on Kos and in comment boxes and elsewhere the last while, but up till now he didn't register very strongly with me one way or the other. I think I understand better now. ----- Back from a night at the movies. The image below is pretty central to film history-- as basic as Kane's sled going up in flames, Janet Leigh's eye in close-up, or any- thing else you can name. My guess is that while Obama would be able to identify the film, McCain wouldn't. Does that have anything whatsoever to do with one's ability to handle the presidency? No. Does it matter to me? Yes--given the choice between a president who could identify the image and one who couldn't, I'd automatically feel a greater kinship with the one who could. This is the first in a series of Effete, Clueless Elitist posts. Tomorrow: my thoughts on the late works of Anton Bruckner. ----- Ten or 15 minutes to think about what I've seen, write it down, fiddle around with the editing, post, go back and fiddle around some more over the next two days--this is what passes for "live-blogging" with me. My favourite moment tonight was the cut from Michelle Obama saying "you can make it if you try" to Joe Biden nodding and clapping. I saw a thought bubble materialize right over his head: "Ah, yes, Sly & the Family Stone--nice touch." The CNN panel has been carping all night, probably with justification, although it's weird to hear people complain about speeches they're presumably not hearing because they're too busy complaining. Not to be insensitive, but I didn't think Kennedy's speech was all that effec- tive; I was hoping he'd make a direct appeal to disaffected Cinton voters, maybe even, in a perfect world, give first-hand testimonial to the fallout from an acri- monious convention. But he got there and he spoke, and I guess that's all you could ask for. I was actually interested in what Jim Leach was droning on about--they couldn't have possibly picked anybody worse for the 10:00 slot, but I think the transcript would be worth reading. Michelle Obama was fanatastic--they even approved inside CNN's Panic Room. Her husband seemed clumsy following. Another great moment during the post-mortem: Wolf Blitzer asking Caroline Ken- nedy to "walk us through" the vetting process for VP--and asking in that special way the media has, the kind of bored, nonchalant "I ask, therefore you answer" sense of entitlement--and an incredulous, mocking Kennedy saying something to the effect that "I'm not going to 'walk you through' that, it's confidential!" There you go, right from a tiny bungalow in Etobicoke, Ontario--it's almost like you were inside the Pepsi Centre. ----- I caught a couple of minutes of Peggy Noonan before Hillary spoke, and she made a simple, obvious point: if Clinton went above and beyond expectations, it might be enough to secure the election for Obama, but if her avowals of support felt at all perfunctory, they wouldn't mean a thing. I've already heard from a friend who thought she was great, and CNN's gushing, but to me she split the difference at best. I know I've been ragging on Clinton since I began this thing, but driving home earlier tonight, I started thinking about how circumstances were absolutely optimal for her to deliver a legendary speech; you need the proper context for something like that to happen, and the context was there. But I felt the same frustration that I felt with Kennedy (once again, well aware of the extenuating circumstances last night). I wanted Kennedy to be very specific: the public display of bitterness at the '80 convention may very well have cost us the election, and that's exactly where we're headed again. With Clinton, I desper- ately wanted her to address the commercials that McCain's been running (they were running tonight), to say something that could be lifted out and used in a counter- ad. It wouldn't be difficult: "Campaigns are campaigns; we all look forward to revisiting last winter's McCain-Romney lovefest very shortly. Meanwhile, do not pay any mind to this nonsense." That was one thing I was hoping to hear; another was an honest admission of how difficult it was to experience such a loss. I know that's asking for a lot, but I think it would have gone a long way to easing some of the bitterness out there. Exhortations of "So let's elect Barack Obama and Joe Biden!", though, no matter how much you raise the volume, I don't see that as any- thing more than the least that was expected. ----- Halfway through Biden; pretty good, not as good as what came before him. (The cut- aways to his mother will outlive the speech.) It's hard to believe now that the roll call was something that was supposed to be a major cause of concern for Obama--did his side really try to have it bypassed? It was great; the actual mechanics of having Obama roll up numbers state-by-state made for a series of good stories, like Arkansas and New Hampshire pledging their delegations unanimously, or even Kentucky switching over to Obama. And as mediocre as I thought Hillary was last night (and as scripted as I know all of this stuff is), today she done good. Crossing over the finish line, even if by acclamation at the last minute, felt, and was, historical; it wouldn't have felt the same absent the roll call. Bill Clinton was awesome. If you set his speech beside his wife's last night, I don't see how you could continue to put them on an equal plane. Maybe he's just so much more a political creature than her, he's better at sublimating his true feelings (he's the one who's supposed to be much angrier)--a much better liar, to be uncharitable. Whatever the case, there was something very tangible in his words and delivery that just wasn't there for me last night. He had a brilliantly sly moment early on: "Iím not so grateful...