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2008 Election (#110 of 17)

Sour Grapes: The Post-Election Whine

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Sour Grapes: The Post-Election Whine
Sour Grapes: The Post-Election Whine

In her latest column for Salon, feminist and cultural critic Camille Paglia describes how she became “increasingly disturbed” in the final weeks of the presidential election by what she believes was the mainstream media’s avoidance of both the Bill Ayers controversy and—wait for it—questions about Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Disturbing, indeed. The very idea that Obama would rest his entire presidential campaign—to say nothing of his actual presidency—on the premise that he could conceal his non-American citizenship without anyone ever figuring it out is patently absurd. “We don’t need another presidency that finds it all too easy to rely on evasion or stonewalling,” Paglia explained, suggesting Obama could have ended the entire matter by asking his supposed birth state of Hawaii to “issue a fresh, long-form, stamped certificate and inviting a few high-profile reporters in to examine the document and photograph it.” Yes, and he could have settled the issue of his Judeo-Christianity by simply unzipping his pants and inviting a few high-profile reporters to examine and photograph his circumcised penis.

Perhaps inspired by political analyst Michael Barone’s statement to the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges yesterday that “the liberal media attacked Sarah Palin because she did not abort her Down syndrome baby,” Paglia goes on to compare the absence of xenophobic inquisition in the media to the treatment of the Alaskan governor, who the writer informs us has been “subjected to an atrocious and at times delusional level of defamation merely because she has the temerity to hold pro-life views.” Really? The right (and Paglia, apparently) would have us believe that the media’s disdain for Sarah Palin is eclipsed only by its hatred for living babies. And here I thought Palin’s real problem was her complete and utter incompetence, her inability to construct a coherent position on practically any important issue, her opportunism at the expense of national security, her mean-spirited and divisive fear-mongering, her worrying readiness to put faith before law, and her general disregard for said law. No one in the media has denied the fact that Palin is, to use Paglia’s term, a populist phenomenon, but for once they did the right thing by calling a spade a spade—and before that spade got elected.

Proud to Be (Un)American

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Proud to Be (Un)American
Proud to Be (Un)American

We’ve entered the final stretch of the presidential election and the drowning McCain campaign has resorted to the oldest playground tactic in the book: name-calling. Last week it was “anti-American,” a tack recommended to Hillary Clinton by a top advisor last year but which the senator wisely declined to exercise. This is nothing new, of course: False accusations that Barack Obama doesn’t wear a flag pin, that he refuses to pledge allegiance to the American flag, and that he’s a Muslim have circulated throughout the Internet and by the mainstream media for over a year. But the candidate managed to escape those scurrilous claims—at least enough to win his party’s nomination and take a lead in the latest polls. And so, desperately, deliberately and recklessly, surrogates for John McCain have decided to go whole-hog, with Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann summoning the worst in our country’s political history by suggesting Obama is anti-American and calling for a McCarthyite witch hunt in Congress.

At a rally in Waukesha, Wisconsin earlier this month, a McCain supporter took the microphone and declared his uncontainable anger: “I’m mad. I’m really mad, and what may surprise you is it’s not the economy,” he spat to a roar of cheers. “We’ve got to have our heads examined,” he continued, referring to the prospect of electing Obama as our next president. “It’s time to have you two [McCain and Vice Presidential lightning rod Sarah Palin] represent us. So go get ’em.” It was a call for the McCain campaign to get tougher—and presumably dirtier—on Obama, and when I first saw a clip of the man’s rant on television, I wondered what could possibly have filled him with such anger, hatred and resentment. After all, his party has held the presidency for 20 out of the last 28 years and has had control of Congress for 12 out of the last 14. I thought, “He’s angry?”

The Black Elephant in the Room

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The Black Elephant in the Room
The Black Elephant in the Room

Until a few weeks ago, the elephant in the room during this year’s presidential election wasn’t red—it was black. Barack Obama’s background has been dissected ad nauseam, but no one seemed to want to talk about how his race could affect the polls on November 4th. The Bradley Effect, the discrepancy between the number of white voters who say they’re going to vote for a black candidate and the number of white voters who actually do, is historically about 3%, which just so happens to be the net percentage disparity between many of Obama’s exit poll numbers and his official tallies during the Democratic primary earlier this year. In a close race, 3% can mean the difference between two vastly different worldviews, but Obama will likely overcome that statistic with scores of first-time voters—many of whom haven’t been counted in national polls because they’re not considered “likely voters” or because they don’t have a landline telephone. And the endorsement of former Secretary of State Colin Powell this morning will likely shore up support for Obama among moderates and independents who may have had some trouble picturing a black man in such a powerful government position.

Obama’s concern, then, should not be bashful or latent racism, but overt racism. Employing the same tactics that George W. Bush and Karl Rove successfully used against him in 2000, John McCain and his surrogates have taken to planting the seeds of fear into the American people by attempting to paint Obama as un-American, a foreigner, an “other.” It would be a faux pas to call attention to his blackness, so they’re doing the next best thing: likening him to a Muslim terrorist. The problem is, the closest thing they could find was a domestic terrorist from 40 years ago—and a white, middle-aged one at that.

