Political Deformity

A Handshake of Carbon Monoxide

Is Obama Fighting Back?

There’s an article up over at The American Prospect arguing that yes, Barack Obama actually is playing hardball this campaign season–so nail-biting liberals should relax. The article’s author, Tim Fernholz, points out that Obama hasn’t acted like Kerry 2.0–that is, he hasn’t taken it in the tuchus from low-down, dirty smearers like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (or, in this case, the low-down, dirty McCain campaign).

This is actually true. The Obama campaign has done a pretty good job of juggling the two primary reactions that you need to play up when an opponent starts playing dirty–and make no mistake, the McCain campaign is playing dirty, suggesting that Obama wants to pervert children and “destroy” Palin as a person. The two responses are (1) righteous indignation and (2) aggressive retaliation.

The Obama camp actually does #1 really well: it turns unapologetic outrage into great political momentum, something Kerry couldn’t do in 2004. Sure, Kerry decried the dirty pool of the Swiftboaters and such, but his campaign never packed the punch you need to turn outrage into momentum, because it never really took the initiative to frame the campaign debate. From day one, Kerry ran as the guy who wasn’t Bush (this is true: one of Kerry’s top campaign advisors talked with me at a bag lunch during an internship back then, and explicitly said that the Kerry campaign strategy was “to be the alternative to Bush.”) In doing so, he limited his ability to turn outrage into something more, something tied into his campaign narrative.

But Obama and Biden, these guys are running on something more. They don’t just want to not be Bush, they are insisting that this country be understood, governed, and engaged with in a much different way than it has been over the past eight years. Thus when the GOP tries to slap them around, they don’t just refute the specific claims, like Kerry did, but they use these instances as representative examples, symptomatic of Republican corruption, selfishness, and failure.

Consider Biden’s recent condemnation of Republicans’ unwillingness to talk about issues and their obsession with character assasination.

This is powerful stuff–why? Because it’s not personal outrage, it’s political outrage–it’s anger that’s entirely consistent with the message of the Obama-Biden campaign. Continue reading


September 11, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, Joe Biden, John McCain | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is John McCain an Australian Sleeper Agent?

A while back, lots of people were making a big stink over the fact that Barack Obama’s middle name is Hussein, and turned it into something of a “fear bomb” used to tie Obama to anti-Americanism, terrorism, and an identity as the scary “other”–basically, a person to whom we shouldn’t entrust our national security.

Eventually, Republicans realized that this was a low blow, even for them, and disavowed the use of “Hussein” as a passive-aggressive slur against Obama. But after months, of in-depth research, sources tell me that the MiddleNameGate isn’t over yet–but this time, the offender is none other than John Sydney McCain.

Yes, that’s right–John McCain’s middle name is Sydney, just like Australia’s largest city. How can we trust McCain with our national security, when he so clearly empathizes with Australia over the U.S.? Just a few weeks ago, sailors form a missile destroyer named the USS John S. McCain (yes, named after McCain), attended a “Hands Across the Sea Concert” in–you guessed it–Sydney, Australia.

Americans should be worried. Australia, after all, started off as a penal colony–McCain’s ties to this island nation clearly indicate a softness on crime and terrorism. Perhaps most damning of all is the photographic evidence that McCain is a no-good Aussie-lover. Remember the picture of Obama in traditional Muslim garb that was circulated around the Internet in hopes of stoking worries that he might in fact be a terrorist? That’s nothing compared to the picture below, dug up from McCain’s own computer, in a folder dubbed “G’day Mate!.”

Truly, this is a man who does not have America’s best interests at heart. Country first, indeed, Senator “Sydney”–so long as that country’s Australia!

Looks like conservatives were right–you really can tell a lot about someone from their middle name.

Note: As you might be able to tell, weekend posts–insofar as there are any–are going to generally be lighter than weekday stuff which is all, y’know, brainy and shit.

September 7, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, Humor, John McCain | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

RNC Live: McCain Goes Obama

McCain is now talking about how he wants to work with Democrats to do the peoples’ work, partisanship-be-damned. He says he’ll take anyone’s hand to get things done, that he’ll have Democrats in his administration, and that everyone needs to work together for the sake of change.

