In What Sense, Charlie?

This is why I'll burn in hell: half the time I'm thrilled by how vulnerable the Palin pick leaves McCain, the rest of the time I'm thinking, "Geez, I really wouldn't mind having her around for the next four years--she's really good-looking." Everyone has pointed out what a dead ringer she is for Tina Fey; with me, she's reawakened my long- ago crush on Lisa Loeb. Softball of the year: who's the one person who had carte blanche to attack Palin as vigorously as she pleased yesterday? Here's what issued forth instead: "We should all be proud of Governor Sarah Palin's historic nomination, and I con- gratulate her and Senator McCain. While their policies would take America in the wrong direction, Governor Palin will add an important new voice to the debate." Yeah, she's 100% in Obama's corner; no mixed signals there. A month ago, I said that Obama presented the Republicans with a fat-kid-in-a-candy- store problem, in that they were giddy about what they perceived (mistakenly, I obvi- ously think) as his many flaws, the unspoken and biggest one being race. The Democrats now have the same problem with Palin: there are so many lines of attack available (for real, this time), they don't know where to begin. 1) Ideology: Worth pursuing, but probably of limited value. You're basically preach- ing to the converted--McCain was going to pick someone on the right in any event, so you're bypassing what makes her specifically a bad pick. The two areas that will yield the smartest attacks are her support for teaching Creationism, which hope- fully will make people in the middle nervous, and her hard anti-choice stance if successfully targeted to Hillary supporters®; her difficult decision to go ahead with her Down-Syndrome child creates the potential for a lot of backlash, though. I wouldn't spend too much energy on guns; a big chunk of Americans do get touchy about their right to bear AK-47s. (I heard someone last night bubbling over because "She doesn't just support the NRA, she's killed and cooked her own caribou--she's the real deal!" Wow--we're a long way from Adlai Stevenson...) 2) Experience: Again, a circular argument that will always be thrown back at Obama. 3) More specifically, foreign-policy experience: better. Stewart had a clip of some- body on Fox yesterday suggesting that she'd be good on foreign-policy because Alaska's right next door to Russia--which also, I might add, makes her a valuable asset if McCain ever declares war on the Yukon. 4) Scandal: I don't know much about the investigation she's implicated in, but what- ever the details, this would be something that would seemingly take care of itself if there's anything there. 5) The transparent political calculation of McCain picking her: same problem as the experience issue to a degree, but I will say that I saw two flacks last night completely duck the question "Can you honestly say that she was the best possible choice available to Senator McCain?" So that needs to be brought up in the debates, preferably by a questioner, maybe even by Obama himself. The best way to go after this by far, it seems to me, rests in this bizarre back- story that McCain put her on the short-list based on a single meeting many months ago, and then went ahead and picked her based on a second meeting last week. This transfers the line of attack away from Palin and completely onto McCain--so there's no danger of mucking around in the fact that she's female, and no danger of elicit- ing any sympathy because she's being dumped on--and it also directly highlights one of Obama's strongest arguments for election: calm, rational, deliberative decision- making. You can certainly argue that the Biden pick was every bit as political, but what you can't say is that Obama didn't have enough time and personal familiarity with Biden to lay a solid foundation for naming him. They've worked together for the last four years in the Senate, often very closely, and they then spent a few months vying for the nomination together. The Republicans, I imagine, will try to counter with some depends-what-the-meaning-of-is-is hair-splitting; we'll hear that it wasn't just two meetings, it was two meetings and a phone call, or two meetings and a phone call and the time they stood together for 45 minutes in a line to see The Dark Knight. But throw in McCain's reputation for being an impul- sive hothead, and, well, as Kenny Bania used to say, "It's gold, Jerry--gold!" ----- My favourite couplet from one of my favourite songs, the Posies' "Any Other Way": She left me alone, claiming we’d run out of things to fight about I was crushed of course, but at least I’ve something I can write about So that's one thing I love about the Palin pick: it's given everyone, me included, lots to talk about. (67 days of Mitt Romney wasn't too promising on that front.) Another thing I like is the inadvertent compliment McCain's campaign has paid to Obama, the simple fact of taking him seriously--something I'm not convinced was true of the Clinton campaign until it was far too late. Whatever Republicans are saying, does anyone actually believe that Palin would have been chosen if McCain and/or his handlers believed all the polls from last week that said the race was now tied, and that all the momentum was with McCain? Or, and here's where I detect the unintended compliment, if they deep-down believed that there was no way in the end that the country would elect a black president? Clinton's people would scream bloody murder if you suggested as much of them, but I honestly think that was the fundamental miscalculation of her side, at least up until Super Tuesday; that they just had to stay in it long enough until the reality of race caught up with the rest of the party, and then they'd pull away. That would certainly help explain their indifference to the early caucuses. Cindy McCain mentioned Palin's time in the PTA on Stephanopoulos this morning when advocating for her experience. I think it was third or fourth on the list as she went down Palin's resume. It reminded me why I love the fact that as a tenured public-school teacher, I could finish out my career at the school I'm at now and I'd never again have to go for a job interview or put together a resume for the rest of my life. I remember what it was like to have to pad your qualifications on a resume--not pad in the sense of making stuff up, but rather taking everything you'd ever done and resurrecting the smallest details to fit the job being applied for. So if you're applying for zookeeper, but your actual zookeeping experience is a little thin, you make sure to mention the time you were in a pet store and the clerk suddenly took ill, forcing you to step in and tend to the animals for 15 minutes until help arrived. The PTA