Monday, September 29, 2008

VOLUNTARY CONSERVATION OF HOUSEHOLD ENERGY IS LOOKING PRETTY DAMN GOOD ABOUT NOW. Well, looks as if they heard me. But there's no point in celebrating -- some version of the "crap sandwich," almost certainly with extra crap, will pass this week. Dennis Kucinich, Ron Paul, Jose Serrano and a few others may be dissenting in earnest, but I'm sure most of these guys are just working angles.

Playful as I have been on this subject, I don't really want things to get worse even to get better. I'm still convinced that a big bath is coming, and the current shenanigans will only postpone the inevitable, but I honestly appreciate and sympathize with the candor of Ross Douthat when he says, "If the defeat of the bailout is a victory for liberty, it's a victory whose costs I'm not prepared to bear." Maybe that's because, like Douthat (though for different reasons), I'm accustomed to read the crackpot millenarian Rod Dreher, whose hope for a brotherhood of godly paupers after the collapse of the world economy usually stirs me to reactionary consumerism. If our dysfunctional politics has made it impossible to strike a balance between the good and the bountiful, I'd rather reform the politics than celebrate the collapse as a way of getting back to neutral. (Interestingly, I see Dreher now wants us all to "pray for stability.")

The problem with the payoff plan is that it allows an end run around reform. To this moment, conservatives are more dedicated to the go-go economy than to the citizens who are supposed to be its beneficiaries. Megan McArdle compares the anti-bailout movement to the mice of fable who resolved to bell the cat, but had no means to do it. That's a hell of an analogy: the citizens of an alleged republic are mice and the economy a monster that will kill them if they attempt even the slightest modification of its lethal power.

I'm sorry FDR isn't around to get a laugh out of it. Hell, maybe I should send it to Jimmy Carter -- and include some of the columns in which McArdle tries to scare us with stories of 70s inflation -- to whom it may give at least a rueful chuckle. After all, he was the guy we blew off in order to embark on our long binge of deregulation and market-worship. Maybe the spectacle of an MBA President vainly trying to get fellow Republicans to support a Wall Street bailout has already got him doubled over. At the very least he must be thanking God for allowing him to live this long.

I have no faith that the current batch of Democrats can put even a little more muscle in the bill, but I wish they'd try. Conservatives are reduced to trying to convince people that the system is in collapse because Democrats made banks give money to Negroes and hire homosexuals. If not now, when?
IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED... A recent rightwing outrage du jour was Obama's soldier bracelet, mentioned during the debate. Apparently the soldier's mother had asked Obama not to use it in the campaign. But it turns out Mom was okay with Obama's citation of the bracelet in his reply to McCain.

A million all-caps emails have probably already been circulated, but these guys have to make a gesture in a public forum, so Jonah Goldberg avails one of those "reader emails" that occasionally spice up The Corner:
Since the mother is an Obama supporter, I expect right about now Obama is contacting her and instructing her to say he had permission to mention her son's name in the debate. It's a total lie, but, as always, he'll get away with it.
Damn Obama and his dark power to cloud grieving mothers' minds! Oh well, back to calling him a Muslim.
DEBATE CLUBBING. I have a new Voice column today wrapping up rightwing blog reactions to Friday's debate. We already got a head-start on this subject here, but as you might imagine, Obama's post-debate poll jump has just made things more entertaining.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

DEAL ME OUT. In a brilliant New York Times front-pager, Gretchen Morgenson shows how an AIG subsidiary called AIG Financial Products created "collateralized debt obligations" that provided a further layer of insulation between the global insurer and the increasing debt it was covering:
Because the underlying debt securities -- mostly corporate issues and a smattering of mortgage securities -- carried blue-chip ratings, A.I.G. Financial Products was happy to book income in exchange for providing insurance. After all, Mr. Cassano [AIGFP's head] and his colleagues apparently assumed, they would never have to pay any claims.
AIGFP saw huge, apparently insubstantial gains from these debt packages, and their shakiness seems to have somehow gone unnoticed by the U.S. Office of Thrift Supervision, whose duty it was to monitor them. When AIGFP's packages came a-cropper, AIG found itself called upon to make good, which precipitated its downward spiral.

Morgenson reveals also that Goldman Sachs had a fat hand in AIGFP's dealings, which the more cynical among us may suspect influenced the willingness of Treasury Secretary and former Goldman CEO Henry Paulson to move quickly to pick up AIG, as a straight bankruptcy would have left the Goldmanians with pennies on the dollar.

Now both Democrats and Republicans -- some of the latter dragging their feet for whatever slim plausible deniability it may give them -- are getting the big Bush bailout rolling, with only a few Congressmen resisting. And from what I'm hearing, in order to pass it bipartisan-like, the Democrats couldn't even keep in a provision that would give homeowners some relief.