Surely it’s a sign that Republicans are panicking if they’re lifting, wholesale, Barack Obama’s central campaign message, no?

September 4, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, John McCain | , , , | Leave a comment

Why I Like Barack Obama

The RNC has been a very juvenile exercise: lots of chest-beating, derision and slander directed toward Democrats, and a whole lot of desperate attempts at self-affirmation. So how does Barack Obama respond? Why, by splashing a well-worded dose of reality on the proceedings:

Barack Obama said Thursday that attacks on him at this week’s Republican National Convention were no big deal: “I’ve been called worse on the basketball court,” he told reporters at an afternoon press conference.

“What did you guys expect?” he asked, smiling, “This is what they do. They don’t have an agenda to run on. They haven’t offered a single concrete idea so far in two nights about how they would make the lives of middle class Americans better. They’ve spent the entire two nights attacking me or extolling John McCain’s biography, which is fine. They can use their convention time any way they want.”

I like this: he’s calling a spade a spade, and noting that the Republican Convention really is politics as usual for the GOP. The Republicans are itching to bring him down to their level, where they can sling mud in his face. I’m glad he’s not biting–at this point, the Republican playbook has become downright predictable.

Here Obama comes across as the more mature, serious candidate–at a time when America’s problems demand a mature, serious response. So keep throwing your tantrums, Republicans–they only make you look more ineffective and delusional.

September 4, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, Republicans | , , | 2 Comments

Palin As Obama? Heck No

The site Right Wing News has compiled some reactions from right-wing bloggers to Palin’s RNC speech last night. Naturally, they’re thrilled by it. But perhaps the most disturbing reaction that I can find comes from William Lobdell, who was a reporter for the L.A. Times for 14 years:

Palin has just hijacked the presidential campaign. I’ve got a skeptical, Obama-loving wife and some liberal sons, and they all think she killed it...Palin has managed to make Obama look insignificant, McCain appear heroic, and herself: a grassroots American who won’t back down from a fight.

…I wasn’t prepared to like her, and I don’t. I LOVE her.

Governor’s jet on E-Bay? Classic.

Do you hear that? It’s America falling in love with Sarah Palin.

So far, she’s killing it.

Why so disturbing? Because Lobdell was an actual reporter, not just a blogosphere wingnut. And he’s falling for Palin’s “I’m a tough mama, Obama’s a pussy, and that’s all you need to know” act, hook line and sinker.

So, apparently, is Chuck Todd over at MSNBC, who says that “Conservatives have found their Obama.” Oh, come on. Her speech was competent and decently delivered, but so what? I agree with Timothy Noah that there’s no way this speech wouldn’t go over-praised if it was delivered with even the merest hint of gusto (which it was).

Why? Because expectations were set so low for Palin. Continue reading

September 4, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, John McCain, Media Coverage, Republicans, Sarah Palin | , , , | Leave a comment

The Culture Wars Return

As we all know, Sarah Palin was picked in part because of her strong social conservative credentials (she’s staunchly pro-life and a lifetime member of the NRA). Now, according to Politico, the shockwaves of her entrance onto the campaign scene are being felt–the culture wars are back, in a big way:

The campaign of Democrat Barack Obama put up an ad in at least seven key states Tuesday lambasting GOP nominee-to-be John McCain as an enemy of abortion rights.

At the Republican convention here, former Tenn. Sen. Fred Thompson took a shot at Obama’s stand in favor of legal abortion…

…“The choice of Palin is going to bring some of these issues, like abortion, same sex issues, the teaching of evolution in public schools, the whole role of what religion plays in public life, back to the campaign,” said Rob Boston, a senior analyst for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. “Culture war issues reflect a real divide that is evident in society today.”

Before Palin, the match-up of Obama v. McCain didn’t throw a whole lot of red meat to conservative culture warriors. Obama has smartly focused on the performance of the Bush Administration and compromise rather than social issues like womens rights or gay rights; as Senator, McCain has been famously moderate on gun rights and immigration, and used to think that abortions should be allowable in cases of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother. McCain has done his best to veer to the right on all of these issues, but still, he’s made a less-than-convincing point man for the far-right culture crusade.