as part of a vice-presidential Which leads directly to a comment from one of Sullivan's readers (a disaffected Republican whom, somewhat optimistically I think, Sullivan is hoping represents a possible backlash): "He was the president of the Harvard Law Review; she was the point guard on her high school basketball team." A valid point, if you ask me, but I guarantee you won't be allowed to say that in the upcoming weeks, or question the value of her PTA experiences as I did above, without the elitist sledgehammer coming down hard. (I understand, by the way, that there is not equivalency in Obama running for president and her running for VP. But since the Republicans are trying very hard to make the case that her experience is equal or greater to Obama's any- way, the comparison is simply about which experiences are the most relevant and meaningful.) This is the political landscape: you can ridicule a Harvard guy as being out of touch as much as you want--the Harvard education just underscores the point--but don't even think about being dismissive of a gun-loving PTA mom. She's just regular folk. Swept aside by Obama and then Palin, Gore's speech on Thursday hardly got a word of reaction. One thing I was hoping for is that he'd pull a Steve Martin: come out, say "Excuse me for a second" just before he started to speak, and casually set the Nobel down on the podium. ----- Good job on 60 Minutes tonight. Barack's wounded defense of his credentials as a beer-drinker was perfect. I've been linking to Andrew Sullivan regularly the past few months, and I seek his reaction to events before anyone else's. He's been especially good the last couple of days dismantling the Palin nomination in terms of what it tells us about McCain. I really hope he stops mucking around with this stuff, though. He's of- fered some theoretically convincing arguments as to why it's fair game, primarily the idea that McCain's side opened the door themselves, but cool logic doesn't mean a thing in the face of such a volatile, emotional issue. If some candidate makes reference to a dying relative in order to humanize himself, it's kind of crass and self-serving but so commonplace by now that I don't think anyone much cares. But if the candidate's opponent were to seize upon the same dying relative to make a political point, or to condemn the political maneuvering transpiring, that'd be suicidal. Even more than that, though, it seems so utterly unncessary in this case, like shooting fleas with an elephant-gun as J.J. Hunsecker says in Sweet Smell of Success (which'll give me an excuse to post a J.J. still). Evans & Novak, Woodward & Bernstein, Woods & Dellio; Scott Woods has started posting some election-related thoughts over on Woodsblog #67 & 68, so we'll prob- ably get some cross-talk going over the next few weeks. And then, when it all ends, we'll go back to our sane Canadian lives--it's your election, people, we don't have to live with the results. ----- Campbell Brown just interviewed Tucker Bounds, a McCain spokesman, on CNN. (If you're named Tucker, by law you must be a Republican.) Not pretty. She began with Palin's daughter, approaching the situation like this: knowing the kind of media frenzy this story would cause, how could Palin subject her daughter to all of that by accepting the VP offer? I'd take the same question and recast it in terms of McCain: if, as the official line goes, they knew about the pregnancy beforehand--which I don't believe for a second, but if that's what McCain's people are saying, then go with that--how could McCain subject the daughter to what's going on by making the offer in the first place? Then they moved on to the experience quagmire. The PTA was again enumerated among Palin's qualifications--I'm amazed there hasn't been a directive from above to stop this, immediately. Three times, with increasing exasperation, Brown tried to get an answer to this: what was one specific decision Palin made in commanding the Alaskan National Guard (supposedly a governor's jurisdiction over the state National Guard is being greatly exaggerated by the McCain campaign, but again, work with what you have for the time being)? The interview kind of trailed off without an answer. Wild prediction: after two or three weeks of progressively contentious interviews, one or two more revelations, and worsening poll numbers, Palin will be back in Alas- ka, dropped from the ticket as Eagleton was in '72. The decision will be "mutual," and the McCain campaign will go on offense to sell it. For Palin, she'll be protect- ing her family from the scourge of invasive press scrutiny. McCain will throw the decision back at Obama: unlike the Senator from Illinois, who continues to insist the surge has not been a success, John McCain knows when to admit a mistake...even though choosing Palin was not really a mistake...not John McCain's mistake, anyway. Taking her place, the blandest, safest pick out there: Fred Thompson. (I'd forgotten all about Thompson until I started thinking about this post--surprisingly, you didn't hear a word about him last week. Seems to me the biggest knock on him was how poorly he did in the primaries, which would more or less have been cancelled out by Biden's equally futile bid.) I don't really expect all that to happen, but something's got to give. I love the question Jake Tapper posed on ABC's site: what would be the fallout if this were Oba- ma's teenage daughter? School's in. I will do my best to indoctrinate another generation of 11-year-old Canadian kids: "Yes....we....can. Okay, let's try that again: Yes...." ----- Hell-hath-no-fury department: Mark Levin was something to behold on Patriot tonight. I caught about 10 minutes' worth, consecutive calls from what seemed to be Obama supporters. (On right-wing radio, anything less than total deference to the host pretty much indicates you've infiltrated from the other side.) The first guy, black, had "stupid" and "moron" thrown at him, the second (pronounced New York accent) was treated to "dummy," "moron" (popular, that one), "dope," and "lowlife"; both were cut off. And Obama? An "idiot," whose acceptance into an Ivy League school mystifies Levin in view of his "drugged-up" high school years. If you find such stuff weirdly compelling, and subscribe to the Vito Corleone theory of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, there are podcasts online. I watched most all of tonight's proceedings. Thompson's description of McCain's POW experiences was compelling--I hope voters can put all of that in perspective. (The fact that they went for Clinton over Dole and Bush over Kerry suggests they can.) The weirdest moment by far was Lieberman's call for some Clinton love...he got a little, I guess. Two weeks ago, everyone expected Bush