They say it's necessary, and in this atmosphere of panic there's no one reliable who can tell us whether it is or isn't. But fuck it. This financial system is rotten and nothing about the bill (including whatever "oversight" provision they come up with) is going to change that. As an old man I'm in sympathy with the urge to postpone the inevitable, but in this age of internet speed I doubt the inevitable will tarry as it did in olden days. Either use the $700 billion tide to lift all boats, including those of mortgage holders, or keep it in the bank and let the free market wreak its creative destruction at the top end of the food chain for a change.

UPDATE. The House server is slow, but I got the sectional summary of the current plan (the full plan pdf shows up blank for some reason). Section 110, we are told, "Requires federal entities that hold mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, including the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the FDIC, and the Federal Reserve to develop plans to minimize foreclosures. Requires federal entities to work with servicers to encourage loan modifications, considering net present value to the taxpayer." It will be interesting to see how this requirement and encouragement is supposed to work and be enforced.
NEWMAN'S OWN. Paul Newman has passed after a long and productive life, and his philanthropies and political activism are as worthy of celebration as his titanic film career, if not more so.

What stands out for me about Newman on screen was his knack for revealing the intelligence of characters who were not always book-smart. Actors like Brando or DeNiro would submerge themselves into incoherent characters, and let their brutal energy carry them; even when playing Rocky Graziano or the young Fast Eddie or Cool Hand Luke, Newman made a point of showing the wheels turning in their minds, and it may be that his anti-heroes were so popular because he made them appear reasonable. (Played another way, Luke's will might have looked like a tragically uncontrollable force, but Newman's Luke had made friends with his own rebelliousness, which invited others to make friends with it, too.)

Of course those characters were also charming, because Newman had charm, buckets of it. That part came effortlessly, but I never noticed him coasting on it. At worst (e.g. the end of The Towering Inferno), he sometimes used it to rescue scenes that had no other hope of salvation.

In fact, in my favorite Newman performances -- Nobody's Fool and The Verdict -- he played the trick of submerging his charm early on and letting it creep out as the character made progress. The beginning of The Verdict is so brutal because you see a Paul Newman who has lost his charm, squandered his gifts and become a miserable legal grifter, surviving on the vestiges of his good manners and skills. His pursuit of a hard, righteous cause is genuinely thrilling because you can see that accepting it hasn't turned him into a superman -- he makes foolish mistakes and actually has a humiliating panic attack when Charlotte Rampling strikes at his still-soft center -- but has forced him into the confrontation with himself that he's been avoiding his whole life. Once again Paul Newman has walked into harm's way, but not breezily, and with everything on the line. In his quietly amazing summation ("Act as if ye had faith, and faith will be given to you") he is both reduced to his humblest essence and ennobled.

Imagine some other stars in the role. There have been many actors who, like Newman, could seduce the audience just by presenting themselves to it, but few who could at any stage of their careers draw us into a journey like that. He really was more than just a pretty face.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

PLAYING PARTISAN WHEN POST-PARTISANISM DOESN'T WORK. At the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan says she wants McCain and Obama to explain to people why they are respectively a Republican and a Democrat. I expect Noonan is influenced by the current bailout situation, in which Republicans who built and prospered from the go-go, lightly-regulated economy are positioning themselves for the moment as rebels from its bailout -- though, as tipped by McCain's remarks tonight, they will cave as soon as they think they are sufficiently covered politically. It's standard-issue Noonan jiu-jitsu -- to call for something that can't possibly happen because of her own party's tactics, and hope the uninformed will find her lofty and wise rather than disingenuous.

Of the many things that are ridiculous about this, a few scream to be mentioned. First, as we just saw, the Presidential debates, which McCain lately endeavored to evade, are meant to explain this -- or, more usefully, to explain why the parties are properly represented by them. Second, I recall that Noonan used to swoon over George Bush, who was allowed to distance himself from his party as a "compassionate conservative" before he went on to embody Republican principles so thoroughly as to discredit them for all time, and even force Noonan to renounce both Bush and the Republicans (though I think their refusal to hire her had something to do with it).

Both parties have evolved, not to say been shifty, and their candidates have prospered by playing for them and against them as they see fit. I can't imagine Noonan, who despite the paucity of her paying gigs with the GOP of late is still a reliable tool, would be suggesting this party-identification program if McCain were leading strongly. Then, as always, she and her colleagues would be doing the identifying -- Democrats treasonous and spendthrift, Republicans butch and economically sound, and so forth.

It must also be mentioned that Noonan wonders at Obama's slim lead, and attributes to it to Obama being "unusual, singular," "not your basic Dem," and "exotic," without ever mentioning that he's black. This too is audacious, but only in a familiar way.

Friday, September 26, 2008

MORE REACTIONS FROM AROUND THE BUFFOONIVERSE. Megan McArdle's pretense of support for Obama notwithstanding -- I think it has/had to be some sort of social networking gambit -- she's really bending over for McCain tonight. She gave Obama a hard time for momentarily stumbling over McCain's name ("Who's having senior moments again?"), but when McCain couldn't quite get the name of the President of Iran, whom he wishes to bomb, she "thought it was rather charming." Chalk it up to the soft bigotry of low expectations.

