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

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:


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

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

The McCain Campaign: Redefining Hypocrisy

I was just watching Larry King Live (forgive me), and James Carville was talking to Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann from Minnesota, who has now catapulted to the top of my least favorite people list. The two had an exchange that went something like this:

Carville: Sarah Palin is extremely unqualified to be Vice President of the United States.

Bachmann [with vacuous eyes and a shit-eating grin]: I find that comment offensive to women. Sarah Palin didn’t get where she is by riding others’ coattails.

Um, yeah. Carville was justifiably flummoxed as to how his statement could be construed as sexist. Bachmann seemed to be implying that “unqualified” is sexist code for “can’t do it because she’s a woman.” Thus anyone who points out the fact that, relative to all other Vice Presidential candidates in recent history except Dan Quayle, Palin is inexperienced, must be a woman-hater.

This is mind-blowingly hypoctical. Tell me, if it’s inherently prejudiced to point out deficiencies in the past record of non-traditional candidates, then aren’t Republicans racists for knocking Obama’s supposed inexperience?

And if the McCain campaign is really so concerned with giving women their due, why not choose a more accomplished female, who wouldn’t make such a mockery of the Vice Presidency? Continue reading

September 1, 2008 Posted by | John McCain, Media Coverage, Republicans, Sarah Palin | , , , , , , , | Leave a 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.

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

How Important Is Personality?

In his convention speech last night, Obama said that he was ready to show that his “temperament” is better-suited for the presidency than John McCain’s. Obama’s comments beg the question: how much does personality matter?

This may seem a ridiculous question, but in this election, it’s become an important one, given the stark contrast between Obama’s supposed aloofness and McCain’s prickliness. More than any other presidential contest in recent memory, this year’s candidates represent not just different platforms, or even political style, but also significantly different dispositions.

So how much doe these nuts and bolts of personality matter to the presidency, and how do the candidates stack up? The 2004 book Personality, Character, and Leadership in the White House considers the most important dimensions of the presidential psyche to be:

Neuroticism vs. Emotional Stability-Nixon and LBJ were anxious and volatile. FDR and Reagan were “relaxed, secure, well-balanced, and able to see to the heart of problems.”

Extraversion-“warmth, gregariousness…and a tendency to experience positive emotions.” Extraverts included Teddy Roosevelt and Clinton; introverts Coolidge and Hoover. Continue reading

August 29, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, John McCain | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sarah Palin?

Apparently, Alaska governor Sarah Palin has been chosen as McCain’s running mate. I consider this choice another confirmation that this campaign is increasingly defined by the tenor of Barack Obama’s candidacy: even Republicans feel like they need to incorporate some dimension of meaningful change (i.e. a young, female candidate) into their ticket to compete.

I mean come on, do you really think McCain would have chosen Palin–who’s only been governor of Alaska since 2006 and was mayor of a town with a population of 5,400 people before that–if Obama wasn’t running? After all these months of hammering the notion that experience is the most important aspect of a leader, this is McCain’s choice?

Palin also has a history of taking on other Republicans: she fought against Alaska Senator Ted Stevens’ infamous “bridge to nowhere” project and when she ran for governor, it was to unseat another Republican. The Republicans have long been defined by a remarkable degree of party discipline–just compare how quickly they fell into line behind John McCain (who wasn’t all that beloved during the primary) to the ongoing Obama/Hillary infighting that has continued to this day. Yet here McCain has chosen someone who has broken party rank, because that’s a much-needed plus in the “post-partisan” political world that Obama is defining.

For years, Republicans have been more proactive, and Democrats more reactive. But this year, that dynamic seems to be reserved: McCain is fighting on Obama’s terms.

August 29, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, John McCain, Republicans, Sarah Palin | , , , , , | 1 Comment