Monthly Archives: October 2008

The Unthinkable

The hatred spewing at the McCain/Palin rallies is sinking to a frightening level.

“Terrorist!” one man screamed Monday at a New Mexico rally after McCain voiced the campaign’s new rhetorical staple aimed at raising doubts about the Illinois senator: “Who is the real Barack Obama?”

“He’s a damn liar!” yelled a woman Wednesday in Pennsylvania. “Get him. He’s bad for our country.”

At both stops, there were cries of, “Nobama,” picking up on a phrase that has appeared on yard signs, T-shirts and bumper stickers.

McCain, in his town hall meetings, is giving a platform to the rants.  He could stop them, but he lets the hate come forth.

And Thursday, at a campaign town hall in Wisconsin, one Republican brought the crowd to its feet when he used his turn at the microphone to offer a soliloquy so impassioned it made the network news and earned extended play on Rush Limbaugh’s program.

“I’m mad; I’m really mad!” the voter bellowed. “And what’s going to surprise ya, is it’s not the economy — it’s the socialists taking over our country.”

After the crowd settled down he was back at it. “When you have an Obama, Pelosi and the rest of the hooligans up there gonna run this country, we gotta have our head examined!”

This is different from past elections — materially different.

Such contempt for Democrats is, of course, nothing new from conservative activists. But in 2000 and 2004, the Republican rank and file was more apt to ridicule Gore as a stiff fabulist or Kerry as an effete weather vane of a politician.

…Now, though, the emotion on display is unadulterated anger rather than mocking.
Activists outside rallies openly talk about Obama as a terrorist, citing his name and purported ties to Islam in the fashion of the viral e-mails that have rocketed around the Internet for over a year now.

Some of this activity is finding its way into the events, too.

On Thursday, as one man in the audience asked a question about Obama’s associations, the crowd erupted in name-calling.

“Obama Osama!” one woman called out.

And twice this week, local officials have warmed up the crowd by railing against “Barack Hussein Obama.”

Some Republicans worry about this.

…The raw emotions worry some in the party who believe the broader swath of swing voters are far more focused on their dwindling retirement accounts than on Obama’s background and associations and will be turned off by footage of the McCain events.

John Weaver, McCain’s former top strategist, said top Republicans have a responsibility to temper this behavior.

“People need to understand, for moral reasons and the protection of our civil society, the differences with Sen. Obama are ideological, based on clear differences on policy and a lack of experience compared to Sen. McCain,” Weaver said. “And from a purely practical political vantage point, please find me a swing voter, an undecided independent, or a torn female voter that finds an angry mob mentality attractive.”

…“It’s time that you two are representing us, and we are mad,” reiterated the boisterous Republican at McCain’s town hall in Wisconsin Thursday. “So go get ’em!”

“I am begging you, sir, I am begging you — take it to him,” pleaded James T. Harris, a local talk radio host at the same event, earning an extended standing ovation.

“Yosemite Sam is having the law laid down to him today in Waukesha, Wis.,” quipped Limbaugh on his show Thursday, referring to the GOP nominee. “This guy, this audience member, is exactly right,” the conservative talk show host said of the first individual.

“You are running for president. You have a right to defend this country. You have a responsibility to defend this country and not just fulfill some dream you had eight years ago running for president against Bush. It’s time to start naming names and explain what’s actually going on, because, Sen. McCain, the people of this country are dead scared about what we face if you lose.”

No one I’ve read yet says the unthinkable, but they’re coming close.  The author uses the word “lynching,” but what McCain is stoking is an assassination attempt against Obama.

NY Times: McCain Made Us Do It

You often hear from conservatives that the mainstream media are in the tank for Obama.  I wonder how many conservatives are going to object to a startling admission by the New York Times.

[Bill Keller, executive editor of The Times] told Politico that the paper was motivated to report out the [former 60s radical William] Ayers link because the McCain campaign has been pushing it — not the other way around.

“We’ve reported the Ayers relationship before, and we had it on our ‘to do’ list for a while to take a more comprehensive look,” Keller said, in an e-mail. “When the McCain campaign began to make it a major focal point of ads and stump speeches, we decided the time was right.”