"Obama Implodes in Debate," says Confederate Yankee, which is the sort of ooga-booga you have to expect from someone who calls himself Confederate Yankee, I guess. The myth of Obama's black rage is strong with these people, and impervious to such externals as the evidence of their senses.

The Ole Perfesser, as usual in situations where there is no believable talking point for his side, punts, sighing that "it's hard to believe that these two are the best that a country of 300 million can produce." Even reliable partisans are reduced to making fun of Obama's pronunciation of "Pakistan." It seems only paid operatives and religious maniacs are sufficiently motivated to tell themselves and anyone else who'll listen that McCain was the overwhelming victor. But in a national contest in which one of the candidates is black, that may be enough.
DEBATE FOLLOW-UP. As we might expect, McCain's conscript army of conservatives are engaging in wishful thinking, describing Obama as "angry" when anyone with eyes will have seen, in the frequent flashes of that bizarre, toothy McCain grin that appears only when he is challenged, the grill of a cage that barely restrains a dangerous rage.

It's easier to judge the candidates if we can credibly imagine their objectives. I imagine McCain thought he would get away with the usual flag-waving bullshit, but in the context of the wordy debate, these ploys just seemed like bizarre, maudlin, and possibly senile episodes. McCain tried hard to make Obama look naive (he in fact called Obama naive), and that clearly didn't work against Obama's detailed answers. McCain was mostly effective at portraying himself as a "maverick," if only by calling himself that, by running away from his own record, and by having an opponent who, oddly, did not challenge this absurd idea much.

Obama seemed to want to accurately portray his own views to the American people (the fool) and to avoid sighing and rolling his eyes Al Gore-style as McCain seethed, blinked, and flashed his teeth. That I think he achieved, and much good may it do him.

The talking heads after the event are horrible buffoons. And what's with Mike Murphy's Vulcan mullet?
FIRST THOUGHTS. This country's fucked.

Actually what I mean is:

At the 70 minute mark, this is simultaneously an information-heavy debate and an incoherent one. It's nice that the candidates get time to talk at length because that provides the best opportunity for candidates who have been cleverly and consistently slandered by liars (hint hint) to lay out their side of the story. On the other, it's an opportunity for endless filibustering, especially on matters like the Wall Street bailout where both candidates, I regret to state, are more interested in misdirecting our attention from the massive heist their parties are about to engineer than in explaining the situation.

If Obama isn't overwhelming (and given who and what he's running against he should be), at least he has managed by his patient and even tone to put into perspective McCain's bizarre hot-button issues. McCain now seems like a Speaker's Corner nut on the "League of Democracies" and "preconditions," and for that at least we should be grateful.

More later.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

AN ECHO, NOT A CHOICE. There's no place in a rational campaign for the kind of tabloid crap that's been making the rounds today. Of course I'm not the only one who thinks so, but some parties, such as My Pet Jawa and Jules Crittenden, have come around late, having been more excited when a Democratic candidate was getting the treatment. Now MPJ is more dismissive and Crittenden, well below the fold, insists "who's gonna care." Well, wisdom is welcome whenever it comes.

But it's hard for a citizen to know what does qualify as relevant. The President goes on TV to plead for for a massive Wall Street bailout, and gets oddly distracted readings from his advocates. Kathryn J. Lopez wonders if Bush's speech "wasn't a wasted opportunity to convince the unconvinced (including worried conservatives)." Larry Kudlow, usually reliably energized in his cheerleading, claims without force of logic or argument that "ironically, this huge government action will be solved by free-market auctions and private sector loan workouts that will pay us back." He adds that he doesn't really like the plan, but "When I spoke to Alexander Hamilton last night about this, he told me it was the right thing to do. Like he did in the 1790s." Sadly he did not supply quotes, reminding me of the old story of a young reporter wiring from the Johnstown flood, "God looks down upon a desolate Johnstown tonight..." to which his editor wired back, "Forget flood. Interview God. Rush pictures."

Meanwhile the Republican Vice Presidential candidate reassures Americans worried about a new Depression that "Unfortunately, that is the road that America may find itself on," and won't take a stand either way on the bailout, while her running mate bails out himself.

But Obama doesn't want to get stuck either, and has joined McCain in a non-denial denial, though without endorsing the Republican candidate's more spectacular plan to avoid the storm by retreating into its calm Congressional eye. It may be that Obama's cautiousness supports McCain's claim that electoral politics is not at present meaningful, but the impending deal seems not to have much real drama in it either: that will come afterwards, when the shouting heads debate winners and losers.

Bukowski used to say that in America money was more serious than death. It would appear to be more serious than politics, too. It may be that after the hurlyburly's done some of us will begin to wonder whether all our political shouting is worth more than the baying of wolves at the moon.