But Palin changes all that. The culture warriors now have their figurehead. Indeed, when Palin was first announced, Politico reported that the GOP base experienced a collective joygasm of monumental proportions:

“I woke up and my e-mail was just going crazy,” said Charmaine Yoest, head of the legislative arm of Americans United for Life and a former top official in Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign. “And then when it was announced — it was like you couldn’t breathe.”

“My wife and I watched an MSNBC special on her last night,” [said James Muffet, head of Michigan’s Citizens for Traditional Values]. “My wife knew nothing about this woman. But she was in tears listening to her articulate the views she had.”

It really saddens me that the culture wars have been re-ignited. Consider the reactions of activists above. They’re just so divorced from the practical reality of the presidency that it’s scary. 99.999 percent of being president or vice president has absolutely nothing to do with abortion. Is it really so heart-stopping to be presented with a candidate who agrees with you on an issue that comprises about .0001 percent of her job?

And yes, I do understand the rudimentary logic at work here: if a candidate agrees with you on the issues that are important to you, you feel that you can trust them. What I just can’t understand is how people can put so little stock in the actual nuts and bolts of governance–of leading, of managing, of understanding complex problems that pop up in reality, not just in tidy religious doctrines.

I don’t want that mindset influencing this campaign. With George W. Bush, we’ve seen the sort of candidate that it benefits; and we can’t afford to have another incompetent, conservative panderer in the White House again.

September 3, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, John McCain, Media Coverage, Republicans, Sarah Palin | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

McCain Campaign Admits It’s GOP-As-Usual

In a Washington Post interview this morning, Rick Davis, John McCain’s campaign manager, said that “this election is not about issues…[It] is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.”

Okay, this sounds really, really bad–and it is. Davis is admitting that Republicans don’t focus on issues, but personalities. Indeed, this has long been a go-to strategy for the GOP. Republicans effectively framed Dukakis as a weakling by pounding away at his seeming lack of fortitude; Clinton was nailed as being “Slick Willie” and a dishonest womanizer; Kerry was supposedly an effeminate snob; and now they’re telling us that Obama is an un-American “celebrity.”

The personality card also worked in the other direction as well, with Republicans constantly stressing the noble character of their candidates: Reagan as the optimist, Bush II as the cowboy you can have a beer with, and McCain as the indomitable POW.

Democrats are no saints, but the tenor of their presidential campaigns tend to focus on governance–i.e. their priorities and methodology in conducting the affairs of the state–more than the character of candidates. Hence Bill Clinton’s “it’s the economy, stupid,” John Kerry’s emphasis on his readiness to serve and be the anti-Bush, and Obama’s talk about compromise and unity.

In general, Republicans like to attack candidates for who they are; Democrats talk more about how they’ll lead. The GOP is more inclined to, as Fred Thompson just put it in his RNC speech, “remind you of the man behind the vision”–and tear down the other guy. This is smart and sly, yes, but also distortive: people lose site of the actual problems and issues at stake and instead vote for who they like.

Davis has admitted that the McCain campaign is committed to keeping this cycle going. That’s sad, dangerous–and further proof that McCain campaign really is “McSame” when it comes to GOP politics.

September 2, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, Democrats, John McCain, Media Coverage, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Barack and Biden on “60 Minutes” Part II

So here’s Part II of the 60 Minutes interview (Part I is below). Again, pay attention to the way that Obama and Biden interact–very natural, very authentic. Something that struck me in this interview is how well Obama deals with answering questions that, before a lesser politician, would be an invitation to disaster.

In Part I, 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft said that Obama was trying really hard to appeal to blue collar voters by drinking beer, which he “doesn’t even like,” and bowling. These are the type of ridiculous comments that invite politicians to step on their own toes. You can imagine a candidate, shocked by Kroft’s suggestion that he’s not a man of the people, laying his folksiness on way too thick here: “Steve, I love beer. Drink it all the time. Nothing more American than a big, cold brew. And I love bowling. I bowl all the time. I’m an avid bowler.”

Bam! Suddenly you have a clip of the “liberal elitist” clumsily trying to assert his folksiness–something Republicans can point to as proof that Obama is a phony snob, a la John Kerry’s 2003 cheese-steak fiasco.