“It didn’t take any prodding,” Keller continued. “When the conversation on something controversial reaches a certain level, curious readers look to The Times to help them sort the facts from the fictions and figure out what to make of it. That’s what we did.”

In other words, because John McCain wanted to spread the story — one that has been reported many times since the connection between Obama and Ayers first surfaced — the Times obliged.

I’ll say this ’til I’m blue in the face:  Demand the media cover a a story you want and they will oblige.  They have relinquished any pretense of being a filter.  They are simply a conduit for whatever campaigns want, if the story is salacious or likely to be controversial.

Let’s prepare for the in-depth story of whether evolution or creationism is the true science.

The Post vs. AP

Some Democrats have criticize the Associated Press for being bias in favor of Sen John McCain.  The focus of that criticism has been Washington bureau chief Ron Fournier after emails surfaced that he exchanged with Karl Rove.

But looking at their recent coverage, I must give the AP credit for a technique they are using that I first saw Politico executive editor Jim VandeHei use when he was with The Washington Post.  That is, reporting a misleading statement but then immediately correcting the record.  A perfect example is to contrast the way the two news organizations handled Cindy McCain’s charge that Obama voted against funding the troops.

The Post’s Mike Shear reports:

Cindy McCain led the way, accusing the Democrat of voting against funding U.S. troops in Iraq, which at one time included the McCains’ son.

“The day that Senator Obama decided to cast a vote to not fund my son when he was serving sent a cold chill through my body,” Cindy McCain told a crowd of several thousand supporters in Bethlehem, Pa. “I would suggest Senator Obama change shoes with me for just one day and see what it means to have a loved one serving in the armed services.”

The Obama campaign said McCain has distorted his vote, which was an attempt to force Bush to come up with a plan to withdraw troops from Iraq by setting a cutoff date.

The AP reports:

Also on Wednesday, Cindy McCain criticized Obama for voting against a bill to pay for the troops in Iraq.

“The day that Sen. Obama cast a vote not to fund my son when he was serving sent a cold chill through my body, let me tell you,” she told a Pennsylvania crowd before introducing the Arizona senator and his running mate Sarah Palin.

In fact, Obama consistently voted for Iraq troop financing [emphasis added] except on one occasion. In May 2007, he voted against a troop-funding bill because it did not also specify steps for a withdrawal.

And McCain has not always voted for money for the troops. On one troop-funding bill supported by Obama, McCain missed the vote and encouraged President Bush to veto it, because it did call for withdrawal.

I think it important that reporters point out clearly when there is a misleading characterization.  In The Post’s case, it reported Obama’s response, a good thing, but it is more effective — and I think more objective and fair journalism — when the reporter states the facts and how one party or the other is misleading the public, especially when it is a case of hypocrisy.

Invest for the Long-Term?

CNBC just reported that if your grandparents had bought GM stock in 1929 , as of today, they wouldn’t have made a dime (dividends excluded).

Down 5,000 Pts.: The Addict Crashes

The Dow Jones Industrial Average almost fell to 9200 points today.  That level is sure to be broken before the market begins its slow recovery. 

What needs to change in the American form of capitalism?  Bob Herbert has some thoughts.

…the need to stabilize the financial system is obvious. But the U.S. economy is never going to be really healthy until the country figures out how to provide work at decent pay for all, or nearly all, of the men and women who want to work.

Certainly, the job market is crumbling, but getting it back to where it was just a year or two ago isn’t enough.  There needs to be fundamental changes in the way Americans do business.

The tight credit markets are the near-term problem, but the long-range problem is that we borrow too much.  “We” meaning American business and American individuals.  Obviously, there’s a problem with how we borrow for homes.  The home construction business, along with real estate agents, mortgage brokers, and banks have all conspired to sell the idea that we should all own a home.  And that it must be a detached home or at least a duplex, with a plot of earth to call our own.  Really?  Is that what we want or what we’ve been programmed to want.  Obviously, it’s not always a good investment.  My wife and I bought our first Virginia home in 1989 and sold it six years later for a loss.  The same was true of a house we bought in Texas.  It’s not always a good investment, much like the stock market.  (If you invested in a S&P index fund 10 years ago, you would have lost money as of today.)

But our borrowing binge goes beyond houses.  Cars, furniture, electronics, vacations, home improvements, all paid by incurring debt.  Many folks will say so what?  That’s normal.  It may be normal but it’s what helped get us here.  My folks became if not wealthy, certainly “well-to-do.”  Once my father retired at age 62, he was set for life.  He’s gone, but my mother, 87, can live wherever she wants at a very comfortable level even if she lives to 110.  Their financial secret wasn’t good investing.  It wasn’t luck, or even a great career.  My mother never worked; my father was a government bureaucrat, a job he was glad to have given his lack of even a high school education.  They made their money the really old fashioned way:  They saved it.  He was tight with a buck, although most severely on himself, not his family.  And he always paid cash.

Having just moved my mother near us, I’ve become guardian of the family papers.  Going through one box I found the deed for their first home — $7,750 and a $29 a month mortgage.  But after a couple of years, they realized they would be paying a couple thousand dollars in interest.  So they paid it off early.  They bought three houses after that one, all by cash.  He never bought a car on credit, much less furniture or a TV.   

Our country’s savings rate fell below break even a few years ago.  We weren’t saving more than we were spending.  And it shouldn’t be necessary that American business needs huge credit lines to survive.  In the last couple of weeks, credit has tighten too much, but businesses, too, can wean themselves from chronic credit.

If there is one thing President Obama must challenge Americans to do is to wean themselves from excessive credit.

Do we have the discipline for that?  Do we understand the consequences of mortgaging our future to foreign capital?  Do we realize that our position as the global market leader is at stake?  It’s a lesson someone needs to teach us.

Debate Q and A

Tonight's debate has a different dynamic that will change how the candidates answer the questions.  When it's a moderator asking them, a deflected answer is filtered through the audience's if not disdain for, then at least indifference to, the media.  In many cases, the public likes to see candidates thwart the media, giving those snobbish, elite reporters their due.

But when the candidate ignores an Everyman's question, it's a direct snub.  They don't like it.  Hence, I expect it will be less likely that McCain and Obama will do as much dodging.

So what will be the questions asked?  I'm not sure.  I don't know how they will be screened.  But I hope Obama is ready for certain ones:

Q: Won't raising taxes hurt the economic recovery?

A: My opponent's entire economic plan revolves around only one solution, which is to cut taxes.  During the past eight years, we've had some of the largest tax cuts in history.  How do you like the economy we got from those cuts? 

My opponent and his Republicans trickle down theorists continue to regurgitate the discredited idea that tax cuts help the economy.  Truth is, there is no evidence that this is true.  Our country has done well in times when taxes were raised, for example, the 90s under Bill Clinton.  And the country has tanked with thousands of jobs lost and wages reduced when taxes are cut.  For example, the last eight years.  So the next time you hear John McCain regurgitate that tired line about tax cuts, ask him for proof, and then do the research yourself.  It simply isn't true.

Under my plan, 95% of all Americans will get a tax cut, but not the top 5%.  Adjusting the tax code will help level the playing field.  But those tax cuts alone won't fix our economy.  We need greater transparency in the financial markets, so consumers know what's in that too-good-to-be-true mortgage.  We need better regulations to prevent the excesses of Wall St. — regulations that my opponent has consistently opposed during his nearly three decades in Washington.  We need reform of corporate boards of directors, who are hand picked by the CEO.  Those directors, given a huge payment to serve on the board, then turn around and approve huge salaries and golden parachutes for the very CEOs they are supposed to be holding accountable.  It's a shell game.  Bottom line is that we need to make sure that the corporate executives have to work just as hard as the worker on the assembly line to make money.  It's called fairness.  My opponent obviously doesn't believe in the American value of fairness.  His tax cut program will give thousands to the super rich and  chump change for the rest of us.

Q: What about William Ayers, Tony Rezko and Jeremiah Wright?  What does that tell us about your character?

A.  You know this tactic.  It's from the Karl Rove handbook.  When you don't have answers for the questions people are asking, smear your opponent.  I think the American people are tired of it.  The stakes are too high for us to be diverted from the key issues we face as a nation. 

If you want to judge me based on what someone who lives in my neighborhood did when I was eight years old, that's your privilege.  If my opponent wants to talk about those people, that's his privilege.  If he wants, we can talk about Charles Keating — or even first wives — if he wants to debate ethics, morality and truthfulness. 

I want to talk about what keeps you up at night — our kids educational opportunities, our shrinking 401ks, our healthcare, and our collective future in a world that has lost respect for America and where terrorists are left to run free while George Bush and John McCain start wars that have nothing to do with terrorism. 

My opponent once said he wouldn't employ such shameful campaign tactics.  Of course, there are a lot of things — tax cuts, Wall St. regulations — and many other issues where my opponent has changed his mind to help himself win this election. 

It's clear that many Americans are hurting due to the disastrous policies of George Bush, who my opponent supports 90% of the time.  I want to talk about where we go from here.  How do we rekindle the American Dream?  how do we ensure fairness and honesty in our economy?  How do we secure the futures of our children and grandchildren?  If a 60s radical is what keeps you up at night, John McCain is your man.  He doesn't want to talk about the economy because he has no plan.

Q: What are the three things you would do to turn around the economy?

A: One demand corporate responsibility, not only from the CEO, but his senior staff and from the board.  I'm not talking about just excessive pay and golden parachutes.  We need to revise our laws so that those who betray the public and stockholders' trust will find themselves in court, defending themselves against charges of corruption and fiduciary irresponsibility.

Two, we will level the playing field, so that work is valued as much as capital.  The American worker is the most productive in the world, and we work longer hours than most others in industrialized countries.  Yet our standard of living is declining.  The average American worker is working longer hours for less take home pay than ever before.  That's in part because of laws, regulations and rules that make it easier for the well-off to take a greater share of the American workers' productivity and turn it into more money for themselves and less for the rest of us.

Three, we must invest in the kinds of things that help all of us and keep American jobs here.  We need to build and repair our roads and bridges.  We need to upgrade our electrical grid so that our entire country can be served by the fastest and most reliable electricity and information services.  We need to invest in alternative energies that keep jobs here and reduce our dependence on not just foreign oil, but oil in general.  Our planet is dying from our use of fossil fuels.  We must reverse that.  And with a commitment to build our infrastructure and invest in new energy we can put many unemployed Americans back to work.  Drill, baby, drill does nothing to help us today and by all indications would have negligible impact.

So the first three things I would do to revitalize the economy are: corporate responsibility and transparency.  A level playing field, and investment in our roads and electrical system and in alternative energies.  Those are the things I would focus on first.

John Kennedy challenged us to send a man to the moon.  Many thought it was a pipe dream.  But Americans came through.  Freeing ourselves of oil and other fuels that harm our planet and ensuring that we change corporate socialism back in to good old American capitalism are goals we can easily meet if we work together.

Q. Why do you think getting out of Iraq is good for America?

A. One, we harmed ourselves and our reputation by going into Iraq.  To many, including those in countries that have been our allies, instead of being the shining light on the hill, we are the arrogant "strike first and ask questions later" world bully.

Two, it is diverting resources from the military actions we need to take — like ridding the Taliban from Afghanistan and capturing Al Qaeda leaders  along its borders. 

Three, the war is draining our economy and preventing us from investing in programs that improve our standard of living. 

Four, the debt the war is piling on our children and grandchildren is unconscionable.  We have suffered through eight years, where John McCain has been complicit, of deficit spending — not to improve our lives but to fight a war the overwhelming majority of Americans now know we didn't need to wage.

Five, the overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide have the same ideals and values we do.  The radical Islamists are rejected by mainstream Muslims.  We need to build our relations with the moderate Muslim world and partner with them to overthrow the terrorists.  That's much harder to do when you are simultaneously destroying the infrastructure of their country.  You can't win hearts and minds with bombs.

Finally, I hope Barack Obama has developed a sense of humor, preferably a sarcastic one, by tonight's debate.  It's a tall order. But Ronald Reagan used it brilliantly; Obama — and indeed many progressives — also need to realize that unfair charges can often be dismissed with humor and that it's much better than being red-faced all the time with moral outrage.

Palin Outperforms, Biden Outshines

Certainly, Sarah Palin exceed expectations, but she could not overcome Sen. Joe Biden command of the issues, and in a surprising development, his strong and focused articulation of the argument against the McCain/Palin ticket.

As I wrote the other day, I worried that Biden could have appeared condescending or make one of his famous gaffes.  He did neither.  In fact, he gave as strong a debate performance as I've ever seen, not just from him, but from any presidential or vice presidential candidate in a long time.

The adrenalin was evident in both candidates from the beginning.  They spoke too quickly, a problem, Biden eventually overcame, while Palin did not.

The goal of any debate candidate should be to make a few key points clearly and forcefully.  That's more difficult to do when you rush through your narrative.  To do that, you need to slow down, especially when you get to those key points.  Biden finally slowed down and employed another key tactic: he repeated himself.  "let me say that again," he said.  That drives home the point.  Palin, meanwhile, had a harder time, slowing down.  She seemed to be getting through her points as quickly as she could and then, to her credit, not digging herself a hole as she did in recent interviews.

In fact, she came out a little stronger than he did on looking confident. But as the debate went on, she seemed to lose a bit of that confidence.  And I'm sure most viewers caught and reacted negatively to her statement that she wasn't necessarily going to answer the questions asked.  It was a clear signal that "I'm not going to talk about anything I don't understand." 

And I think clearly Gwen Ifill was reticent to call her on it.  The only time she noted that an answer wasn't given was when she thought both candidates fell short.  It proves that the GOP is much more effective in working the refs.  Mostly, because Dems refuse to do it.  Obama, for example, took the bait to be interviewed by Bill O'Reilly a few weeks ago, while I am sure that Palin will not come on an MSNBC show this campaign.  Dems won't call her out and I'm not sure that the MSNBC hosts will do it either.

The only stumbles Biden had was when using numbers to attack McCain's health care plan.  Numbers are tricky in a debate.  You need to keep them to a few, slow down and repeat them to make your point. His "bridge to nowhere" comment was the only zinger of the night.

I was disappointed that he didn't attack her hypocrisy on pork barrel projects, especially the Bridge to Nowhere.  A mere mention was all that was needed.  Also, he missed an opportunity when she talked about her bipartisan approach.  He could have pointed out that she had a history of firing people she didn't agree with and made the parallel to McCain's' tendency to demonize his opponents.  It would have been a good time to mention McCain's negative and dishonest ads.  I wish he had addressed her more often, rather than addressing "Gwen."

As the debate wore on, Palin wore out.  She started to ramble as she did with her Pakistan/Iran comparison.  Talking too fast exacerbated the problem.  People were left shaking their heads, "What did she say?"

CNN used their "meter" where voters in a focus group they convened could respond positively or negatively in real time, as the candidates were speaking.  When Biden called for the end of the Iraq War, he got very positive feedback, even from men.  When she then talked about vicotry, the meters went in the other direction.

Biden also got the last word on a couple questions.  He worked the clock well.

The instant poll suggests Biden was the clear winner, especially among independents and uncommitted voters.  But a CNN poll said she came off as more likable.  That surprises only in that I din't think Biden did anything to hurt his likability quotient.

And I loved his talking about losing his wife and duaghter.  It was a real moment that will certainly served him, and perhaps Obama, with women voters.

Finally, my wife, as I'm sure many other did, groaned when he said McCain was "a good man."  Obama was criticized for saying "John was right" too often.  But given the feedback Obama got on the debate and with McCain's seeming to ignore him, I beginning to think that it's a good strategy.  It says to the voter, "I'm gong to be fair and civil."  The elctorate is craving that.

Bailout is Back at Post

After a day when The Washington Post seemed to make a concerted effort to avoid using “bailout” to describe the bill working its way through Congress, today’s the word is back in headlines and its stories (and here).   I guess the reading public didn’t feel heroic and and wasn’t in the mood to help Wall St. “recover.”  Jonathan Weisman still likes “rescue.”