McCain’s Losing Strategy

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McCain’s Losing Strategy
McCain’s Losing Strategy

John McCain’s politics have been shifting rightward for a few years now, but due to his lingering reputation as a “maverick” willing to buck party lines and thus appeal to independent voters, he remained the candidate Democrats feared most throughout this year’s Republican primary. During his bid for the presidency in 2000, McCain attacked rival George W. Bush’s sleazy Rovian attacks by declaring, “The political tactics of division and slander are not our values…Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance.” His denunciation of the swiftboating of fellow Vietnam vet John Kerry in 2004, the conviction with which he stood up to the Bush Administration on the issues of torture and the Iraq War, and the promise of a clean campaign made him very dangerous indeed.

Since then, however, McCain compromised on the torture bill, embraced the endorsements of those agents of intolerance he once condemned, employed the same tactics of division and slander he decried in 2000, and has blatantly pandered to the outer reaches of his party. Trying to appeal to the extreme right in an election when Barack Obama is perceived as an extreme liberal was an enormous mistake. Playing politics to win your party’s nomination is one thing, but he has only continued to move to the right during the general election. Rather than appeal to independents, undecided voters and Reagan Democrats, and then count on reluctant hard-right conservatives turning out on Election Day to vote against Obama (as they surely will), McCain has done the exact opposite, pushing independents toward Obama and thus neutralizing his biggest asset. It’s an opportunity completely and utterly squandered and, more than any other issue, one that has fundamentally damaged his chances in November.

Sarah Palin Makes Me Yell Things at My TV

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Sarah Palin Makes Me Yell Things at My TV
Sarah Palin Makes Me Yell Things at My TV

I admit it: Sarah Palin is making me go as batshit crazy as a Young Earth Creationist. While watching Real Time with Bill Maher by myself last night, I actually yelled out loud…at the TV. When Maher and his panel—which included Salman Rushdie, Janeane Garofalo and Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund—didn’t hear me the first time (or, rather, when they didn’t finally make the same obvious observation I did), I yelled louder. In defense of Palin’s indefensible lack of knowledge about the Bush Doctrine (or if you want to get technical, the biggest fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy in 200 years) during her interview with Charles Gibson this week, a smug Fund cited a Democratic primary debate in which candidates were asked a similar question but were given a definition of what the doctrine entails, the implication being that no politician running for president, even those in the incumbent party, should be expected to know the basic tenets of the current administration’s foreign policy. The reality is that moderators of nationally televised debates provide information about the topic being discussed partly to avoid publicly embarrassing the candidates but mostly for the benefit of laymen viewers. The Bush Doctrine was simply not one of the topics, buzz phrases or talking points Palin was told to commit to her short-term memory prior to the interview.

Palin Comparison

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Palin Comparison
Palin Comparison

There have been several variants of the same joke floating around the blog and talk show circuits regarding Sarah Palin’s tightly wound persona. Palin is doing quite well with middle-class men and that should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever seen a Van Halen video. I personally prefer the dominatrix-by-night analogy, but sexist or not, the point remains the same: There’s a sense that there’s more than meets the eye to the Republican vice presidential candidate and it’s not very surprising that, as her record has gradually come to light, concerns have swiftly turned from Palin’s lack of experience to specifics about her questionable policies and beliefs. The hullabaloo surrounding Palin’s nomination has muted the Barack Obama campaign’s main credo: that John McCain represents four more years of George W. Bush. Some have speculated that the Palin pick changes that equation, but it actually renders the ticket even Bushier—maybe even Bushier than Bush himself. During her exclusive interview with Charles Gibson last night, Palin echoed the Bush Doctrine of hasty, preemptive war: “We must not blink.”

Despite the current administration’s fervent pandering to the religious right, and despite Bush’s own personal spiritual beliefs (and even some disturbing but only passing allusions to divine military intervention), there was never a real sense that Bush—and especially Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice or former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld—believed that their policies in Iraq were “God’s will.” You’ve no doubt heard by now what Palin told the Wasilla Assembly of God: “Our national leaders are sending [the U.S. Military] out on a task that is from God. That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that plan is God’s plan.” Nebulous at best, but regarding the $500 million natural gas pipeline she has lobbied to have built in her state, Palin made her views clear: “God’s will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that.”

The Real Rudy

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The Real Rudy
The Real Rudy

Last week I had planned to write about Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, but by the time I sat down to do it, much bigger news had (strategically) broken: John McCain chose a woman, first-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, as his running mate. Today I planned to sound off on Palin’s first major national address at the Republican National Convention last night, but there was a very different kind of introduction, one that occurred just seconds before Palin took the stage, that I can’t seem to get off my mind. Palin proved she could deliver a punch, and she was plenty sarcastic and condescending when referring to the Democratic nominee for president, but her remarks paled in comparison to those of keynote speaker Rudy Giuliani.