Monday, September 22, 2008

THE VOICE COLUMN IS UP. Less Palin than usual! But not as much Wall Street as I'd expected. A lot of rightbloggers went to great lengths to minimize that story -- which is of course the opposite of their usual method.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

WHY I'M NOT A LIBERTARIAN, AND NEITHER ARE YOU. The magazine Reason and its blog Hit & Run are libertarian outlets. Of course, purity being not our lot in this life (to paraphrase Jake Gittis, they have to swim in the same water we all do), some contributors might reasonably be called left-libertarian -- that is, devoted to personal liberty to an extent that mostly pits them against the law and order obsessions that are the turf of today's conservatives; and some might with justice be called right-libertarian -- that is, devoted to economic liberty to an extent that mostly pits them against the social-equality obsessions that are the turf of today's liberals.

Brian Doherty I have long considered one of the latter class. He's the author of Radicals for Capitalism (from descriptions a celebration of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman's dynamic I-got-mine-ism), as well as of Reason items on the corruption of Al Gore, censorship among foreign Muslims, Cathy Seipp, the joys of fast food, comics as capitalist signifiers, and contempt for Kurt Vonnegut, teachers' unions, and old hippies, and of reliably anti-Obama articles -- in other words, a good resume for an editor at National Review but for the occasional off-message message which, given his overall tendency, could be handled in orientation training.

But Doherty had the other day a revelation on the recent short-selling ban that must be shared:
As someone who had been saying for the past few years that things like Nixonian wage and price controls would be considered beyond the pale in a world that, I thought, understood and appreciated some basics of free markets more than it did 35 years ago, well, it's a good thing my jaw has dropped so much on the past week's news that I have room to fit a lot of crow.
As someone who has for years heard gags about liberals "mugged by reality," I have to wonder how many more cycles of this it would take before we got similarly used to hearing jokes about right-libertarians mugged by conservatism.

If you involve yourself in national politics, however tenaciously you hold an alterna-indie-position, you will inevitably be drawn into what simply is. And in that horrible place there is not much room for libertarianism.

It reminds me of New York during its crime-crisis days. When Giuliani confiscated 90,000 guns there was no visible groundswell of opposition, because it was perceived to be the medicine New York needed. Liberal and libertarian civil-liberty arguments were swept aside by the demands of the moment.

In the recent Presidential campaign, crime was not a pressing issue and Giuliani saw his previously popular gun-authoritarian argument become a liability in the provinces. He tried to suck up, but to no avail, and he was rebuffed by people who saw no reason to give up their own guns, and apparently could no longer understand why anyone else would.

Does that mean the country turns out to be more libertarian that Giuliani anticipated? Sure, when it doesn't cost anything. The candidate who had become "America's Mayor" and the long-time front-runner for the nomination went down because his authoritarianism no longer captured the public's imagination, but it had worked, and worked well, for him in a climate of fear and reaction that dwindled before he could ride it all the way to the White House.

Now we have a new crisis. I notice this has not brought new attention to the libertarian policies of Bob Barr and Ron Paul -- though Paul was on TV this morning advocating a "return to sound money" to which no one is likely to listen. America's finances and priorities badly need reorganization, but from what I can see, the energy is all on putting some expensive patches on the tires of the economy we have and pushing it back on the road.

Doherty thought he was living in a libertarian country where "price controls would be considered beyond the pale." But most voters are not devoted to concepts, and I doubt many of them worried that the market was less pure than it might be when it was giving them a good return. When panic strikes, they'll accept the fastest route out of danger. Shock therapy may be alright for Chile, but not for us.

Much was made of Obama's comment about Americans "clinging" to guns and religion. But Americans are clingy in lots of ways, and it would take a lot to pull them away from a system that has been rewarding many of them handsomely for decades. If you're a libertarian, you might consider this a kind of false consciousness, and believe that Americans yearn for a truly free market which none of them has ever really seen, and would prefer to a money machine which has long been rigged in their favor.

But most of us, to say the least, are not libertarians, at least not when it comes to this. Maybe when the wheels come off the economy entirely we'll consider it, but more likely something resembling a second New Deal -- one not limited to large financial institutions, I mean -- will be what we go for.

If the spit and sealing wax hold, we'll go on calling our market a free one, and holding it up as a signal blessing of liberty. We are after all Americans, and freedom is important to us, at least until the next hard time.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

THE EMERGING REPUBLICAN MINORITY. The Ole Perfesser directs us to the long-disregarded maniac Bill Whittle at National Review:
When I first got to college, back in the last few weeks of the Seventies, I finally got a chance to see an ordinary game of Dungeons and Dragons. My immediate inclination was to play as a Paladin...
Normal people will be tempted stop right there, but we'll follow a little while:
I sit with others in darkened rooms, watching films like Redacted, Stop-Loss, and In the Valley of Elah, and see our brave young soldiers depicted as murderers, rapists, broken psychotics or ignorant dupes -- visions foisted upon me by bitter and isolated millionaires such as Brian de Palma and Paul Haggis and all the rest.
Foisted? Good God, man, you have free will! Or are you a captive of the Hollywood smear machine? Blink twice for yes!
No wonder they must be destroyed. Because -- Sarah Palin especially -- presents a mortal threat to these people who have determined over cocktails who the next President should be and who now clearly mean to grind into metal shards the transaxle of their credibility in order to get the result they must have...
Longtime followers of Whittle's insanity may wonder: where's this popular rightwing buffoon been the past year? Last we paid attention, he and his friends were building as of May 2007 a shining city on a hill:
I believe -- utterly -- that this ability for the common person to communicate with other common people, this internet, will allow us to end-run the cycle of civilization. I believe it in my bones.

My friends, Western Civilization is not on its last legs.

Western Civilization is going to the stars. Count on it...

This City-State of Virtue we desire does not exist.

Let’s build one.
And so Whittle did, at least in his all-powerful mind. Comparing his new "City-State" to Disneyland, Whittle declared:
What we are trying to do right now is to get a functional version of Ejectia! up and running as soon as possible. Whatever we have in place on Day One will simply be a starting point for the improvements we are planning on Day Two. Ejectia! -- like every city -- will be built on the foundations of what it was yesterday. It will never be finished.
Then Whittle started publishing pictures of his new Jerusalem:

Whittle then wrote:
Above are some early test renderings I have done to play with some of the overall look of the place. Now here's something interesting: everyone views this City-State differently. Some people would like it to be a collection of Greek buildings in a verdant valley. Some want it on a tropical isle. Some want a Rivendell-esque hidden valley surrounded by waterfalls, and some people even want a medieval village in the middle of a forest.
That was in June 2007. In July Whittle wrote:
The hardcover books are finally -- FINALLY -- dropping into the print queue. They should begin shipping in three to four days... Finally, there has been some speculation -- and I have received a few phone calls -- concerning my reaction to the recent explosion up at the Mojave... I grieve for the loss of friends and family members and for the irreparable hole they have left behind them. But at the same time, I am comforted and encouraged by two points that I think bear mentioning in this or any other case where people die doing the one thing they love more than anything else in the world.
Thence Whittle went off the grid till November, at which point he told his followers:
So while I am sure by this point it comes as a surprise to no one but myself, I have reluctantly put aside any hope of building Ejectia until my financial status changes dramatically, at which point I will no longer care about what it costs.
Since then he has only written a few pages of gibberish before being picked up by the nation's most prominent conservative magazine as a suitable spokesman for the McCain campaign.

I frequently tell you folks that our opponents are totally insane, but rarely does one of them leave so egregious a pixel trail of his psychosis. That the National Review would avail such a crackpot for its purposes is of course no surprise at all.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. The stark unreality of this campaign is starting to get to me.

An alleged member of anti-Scientology group has hacked Sarah Palin's email, and conservatives blame Obama supporters.

At National Review Mark Hemingway cites a report quoting McCain as saying he didn't anticipate the subprime mortgage mess -- and then asserts that he did, too, and says the reporter should have "googled a little harder" to help McCain look better than he portrayed himself.

Palin gives a content-free answer to a question her handlers inadvertently allowed her to answer about AIG, and Hemingway proclaims, "Palin Gets the Financial Crisis," and explains why she's "exactly right" in a paragraph longer than her answer. It's like a scene out of Being There.

The United States is a shuddering wreck, and the top conservative spiritual advisor complains that a black guy disrespected the Star-Spangled Banner, the top conservative mystic resurrects an old, incomprehensible slur on Obama, the top conservative economic blogger calls commenters who disagree with her idiots, then admits she doesn't know what's going on, and the Ole Perfesser tells readers that the economy isn't worth worrying about, pay attention to the 527 commercials.

I thought five-plus years of covering this kind of gibberish had inured me to it, but here it is only September of a Presidential election year and every time I step even into the foot-washing pool of the political scene I feel as if I have been fatally poisoned. The degeneracy of political discourse in the internet age has been my subject, but I feel as if it is getting away from me, screaming beyond my capacity to keep up. Is it really so much worse than it has been, or am I getting soft?

Monday, September 15, 2008

IRRATIONAL EXUBERANCE. Rich Lowry thinks the current financial collapse makes a good time for McCain to start talking about the economy. I do hope to see that; it's been a while since I heard the words "Keating Five" mentioned in connection with his name.

