Friday, August 29, 2008

Cherchez La . . .

If reports be true, John McCain has picked Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. It's obviously a naked appeal to disappointed Hillary voters, but it is a bold move that could be a game-changer.

As I pointed out months ago, the Democrats were at a basic game-theoretical disadvantage here. Their convention came first. Obama had to pick his Veep before McCain picked his. Specifically, that meant McCain got to decide whether to go with a woman after knowing whether Obama had done so. Obama didn't have the same luxury. Big problem.

The lesson for the future is that there's a substantial disadvantage to going first. Of course, there might be other advantages too -- I'm sure the real pols think about all the ins and outs of this carefully. But it sure seems to me that the Democrats need to plan their next convention carefully with this issue in mind. (Actually, if whoever wins this time runs again it won't be a big deal, because one side's Vice Presidential candidate will be known. But the time after that.)

Well, we'll see if this really helps McCain. Yes, Palin is a woman, and that shakes things up, but what does it do to his big experience argument? Is she ready to be President? Heck, she's younger than I am. She's has no foreign policy experience. She hasn't been tested on the national stage. She has no name recognition. And there's some potential abuse-of-power scandal brewing about her. Maybe this will be another Geraldine Ferraro. We'll see.

Out of the Park

You can't hit it out of the park unless you're in the park. And boy, Barack Obama was in the park. That crowd was something. Could John McCain fill an 80,000-seat stadium for his acceptance speech? Heck, I'd like to see him try to get 40,000. The Republicans would be busing in illegal immigrants to fill half the seats.

Finally, finally, the Democrats have picked the right theme -- change v. more of the same. Biden and Obama nobly refrained from attacking McCain's character. They didn't go after his military service -- and let's not forget how Republicans shamelessly mocked John Kerry's service and medals. John McCain is an upstanding, patriotic American. But on the issues, the difference is clear: McCain wants to continue the failed policies of the last eight years, the policies that brought us lower median income, rising income inequality, a pointless, costly war, and a lowered standing around the world.

We can't afford four more years of that. (I loved the life-long Republican nurse who pointed this out. ) We need change. It's change v. more of the same. Let's hear it every day between now and November 4.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

He'd Beat Them All

I can't help it -- every time I see Bill Clinton speak I think he'd win the Presidency again in a heartbeat if it weren't for that pesky 22d Amendment. He's not a great orator, but he is a great connector. You feel like he's talking directly to you. And he has a wonderful ability to explain the reasons to vote Democrat in a clear, simple, convincing way.

Sure, he has big flaws -- his can't tell the truth, even when it doesn't really matter; he can't stop chasing skirts; and he never cared enough about the judiciary. But that would all melt away. It's been nearly ten years since anyone really cared about his dalliances. Can you imagine what would happen if the election were Bill Clinton v. John McCain?

Last night he put his heart into endorsing Barack Obama. And he did a great job. He's been annoyingly petulant all year about his wife's failure to win the nomination. But he finally put all that aside and did what he needed to do. A great speech for him, for the party, and for Barack Obama.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Are You Crazy?

Are you crazy? Take this simple test:

1. Were you a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton for President during primary season?

2. Are you thinking of voting for John McCain in the general election because you feel mad that Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination in a process that you perceive as unfair?

If you answered yes to both questions, you're crazy.

Now, I suppose that if, like these PUMAs, you really "believe Obama is grossly unqualified for the Oval Office," then you're just wrong, not crazy. (I'm sure you were President of the Harvard Law Review, served six years in your state Senate, and got elected to the U.S. Senate with 70% of the vote.)

But if you're supporting McCain because you think the "Democratic process [was] abrogated" in the primaries, you're crazy.

Let's run down just a few of the things you're thinking of voting for.

If you supported Clinton, you probably like her stance that abortion should be safe and legal. John McCain's view is that "Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned." Justice Stevens in 88 years old and Roe v. Wade is hanging by a thread, so if you vote for McCain you're voting to outlaw abortion.

If you supported Clinton, you probably agree with her that "we must bring an end to the war in Iraq" and that we should "advance a strategy to redeploy our troops out of Iraq as quickly and as safely as possible." John McCain has defended his statement that we should keep our troops in Iraq indefinitely, maybe for 100 years.

If you supported Clinton, you probably like her plan to ensure that everyone has health insurance. John McCain's big plan is to tax health care benefits.

The list could go on. But the point is clear. If you vote for McCain, you're voting against everything you believe in. And all because you're upset that your candidate lost in the primaries. In short, you're crazy.

I'm sure this smarmy post isn't going to change your mind. But excuse me for being upset too. Presidential elections are serious business. They're for choosing the next president of the United States. They're not for protesting, sending messages, venting your frustrations, or other silly, stupid, feel-good frivolities. You have to cast your vote with the thought that you could be deciding the election. If you vote for John McCain in a fit of pique, you might get what you deserve -- four more years of all the policies you hate. And frankly, I don't care if you get what you deserve, but you might be giving me what I don't deserve.

If you don't believe me, believe Charles Barkley, who politely pointed out that Democrats thinking of voting for McCain are idiots. I refuse to have the election decided by idiots. So knock it off. Vote your beliefs, not your emotions.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


The Obama campaign, I'm happy to see, has finally started to take on John McCain, pointing out some of his flaws. I'm not suggesting that we need any mudslinging, but it's completely fair to point out the ways in which McCain's positions match those of President Bush. McCain likes to paint himself as a maverick, but he's recently shifted a lot of his positions (e.g., on taxes) to match Bush's. It's perfectly appropriate to point this out.

I am reminded of an essay I read during the 2004 election -- sorry, I can't find it now -- which said that every four years the Democrats do polling that reveals that the public agrees with them on the issues, so they try to run a positive campaign on the issues. Republicans do the same polling and realize that they need to use character assassination. While the Democrats are running positive ads, the Republicans swift-boat them.

In this case, the Democrats don't need to be too harsh on McCain's character, they just need to point out his stance on the issues. I particularly liked this excerpt from Joe Biden's first speech as running mate:

"I’ll say straight up to you – John McCain and the press knows this, is genuinely a friend of mine. I’ve known John for 35 years. He served our country with extraordinary courage and I know he wants to do right by America. But the harsh truth is, ladies and gentlemen, you can't change America when you boast, and these are John's words, quote, the most important issues of our day, I’ve been totally in agreement and support of President Bush. Ladies and gentlemen, that's what he said. You can't change America when you supported George Bush's policies 95% of the time. You can't change America when you believe, and these are his own words, that in the Bush administration we’ve made great progress economically. You can't change America and make things better for our senior citizens when you signed on to Bush's scheme of privatizing social security. You can't change America and give our workers a fighting chance when after 3 million manufacturing jobs disappear, you continue to support tax breaks for companies who ship our jobs overseas. You can't change America and end this war in Iraq when you declare and, again, these are John's words, no one has supported President Bush in Iraq more than I have, end of quote. Ladies and gentlemen, you can't change America, you can't change America when you know your first four years as president will look exactly like the last eight years of George Bush's presidency. "

It's perfectly fair to quote John McCain's own words on these topics. Now what the Democrats need to do is beat the drum. This is another point on which the Republicans excel. They pick a point of attack and beat on it every day. Democrats have a tendency to assume that people have absorbed it and move on to something else. I think every day between now and the election the message has to be, "McCain = Bush; Obama = Change." If they can get that message across, they win.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Lunch Time Time Waster

Call me a sap, but I loved this review of the Olympics. If you want one last feeling of that strangely moving spirit inspired by sports you care about only once every four years, check it out.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

How Many Houses Do You Own?

I have to hand it to John McCain -- he's been running effective negative ads. The Republicans have done a poor job of governing, but they sure know how to pick a negative campaign theme and stick with it, day after day.

But now McCain has made a gaffe that opens him up to some negative shots from the other side, and Barack Obama is taking advantage. McCain was asked how many houses he and his wife own, and didn't know the answer. He said "I think — I'll have my staff get to you." Apparently the answer is seven. This is just a few days after he said that being rich in America means earning at least $5 million per year.

This seems like a fair thing to go after. With Republicans painting Obama as an out-of-touch elitist, it has to be fair to point out that the real member of the elite in the race is McCain. I think most non-elite American know how many houses they own. Maybe we can ask McCain about cars next. And perhaps we can call in Jeff Foxworthy for some quips:

You might be elite if . . .

* You don't know how many houses you own.

* You think being "rich" means earning more than $5 million per year.

* It takes nine digits to say what your wife is worth.

Hey, I'm not trying to start any class warfare. The Republicans started that already, trying to paint Obama as elite. Let's see who the real elitist is.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Almost Perfect

Michael Phelps didn't break the world record in winning his 100m butterfly race -- not in speed, that is. He may have broken the record for incredible and dramatic finishes, winning by the length of his fingernails as he out-touched his opponent by 1/100 of a second.

But what I want to discuss today is the rendition of our National Anthem chosen for these games, which Phelps and his relay teammates have brought us 7 times now. It sounds easy to choose a recording of a song that's only 90 seconds, but really, rendering the anthem is a minefield of stylistic choices. I don't know who produced the recording that's being used for Beijing, but they did a fine job, with just one questionable choice.

The brassy opening, with the strings added at "whose broad stripes," is just what is wanted for this kind of event -- majestic, imposing, powerful, but not arrogant. It bespeaks confidence and satisfaction in victory, without getting in the face of the international crowd. Slow, rolling, with minimal ornamentation, the music says that we are great and proud and respectful all at once.

Things go somewhat wrong, in my view, as the rendition switches to stringy sentimentality in the "rockets red glare" section. Suddenly, we're all supposed to have tears in our eyes, and a little xylophone trill or some similar ornament added behind the word "air" is particularly sappy, like something out of a Disney movie.

Fortunately, this only lasts 20 seconds or so, less than a quarter of the recording, and then it's a return to majestic full orchestra for a clear run into the ending, at which point there's a surprise -- a three-note highlight on the last word, "brave." Now, ordinarily, I wouldn't like this kind of thing -- I can't abide the octave jump that's become common on the word "free" -- but somehow it works in this setting. It tells everyone that we are Americans, after all, and we have a little showmanship in everything we do.

With cheesiness on one side and excessive jingoism on the other, it isn't easy to play the anthem for the Olypmics. Nice job.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thank Goodness

Often we bloggers adopt a sarcastic, acerbic, even snarky tone. But sometimes a story is so heartwarming, so charming, so life-affirming, that even the most cyncial blogger can't bear to make fun of it just for the sake of a cheap laugh.

Such a story appears today. It was a sign of the times -- an indication that the mortgage crisis had really hit home -- when we learned a couple of months ago that Ed McMahon, longtime sidekick of Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, was in danger of losing his house to foreclosure. The eternally charming McMahon explained his problem in a way that made it real for the struggling families of America: “I made a lot of money, but you also can spend a lot of money,” he said. He had defaulted on his $4.8 million mortgage and listed his six-bedroom, five-bathroom home for $6.5 million, but couldn't find a buyer. He was in real danger of losing his house.

Well, now The Donald has stepped in to save him. Yes, Donald Trump will buy McMahon's house (now listed at a mere $4.6 million) and lease it to him.

Just imagine. I mean, really, what is America coming to when celebrities are in danger of losing their $6.5 million homes. Seriously, is America so debased that Ed McMahon -- Ed McMahon! -- could have been forced to move out of his $6.5 million dollar home and go rough it in, who knows, maybe a $3 million home, or even have to go slumming in some $2.5 million condo somewhere.

It warms the blogger heart to know that there's a brotherhood in celebrity, a fraternity, a network, with bonds that tie celebrities together when times are tough. America has some problems, but Ed McMahon living in a four-bedroom condo is not one of them.

Well, thank goodness. If you're in danger of losing your home to the subprime mortgage crisis, you can, at least, rest easier tonight knowing that Ed McMahon still has his. I know I will. Thank you, Donald Trump.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Hidden War Costs

Condi Rice is really putting the screws to Russia over its invasion of Georgia. She said yesterday that "This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia where Russia can threaten a neighbour, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it. Things have changed."

Yes, things have changed. Look at what we're doing now that Russia has invaded Georgia. We're talking sternly about it. And we're scowling at them. See us scowl?

I'm sorry, but this is another hidden cost of the war in Iraq. I think that part of the Russian calculation in deciding to invade Georgia was its knowledge that we're not really in a position to respond militarily. We're distracted and overcommitted as it is. We can talk tough, but what are we actually going to do? We can hardly send troops in -- our troops are all busy where they are.

I know that Rice and the administration are going to try to put diplomatic pressure on Russia, threatening them with isolation, being booted out of the G8, and not admitted to the WTO. And good luck, I hope it works. But we'd be in a much stronger position if we had a realistic military option.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Olympic Footnote

And by the way, was anyone else depressed to learn on last night's Olympic broadcast that China has maglev trains that go nearly 300 mph? We have Amtrak.

The whole segment was about tech stuff in China that's cooler than what we have here. We're losing out to China in technological advancement. Tom Friedman is right -- we've lost our edge.

Olympics -- Why Do We Care?

I couldn't help myself this weekend -- I watched some of the Olympics. And it was great.

Why do we care? Do you watch swimming, or cycling, or running, or gymnastics, in non-Olympic years? I didn't think so. There are world championships in these events every year, or every other year, or something like that, but when was the last time you saw the non-Olympic competitions? Do you know who won the gold medal in men's pole vault in Osaka in 2007? (It was Brad Walker of the U.S.). Can you name the winner of any of the events? Do you remotely care? I certainly don't.

And yet, whenever the Olympics come round, I am strangely drawn to them. I don't know if it's the pagentry, or the politics, the nationalistic competition, or the judging scandals, or what, but somehow I suddenly care who can swim faster, jump higher, or dive more beautifully. I am awed by Michael Phelps, entranced by Kirsty Coventry. Bring it on, NBC, I love it.