to be the invisible presence throughout the convention; instead, it's Palin. Again, I hope the media keep what will undoubtedly be an emotionally effective speech by her in perspec- tive--it'd be hard not to meet that threshold in the context of an adoring, angry throng. The bigger question is, when will they send her out into the world to take a few questions? ----- It was good...and it was weird. I took a quick look around, and Tracy Flick seems to be the most common comparison among the dread Angry Left; I kept thinking of Edith Prickley. More tomorrow. One thing's for sure--they've totally blown the community- organizer vote. My favourite moment early in the evening (I missed Huckabee and Romney) was when Carly Fiorina promised that McCain was going to prepare a full evaluation of all government programs and post his findings on the internet. This is identical to a promise he made 10 weeks ago, just before he discovered the existence of the inter- net, except I believe the original idea was to disseminate the information via car- rier pigeons. ----- Drill, bab--sorry, I feel too silly. Still getting my head around Palin last night. McCain's out there lawn bowling, which is a relief; he doesn't rant and rave very convincingly. He's just getting to the "partisan rancor" part of his speech. Listening to the crowd cheer uncertainly ("We don't like that either? Okay...") is odd. The strangest disconnect of all, something I've been fixated on the past few weeks: education, education, education. Better schools. School choice. School vouch- ers. Charter schools. Education, education, education. Standards. Accountability. Merit Pay. Global competitiveness. Education, education, education. Children need the very best education we can give them. Education means everything. Education, education, education. Go out and get an education--it makes us whole. We mean it. We really do. Just make sure you don't get an education from Harvard. That doesn't mean shit-- it's about as low as a human being can sink. ----- Terry McAuliffe has been advocating for Obama on Larry King tonight, and doing so with more vigour and less equivocation than I've ever seen from him before. He's either experienced an amazing conversion, or there's a new calculation: a McCain win sets up Palin perfectly for 2012 or 2016, so it's now in Hillary's interest to hope for a disastrous one-term Obama presidency. I'm deeply suspicious of this convenient protestor that was dragged out during McCain's speech. Nixon, Wallace, and Goldwater used to plant agitators all the time--I think it was Wallace's people who would shepherd them into whatever venue he was speaking at and make sure that the media had enough advance notice to catch them on camera. McCain seemed to handle tonight's disruption with surprising for- bearance, and he even had a quip ready. ----- The party of ordinary Americans: I came across somebody--National Review Online, I think it was, although I'm consuming so much election coverage these days, I sometimes lose track of where I see things--who referred to Palin's convention speech as a "four-run home run." If you know anything at all about baseball, you'll understand how comical that is. Something else I can't source, similar to the question posed by Jake Tapper below: if it were revealed that Michelle Obama belonged to a secessionist party as recently as six years ago, how would that go over with the people who congregated in St. Paul last week? I was 95% thrilled to read today that it's Gwen Ifill who'll be moderating the VP debate. I can't remember if the moderator presides over a panel of ques- tioners or goes it alone, but if the latter, Brokaw or Lehrer or Schieffer would have prompted endless indignation at Palin having to go up against a tag-team of bullying men. Even more than that, though, I'm confident that Ifill will be much tougher on Palin than the other three would have been--Brokaw, in particular, seems like a real simp these days. The 5% worth of reservations, I say with re- gret, is that because Ifill is black, she'll provide an irresistible scapegoat for Hannity and the rest if Palin gets roughed up. Although maybe the more that Hannity and Levin are cornered into dropping all pretense and revealing what they're really thinking, the better. Hannity has been in the Bizarro World since Palin emerged. On Thursday, after her speech, he played a clip of Obama taking some questions from a reporter, pre- faced with giddy pleas for the listener to take note of how panicked, how discom- bobulated, and how angry Obama had become. Then he played the clip...I can't find any audio to plug in here, unfortunately, but the best description I can offer is that it was perfectly generic Obama, Barack being Barack, the combination of thoughtfulness and meandering uh-uhing that can make him so reassuring and frus- trating at the same time. On the panicked-anger scale, he got up to about Fred MacMurray in My Three Sons. Yet another whiplash-inducing disconnect, this one from one of John Ridley's readers at Huffington Post: "If you are biracial and born in a state not connect- ed to the lower 48, America needs darn near 2 years and 3 major speeches to 'get to know you.' If you're white and from a state not connected to the lower 48, America needs 36 minutes and 38 seconds worth of an acceptance speech to know you're 'one of us.'" ----- I'm as dumbfounded as everyone else. Nightmarish polls one after another, Palinma- nia, Kafkaesque logic till your head snaps...10 minutes ago, the country was dis- gusted with the Republican president and wanted out of Iraq posthaste; suddenly we're back to "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" It's like the old joke that Woody Allen uses in Annie Hall to explain relationships, the one where the guy has a second complaint about the lousy food he's just been served at a restaurant: "And such small portions." Here are Gallup's latest numbers on three issues very relevant to the election: 71% disapprove of Bush, 72% hold a negative view of the economy, and 60% believe that troops should never have been sent to Iraq. All you can do is estimate what percentage of the country subscribes to all three views, but you've got to believe there's a lot of overlap there...somewhere between 50 and 55% maybe? For the sake of a point, I'll go with 55%; my guess is that the number's closer to the full 60%. At the moment, Obama's support is running around 45%, while McCain sits at about 50%. That would mean that there's some 10% of voters who disapprove of the party in power, believe the war was a mistake, and think the economy is being mismanaged, but are nonetheless either supporting McCain or are ready to cast a symbolic third- party vote. There were 122,267,553 presidential votes cast in 2004. 