Republican operatives are already preemptively defending against such a strategy with the hot news that Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac made contributions to Democrats. Of course, those contributions were legal.
ANOTHER VOICE COLUMN and once again Sarah Palin is the subject, proving I am part of the problem, not the solution. Time will tell whether our nation's imminent financial collapse can distract mainstream media operatives such as myself from these circuses. Jonah Goldberg says "the tectonic plates are definitely rumbling," but he is talking about the Glorious Republican Revolution, or perhaps his colon, not the rude shaking the markets are about to deliver to folks who think this election is about lipstick and Charlie Gibson. Of course, in the last ditch they could just promote Megan McArdle to CNBC anchor, and have McCain retire for health reasons and consent to be replaced on the ticket by a cute puppy.

Friday, September 12, 2008

READERS PLEASE ADVISE. I was too busy to watch the Sarah Palin interview. Tell me, was it as good as Jonah Goldberg describes?
There was a lot in the interview she could — and should — have waved off as hypothetical or said it would depend on the context. Because A) that's what 90% of seasoned politicians say and B) because 90% of seasoned politicians say that sort of thing because it's the right answer. Invade Pakistan? It depends. What's the nature of the threat? What's our relationship with the Pakistani regime? What are our alternatives?
What the famously flatulent Goldberg seems to be prescribing is the famously flatulent Goldberg prescription, e.g., "Anyway fffffaaaarrrrttttt it's late and I don't want to get into the weeds and Cosmo has to go for a walk but we'll revisit another time and ffffaaarrrrrttt kthanxbai." Could her response have really been that unconvincing?

I am encouraged also by this:
Politically, I think she seemed a bit nervous and offered some phrasing that will cause the people who already hate her irrationally to irrationally hate her some more. Beyond that, she did herself little to no harm and came across as a real person put in an unreal situation which is pretty much the reality of things.
By that last spurt I expect he means, it's nothing that we can't play off by attacking the evil media. This is certainly suggested by a alleged letter to Corner colleague Kathryn J. Lopez, in which some lonely crank pits Palin's "genuineness" against "the elitism and condescending attitude of the media."

Since this is, as you may have noticed, the length and breadth of their campaign strategy, I cannot be too hopeful. It may be that Palin could poke out her eye out on national television, and yet be successfully defended to the mob by Biblical quotations. It may come down to how long Palin's telegenicity can endure. She does remind me of Ollie North, but he only had to hang in for a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

PIG IGNORANT. One of the rare occasions upon which the Ole Pefesser bestirs himself to post long: "DID OBAMA MEAN TO CALL SARAH PALIN A PIG?" The linked source says that, not only did Obama not mean it, he didn't even say it. But the Perfesser, who reasonably does not expect his retard army to click any links besides the ones at his site that say "MORE," goes ahead and tells the retards at length that Obama did, and they appropriately howl and gibber.

At National Review Yural Levin does an Allahpundit -- that is, starts out with a normal human reaction ("Come on. Can this really be worth anyone's time?"), then, after a beating from his comrades, crawls into formation ("I think Obama’s choice of words was unbelievably stupid... Let them melt down").

I suppose it will be taken as a sign of elitism when I say this is bullshit of the highest order. Next up: by saying that McCain's "is not the change we need," Obama is saying McCain should still be in a North Vietnamese prison camp.

UPDATE. Ann Althouse pretends to be sane for a few minutes, then takes the unique position that Obama's "old fish" remark -- which the McCain camp believes was meant as an insult to McCain -- was actually an insult to Palin, because "the reference to a fish also has it stinking, which is exactly the aspect of fish that is used when fish are invoked to insult women." I don't know whether to prescribe remedial reading classes or heavy doses of Miltown; I doubt either will do much good. Meanwhile her commenters bellow as if she hadn't said anything except, "attack!" Which is perhaps how their code works.

The overall strategy seems to be to run around and tell everybody that everybody is offended, and get them to believe it before they quite realize what they're offended about. I've seen stupider shit than this go over, so who knows.

For a further example of how their anti-logic machine works, see Lisa Schiffren on how, by complimenting Palin on raising five kids, Obama is also insulting her femininity. You have to know you've gone off the rails when Nerdlinger tells you to calm down.

UPDATE II.. The second phase of the schtick is to presume that if it wasn't a deliberate "smear," it was a "gaffe." I've been attending these freaks too long to be surprised at the remoteness of their cloud-cuckoo-land, but I'm still not sure why prominent media figures support it, however shame-facedly. Don't they have families, children?
CULTURE S'MORES. Let's personalize this a little, shall we? Megan McArdle:
Let's be honest, coastal folks: when you meet someone with a thick southern accent who likes NASCAR and attends a bible church, do you think, "hey, maybe this is a cool person"? And when you encounter someone who went to Eastern Iowa State, do you accord them the same respect you give your friends from Williams? It's okay--there's no one here but us chickens. You don't.
Brushing aside this taunt from a child of privilege, let me first give a little personal background: my family never had any money. My father died when I was two. My mother lived on government subsidies, as were available before people like McArdle took such things away, and whatever extra income she could get from factory and restaurant jobs. I had the good fortune to receive scholarships -- again, in an era before McArdles slapped them out of the common people's hands -- that, along with my own labors and my mother's, put me through college.

Not everyone who works at a desk started that way. As a young adult I worked as a busboy, a waiter, a factory hand, and a messenger dispatcher. I'm not talking about a season after college -- I mean for years. I got my first writing job more than a decade after I graduated. Not everyone gets fast-tracked out of college to the Atlantic.

Throughout my adult life I've consorted with day laborers, tool and die workers, welfare cases, bums, junkies, musicians, cooks, crooks, and schnooks. And some of them -- mark it well, extra dry skim McArdle -- have been Sons of the South. I don't think this makes me special, and it certainly doesn't make me special among people who vote Democratic. Though McArdle may not have noticed it, the coastal as well as the middle states are full of people who work like dogs to maintain a decent life, and many have noticed -- despite the political sideshows and their occasional attendance upon popular sporting events -- that the order McArdle and her allies support has made things worse for them. As a Gator out of Indiana once told me, the Democrats at least will give you a little bigger piece of the pie. They may not be up on the high-level internet chatter, but they know what's what. And if I agree with them, I ain't pandering. I'm telling it like we all know it is.

To put it in terms that maybe one of her artistic friends might be able to explain to her, let me quote Clifford Odets: You call me a Red and I'll break your goddamn neck.

Monday, September 08, 2008

ANOTHER VOICE THING, this one about the preceding week of Palin Fever. It seemed like last week had the highest bullshit count of the year. Maybe it's just because of the Convention, but I don't remember it being this bad in 2004. I fear the species is devolving. When I look at this stuff it's as if I've been transported, like Dorothy, into an alternate world, except mine is peopled not by munchkins but by withered, wraithlike creatures who hide from the sun and subsist on spores and fungi, only bestirring themselves, instinctually, in the late summer and early spring of every fourth year to groan and flail their vestigial limbs.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

AT LAST WE'RE MOVING ON TO ISSUES OF IMPORTANCE TO ALL AMERICANS. Ace O. Spades bellows that the Democrats were going to throw away some unused flags from Denver, which the Republicans claim to have obtained and say they'll use at a McCain rally -- after which, no doubt, a team of boy scouts will fold up each tiny flag and store it in a fallen Marine's footlocker. Spades assures his comrades, "Don't worry, this won't be one of those things only rightwing nut jobs know about," but you have to wonder: how will normal people respond to the news that the GOP has pulled flags from the trash to use as political props? Well, at least it's not as messy as when they were doing that with fetuses.

Meanwhile Obama's assurance that the Democrats "won't be bullied" by Republican attacks is portrayed as a sign of weakness by Tom McGuire. "What is Obama saying," writes Maguire, "he won't be bullied by a 44 year old hockey mom? Stand Tall, Barack -- you won't be bullied by Sarah Palin! " This seems a reductive reference to the woman Maguire and company consider the second coming of ReaganThatcher. But Obama could hardly have been talking about Palin, who since her comedy routine at the Convention has been kept under wraps, lest she be asked questions. Obama's probably talking about operatives like Maguire, who follows up with a Tourette's spasm of Republican punchlines:
OMG, is this a secret plan to assassinate Putin by making him laugh so hard he gets an aneurysm?... Man up, Barry - even though she was a state champ, you are probably a better baller, too, what with being 6' 2" and a guy to boot. 'Course there is that cigarette smoking that may have cut your wind... COURAGE! Get me Bert Lahr! Or Dan Rather... A certain type of lib likes to pretend that Obama showed courage by opposing the war in Iraq back in 2002...
This mashup of Rush Limbaugh campfire tropes is basically the Republican campaign, and if it seems less than intimidating on the page, imagine it broadcast at high volume by thousands of paid propagandists, and by an even larger number of volunteers like Maguire. It's not the quality of these ideas that Democrats need guts to stand up to, but their amplitude.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

DIVISION OF LABOR. The idea of the speech, so far as I can discern one, is that John McCain is a humble servant, but one with the guts to stand up to Republicans, Democrats, and also Convention delegates, who for the most part lost the frenzy with which they greeted the Palin speech when they realized that McCain was not going to feed it. Indeed, there was an audible pause when he said, in accusation, that "Obama passed another corporate welfare bill for oil companies." They knew they should boo Obama, but oil companies? (Not to mention their probable cognitive dissonance at the idea of a black man giving welfare to them.) So dismissive was McCain of their concerns that when he asked them to "fight with me," I at first thought he was challenging them to put up their dukes.

Every once in a while he worked the crowd, or rather allowed them to work themselves: he talked more about his Vice-Presidential candidate than any Presidential candidate I can remember, and with regard to drilling -- the Party's current obsession -- the delegates got it before McCain quite got to it, starting to howl at the words "700 billion dollars." But he also pledged, at length, to work with Democrats, exhorted the nonplussed suburban gentry in the hall to "feed a hungry child," and in the POW wrap-up everyone knew was coming, referred to "my selfish independence," which I see has already earned a humph from National Review's Mona Charen.