Americans were introduced to the Giuliani that New Yorkers have known and loathed for years. During the Republican primary, the former mayor rarely showed his true colors, biting his tongue so hard and so often that, at several debates, it seemed like he might choke on it. There was speculation about what the general public’s reaction would be if he showed even a glimmer of his famous temper and disposition, and what impact that would have on his campaign—a campaign that, of course, didn’t last long enough for us to find out. During his keynote address, Giuliani was at turns vicious, condescending, inaccurate, unoriginal and downright contemptible.

Palin Around

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Palin Around
Palin Around

Mere hours after the Democratic Party officially nominated the first black man to a major political party in United States history, John McCain announced that his vice presidential pick will be Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. She’s an intelligent, articulate, pro-gun, pro-life, pro-oil drilling, climate-change-denying conservative; more importantly, she’s a former beauty queen. McCain has been fiendishly eyeing Hillary Clinton’s leftovers for months, hoping to lure the New York senator’s disgruntled female followers into the fold, and Palin—what with her having breasts and a vagina—is his last-ditch attempt to seal the deal. The implication that those lingering Clinton supporters only care about how close their gender gets to the Oval Office (and with McCain celebrating his 72nd birthday yesterday, Palin will be just a heartbeat away) is not only naïve, but insulting to those very women. Surely they care more about the issues than settling a score with Barack Obama. Surely they realize that the 44-year-old Palin, a one-term governor of a state whose population exceeds only three others in the union, is not a suitable proxy for Clinton.

To be fair, there’s still a lot to learn about Palin (oddly, McCain’s decision has inadvertently managed to make Obama seem like a veteran politico—or at the very least, a household name), but her relative inexperience on domestic issues and wholesale inexperience on foreign affairs makes her an unusual pick for a candidate who has routinely criticized his opponent on those same points. Joe Biden shored up Obama’s ticket with a wealth of international experience, knowledge and know-how, but in addition to scoring votes, Biden would also be a valuable asset to an Obama presidency should they win the election in November. Palin, it seems, would not. The only way McCain’s selection could have been more cynical, more transparent a vie for votes, is if he had chosen Condoleezza Rice as a running mate, but at least she has the experience, if not the judgment or competency. As it stands, McCain’s pick completely undercuts the senator’s claim that he’s the candidate who puts “country first.” These are all things, it’s interesting to note, that Republicans, including King Reagan, took issue with when Democratic nominee Walter Mondale chose Geraldine Ferraro as his vice presidential pick in 1984.

The Great Uniter

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The Great Uniter
The Great Uniter

Yesterday afternoon, California congresswoman and fervent Hillary Clinton supporter Loretta Sanchez attempted—and failed, exceptionally—to explain to MSNBC’s mini-Olbermann Dan Abrams why she hasn’t endorsed Barack Obama for president. Abrams guffawed with apt incredulity at the implications of extortion and self-involvement behind Sanchez’s suggestion that Camp Obama hasn’t done enough to encourage his supporters to pay down Clinton’s debts and that she would endorse him if only he would give her a jingle. The woman’s whiny, petty explanation seemed, at least to me, to be representative (pun intended) of many Clinton supporters’ ongoing complaints about the unfair treatment the former First Lady endured during the primary season and their threats of defection to Team McCain. Continued calls for “Hillary in 2012” while the ’08 election is still more than two months away have inspired an unexpected reaction in me: She lost. Get over it.

All of this lingering resentment among Clinton’s legion of followers (and make no mistake—that’s what they are) makes one question if the candidate herself has done enough to try to unite her party behind her former rival. Having her name put into nomination at the Democratic National Convention this week, and her claim that her supporters require a “catharsis” at the Denver event haven’t helped matters. Clinton gave a generous concession speech back in June, and her first joint appearance with Obama went off without a hitch, but it was her headline address at the convention last night that will change the way historians reflect on her groundbreaking campaign to become the first woman president of the United States, and it might just have been one of her finest moments as a politician.

Palin Drone

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Palin Drone
Palin Drone

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who noticed John McCain’s stroke face during his brief press conference yesterday afternoon in which he announced the inexplicable but temporary suspension of his campaign. I don’t think one’s age (or skin color or lack of a penis, for that matter) impedes him or her from doing the job of President—in fact, those traits could be viewed as strengths in the 21st century. It’s McCain’s health, and the fact that the person he chose as his proxy should anything happen to him is completely unqualified—intellectually, principally and otherwise—that is most frightening. This fact is confirmed further each and every time that person, Sarah Palin, opens her mouth and let’s out a drone of rehearsed soundbites or an incomprehensible string of improvisations, the latest examples of which can be found in droves in her interview with Katie Couric, which concluded tonight on CBS.

When asked about ties between McCain campaign manager Rick Davis and lobbying firm Freddie Mac, Palin said, “My understanding is Rick Davis recused himself from the dealings in that firm.” When pressed, she paused like a broken robot or a telemarketer who’s been thrown off her script. She wracked her brain (for what? An answer aside from the ones she was spoon-fed by the campaign? An alternate version of the talking points she was instructed to memorize? Perhaps the reasons she agreed to be McCain’s VP pick in the first place?) and then slowly regurgitated the exact same answer, right down to the verb “recuse.”