Friday, August 29, 2008


A veteran to cut your veteran's benefits.

And a woman to end your right to choose.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hillary Clinton Can't Win in 2012

From time to time there's chatter that Senator Clinton is planning a future run, perhaps in 2012 if Obama loses this year. It may be, but if it is, it's deeply unrealistic.

The Clinton-in-2012 speculation relies on the assumption that the political environment in four years will be basically unchanged from the one we inhabit at the moment. That's always a doubtful proposition, but this year it's a complete fantasy.

Our country faces major challenges on many different fronts. John McCain has no serious policies for addressing our current crises, and some fervently-held policies that would exacerbate them. He has no real proposals for our banking crisis, our energy crisis, our economic difficulties or our worsening environment. What proposals he floats are profoundly unrealistic. His ideas of military and foreign policy are almost criminally foolish. Our military is extended beyond its breaking point, and he wants to extend it further. With our international influence in tatters, he wants to abandon internationalism and impose our power solely through military power that we do not, at the moment, possess.

Four years of McCain's leadership will leave this country in such distress that a successful presidential candidate will need to offer either a radical or else a reactionary program, far more extreme than anything Hillary Clinton will ever propose. The swing from Bush to Obama will be enormous; the swing from McCain to a liberal successor would be far larger. The winner of a post-McCain presidency would need either to promise an enormous leftward shift, a renunciation of the status quo at least as profound as 1932's and indeed probably deeper, or else to traffic in a militaristic fearmonging well beyond HRC's capacities. After four years of McCain, the voters will either have accepted the logic of perpetual war, leaving space only for strong man figures, or have rejected the status quo so thoroughly that Obama would be too centrist. In short, four years of McCain will be polarizing, and Clinton cannot occupy either pole effectively.

Indeed, if there was ever a chance to win a campaign for a Clinton Restoration, it may have been 2004. True, HRC had only spent four years in the Senate, but one of the central rationales for her campaign was her experience in her husband's administration. If there was ever a moment when voters would be open to turning back the page and picking up where Bill Clinton left off, it would be in 2004. Now too many events have intervened to make going back to 1999 seem plausible. And in 2012, the Clinton Administration will only seem less relevant, and further away.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Michelle Obama!

Wow. Just wow. Michelle Obama is a better speaker than Hillary Clinton. By a country mile.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Timing Edwards's Repentance

Okay, since apparently not discussing Edwards isn't in the cards ...

I'm interested in Edwards's choice to come clean (or as clean as he thought he had to) on the Friday that the Olympics began. That looks like the classic strategy to minimize coverage, and maybe that's what it is. But it's not quite the classic execution: rather than a 4 pm Friday press release, he actually did the TV interview himself, allowing the networks and the net to run clips all weekend, giving the MSM time to gear up for coverage, and giving the Sunday talking heads time to sharpen their knives. Edwards is in some ways maximizing his coverage right now, rather than minimizing it. So why confess now?

Because Barack Obama is going on vacation.

I'm sure Obama didn't personally direct Edwards to do anything. But it's fairly clear from the press coverage that some combination of the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party told Edwards that he couldn't speak at the convention unless he took steps to deal with the scandal. It's unthinkable that Senator Obama didn't sign off, somehow, on that decision, and even more unthinkable that he couldn't overturn it if he chose. Edwards confessed not because the American mainstream media forced him; they were clearly refusing to cover the story. Edwards confessed because that's how Senator Obama wanted it, and Senator Obama is the boss.

(Parenthetically: Is this confession bad for Obama? Of course it is. That's why he ordered it.)

Now, Obama's vacation has fairly obviously been timed to coincide with the Olympics as well, because the coming week will make it harder for Obama to attract coverage on the trail and harder for McCain to take advantage of the break. (McCain, playing catch-up, has to campaign through the headwind of Olympics coverage.) But the management of the Edwards scandal fits into Obama's schedule, perfectly.

If Edwards was inevitably going to generate a week of scandal coverage, it's best for that week to happen while Obama is off the trail. Obama doesn't have to answer reporter's questions about some other Deomcrat's marriage at every campaign event, and more importantly, Obama doesn't have to put in a full week of barnstorming effort without being able to get the media's attention. Meanwhile, McCain has to plug away in an environment where he can't get any oxygen at all, and can't land effective attacks on Obama because everyone is busy hating on that other Democrat (who isn't running).

Edwards is also, helpfully, attracting the full gossipy attention of media clowns such as Maureen Dowd, who has already filed her first ad hominem thumbsucker about the former senator. Since pundits gravitate toward groundless takedowns of the "Is Obama Too Thin?" variety when they can't see anything substantive to write about, a week off the campaign trail is an invitation for idle mischief by the pundit set. (I'm sure that Dowd was more than ready to free-associate on Hawaiian beaches and fitness to serve.) But now those idlers have a "big" story to keep them occupied. I can't say I'm entirely unhappy about that.

The boss has gone to Hawaii for the week. He wants this whole mess sorted out before he gets back. You don't want him having to deal with this nonsense when he gets back to Chicago.

Friday, August 08, 2008

On Not Discussing John Edwards

Since John Edwards and his antsy pants are being treated, God help us as a news story to rival the war that the Russians started today, let me just point out one of the great things about living in a democracy.

Living in a democracy means not having to care who your political leaders sleep with.

This is one of the chief pleasures of democratic republics, as far as I am concerned. Seriously, would you want to picture George III in bed? If you natter and blatter about former senators tomcatting on their wives, then you refuse to take advantage of one America's greatest public luxuries. It's like living next to the Grand Canyon and staying in your basement all day, or having a lifetime subscription to the Met but deliberately listening to Muzak instead. A little appreciation, please.

It is one of our system's great achievements is to make it entirely irrelevant that our leaders are sexual nitwits. God forbid it be otherwise. Think about the monarchies in which the king or queen's erotic lives have had real political consequences. Think about changing England's national religion (and its foreign alliances) because of who got Henry VIII hot and bothered. Think about worrying if those things would change back because of, say, George IV's taste in women. Think about worrying about who the King of France took as his official mistress, and his unofficial mistress, and what that meant for government policies. And thank the Founders we never have to worry about that. Political happiness is not having to worry about whether the king can perform in bed, or about who coaches his the best performances. Amen.

But of course, we all know Edwards's sex life is supremely unimportant. We know it's not important because we can talk about it so freely.

In systems where the leaders sex lives' actually matter, no one is allowed to discuss their sex lives. This has always been true.

Let's just say there was no public polling about who Henry VIII married next, or who Louis XIV moved to better rooms at Versailles. If you had a complaint about who the king or queen was shtupping or trying to shtup or holding involved negotiations about the possibility of shtupping, your choices were either to keep your tongue in your mouth or have it permanently removed. An English subject named John Stubbs once wrote a pamphlet about how the Queen, Elizabeth I, should absolutely positively not not not marry a foreigner, and above all not that perfumed Frenchman who was courting her. Her Majesty's government listened to his feedback, reflected upon his views, and decided to cut off his right hand.

In a representative democracy, of course, we are free to talk about our leaders' sexual misadventures and follies all we like. But it absolutely pointless, and not a hell of a lot of fun.

Everything They Learned About Patriotism They Learned in Grammar School

So, the other day John Quinn from Parma, Ohio tried to show up Barack Obama by interrupting a policy speech with the Pledge of Allegiance. (h/t Andrew Sullivan and the Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Photographer insists on Pledge of Allegiance before Obama rally

Obama's aplomb is remarkable, and it occurs to me that being able to handle irrational and overwrought people is an important presidential skill. But what's interesting is that the heckler, who identified himself as "John Q. Public," feels that he has scored a major triumph, and continues to admonish the reporters taking his statement afterward:

You all learned the Pledge of Allegiance in first grade ... all right? Your Senator ... your Governor ... nobody started this town hall meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance of the United States of America (sic)? You gotta be serious! Somebody shoulda did that. Don't disrespect that flag!
Making fun of this poor man would be easy, useless, and cruel. I'm sure cable news has already been doing it for hours. And obviously there's a difference between the the leadership of the Republican party and a guy who disrupts public meetings. But this is the difference:

The Republican party only makes the talking points up. Poor Quinn takes them seriously.

What clearly upsets Quinn is a lack of patriotic ritual, which he identifies as patriotism. The flag itself deserves respect. But one can honor a flag with words and dishonor everything that flag stands for. That might be the epitome of Bush conservatism: shred the Bill of Rights but honor the flag.

It reminds me of certain ritualistic or pietistic approaches to religion, where ceremonies and verbal formulas take the place of the actual ethical belief system. It's far, far harder to live a life of Christian kindness, forgiveness, and humility than it is to, say, recite a whole lot of prayers and have a good attendance record at services. (The distance between the two efforts is something like the difference between winning the Olympic Marathon and watching the Olympic Marathon on TV; the latter might or might not be tedious, but you won't strain anything.) There's nothing wrong with these ceremonies and formulas themselves (although Jesus himself vigorously disagreed); every faith has them. The problem lies in treating them as important in themselves rather than as mere reminders. Saying the rosary after looting a charitable foundation is grotesque; singing "The Star Spangled Banner" while the separation of powers erodes is no achievement.

The conservative political strategies of recent years have shamelessly peddled the reduction of both faith and patriotism to a series of effortless gestures. Anyone can wear a flag pin; anyone can stand for the national anthem. It's appealing, because it allows people to feel like patriots without sacrifice. Everything John Quinn Public needs to do to feel like a patriot, he quite literally learned in grade school. No more effort is required to be "patriotic" in this way than was required when you were six. No more will be asked of you, except perhaps to scold and shame people who don't participate in the simple rituals. (Complaining about who does and doesn't wear a flag pin is like complaining about whether the nurses in the charity hospital wear personal crucifixes or not.)

The conservatives, to their shame, have been selling "patriotism" as a fashion choice, although the best of them know better. And they have set the bar for patriotism at a child's height. The questions of how we honor America, and how we commit to the American experiment, are far more difficult and complicated. It's time to make this election about what patriotism really is.