[strategic pause; a thousand heart attacks launched inside the hall]...for the chance to speak in the wake of her magnificent address last night." And, for a change, something extremely specific to grab onto: "We prevailed in a campaign in which the Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be Commander-in-Chief. Sound familiar?" Kerry was just as awesome--I only caught what CNN broadcast, so I'll have to search out what I missed. There's a good New Republic piece up right now about Kerry's surprising rehabilitation since 2004. I think it's clear, watching him tonight, that he's still angry about getting ambushed last time. I continue to believe he would have been an excellent president, and tonight emphatically rein- forced that belief. Two regrets about a very good day. One, Kerry was so good that I felt bad when Obama didn't include him in his (understandably brief) acknowledgements at the end. Also, something I didn't realize until Jeffrey Toobin brought it up: today would have been LBJ's 100th birthday. Vietnam notwithstanding, how could they fail to acknowledge this on the day when an African-American accepts the nomination? (Maybe they did, at some point; I basically stay on CNN, so I see as much of what's going on on-stage as they choose to air.) ----- Today's all about uplift and high-mindedness, so let me get the petty stuff out of the way early. Republican reaction to yesterday has seemed to split into those who take a moment out to pay tribute to the historical importance of Obama's offi- cial nomination--Ed Rollins and Amy Holmes on CNN; I'm guessing Bill Bennett falls into that group too--and the Hannity wing that defiantly remains oblivious to his- tory, for fear, perhaps, of ceding an inch to the idea that Obama's actually human. Rollins was especially gracious after the roll call, and I've been thinking of an assessment he offered of his party that was so candid it may have inadvertently slipped out: "Obviously we weren't going to do it..." (i.e., be the first of the two parties to nominate a black presidential candidate). I wish there'd been some follow-up on what he said. Later, on Larry King, Ralph Reed. My least favourite weasel of the '90s has reemerged; I hope he's all over the airwaves for the next 60 days. ----- Whatever you think of McCain's gambit, I don't think anyone can offer more than guesswork as to how it affects the race. Fasten your seatbelts, etc. To me, beyond dispute: both candidates made picks that were 97.3% political. For Obama, as we heard endlessly last week, it was foreign-policy experience (and experience in general) and working-class appeal that needed to be addressed. With McCain, he needed a pick that would get a lot of attention, thereby taking the focus away from last night (mission accomplished, to borrow a phrase from W.), and one that might grab enough votes from a specific demographic to tip a close election (we'll see...I do think I might know what demographic he's courting, though). Other parallels: 1) Both completely undermined their campaigns in one key area (change, experience), and 2) Both ignored the electoral map (bit of an advantage to McCain; Alaska seemed to be competitive and presumably now won't be). Open to dispute: Obama's calculation led him to the most qualified person among those being considered, McCain's led him to the least. Both sides have to be careful: the perception of condescension, arrogance, or meanness on Obama's side (they're piling on aggressively at Kos, which I wouldn't advise; I've al- ready heard a couple of people raise the possibility of overreach by Biden in the debates), and, on McCain's, of highlighting the perception of political expedi- ency as transparently as Palin herself did in her, uh, stirring tribute to Hil- lary voters earlier today. Actually, completely removed from all considerations except my own sanity, two more months of intensive what-will-Hillary-voters-do? speculation is the worst thing of all about this pick. I thought, as of Wednes- day night, that was finally, finally over. Welcome back, PUMAs, we missed you. What else...oh yeah, there was speech last night. I loved almost all of it, especially knocking down the phony patriotism issue. (I wish Obama had taken it a step further and reminded everybody of what was done to Kerry four years ago.) One caveat: the line about Osama's cave was...audacious, memorable, and very, very risky. I can picture McCain going into complete meltdown when he heard that. You almost have to assume it was some kind of trap for the upcoming debates. I don't think there's any doubt by now that Obama and his advisers have a pretty good idea of what they're doing in this thing. I hope that's true here, too; I hope they have something ready for when McCain comes after them on that line. ----- A couple of postscripts to last night. Stevie Wonder's first song was pretty forgettable; the inevitable "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" was better, though it's far from my favourite Stevie. I wish he'd finished it off by saying "That was for the next president; this one's for the current occupant," and then launched into "You Haven't Done Nothin'." That might have fired up the crowd just a bit. Also: I thought Susan Eisenhower was surprisingly forceful. So much Palin reaction to wade through...I'd again suggest a more measured response. I think it's a trap (cf. Osama's-cave above). If the pick is indeed as disastrous as many would have it, then, first rule of politics, step back and let it implode on its own--the media will take care of that. If you start piling on hysterically, though, you're opening yourself up on at least two fronts. First, the inexperience argument could blow up in your face. It doesn't really matter how much merit there is to the idea that Palin's experience is equal to or even greater than Obama's (Sullivan has a good, incredulous post taking on that equi- valency). It's all about perception, and if Obama can successfully be caricatured as an elite celebrity through a series of silly ads, then of course Palin's readi- ness = Obama's could work too. And then there's the female vote. If Obama has about 55% of it now, let's say McCain's 45% is made up of women who always vote Republican, women in the middle, and some undetermined number of angry--God, here we go again-- Hillary supporters. Strike too hard, and you'll lose lots of women in the middle, and undoubtedly some of the fence-sitting Hillary voters who finally came over to Obama during the convention. I also started thinking about the movie Disclosure, a lurid, gimmicky thing from 15 years ago that I always stay with when it turns up on TV--the gimmick's a good one. I won't bother recounting too much of it here, but the relevant parallel is that what initially seems to be a trumped-up sexual-harassment case is actually a smoke-screen meant to distract Michael Douglas from other doings. Remember that both Quayle and Agnew won; as analysts point out time and time again, no one at the end of the day votes for the VP slot. It's still Obama and McCain--you wouldn't want to lose sight of that. I think I'll close the books on part III and archive this. A couple of good jokes I've come across to finish off. The first is shameless, but I laughed any- way: some reporter should ask Palin how many igloos she owns. I'm Canadian, so I'm allowed to laugh at that--not sure where I saw it. The other is from Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review, prompted by all the talk of Abraham Lincoln last night: if given an opening during the debates, McCain should turn to Obama and say, "Senator, I knew Abraham Lincoln; Abraham Lincoln was my friend..."

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