The bi-partisan rhetoric is just hooey, of course. In the 2000 Republican Convention, George W. Bush, at the outset of what was seen as an uphill battle, also filled his acceptance speech with allusions to national service, deprived children, and national greatness. Those of us who didn't know what was really on his mind then certainly know now. For the current race, Sarah Palin is employed to deliver the Buchananite boo-yahs that roil Republican blood, leaving McCain to work the crucial middle that he must attract to win the election. To this end he may have helped himself by playing the happy warrior. But after the past eight years, and the carefully-staged, full-throated blood feasts that preceded tonight's speech (and were heavily publicized by those who will now be obliged to sell the kinder, gentler McCain), some voters may wonder if this candidate, still an alleged maverick after 25 years in Washington, is simply playing good cop.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A FACE IN THE CROWD. Governor Palin's address tonight was basically Reba McEntire doing a one-woman show on the life of Phyllis Schlafly. In turning the McCain campaign toward the traditional tactics of Republican politics -- that is, fear, contempt, and patriotism -- his advisors have also returned the Vice-Presidential role to that of attacker, who does the knife work so the Presidential candidate can remain above it all. But where Dole and Cheney, for example, looked the part, the novelty here was to have it performed by a young woman who dispensed her put-downs with the cheery sangfroid of a particularly vicious sewing-circle lady. She could afford, then, to be casual in dispensing her assaults, not only because the crowd had built up a froth of hatred against her enemies (whom, from the frequency and vigor of their booing, they must imagine to be everyone except themselves), but also because a large part of the audience probably thought it was not vicious, but cute. She's certainly easier to take than the fist-clenching Giuliani, who may have been so warmly applauded in part for giving the delegates a good demonstration of how right they were not to have chosen him.

The theme of Palin's speech was, in its own way, change, but it was mostly a change of costume. I will say it was refreshing not to hear the customary palaver about the moral fall engendered by Democrats, and I thank the news cycle for it. But the crowing about the virtues of small government as demonstrated by the blessed lives of lucky white people goes back to Goldwater at least, and the flag-waving to the days before democracy was even a thought. The act went over gangbusters in the hall. How well it goes outside of it, and into November, will depend on how much Americans are willing to pay for this sort of entertainment.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

BUSH IN WINTER. Republicans, as previously noted, were delighted when they thought Bush wasn't going to attend the Convention. Then Gustav blew over, and they had to face the terrible prospect of Bush endorsing McCain on national TV. So they split the difference and had him call in from whatever sports-bar the Secret Service have dragged the White House set to, and ran his speech outside of prime time, showing him only on tape delay.

It wasn't as morose as most of his late speeches have been, but it wasn't up to the level of his 2004 Convention speech, either. It was smooth, workmanlike. and very much good enough for the faithful. The few ordinary people who watched might wonder at Bush's reference to the "angry left," but most of them probably don't know why that fool was on the TV again anyway.

Monday, September 01, 2008

SPEAKING OF SILVER LININGS. I think it's terrific that Sarah Palin's evangelical supporters are "over the moon" with joy that Palin's 17-year-old daughter got knocked up. And, taking a page from our Republican brethren, for whom both everything and its opposite is always good news for the GOP -- you can see a spectacular case of one such character running this game here -- I'm going to tell you how it's terrific no matter how it plays.

First, it offers normal people a piquant reminder that fundamentalist Christians, powerful as they may be in the GOP, are deeply strange. We've heard endlessly from these folks that America is a moral basket case "slouching toward Gomorrah," and that liberalism is the cause. Now the Jesus people are celebrating a pre-maritally pregnant girl and her upcoming shotgun wedding. Rod Dreher, who called a bride a slut for showing a tattoo at her wedding, now rejoices that Bristol Palin will be showing a baby bump at hers. Americans may like God but they retain a healthy skepticism about the godly, and this case shows why.

Second, as we were also reminded endlessly that Bill Clinton taught youngsters to suck cock, we may expect a wave of rebellion among Republican teenagers now that the strict moral precepts of their parents have been proven conditional. Maybe the other Palin kids will come to the Convention stoned out of their minds, spraying the delegates with silly string and laughing uncontrollably. Why shouldn't they? It would just offer more proof of Palin's "plain folks" credentials.

Now let us dream big: maybe this event will help put an end to political bullshit about candidates' family members. Imagine our politics without slurs of the sort Michelle Obama has had to endure -- and those stories weren't even true. Perhaps we'll even hear less conservative yammering about family values in general. How nice it would be to go through even a single season without candidates taking a strong position on the Old Testament.

This is by far the least likely of my suggested outcomes, but as I said, I'm trying to think like a Republican. Maybe the Democrats should be trying the same thing.
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