10% of that is a little over 12 million people. In trying to figure out what these folks are think- ing, I can only offer three explanations: 1) Their short-term memories are non-existent. 2) They're...racially cautious. I don't want to start name-calling. 3) Yes I do--they're really stupid. I'll exempt the third-party voters, sort of. Watching Obama slog away--he seems shell-shocked--I think things'll get worse before they get better. And he'll likely catch major hell for a couple of things he said today: "A pig with lipstick is still a pig" referring to Palin, and, try- ing to explain why prisoners of war also deserve habeas corpus, something to the effect that "He might be Mohammed the terrorist, but he might also be Mohammed the cab driver." Gotta quote Seinfeld again: that's not gonna be good for anybody. ----- I jumped the gun: Obama was referring to McCain, or to McCain's policies, when he made his pig-in-lipstick comment yesterday (you may have heard mention of this...), not to Palin. Do I think he was alluding to Palin, though? Yeah, obviously he was. If you assume that he wasn't speaking extemporaneously, his handlers knew about the line ahead of time. And if the subsequent uproar wasn't exactly what they wanted (Nate Silver has a plausible explanation of why it was), it's reasonable to assume the word "lipstick" might have set off alarm bells--the pit bull comment in Palin's acceptance speech got more media play than just about anything else she said last Thursday. "Wait a minute, Barack--people will think you're talking about Palin. You can't say that." But the line got out there. Not an innocent oversight. I should say, by the way, that the line doesn't bother me at all; Palin contin- ues to seem so uber-silly to me that, on the merits, they're entitled to put her down as sarcastically as they wish. (The tactical wisdom of doing so is another issue.) I winced more at Obama's Mohammed-the-cab-driver line, which, not so sur- prisingly, hasn't generated any indignation at all. I've come to the conclusion over the last few years that in Canada and in the U.S., the last group you're al- lowed to make fun of with virtually no repercussions is Indians, Arabs, and (more generally) brown people from the middle east. That's more than one group...I don't know of a term that links them all together, so I hope that's clear enough. Let- terman will make the most tasteless jokes about cab drivers, turbans, and personal hygiene--often it's a three-for-one--and it's no big deal. Or when Mujibur and Sir- ajul used to come on the show in a running bit, or Apu from The Simpsons. Mujibur was really funny, and so is Apu, but could you get away with either if their eth- nicity were something else? I doubt it. Obviously, Obama wasn't making fun of his hypothetical Mohammed--he was aiming for the complete opposite--but the contrast of Bad Muslim = Terrorist/Good Muslim = Cab Driver was awfully clumsy, to say the least. He seemed to be a lot more focussed in the clip I saw today. Let me leave you with something from an e-mail friend living in Michigan. In trying to figure out what's going on--why Obama runs 10 points behind generic Dem- ocrats, and why so many people seem ready to cast votes that completely contradict their stated disillusionment--I think Steve's snapshot of his in-laws reveals a lot: I also had this minor revelation about the major talent that Republican strate- gists have: the ability to make people who aren't really 'like them' believe that they are like them. The most immediate example is my in-laws. They live out in the middle of nowhere--I stop in, there's a huge compressor running in the barn, the air conditioner is cranked, there are TVs on every available surface (Republicans fought rural electrification tooth and nail). They live off his union pension (we know how much Repubs love unions). They also receive social security (if Bush woulda got ahold of that in 2003 it would be gone NOW). My ma-in-law would have been dead about ten times if it wasn't for Medicare (c'mon...), AND to top it all off, they HATE Bush. Every aspect of their exis- tence is indebted to Democratic policies. But the aw-shucks anti-elitist elit- ists win 'em over in the 'us vs. them' divisive game every time.'s like this huge underdocumented Masochistic voting bloc. Also, to them McCain's major qualification is that he'll 'protect us' because his plane got shot down. I don't get that; my friend from high school's dad got shot down over Vietnam and has never been found; he must be a military genius, by right-wing standards. This is what Obama faces in Michigan, in Ohio, in Pennsylvania. I'm not very con- fident right now. ----- I've made more than a few predictions since I began writing about Obama early this year, and many, probably most, have been grievously wrong. I think I conceded the nomination to Hillary about three different times, and as recently as 10 days ago I had Palin getting dumped. So whenever I start prognosticating, get some money down in the opposite direction. Having said that, looking at Pollster's updated electoral map today, I'm having a hard time seeing how Obama wins this. For months, their map basically had Obama in the 250+ range, McCain in the low 100s, and every- thing else up for grabs; suddenly it's Obama at 243, McCain at 224, and toss-up states narrowed to 71. And when I look at the toss-ups--Nevada, Montana, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire--I don't see much cause for optimism. Oba- ma holds miniscule leads in four of the seven, but that's based on composite polls going back weeks, and all recent movement has been emphatically in McCain's direc- tion. Michigan + Colorado, with the other 243 EVs holding, produces a 269-269 tie. That's about the best that I can see happening. Except I don't expect Obama to hold on to Michigan. If he were going into the debates five points up, I'd feel very confident; it would feel like, just don't make a significant gaffe and you're home-free. The sit- uation's reversed now, and if McCain can coast through, and if he can avoid any in- temperate displays of his supposedly volatile temper, what's left? Even the anger- trap's probably a 50-50 proposition at best: I can easily see where Obama could successfully push one of McCain's buttons (e.g., not tracking down bin Laden) and McCain lashes out in a manner that redounds in his favour. Thinking back to Kerry, "winning" the debates on points won't mean anything. Gore had his sighing problem, but I remember coming away from Kerry-Bush heartened by how much better Kerry was, on style and on substance, and it ultimately didn't mean a thing. So I don't think I see the debates as such a great opportunity at this point. Anything can happen--I heard Booker T.'s "Green Onions" on Toronto's mullethead station on the way home tonight, Palin is apparently ready to invade Russia, so you never know. If you're feeling a lot more optimistic than I am, Scott Woods has been running down the avalanche of Barack songs that have popped up this past year. I don't know where he's drawing inspiration from right now. I have a sinking feeling they're all headed for the proverbial dustbin of history. ----- Here's the full slate of Obama states that would produce the 269-269 tie I spoke of yesterday: Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, D.C., Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, Maine, Hawaii. I was messing around with Kos's interactive map, and another route to the same result is to lose Colorado (9) and pick up Nevada (5) and New Hampshire (4); all three are toss-ups right now. I want to win, but I'd settle for a tie--the decision then falls to the House, where the Democrats currently hold a 233-202 majority (with the likelihood of widening their lead supposedly good). Imagine if Obama were to win fewer states (true of both models), lose the popular vote, and get in via a partisan vote in the House. It probably wouldn't lead to four years of especially productive legislation, but, in light of 2000, it sure would be fun listening to the right wing scream bloody murder. I've been slowly making my way through Rick Perlstein's Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus for the past couple of months. It's 600 pages of small print, so I'll probably still by reading come Inauguration Day. There's a great bit about a 1963 Goldwater rally where Efram Zimbalist Jr. (the FBI guy) "told the story of Goldwater's life, pausing expertly before declaring, 'He didn't go to Harvard,' bringing down the house." I bet that somewhere off-stage, a 15-year-old busboy named Rudy Giuliani was taking notes. ----- It's become second nature for me the past few years to answer the phone with an extra second or two of what's supposed to be withering silence before saying hel- lo--that's how many telemarketing calls I get. I ran the usual drill when the phone rang earlier this afternoon, and, surprise, it was America for Obama. Months after the fact, they finally screened my $10 donation and will be refunding it--something to do with "federal election laws." I conveyed my discouragement over recent events, said I hoped they find a way to right themselves, and wished them luck in the de- bates. Not an hour later, Michael Ignatieff was at my door canvassing for the upcom- ing Canadian election. I assured him I wasn't voting PC, but, because I'm not crazy about Stephane Dion, was considering going NDP or Green Party. He reacted in a way that indicated "I know, I know"--kind of a resigned head-nod, like he'd been hear- ing this all day. I only remembered after he'd left that Ignatieff was one of the people who lost the Liberal leadership to Dion two years ago, and that he was in fact the favourite going into the convention. He did point out that a Green Party or NDP vote increased the chances of a PC majority, but he didn't press the point. Anyway, they're coming at me from all directions... Here's a Washington Post piece on something I've been thinking about (but not writing about, because to do so almost suggests you've given up): how will black Americans react to an Obama loss? I'll speculate on something the writer doesn't address: if Obama loses, there won't be another black presidential candidate win either party's nomination for at least a couple of decades. I'd even go so far as to say it will more likely be on the Republican side. There's a Minnesota poll out today that shows a 45-45 tie. This is the state that voted for Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, and every other Democrat since '72. Scary. I'll finish with my first-ever video link--like John McCain, I'm being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. If you didn't catch this last night, it's brilliant: ----- On Meet the Press this morning, Brokaw asked Giuliani about his ridicule of Obama's community organizing at the convention. Guiliani set about to clarify what he meant-- with a straight face: BROKAW: In retrospect, do you think you had too much sport with his role as com- munity organizer, Mr. Mayor? GUILIANI: No. No. I think he had too, too little of a record of a community or- ganizer. The point is that Senator Obama's record as a community organizer is a very sparse one, as is his record as a state senator...What I was talking about is how little a record he had, how so, how so many of those programs have failed, how little it's been really looked at by the media. Before his big convention speech, I'd never given much thought to Guiliani. I thought all the noun-verb-9/11 stuff that people pinned on him was funny, but I had a general awareness that he was considered a moderate within his party, and his hapless cam- paign for the nomination was somewhat endearing. I think I now despise him as much as any of those people. ----- It would take a lot of space and energy to explain my evolving feelings about Bill Clinton over the past 15 years; the short version is that I finally came to appre- ciate him once he was a few years removed from office. This clip from the '92 debate is something to see. Listen to the way he says "I know them," and take a good look at the woman around the 1:00 mark, how engaged she is. The look on Bush's face at 1:25 is priceless: "Jesus, I can't come up with anything like that." If Obama can, especially in the wake of all today's economic chaos (which I won't even pretend to understand...immediately putting me in line for the vice-presidency), maybe he can get back to where he was three weeks ago. ----- You've hardly heard a word about Biden the past two weeks--or at least anything that didn't reduce him to an afterthought in the wake of Palin--but I still think he was a solid choice, and his moment may yet come. The clip I caught from today was a lot closer to what I was hoping to get from him all along; he attacks with a directness and an authority that doesn't always come naturally to Obama. I also get the feeling that the past two weeks have given him more latitude to go after Palin in the debate. Those who view her as a joke and those for whom she can do no wrong will just dig in deeper; in the middle, the 10 or 15% who still aren't sure, and I can't see any reason why they'd harbor any special feelings of pro- tectiveness towards her at this point. No compliments about her looks, and no Gore-like sighing; beyond that, I hope he doesn't hold back. An addendum to the Guiliani-Brokaw exchange quoted yesterday. The most madden- ing thing of all? Brokaw let him get away with it--no follow-up, no incredulity, not even a good old-fashioned spit-take. ----- I've been out galavanting--some windsurfing on Wednesday, a little moose-hunting last night. I'm very schizophrenic that way. If you wanted a quick indication that it wasn't the greatest of weeks for Mc- Cain, landing on Hannity around 3:30 this afternoon provided a good one. He was fulminating ominously about some rumour making the rounds: a leaked e-mail in which Biden was either going to a) intentionally launch a series of catastrophic gaffes, or b) produce a doctor's note forbidding him from staying in the race, the net result in either case being that Hillary would be installed in the VP slot. "The Democrats know they made a mistake! Etc.! Etc.!" I'm paraphrasing. Yes--having seemingly turned the momentum completely around and more or less re- turned the race to where it was six weeks ago, now would be the perfect time for Obama to self-inflict some major drama into his campaign. I think they might be a few days out of date on that one. (It's fun trying to imagine some of those intentional Biden gaffes, though. "It's great to be here in Detroit, folks. Hey, how many unemployed auto workers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?--oops, did I say that?!") 538 has Obama's electoral prospects all the way up to 71.5% in the wake of the most recent polls. Obviously I'm feeling a lot better than I did a few days ago, but I still find the map daunting. If you look at Pollster, where it stands at McCain-208/Obama-202/toss-up-128 right now, winning Minnesota and Wisconsin (both of which still seem reasonably secure) gets Obama to 222, then he has to win Michigan and Pennsylvania and Colorado, and that's still only good enough for a tie. So he'd have to add one of Nevada, New Hampshire, Virginia, Ohio, or Florida for a win. Sounds good--except the fact remains that I'm still not con- fident of those Michigan/Pennsylvania/Colorado wins that get him that close in the first place. One thing I've learned, though, is that state polls lag behind national numbers, so maybe the 4-5 point lead he's been holding since Tuesday will start to filter down to the next round of state polling. Something else that's been nagging are the ads and campaign tactics Obama's starting to get called out on--and not by Fox, but by Andrew Sullivan and CNN and the like. There's an ad that plays around with McCain's voting record on education funding, another one dealing with Limbaugh and immigration, and there was a story a few days ago concerning David Freddoso and his book The Case Against Barack Obama. They all reflect badly on Obama--you have to go some to turn Rush Limbaugh into an aggrieved victim, but it does seem as if the immigration ad does exactly that. This is just dumb, and also dangerous. The recent turnaround in the polls can be attributed to a number of factors, with all the economic chaos and Palin's vanishing act probably leading the way, but the ferocity with which the press descended on McCain last week surely played a role. If they were to find cause to refocus their attention on Obama all of a sudden, watch out. For all the talk of pro-Obama bias in the press--which I'll absolutely concede, partly because of a general liberal bias, but mostly because he's the much better story of the two candidates--when it comes to the electorate, I think it's obvious that Obama is held to a much higher standard of behaviour. John McCain can have a somewhat un- seemly divorce in his background, and Palin can have an unmarried 17-year-old daughter about to have a kid, but Obama's own family had better be right out of Father Knows Best or it's game over; McCain can graduate near the bottom of his class, and Palin can bounce around from college to college, but Obama's academic credentials had better be impeccable or it's game over. Similarly, if voters, helped along by the media, start seeing the same kind of tactics coming out of Obama's campaign that have gotten McCain into so much trouble, I'm positive he'll get nailed much harder than even McCain did--hard enough that it would ultimately cost him the election. So I hope they get off that road immediately. I've started a file folder of Joe Biden songs. So far...well, so far nothing, but I'm looking. ----- Is it worth it to keep hammering away at Palin? I don't know--probably. Sullivan and Kos haven't let up a bit, and her steadily falling poll numbers would seem to justify their relentlessness. If there's a cause-and-effect, it's not direct. More like, Sullivan and Kos influence mainstream media, mainstream media gets tougher, and from there it filters out to the electorate. I don't have any doubt that five minutes of Tina Fey had a bigger impact than any of Sullivan's or Kos's efforts. I'm vague on details, but I recall that Bill James once took on some sports- writer who was trying to make a case for Player X--a largely undistinguished guy having a career year--as being of equal value to Player Y, a future Hall of Famer in the midst of a more ordinary season by his own standards. If I'm remembering correctly, the two players weren't of the same generation, and James's comparison went something like this: at age 22, Player X was moving through the low minors; at the same age, Player Y was batting lead-off for a World Series winner. And it went from there, tracking their careers side-by-side according to age. Two weeks ago, there were a lot of comparisons being drawn between Obama's ex- perience, or lack thereof, and Palin's. Regardless of whose resume seemed deeper to you, it was inherently a bad comparison for the Democrats--the #1 was being compared to the #2, which automatically diminished Obama. There was something else that was driving me up the wall about the comparison, though, and thinking about James I finally figured out what it was: the way it took place in a vacuum, completely divorced from any kind of a timeline. Community organizer vs. small- town mayor is a non-sequitur: Obama did the former from the age of 24 until he was 27, whereas Palin was mayor from 32 to 38. So, a quick rundown. It would take forever to go year-by-year, but I've tried to include the key events for each of Obama and Palin. Age 22 -- Obama graduates from Columbia; Palin attends University of Idaho, her fifth school in four years. Age 24 -- Obama begins his stint as a community organizer; Palin is a sportcaster for KTUU-TV in Anchorage. Age 28 -- Obama named as an editor of the Harvard Law Review; Palin elected to Wasilla city council. Age 32 -- Obama, in his second year teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago, joins the firm of Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland; Palin is elec- ted mayor of Wasilla. Age 35 -- Obama elected to Illinois state legislature; Palin continues as mayor of Wasilla. Age 39 -- Obama takes a run at Congress, but loses in the Democratic primary; Palin, who also lost a bid for office the previous year (lieutenant governor for Alaska), chairs the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Age 42 -- Obama announces his candidacy for the U.S. Senate; Palin elected gov- ernor of Alaska. Age 43 -- Obama delivers keynote at Democratic convention, wins Senate seat; Palin continues serving as governor. Age 44 -- Obama continues serving in Senate; Palin named as McCain's running mate. Age 46 -- Obama begins running for president; Palin will turn 46 in 2010. Not as lopsided as I expected it to be--Palin has made up a lot of ground from 39 forward. (One key difference: Obama's major achievement thus far, winning his party's nomination for president, was initiated and directed by himself; Palin's major achievement, getting her party's nomination for vice-president, was at the eccentric whim of someone else.) Prior to age 39, though, it seems ludicrous to me to claim any kind of equivalency between the two resumes. Obama's is manifest- ly superior. ----- Personal note to Scott--I guess we'll play it by ear for Friday night. We could, if need be, jet down to Washington to support the senior Senator from Arizona's selfless act of heroism. I don't want to get ahead of myself; I thought Obama was in the clear after Denver, and look what happened. But you've got to feel good about the way the polls are moving, and even more so about McCain's hair-trigger unpredictability. I was worried at first, as I always am, that McCain would come out looking good over his latest stunt, but it appears as if something ranging from skepticism to derision is taking hold. (Except on Hannity, of course; I caught a woman who'd never been more proud of McCain...) I was in the car when Obama spoke this after- noon, silently reciting a "don't buckle, don't buckle, don't buckle" mantra as he led up to the subject of tomorrow's debate. When he said that presidents need to be able to deal with more than one thing at a time, I issued forth with one of those little air-punches, something Obama's ever-cautious campaign hasn't inspired me to do for a while. You can always find a Seinfeld parallel--this one from the early episode where Elaine arranges an intervention for Richie the drug user. Kramer: "Hey, can I get in on that?" Jerry: "Well, I'm just afraid you'll be interferring while we're in- tervening." Country first. Country first. Country first. ----- Perot! Until I heard somebody make the comparison yesterday, I'd forgotten all about Perot's bizarro suspension of his campaign in '92. If I'm remembering cor- rectly, he was concerned about covert fluoridation of the water wait, that was some other nutbar; it was that CIA operatives were trying to disrupt his daughter's wedding. That's definitely a connection McCain wants people making. I wrote just a little while ago how fantastic I thought Bill Clinton's Denver speech was; clearly it was just a ruse for the hometown crowd, because he's been out there the past three weeks doing a very good impression of a full-time McCain flunkie. (First clue: why is he all of sudden everywhere in the first place, if not to gum up a campaign that's doing very well without him?) If Obama does go on to win, I would not advise that he begins his presidency by pulling a Nixon and settling a few scores. But after watching Clinton's artfully sublimated hos- tility on The View, on Letterman, and then on Larry King, I'm sure the temptation to want to cut this guy off at the knees will be strong. ----- Lots of marking--I'll have a debate post up later today. Fat man, you shoot a great game of pool. ----- I just love this Josh Marshall line--you need to start with the reader e-mail that prompted it: "I think people really are missing the point about McCain's failure to look at Obama. McCain was afraid of Obama. It was really clear--look at how much McCain blinked in the first half hour. I study monkey behavior--low-ranking monkeys don't look at high-ranking monkeys. In a physical, instinctive sense, Obama owned McCain tonight and I think the instant polling reflects that." Marshall: "So McCain may have given away his status as a low-ranking monkey. I'd never even considered monkey rank." I watched the debate with Scott and his wife Jackie. (Serendipity--pizza, salad, and two different bottles of Newman's Own.) I guess I hadn't considered monkey rank either, because as soon as it ended I said that 1) the general perception would be that McCain won, 2) Obama did fine anyway, and 3) I was worried that if a single moment did make its way into general circulation, it would be McCain's ridicule of Obama over his Iran stance: "So let me get this right. We sit down with Ahmadinejad, and he says, 'We're going to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth,' and we say, 'No, you're not'? Oh, please." I'm happy to say that I was wrong on the first--pretty much every poll and focus group that I've come across gave the debate to Obama, although media reaction seems evenly split--and that so far I haven't seen a single reference to the third. Credit to Scott for picking up very early on McCain's tactic (or strategy...whatever) of never looking at Obama, something I wasn't noticing; this has emerged as maybe the biggest story of the night, and a major negative for McCain. What I liked most about Obama was that he was the Obama I like most. The best way to explain that is to describe a couple of Obamas I don't like nearly as much. He's never very good when he lingers over sarcasm, something that turns up a lot when he's out campaigning. The most sarcastic he got last night was his line about not inviting enemies over for tea, but he glided over it quickly and it worked. He kept his occasional lapses into folksiness to a minimum--I think Camille Paglia wrote about that a few weeks ago. In short, even though commentators are forever warning that he must never come across as an angry black man, I'd much rather he veer closer to that than trying to be Bill Clinton. Not that he ever approached anger last night, but he was firm and focussed throughout, and if anybody went in there with great misgivings about his supposed lack of experience, I don't see how you could have looked at him and concluded that he was in over his head. If you've been watching him for months, you already knew that he met that particular thresh- old; maybe a certain percentage of voters were learning this for the first time, I don't know. There's so much train-wreck anticipation over Thursday night, it's bound to be a letdown. Unless it's not--unless it ends up being like the most surreal episode of The Surreal Life ever. ----- I'd make a conservative guess that SNL's extended cast is supporting Obama about 19-0, but as a matter of self-interest, they'll fare much better with a McCain- Palin administration. Six months later, Fred Armisen's Obama is just as clunky and unformed as it was in the Democratic-primary sketches; Darrell Hammond's Mc- Cain, meanwhile, is typically spot-on (excellent double stiff-armed karate chop), and Tina Fey's Palin is already legendary. I'm not sure why Armisen's having so much trouble--Barack haters would undoubtedly say that it's because Obama is so clunky and unformed himself. Is race an inhibiting factor? Nah, not with SNL. If you think back on all the great political impressions from SNL's past, they basi- cally fall into two categories: most were great because chillingly accurate (Ack- royd's Carter and Nixon, Phil Hartman's and then Hammond's Clinton, Carvey's Perot, etc.), but some were reconceptualized within a broader outline, leading to some- thing much less specific but unerringly right anyway (Chevy Chase's Ford, Amy Poehler's Hillary). Carvey's Bush I probably falls halfway between; by Carvey's own admission, he exaggerated minor verbal tics to such a degree that the impres- sion eventually bore little resemblance to the original, but he did so so effec- tively that the caricature supplanted the original in the popular imagination. Armisen seems to be aiming for precise mimicry right now; maybe he needs to start over and create a wholly new Obama, one with only a tangential relationship to the original but which makes perfect sense anyway. Of course, Nov. 4 may preemptively solve all his problems. For what it's worth, I thought last night's debate sketch was mediocre, Palin II good but not as good as the first, and Clinton on Weekend Update a classic: "And most especially, thank you Duffy." ----- Proof that some kind of threshold was crossed today: I've shifted my thinking from "How does all of this affect Obama's chances?" to "I've got a mortgage and RRSPs-- how does all of this affect me?" Unfortunately, everything that I know about this kind of stuff comes from the movies. So I'm currently operating under the assumption that when the smoke finally clears, we're going to find out that the entire mess was Uncle Billy's fault. ----- I saw a really good documentary at the Toronto Film Festival a few weeks ago, Harvard Beats Yale 29-29. If you look up the details of the '68 Harvard-Yale game, the title will make sense. There's a striking moment towards the end when, via a title card, we learn that one of the film's main interview subjects has recently died. I thought back to that moment after seeing Dream of Life, the Patti Smith documentary making the rounds right now, because the Smith film is like the com- plete inverse--it's filled with nothing but dead people. I've written before of my basic indifference to Patti Smith's career ("Gloria" excepted), which may have been an advantage in responding to Dream of Life's elliptical detours. Not expect- ing anything, I settled in and followed along with interest. Smith delivers a harsh (and obvious--which is not to say unwarranted) anti- Bush diatribe at one point, charging him with, among much else, "abandoning Alas- ka to the oil companies." Hey, thanks John McCain--thanks for reconnecting us to Alaska. ----- The polls are so good right now, it's unsettling. Is this really happening? Obama has moved to within Texas and Mississippi. Wow. Long story short: I paid $6.70 to become a "Hannity insider." Why? So if it gets to a point where an Obama win looks like a 100% sure thing, I can go on the discus- sion boards and taunt, mock, and ridicule. (I'm very brave that way--97% sure, and I'll hold off.) Right now, for some reason I don't understand, I can't post anything at all. I am able to download podcasts, though, so I went back and dug up the Sept. 4 show, the day after Palin's RNC speech, when Hannity's special brand of idiocy was on overdrive. I tried to upload the section where he was ranting about Obama's sudden anger and panic--something I referred to in an earlier post--but, including the Obama clip he excerpted, it ran over two minutes and the upload wouldn't take. So here's a shorter bit from the top of the show, right after he played a few clips from Palin's speech. "A game-changing moment..." Yes, yes it was--a month later, and she and Katie Couric are still leading the news almost every night. ----- I'm all Palined out. The best line I've read on last night comes from Joe Klein: "The fact that Palin made it through the debate without running off the stage shout- ing, 'I can't do this!' should not obscure the fact that there was only one person tonight whom anyone with any sense--even John McCain, I imagine--would trust as President." She's a phantasm from the mind of Frank Grimes. I've used Grimes before to make the same point in a different context. He was the guy who worked with Homer Simpson at the nuclear plant and was (literally) driven insane by everyone else's obliviousness to Homer's incompetence: "Ah, leave Homer alone, Frank--he's okay." So if you buy her, it's "Ah, leave Sarah alone--she's okay." The rest of us, we're Frank Grimes. In a way, though, maybe it's good that her index cards got her through the night. If she had self-destructed, even though that probably would have assured a lopsided Obama win, I wonder if such a victory would have felt a little hollow--i.e., he didn't really win, McCain just handed it to him. This way, she'll likely fade into the background, her damage real and permanent but just one factor among many if Oba- ma wins. Biden navigated a complicated minefield very well. Even when I was ready to throw in the towel three weeks ago, the one thing I never wavered on was all the hand-wringing going on about Obama not having picked Hillary. Maybe Clinton would have had the latitude that Biden didn't have to dive in and decimate Palin; without doubt, she would have been fully capable of doing so. More likely, though, I think a Clinton-Palin debate would have been governed by a different dynamic: the single biggest factor that cost Clinton the nomination (even though no one really talked about it past a certain point)--the reality that there was always going to be an entrenched percentage of voters who simply didn't like her--would have been a big- ger problem than ever against Palin. Likeability might have been the only obstacle that Biden did not have to find his way around last night. There's a discernable shift underway on Patriot. With Mike Church today, it was "Chairman Mao-bama" and "Heil Obama." Hannity's plugging an upcoming TV show on Ayers and all of Obama's radical friends. Levin was Levin, only more so: he's an idiot, he's an even bigger idiot, and you're an idiot too. The last few days of October should be something.

other pieces