Political Deformity

A Handshake of Carbon Monoxide

Palin’s Interview Report Card

So the first part of Palin’s interview with Charlie Gibson just aired, giving fresh meat to the pundit class. Here’s how I think her performance fared in a few key areas.

Poise: B-

Okay, this may seem pretty inside baseball, but bear with me here: Palin’s body language made it clear that she’s not ready for prime time. She began the interview surprisingly calm, but as Gibson–who seemed amusingly underwhelmed the entire time–asked tougher questions, Palin began to get tense. Nothing overt or over the top, but she began to slouch a little bit; she leaned forward too much, her hand gestures became almost comically expressive, like she was trying too hard. Check out this screen grab I pulled from abc.com and see if you can get a sense of how Palin slowly scrunched down into defense-mode:


Continue reading


September 11, 2008 Posted by | Media Coverage, Sarah Palin | , , , , | 2 Comments

Selective Headlines on Biden/Palin

So the media, which spent so much time needling through the seedy underbelly of Palin’s life before last night’s speech, has now fixated on a new narrative, moving from “what was McCain thinking?” to “My God, she’s fantastic.” This of course, makes for a great story: Palin is now the underdog that blew away naysayers; the down-home American who took on the big boys; the Ms. Smith gone to Washington.

News outlets are so oddly fixated on this new arc of Palin as the come-from-nothing -heavy-hitter, that they’re even undermining their own reporting. The New York Times has a story titled “Biden on Palin: ‘Whoa'” The suggestion here, of course, is that Palin impressed Biden so much he was speechless. But here’s what Biden actually said about Palin’s speech:

“It was a very skillfully written, very skillfully delivered speech. But there was not a word about the middle class or health care or how people are going to fill up their gas tanks or a single word about how we’re going to get our kids through college.”

Even though the Times reported this comment, they chose to grab their headline from the following:

“I thought ‘Whoa,’ ” Mr. Biden said [about Palin’s zingers toward Obama]. “They’re good, funny lines, but I’m glad they’re not about me.”

Biden’s not speechless about Palin’s skill or competence, he’s just saying “hey now, that’s harsh.” That’s not what the headline suggests, however.

Other major newspapers are also playing up the ‘Biden’s blown away’ angle. The Wall Street Journal blog has a piece headlined “Biden Praises Palin for ‘Amazing Speech’.” Here again, Biden says the speech was good, but utterly lacking in substance. Why not have a headline saying “Biden: Palin’s Speech Has No Answers for America” or something similar? The Washington Post also says that “Biden Acknowledges Palin’s ‘Great Night'”, even though, in the same article, Biden says that “I was…impressed with what I didn’t hear. I didn’t hear a word mentioned about the middle class.”

You can tell a lot about the story that the media tries to tell from events based on the headlines. It seems that they’re dead-set on the “underdog breaks out” arc for Palin, emphasizing how she’s impressed a 36-year veteran of the Senate. That’s an exciting tale, but the truth is that Biden’s just being civil.

Oddly enough, after doing its best to eviscerate her before her speech, the media now seems eager to trump Palin up into some sort of phenomenon.

September 4, 2008 Posted by | Media Coverage, Sarah Palin | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 to Drop Palin?

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow thinks that it’s in the cards: Think Progress has a clip of her saying that “it is becoming less likely by the hour that Palin will still be John McCain’s nominee even by the end of the week.” Joshua Green sheds some light on how the Palin-dropping process might work in The Atlantic:

At any point before tomorrow night, McCain could simply replace Palin. But once she formally accepts her nomination, he’ll no longer have the power to do so unilaterally. According to Ben Ginsberg, the former general council at the Republican National Committee, Republican rules stipulate that the 168 members of the national committee would need to ratify any replacement to make it official…

…such a vote would almost certainly be a formality. “The members of the Republican national committee would be overwhelmingly inclined to follow the wishes of the nominee in any situation in which this rule got invoked, unless it were someone completely outside the mainstream of the Republican Party,” [said Ginsburg].

Still, I don’t think McCain will drop Palin. To do so would be political suicide, as it’d be an admission that McCain’s first big test of judgment–picking a president-in-waiting–was an absolute disaster.

Okay, I guess the one thing in McCain’s corner is that Palin has a great excuse for stepping down: she’s a mother of five, has one child with Downs syndrome, and has a 17 year-old daughter who’s pregnant. This is quite a hectic and demanding personal life–one that could easily be cited as a reason why Palin can’t run.

“I do not think that I, in good faith, could give the position of vice-president the time and attention it deserves because of the responsibility of caring for my wonderful family,” she’d say. This would be a one-two punch, as she’d ostensibly be putting family first (because she wants to care for her kids) and country first (because she thinks the U.S.A. needs a fully committed VP). Family values and flag-waving conservatives would probably admire such a narrative, whether it’s baloney or not.

If Palin is going to make an exit, that’s probably how it’ll go down. McCain could still pretend that he was right about her and that, like him, Palin selflessly puts others before her own interests. Bullet dodged, right?

Not quite. No matter what fairy tale is spun around a Palin departure, McCain could never talk his way out of the fact that he should have vetted her to acknowledge any and all potential conflicts with her candidacy before he picked her. Regardless of whether or not he’s right about her character, he needs to be right about her readiness to be Vice President. And if she leaves, it’ll be proof that he wasn’t. There’s no way that dropping Palin can be anything but a catastrophe for McCain.

So here’s hoping it happens.

September 3, 2008 Posted by | 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

McCain Campaign Hates Journalism

So apparently John McCain has canceled a long-awaited appearance on Larry King tomorrow night in order to punish CNN for being too inquisitive toward McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds. The NYT recounts the exchange that cheesed off Camp McCain:

“Can you tell me one decision that she made as commander in chief of the Alaska National Guard, just one?” [CNN reporter Campbell Brown] asked.

Mr. Bounds responded, “Any decision she has made as the commander of the National Guard that’s deployed overseas is more of a decision Barack Obama’s been making as he’s been running for president for the last two years.”

Ms. Brown pressed again, saying: “So tell me. Tell me. Give me an example of one of those decisions.”

To which Mr. Bounds said, “Campbell, certainly you don’t mean to belittle every experience, every judgment she makes as commander.” The argument devolved from there, with no real resolution.

Brown’s question was fair. McCain has lauded Palin as “commander in chief of the Alaska National Guard” and talked about how her oldest son is about to be deployed to Iraq–presumably to play up her familiarity with military and security matters. Yet, according to the AP, the picture is a little muddier than McCain would have us believe:

Maj. Gen. Craig Campbell, adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard, considers Palin “extremely responsive and smart” and says she is in charge when it comes to in-state services, such as emergencies and natural disasters where the National Guard is the first responder.

But, in an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday, he said he and Palin play no role in national defense activities, even when they involve the Alaska National Guard. The entire operation is under federal control, and the governor is not briefed on situations.

You can see why there might be some confusion as to what decision-making capacity Palin really has when it comes to the 4,000 member Alaskan National Guard. Yet McCain’s campaign says that Brown’s question was “unfair.” Hrm. I guess it’s unfair because it’s trying to clarify exactly what happened in the real-world–and as a great man once said, “reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Man, whatever happened to the straight-talk express?

September 2, 2008 Posted by | John McCain, Media Coverage, Republicans, Sarah Palin | , , , , , | 1 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

Vietnam-Vet Man Whores

Hey, remember the 2004 election, when Rush Limbaugh called John Kerry a gigolo because he married into money?

Hey, remember how John McCain, like John Kerry, married a rich heiress–but only after leaving his first wive following her disfigurement in a horrific car accident?

Hey, remember how both McCain and Kerry are Vietnam war heroes?

So why the heck doesn’t McCain’s personal life get the same bad rap as Kerry’s did in ’04?

About a week ago, Glenn Greenwald dug into the issue a bit further to highlight the ridiculous double standard that brands Kerry a whore but leaves McCain unmolested. It’s worth checking out, if only to get a sense of (a) how brutally Kery was smeared throughout the 2004 campaign and (b) to observe yet another example that contrasts how Republicans fight dirty and Democrats pull their punches (Consider the ubiquitous Democrat refrian of “I have the greatest respect for John McCain…” We certainly didn’t hear similar praise from Republicans in 2004 toward Kerry, who received two Purple Hearts and a friggin’ Silver Star in ‘Nam!).

September 1, 2008 Posted by | Democrats, John McCain, Media Coverage, Republicans | , , , , , | Leave a comment