But Obama doesn’t fall for it. He brushes off the question (“where do you get this stuff?”) and points out the the bowling was about “campaigning” and “having some fun” (imagine that!). Essentially, he offers a common sense response to the kind of ridiculous campaign-season question that we see all too much of nowadays. He simply acts–wait for it–reasonable. And sadly, in American politics, that’s an accomplishment.

Obama is similarly level-headed when, in Part II below. Kroft asks him why he’s not doing better in the polls, given how unpopular the Bush Administration and Republicans in general have become. Here Obama could have decried McCain’s dirty campaigning or offered an empty political platitude (“November is far away”). But instead, he gives a thoughtful answer about how Americans “want to get this right.” This is a good, classy answer to the toughest answer a candidate can face: “why aren’t you winning?”

I know people nail Obama for being aloof, but really, I’m a big fan of the fact that he manages to understand how much of politics–and political coverage–is reckless goading. I don’t want a president who’s going to take the bait every time.

September 2, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, Democrats, Joe Biden, Media Coverage | , , , , | 2 Comments

Barack and Biden on “60 Minutes” Part I

If you haven’t seen the clips of Barack/Biden on 60 Minutes, I’m posting them here, with some commentary. Part I is below, Part II to follow.

Watching this interview, my overriding thought was this: I really like the way that Obama and Biden interact. They seem genuinely friendly with one another, and also have a good fire & ice thing going, what with Obama’s serenity and Biden’s bluster. The one word that I would use to define the Obama/Biden dynamic would be “complementary”–not just as candidates, but also as potential colleagues. They just click.

This isn’t something we see that often in Prez/VP dynamics. In recent years, Republican presidential candidates have picked stooges (Quayle, Palin) or evil geniuses (Cheney). Jack Kemp was neither, but he and Bob Dole were antagonists–as Time magazine pointed out in 1996, Kemp was “partly responsible for the single most painful political betrayal in Dole’s life.” The point is this: the GOP President-Vice President dynamic has always had a deep undercurrent of artificiality to it. They’re rarely collaborations between two like-minded equals.

Democrats have tended to be less extreme in the extent to which they plug in a polarizing VP, but there’s some definite incongruity between Presidents and VPs on the Dem side as well. Kerry and Edwards always had a strained relationship, and that awkwardness came through in their campaigning. And it’s hard to imagine two people who’d relate to each other less than smooth Bill Clinton and dour Al Gore.

But Obama and Biden really seem to be on the same wavelength. Obviously, all presidential tickets are a marriage of political convenience, at least to some extent. But I like seeing this kind of instinctive harmony between a President and his Vice President.

The ease and comfort with which Obama and Biden interact is particularly striking in contrast to McCain, who has partnered up with someone who he met all of three times before choosing as VP. The fact that McCain feels the need to make clumsy assertions that Palin is his “partner and soulmate” really drives home how inorganic that political union really is.

September 2, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, Democrats, Joe Biden, John McCain, Media Coverage, Republicans, Sarah Palin | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sloppy Seconds/Timing Is Everything

Question: if the order of the conventions had been reversed–i.e. if the Republicans had preceded the Democrats–would we be seeing Sarah Palin on McCain’s ticket?

We all know that Palin was something of an impulsive choice. The Politico story I link to in my previous post notes that “McCain only spoke with Palin about the vice presidency for the first time on Sunday…and was seriously considering Lieberman until days ago.” And according to many reports, McCain had spoken to Palin all of two times–ever–before making her his VP pick. It’s also important to consider the timing of McCain’s VP announcement: after Obama’s DNC speech which pulled in an historic 40 million viewers. The point here was, of course, to steal Obama’s thunder and produce headlines like this one, claiming that “Obama loses spotlight.”

Outside of Palin’s supeficial demographic appeal as a socially conservative female, it really seems that there’s an element of conscious shock value to McCain’s pick. Though it would take well-connected Beltway insiders to really confirm or refute this, I would guess that the McCain campaign saw momentum building throughout the DNC and said “oh crap, we need to make a splash in order to steal the show” (excuse the mixed metaphor). Enter Palin. But if the GOP had held their shindig before the Democrats, there wouldn’t be such pressure to match Democratic interia.

Continue reading

August 30, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, Democrats, Joe Biden, John McCain, Republicans, Sarah Palin | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment