Wednesday, February 27, 2008


The word has come that William F. Buckley, Jr. has died.

The case can be made for Buckley as the most influential journalist of the second half of the 20th century. He was most responsible, first, for separating conservatism from the outright bigots and John Birchers, and second for making the defeat of imperial communism seem achievable--which, in the end, it was. When the cracking of the Soviet Empire finally occurred in the 1990s, when what Buckley had envisioned as far back as the 1940s finally happened, it happened with such a thoroughness and such a repudiation of the past that many were drawn to believe it was inevitable. It was not. The defeat of the Warsaw Pact happened because men like Buckley were able to give voice to an idea, and because men like (to list a partial honor role) Eisenhower, Dulles, Kennedy, Rusk and Reagan put that idea into action.

Update: Welcome, Irish Trojan readers. Anyone influenced by Buckley's words and works will be at home here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Clinton Watch III--The photo

If you haven't seen it, it's here.

Jim Geraghty, at his Campaign Spot blog at NRO, unearthed a talking-points memo that adds a whole new chapter to the history of non-denial denial. The questions are the presumptive ones from reporter's; the answers are those that Hillary's staffers are expected to produce:

Q: In the campaign’s official statement today Maggie Williams does not directly respond to whether the Clinton campaign circulated this picture. Do you know whether anyone in your camp circulated this picture?

A: No. I was not aware of it, the campaign didn’t sanction it and did not know anything about it.

Q: Have you asked all of the campaign staff about this?

A: We have over 700 people on this campaign and I’m not in a position to know what each one of them may or may not have done.

Have you actually seen the email the campaign is supposedly circulating? If you do see it, let me know.

For now, all we know is that the Drudge Report mentions an e-mail, but you haven’t seen it and to date, it’s not clear whether this e-mail even exists.

Q: Are you going to make any effort to question the staff about whether anybody actually sent out an e-mail like that?

A: I’m not in the position to ask 700 people to come in and answer questions about it. To put this as clearly and simply as I can: I was not aware of it, the campaign didn’t sanction it and did not know anything about it.

In the end--if this was unearthed by Hillary's camp, and if it was circulated (probably by a staffer protected by five layers of deniability, sort of the analog to Carlo Rizzi in The Godfather) the irony would be palpable, since no one made more of a fetish than Hillary in dressing up in native garb during her endless goodwill missions as First Lady. Just sayin'.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


I'm guessing a big night for No Country for Old Men: picture, director, adapted screenplay, supporting and a lot of the technical stuff.

Otherwise, I'll take the chalk: Daniel Day-Lewis, Julie Christie, Ruby Dee.

Beyond that, I'll be posting in the comments section over at The Irish Trojan.

Update: Nothing like 1) Stewart bombing with three atrocious political jokes in a row before recovering slightly with his black/woman President asteroid thing, and 2) Amy Adams lip-synching as poorly as a guest on the old Brady Bunch Variety Hour.

A whole hour, and no crapping about global warming. A record?

Update: Tilda Swinton, in the first stunner of the night. Tough category--I saw every performance except Ruby Dee's, all four were exemplary, and Dee was supposed to win.

The Coens, best screenplay: The first sign it might be a big night for No Country For Old Men. (Bardem was a stand-alone.)

Update:And while we're at it, what about the sorry state of film songs? Best Song once went to classics like "When You Wish Upon a Star" and "Somewhere over the Rainbow." As recent as two decades ago, "Footloose" competed with "Against All Odds" competed with . . .

HOLY CRAP! Marie Cotillard?

Anyone with the Swinton-Cotillard parlay?

Okay, back to my original point. Do you realize there was a time that "You're the One That I Want" from "Grease" didn't crack the top five? Or "Grease," the song itself? Or that none of the original songs the Bee Gees wrote for "Saturday Night Fever" earned a nomination?

This time? I suppose the catchy reggae-ish Kristin Chenoweth song from "Enchanted" is catchy. And that thing about the kid musician. Catchy. That's it.
And we'll never hear these songs again.

(Thought, a day later: I saw that spikey little song from Juno performed live (well, live at the event)--not the one about how could anyone want anyone else, but the one about never meeting a boy named Troy she didn't like. It blew away the five on Oscar night, both in composition and delivery. Geez, what's with this Academy? Or was the song not written for the movie?)

Update: Okay--Stewart redeems himself majorly by bringing the girl from best song back to talk.

I'm with Brendan Loy (over at Irish Trojan) re the long, unfunny routines, the endless segments, etc. But to be specific, the worst--the really only truly unforgivable--aspect of each Oscars telecast is the shutting off of the microphone just as the One Winner Too Many steps forward. That tactic is a disgrace, especially given how unfairly it is dispensed. Adrien Brody can shush Bill Conti's orchestra so he might speak two, three, four minutes long. Julia Roberts can speak so long she might be filibustering the Voting Rights Act, and people can marvel at her "spunk." But let the second winning Art Director try to say hello to her children, and not only does the orchestra start up, they shut off the freaking mike , thus maximizing the humiliation toward this poor person at the precise apex of that person's professional life.

If this will continue, never mind Stewart or Goldberg or even Chris Rock. Assign Chuck Barris the permanent host and be done with it.

Stewart isn't having a good night. But his gesture toward that poor embarrassed woman makes up for everything.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Jimmy's blog

By the way, anyone who is of a like mind (or maybe not like-minded, or perhaps into gardening) as commenter Jimmy, aka "liberal wingnut" (that was one commenter) aka Prof Jimmy, aka my colleague Jimmy Langston, should check him out on Jimmy's Blog.

Lotta family stuff, lotta gardening stuff. Some politics. (How about some poker tips? It appears that the Houston Chronicle, in its unending quest to remove anything worth reading from its pages, had stopped wossname's Saturday poker column.) General sunniness from a smart egg.

In fact . . . it appears Jimmy kept closer track of the Writer's Strike than I did. Both of us had dogs in that particular hunt, Jimmy with family member and myself with my friend Cinco Paul. I was bowled over by the start of the semester and lost track of the goings-on. Jimmy, not so much.


When I was young, I wanted to do two things: read books and go to the movies.

In high school, I wanted to read, write, drive a car, and go to the movies.

In my twenties, I wanted to read, write, teach, get laid, and go to the movies.

In my thirties, I wanted to read, write, jog, get laid, watch baseball, play softball, play golf and go to the movies.

Now, in my forties, I want to read, write, jog, play golf, teach, watch baseball ands go to the movies. (Out of deference to Astro-Girl, matters of intimacy are omitted.)

Sense a pattern?

The idea of going to the movies has never waned; the idea of watching the Oscars, however, has gone up or down with the quality of the movies.

A few years ago, home alone one Sunday night after after softball, exhausted and bored, I could not bring myself to watch any Oscar show that would award Best Picture to such a pile of crap as American Beauty, a film that tweaked the genre of Release Your Inner Jew films (Ordinary People, Interiors) and replaced it with Release Your Inner Gay. I had grown up with the Oscars, had reveled in the Best Picture victory of Rocky and mourned the loss of Apocalypse Now (to Kramer vs. Kramer, no less!). There were years, boys and girls, when the Final Four championship would actually be scheduled against the Oscars, and I felt genuine torment over which one to give my attention. (The best solution I remember was in 1987, when I was home for Spring Break, and my family and I dragged my parents color TV from the bedroom to the living room and placed it side-by-side with our living room console, thus allowing me to watch Keith Smart's jump shot to lead Indiana over Syracuse just as Dianne Wiest was accepting her Oscar for Hannah and Her Sisters.)

However, in the late nineties and early aughts, my attention dwindled to nothing, then reached its apotheosis (never mind waiting for them, I out-and-out avoided them) with American Beauty.

What brought me back? I can remember a certain trio of films released in December, 2005, essentially two winters ago: Capote, The Squid and the Whale, and Good Night and Good Luck. Of those films, only Squid I would describe as great(I caught the tail end of the film last night and had to watch it to the end, so transfixed was I with Jeff Daniels' boorish self-pity in easily the best performance of his career), but all three films struck me, in a way that almost defies explanation, as the sort of films we go to the movies for. All three were bound up with the Oscars, and so I was eager, two months later, to watch. The same feeling strikes me this year, as--for the very first time--I will have seen all five nominated-for-Best-Picture films by the time of the broadcast, and will have accumulated my own rooting interests (especially Ellen Page for Best Actress and Saoirse Ronan for Best Supporting Actress, dark horses both).

In recent months, as the number of art film houses in Houston has reduced to one (The River Oaks 3, with the nabobs of Weingarten Realty eyeing the choice location near West Gray and Shepherd), I've decided to appreciate what remains, and have spent a few afternoons availing myself of the ancient old palace. To be sure, my selection has been limited; DesertRose recommended a movie a month or so ago--Starting Out in the Evening, or something--but with Houston's art films limited to a total of three screens, said film was here and gone in what felt like a week. But I have seen enough.

Inspired by Prof Jimmy's nice words, I'm going to forget all about politics for a weekend and think about that far more satisfying element of the world, movies.

To start, some earlier thoughts about Atonement here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

McCain v. Times, Day 2

Prof Jimmy, my liberal sparmate, writes:

McCain is in trouble (of course, he always was). The Newsweek story today shows, based on his own testimony, that he lied in his denials yesterday. He said the lobbyists never asked him to intervene, and his earlier testimony claims they did. The deeper problem for him is that he has created this Maverick persona, part of which is a dislike for lobbyists and lobbying. He surrounds himself with lobbyists. That looks hypocritical.

He paints a picture of himself as a campaign finance reformer, and now he is caught playing games with public campaign finance rules. He has been pushing the envelope, ethically, on the very issues he tries to hold up as his strong points.

Hmm. A few thoughts.

1. At time like these I envy (on behalf of those I support) Bill Clinton's political skills. I have often said that if the Clinton White House had responded to Katrina precisely the way the Bush White House did, with two exceptions, President Clinton would have gained 10 points in the polls. Clinton would have the political savvy, first, to fly to New Orleans, have his advance team ferret out the gnarliest, sweatiest, fattest black woman in Ward Nine, then make sure he was photographed hugging her in a suitably hagiographic way: say, with the White House Press Corps positioned twenty feet lower than them, and with the tall weeds taking up half the frame. This would have been the cover of Time magazine, and would be the voters' lasting memory of Katrina. Second, Clinton would have found rhetoric suitable to placing the blame for what went wrong precisely in the lap of that buffoon, Mayor Nagin, in the sly, sliding way he tried to diminish Obama's victory in South Carolina.

Apropos of his methods, I can see Clinton faced with a story such as in the Times (not that the Times would ever run a story like yesterday's against Bill Clinton). Bill Clinton (or, more likely, his acolytes) would start by insinuating that the writers were threatened by a successful woman. He would then make some statement that was manifestly false ("I did not . . . have . . . sexual . . . relations . . . with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky") but too time-consuming and humiliating to disprove, and after it was disproven he would declare being caught in a lie "old news the American people are tired of." McCain doesn't have Clinton's skill (who does?), and he might suffer for it.

2. Given a day's reflection, there is something sticking out about all these accusations, and the something is only salutary to the right wing that is presently rushing to McCain's defense. McCain-Feingold was the greatest assault on free speech since the Alien and Sedition Acts, and the driving force was McCain's own sense of redemption in the wake of the Keating Five. Conservatives with no dog in the fundraising hunt despised McCaun-Feingold on principle, in favor of a set of regulations proposed by George Will:

*No cash
*No foreign money
*Full disclosure

However . . . there was, I now realize, another element to conservatives' distaste to McCain-Feingold, one that went beyond its First Amendment implications, even beyond the New York Times' approbation for the free speech restriction/incumbent protection legislation that was laughingly termed "campaign finance reform." Our distaste was rooted, I now see, in the notion that McCain-as-maverick was a set-up from the start, a means of the MSM's using McCain himself as a cudgel to club other Republicans as long as he was useful. Once that usefulness was exhausted--once Romney, Thompson, and Guiliani were disposed of (and make no mistake, there is no public figure in America the Times despises so much as Rudy)--McCain could be discarded.

How else does one explain the Times' endorsement of McCain in the New York primary a month ago--at the very moment they were sitting on the front-page story we all read yesterday?

In the end (or, to be more precise, the middle), going after McCain was just so easy. Chuck Schumer can, in one month, pull in 800 grand in campaign contributions from the very hedge fund managers he regulates, but Schumer has the look and countenance of a mob lawyer, so nobody cares. Bill Clinton can play Stable Boy and the Milkmaid in the Oval Office, but everyone takes his scoundrel history as read, and discounts it. But as for McCain, for whom the last 20 years has been about moral and ethical rectitude, a flimsy, patched-together story is enough to call into doubt his entire ethos, so it runs, and it has effect.

3. Understand where all this is going. Prof Jimmy is (as Don Vito would say) a serious person, worthy of respect. His mention of the Newsweek story is worthy of examination.

So I read the thing.

My verdict? McCain is in trouble here . . . but only slightly, only in the realm of He talked to someone, as opposed to, He didn't talk to someone. If any of this mess hangs up McCain, it will be in the realm of telling a lie about something nobody can pin on nobody.

Above all else? McCain gains yardage here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

McCain v. the Times

1. This story is the best news for McCain since Florida. Nothing--nothing--pushes the right wing toward a fellow GOPer as quickly as a New York Times hit piece. In fact, there were some Republicans such as Phil Gramm (on economics) and Jesse Helms (on affirmative action) who understood the dynamic, and reveled in the Times' disdain. McCain decided to take a different tack, and--in winning the Times' endorsement for the New York GOP primary--seemed to make a definite move toward the middle, in hopes of catching independents and (what seemed important at the time) anti-Hillary Democrats.

On his radio show on January 30th, Rush Limbaugh (no fan of McCain) said as much as this: as soon as McCain becomes the presumptive nominee, the leftist press who gloried in him versus Bush, versus Romney, versus Guiliani will turn on him with a vengeance. Today Limbaugh replayed the quote--and who could blame him? While watching cable news today, one watched mainstream Republicans barely containing themselves. There will little of what Limbaugh said to McCain supporters--Now you gonna listen to me?--but it hardly needed to be said.

McCain is the GOP nominee, period, and the oldest rule of the schoolyard is, "Nobody hits my little brother but me."

2. At the same time, the point of the article was hardly to hang McCain up for either a) cheating on his wife, b) ethics violations. Neither of these was the intent of the article. The intent of the article was to make McCain fair game for any of a number of allegations that would use the Times story as a jumping-off point.

When it comes to the Times, what matters is not that any one allegation be true, but that story after story, charge after charge, push a certain narrative forward, if only a little. I have seen this tactic in action since I was fifteen years old. Ronald Reagan was a doddering old fool (fool enough to win the Cold War, reduce the number of nuclear missiles in Europe, and keep the Contra cause alive in Nicaragua just long enough to ensure democracy in Central America). George H.W. Bush was a lightweight (Ambassador to China, RNC Chair, Head of the CIA, Vice-President for eight years, mastermind of the Kuwaiti liberation at the expense of 132 American lives--some lightweight!). Dan Quayle: moron. (To sight one example, get him talking about the history of Southeast Asia over the last half-century.) George W. Bush was a draft dodger (who was trained to fly rickety old bombers, and for it suffered a quarter-century of calumny and lies, culminating in a smear campaign so ten-thumbed it brought down a network news division).

Well, what of John McCain? War hero, prisoner of war, torture victim for five years (and it bears repeating, not so the North Vietnamese might procure information he might have had, but so they might convince him to walk out the front door of the Hanoi Hilton), advocate of some of the very policies the Times finds admirable but the right wing sees as odious (campaign finance, illegal immigrant amnesty, etc., etc.), ethics above reproach. The Times knows in its DNA that its general election recommendation will be either Obama or Hillary, probably the former.

So what to do?

Cut him off at the knees. Cut him off at his strongest point, his ethics. And cut him off in such a way that the rest of the MSM, like Basset Hounds hearing a dog whistle, might conclude it was open season.

And so we have the basic outline of the attack. The Huffpost, a nice distillation of up-market American liberalism, gives the basic angles of attack:

Only the tip of the iceberg:Cliff Schecter uses these precise words:

Many are also unaware, because somehow it has evaded the media's radar, that he's surrounded himself with more lobbyists than Jack Abramoff on a golf outing. Vicki Iseman, and his actions on behalf of her clients, is only the tip of the tip of the iceberg. Rick Davis, his campaign manager. Corporate lobbyist. Charlie Black, one of his chief advisors. Corporate lobbyist. We could continue, but The Huffington Post would cut me off and close the bar before I would finish.

John McCain has done many honorable things in his life. Some of them, such as his stances on campaign finance reform, a gun-show loophole and carbon emissions came during his brief period of political sanity, which lasted from about 1999 until 2004 (hmm, what happened in 2004 that might have changed things...).

But much of his tenure in Washington has been marred by behavior entirely at odds with the image that has been granted him. It's time the media told us the truth. We can handle the truth.

The Postman Always Rings Twice: As in, maybe he didn't have sex with this lobbyist, but this story is a metaphor for everything wrong with him:

Personally, I think his physical and political embrace of George W. Bush was the most lewd and obscene act this guy could commit, proving that it was easier for him to withstand years of torture by the Viet Cong than resist his own tortured political ambitions.

Ridicule is now allowed: It's hard to treat a hero like McCain with the same disdain reserved for a Quayle, a W, or even genuine war heroes such as Bush 41 or Bob Dole. There's not a sentient adult in America unaware of McCain's biography, and it's hard to get around.

The Times story opens the door. Treat yourself to a sample of Huffposter Chris Kelly:

John McCain sleeps around? It's like that awful Warhol movie that imagines Frankenstein's monster doing it. And the same week as the Gene Simmons' sex tape, too. How would Michelle Obama put it? For the first time in my country's life, I'm really proud to be an adult.


Eww. Do you think he calls her "my friend" when they're doing it? Do you think he calls his penis "my friend?"

No, you know it's the "A4 Skyhawk."

And with a young woman named Iseman! You don't have to like puns much to get a kick out of that. Doing it with a man who's barely alive. I, semen, meet I, Robot.

And is there a better name for an old porn star than "Johnny McCane?" "Roger Hickory?" "Rod Leathery?"

And then this:

And afterwards she has to dress him, because he can't move his arms.

Cripple humor! Ha ha ha ha ha!

Back in the nineties, when the right seemed to take over humor, when PJ O'Rourke was the funniest political journalist and Christopher Buckley the funniest political novelist, the question was asked: Where are all the funny leftists? Where are the heirs to Mort Sahl, George Carlin, and the Harvard Lampoon? When did liberals become the more-water-in-your-beer crowd, the dweebs whining, Not funnny, guys?

Well, now we know. Jon Stewart has a few lively moments, though his self-importance will be his undoing. Beyond that: Al Franken? Bill Maher? Leftist humor is nonexistent because it sucks.

Well, McCain should now know what he's up against.

Hillary Watch II, etc.

Plagiarism? Is that all she's got? Leaving aside their (eg Lanny Davis's) pretending they didn't make the accusation when they did (once again, telling a lie about their lying when they're lying), what struck me about the accusation was that it was so lame.

This is the famed Clinton attack machine? Howie Carr, in the Boston Herald, was . . . well, if it's possible to be quoted laughing:

How desperate is Hillary Clinton when she’s accusing Barack Obama of lifting material from Deval Patrick?

First of all, Deval is working for him - you can’t steal something from somebody who’s working for you. Second of all, if Barack ever does get caught lifting material from somebody else who’s not on the team, he can always dust off the ultimate excuse:

It wasn’t plagiarism, it was an homage.

That’s what those wacky Jerry Lewis-loving French film directors always used to say when somebody caught them lifting scenes, shot by shot, from a crappy Grade B Monogram film noir.

Lame, lame, lame. Is that it?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Can Dean act as peacemaker?

Story here.

If the DNC is ever hard up for money, it could offer, on pay-per-view, the sight of (if it comes to that) Howard Dean sitting down with both Clintons to explain that the campaign is over.

I'd tune in.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Hillary Watch II

Some addendums to the below:

1. A few days ago Brendan Loy,The Irish Trojan, caught Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson in a rather interesting quote:

We are not making distinctions between certain kinds of delegates. We don’t make distinctions between delegates that are chosen by millions of voters in a primary or tens of thousands of voters in a caucus. We don’t make a distinction between elected officials.

Loy responds:

Heh. I love the blatant dishonesty of the statement, "We don't make distinctions between [primaries and caucuses]." I wish someone had replied, "Of course you do, Howard! You've done it consistently throughout the last several weeks, and in fact, you're doing it right now, under the guise of denying it!" It takes a truly artful liar to lie about the very words he is saying, even as he says them. These Billary people really make dishonesty an artform.

2. SunDevil Joe adds:

Regarding Florida and Michigan, I'm sure Bill and Hill will find a "disinterested party" to file a lawsuit to seat the delegates.

Laurence Tribe, probably. More in sorrow than in anger.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hillary Watch

The next three weeks are going to be fun.

Having watched the Clintons in action--their splendid narcisissm, the elegant way they demonize their opponents by pretending to compliment them, their brutal tactics, and above all their (especially his) oceans of self-pity--I was hoping for just this scenario.

I've again finished reading Robert McKee's Story, his screenwriting book (not in preparation for attempting a screenplay, like Nicholas Cage's brother, Nicholas Cage, in Adaptation, but because McKee's writing is so damn fascinating). What McKee tells us over and over is: in order to reveal the true nature of your character, expose him (or her) to the maximum amount of pressure.

The "maximum amount of pressure" appears to be the case here, as the Clintons gird themselves for three weeks of "When Will She Get Out?" and "Clintons in Turmoil" stories while Obama moves through the relatively favorable part of the primary/caucus schedule. And so the question becomes: what stop will they pull out, what tactic will they employ, what glass will they need to break, what steamer trunk of evil have they been saving for just the moment?

As I wrote below, the Clintons have faced eight major challenges since being stunned by the 1994 mid-terms. The closest-run of the bunch was the early Lewinsky scandal, which Bill survived out of sheer gall: marching cabinet members out in the rain to declare their support to reporters, attending church hand-in-hand with Hillary in Great Stoic Face mode while holding out his Bible like a peace offering. The early momentum against Clinton was quelled in a matter of days, first with Clinton's lectern-pounding denial, then with a State of the Union Address that, by implication, somehow commingled the charges against him with effort to defeat Social Security reform.

I have friends who argue that the Starr investigation should never have gone into Lewinsky, it was all about sex, blah, blah, blah. I don't entirely disagree. (And I thought Ken Starr should have folded the hand months earlier, simply because I thought it so futile. The Grand Jury system only works upon the penalty of jail time for a refusal to answer; what was Starr going to do, deliver a contempt citation to the White House and lead Clinton out in handcuffs?) My point was, in a scandal that never really threatened his presidency, not after the SOTU, Clinton was willing to survive by challenging every canon of accepted political wisdom. Think about it: supposedly, the lesson of Watergate was that the cover-up was worse than the crime. Bill Clinton turned that notion on his head by engaging in a cover-up for months, and then, upon finding himself with no further outs, made a vague confession, whereupon his supporters instantly declared the entire business "old news the American people are sick of." And the thing is, they were right. The eight-month cover-up separated Bill Clinton from his misdeeds in a way no quick confession ever could.

Now the Clintons find themselves in a much rougher patch, staring at the first concrete evidence of their waning political power, and what is worse, their increasing irrelevance. And the question is: What will they do? We already have some clues provided by the New York Times here.

Of special note is the matter of the Florida and Michigan delegates. Veteran Clinton-watchers no doubt saw this scenario months ago. Now, I'm not a Democrat; it makes no difference to me how the Dems select their nominee. They could draw straws, for all I care. Still, one's essential sense of fairness dictates that everyone be told of the process from the start, so every candidate can plan and campaign accordingly, and that the process set in place at the start be adhered to. (The principle is the same with Gore's loss in 2000, but that's another conversation.) Going in, the Dems--all of them--were told that neither Flroida nor Michigan would count. Every major candidate agreed not to campaign in either state. Every candidate, save Hillary, removed their names from both states' ballots, an act I felt was odd at the time. (If pressed, a Clintonite might say, Oh, on, off, what does it matter?)

I had a familiar tingle when I heard that Hillary was making an appearance in Florida right before the primary, though we were told, No, this isn't campaigning, it's a fundraiser, and besides Obama is running ads on CNN, and Floridians get CNN, and therefore Obama is campaigning in Florida, not Hillary. (This is a common Clinton tactic: deny you're doing what you're doing, then accuse the opposition of doing what you're doing. See: "The politics of personal destruction.") Then Hillary--only name on the ballot, remember--stunned everyone by having a "victory celebration" in Florida, at the beginning of which I, while watching at home, said out loud, "She will talk about getting the Florida delegates seated within two minutes." I was wrong--it took one minute; one minute to turn the entire story from the rules of the Democratic nominating process to the "disenfranchisement" of the voters of Michigan and especially Florida, and, oh, by the way, did we mention how many of them are poor and black?

The only truly funny thing is how the DNC, by all accounts, had no idea the Clintons would pull such a gambit. A few days ago, this was presented as news:

With every delegate precious, Mrs. Clinton’s advisers also made it clear that they were prepared to take a number of potentially incendiary steps to build up Mrs. Clinton’s count. Top among these, her aides said, is pressing for Democrats to seat the disputed delegations from Florida and Michigan, who held their primaries in January in defiance of Democratic Party rules.

Mrs. Clinton won more votes than Mr. Obama in both states, though both candidates technically abided by pledges not to campaign actively there.

Gotta love that "technically."

And this is only the start.

Friday, February 08, 2008

A friend writes

My liberal friend, the brilliant Prof Jimmy, responds to my previous post.

Come on Joe. You really think the Dems are afraid of McCain? Sure, Clinton wouldn't beat him by nearly as much as Obama would, but she would still beat him. He is the least objectionable to the collective factions that make up the Republican base, but he is not going to turn out the vote. Dems are going to turn out in huge numbers, especially if it's Obama. Look at the numbers of voters showing up for the Dem primaries. The Dems are going to win. The main hope for you guys should be that Clinton is the next Prez: you can use your hatred of her to begin reuniting your party.

I agree with what you say about the Dem convention. It certainly looks like the superdelegates could decide it, which is awful. Clinton has the establishment behind her, and has to be the favorite if it comes to that.

I will take current GOP troubles as read (or, perhaps, red). The electoral legacy of W's administration may be its ability to eke out 52-48, 51-49, or (in the case of Florida and Ohio) 50.5-49.5 percent victories over Kerry in the battleground states. Karl Rove ran rings around Bob Shrum by assuming the independent vote would eventually split 50-50, then plowing every last dollar into base turn-out. However, the fragility of that victory was underscored in 2006, when the GOP lost both houses, the Senate in supposedly red states like Virginia, Montana, and Missouri; and the House by way of nearly entire GOP delegations pushed out in Indiana and Connecticut, plus enough conservative Dem successes in the South. There is a tipping point in American politics in which an entire slew of 51%-49% victories become 49%-51% defeats. This happened at the Congressional level in '06; it may well continue on this year, in the above states, plus (as I've written) Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, New Mexico, and Iowa.

Before the 2006 mid-terms, the task for the eventual 2008 Dem nominee was simple: win every state Kerry carried, plus either Florida or Ohio. Afterward, who knew? Run strong in the Union slave states, run strong along the Mississippi from the Mason-Dixon southward, pick off a few Mountain states--and why not a landslide? And, with McCain becoming the nominee, precisely one of those states moves into the strong GOP column: Arizona.

Add to that the relative enthusiasm of the Dems vis-a-vis the GOP, and the deal seems sealed.

But. Consider the following:

1. The Dems are afraid of McCain. Some are straightforward enough to admit it, Bob Beckel for one. Some inadvertantly reveal it, like the Kossack who floated the rumor of a McCain-Huckabee ticket (snort) or McCain-Romney (based on the rumor of a silent deal between the two, which isn't true because, at this point, McCain wouldn't need to deal with anyone that way). They may be saving the better oppo for the summer, but right now they sound almost silly: George Bush's third-term. McCain missed X number of votes. 100-year war. Blah blah blah. Are the Dems the odd-on favorite? Sure, on balance, especially with Obama. But a McCain as presumptive nominee on February 7th is not what the Dems wanted.

A McCain victory would be an upside-down version of what W accomplished: carrying a majority of independents and cutting into enough Dems who see his way on the war, while hoping enough conservatives show up. Not an easy task, but doable, and easier by far than how the math would have broken for either Romney or Huckabee.

2. As for the Dems themselves, we are entering three areas of the unknown:

*Brokered convention.

*First African-American nominee, potentially.

The first is not as likely as I thought yesterday. At this moment, both Obama and Hillary have about 900 delegates apiece. If either of them wins 55 percent of all remaining contested delegates, he or she would have to win 40 percent of superdelegates to go over the top before the convention. This is completely doable by either of them. Maybe, maybe not--and if not, who knows what happens at the first brokered convention in real time, even a second ballot? How does it affect the Dems if they go to a second ballot with state-by-state results read off while cameras train on Hillary and Obama in their hotel rooms? Thing is, nobody knows.

Now suppose Obama is the nominee. First African-American. It helps that he is a Democrat. Had Colin Powell run in 1996 (which, in retrospect, he should have), we would have been treated to a run-down of his policies and accomplishments. If Obama is the nominee, we will be lectured non-stop about whether we have the "courage" and "maturity" to vote for an African-American. Now, it is true (and a little bit shameful) that, in this scenario, McCain will become the '86 Boston Celtics and stand as the choice of blatant racists. And Obama will carry 90% of the black vote, which a Dem nominee would carry anyway.

Beyond that voting pattern--what? The Dems nominated a Catholic in 1928--Al Smith--and found anti-papist sentiment more virulent than they had suspected; even New Yorkers who had voted for him to be Governor couldn't bring themselves to vote for him as President--he lost in his home state, while the down-ballot, Democratic, Protestant candidate for Governor (FDR) cruised to victory. Thirty-two years later, Democrats with memories of Smith's debacle blanched at nominating another Catholic, but Kennedy won the heavily Protestant West Virginia primary, made his Houston speech, clobbered Nixon in their first debate, and became President. (It's likely the Mormons will have to travel a similar path, but that's another conversation.) Jesse Jackson, as the Dem nominee, would have lost all 50 states to Bush 41 (and it's instructive to remember the 1988 Jackson boomlet, the one that lasted the week between the Michigan primary, which Jackson won, and the New York Primary, in which Democratic Catholics and Jews showed up in legions to vote against him). Really: how would an African-American candidate fair on a national general election? It's an interesting question, because, really, nobody knows.

*Finally, we have Hillary and Bill Clinton. Now, ponder this: since the 1994 midterms, one or both of them have faced a total of eight enormous challenges: the 1995 government shutdown, the 1996 Presidential re-election run, the 1997 Thompson committee on campaign finance irregularities, the early 1998 Lewinsky allegations, the 1998 midterms, the 1998-99 impeachment process, Hillary's 2000 Senate run, the 2001 Whitewater perjury rap, and Hillary's 2006 re-election run. In seven of eight, Bill or Hillary or both have emerged not only victorious--usually smashingly so--but emboldened. In the eighth (Whitewater), Bill was able to finesse a meaningless suspension of his Arkansas law license and manage to have the news buried on W's inaguration day and spin the event into evidence of his persecution. (I think I could actually like the rascal if not for his self-pity.) My point here is that, outside of the horror show that is their marriage, neither Clinton has actually lost anything in a dozen years. I have an inkling they've forgotten the feeling. Faced with the prospect an Obama within, say, 200 delegates of wrapping up the nomination (and the Maryland-Delaware-DC primaries will tell a lot), will Hillary simply take Howard Dean's marching orders, shrug her shoulders, and return to the Senate, where she can mark up defense appropriation bills for the next 20 years? Or will the Clintons go nuclear, pull out every stop, sink to any level, destroy whom they must in order to return to the White House? And if they go for option 2, what effect will it have on the party if they succeed? What effect if they fail? Once again, we just don't know.

In terms you would appreciate, Jimmy, the Dems at present are holding wired aces, pre-flop. But a lot of cards are still to be turned over. Coming out of the convention in 1988, Mike Dukakis had a 17-point lead. Four years later, at this point in the calendar, Bill Clinton was running third, behind Perot and Bush. And the GOP has put itself in the best shape possible by going to McCain, and going early.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Mac is back . . . ing in?

A few thoughts:

1. We've been hearing about lack of GOP voter enthusiasm, which is true. We've been told about red states turning purple (Ohio, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, Missouri), which is also true. There is also a tinge of McCain winning almost by default, like Ohio State backing into the BCS Championship by playing its final regular-season game against Michigan around the seventeenth of November, then sitting around while all the contenders beat up on each other. We heard the litany: Mitt never closed the deal emotionally, Thompson got in too late and seemed lazy and half-hearted, Guiliani squandered a national lead by running the most inept campaign since Mitt's father George Romney in '68, and Huckabee was, well, Huckabee. All true, all true, but know this: the Dems are scared out of their socks tonight, if only because McCain is the one guy they have no clue how to run against. Surfing the other side today, I've twice read how John McCain would be "George W. Bush's third term." Never mind if it's true, which it obviously isn't. If Howard Dean thinks anyone outside the netroot echo chamber would believe it, he's on drugs.

2. Do the Dems have anything else? "A hundred years in Iraq?" No. Age? No: the guy was tortured for five years in the Hanoi Hilton, and now we're supposed to wonder about his falling asleep in the Sit Room? "He looked the other way during Abramoff" means, of course, he had no involvement whatsoever. And the first time you hear Dean or Chris Lehane or Mark Fabiani say "Keating Five," you may color the Dems desperate.

3. The big story, this primary season, is the virtual certainty that the Dems will end the primary/caucus process with no one within 300 delegates of the nomination. Because of the binary nature of the process, because of the states that remain, because of the number of super delegates who remain uncommitted or could be peeled off (and if I were an uncommitted SD, I would be refusing all phone calls until my vote could be traded for an ambassadorship to Bermuda), neither Clinton nor Obama will get to the magic number before the convention. Now, this may not necessarily be a bad thing, in the long run, simply because a brokered convention hasn't happened since the invention of cable television. Never mind blogging: the last brokered convention (Dems, 1968) predates the personal computer by a decade. Will the suspense lead to increased ratings, a billion dollars of free advertising, and a candidate with an air of being battle-tested? Or would the chaos hurt the inevitable? What is certain is that, in the coming months, the Clintons will be coming after Obama like they've come after nobody else. Obama's perceived inexperience isn't working as an issue; the nominating process itself is digested by the voting public as on-the-job-training. Tony Rezsko has fallen off the map as an issue. Whatever Bill and Hillary find, whatever more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger pose Bill takes, both Hillary and Obama will probably end up diminished.

4. This from Marty Peretz, in the center-right New Republic:

Now that it's clear that John McCain will be the Republican presidential candidate, my sense is that many Democrats will be making themselves comfortable with him just in case Hillary Clinton gets the nomination. The fact is that she discomforts almost everyone who does not support her, and many who do. She is so brittle, so calculating, so self-besot, so small that you get a half-apology even from her earnest backers. The truth is that she is sometimes--although less and less--grudgingly admired. But she is not loved. Which is what she wants most of all.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The one good thing about Sunday . . .

Was the half-time Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet.

Tom Petty? bah.

Puppy Bowl.

McCain and . . . Barbour

In NRO's The Corner, Linda Schiffren weighs in on potential veeps. Her conclusion:

It is hard to think of a rising star who is likely to be a good vote-getter, a solid conservative, and also good at the policy areas (at least a few of the central ones, like the economy) where McCain is weak. Which is why it has to be a governor with some talent, charisma, and regional respect. But maybe you have someone in mind?

All together now: Haley Barbour.

As in, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.

Rising star? Can anyone say, "The true hero of Katrina?"

Vote-getter? Check. (As much as anyone not named Newt Gingrich, Barbour, as Party Chair, was the author of the 1994 Republican Revolution.)

Solid Conservative? Puh-lease. (Last night on Fox, speaking--as always--as if through a mouthful of hominy grits, Barbour said, "Ah'm more consurrvative thayn the three uh them," before launching into a spiel about how it would soon be time for Romney to step aside, faster'n a one-legged man in a bre'er patch, or however the hell he put it.)

Policy areas? Kind of, yeah: gun ownership, immigration, abortion, gay marriage, and the two most important economic policies to conservatives: tax cuts and cutting taxes. McCain is fine on the war; Barbour would only reinforce his strong suit.

Charisma? The man makes Fred Thompson come off as Mr. Peepers.

Regional respect? Granted, Mississippi is a state McCain would be hard-pressed to lose if he tried. But imagine Barbour in jeans and a button-down blue shirt rolled up to the sleeves, one leg up, elbow on knee, talking to folks in Westlake, Louisiana; in Jackson, Tennessee; in Frankfurt, Kentucky; in Charlottesville, Virginia and Hannibal, Missouri. In the panhandle in Florida.

All of the above states, with McCain at the top of the ticket, are in play.

Just as the Democrats cannot win without both California and New York, the GOP is lost without a solid sweep of the Confederacy. Had I thirty seconds of the Senator's time, I would say the following: "You've brought the ball into the red zone. Now give it to the big fullback.

"Haley Barbour!!"

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Giants 17, Patriots . . . 14

Something is very wrong with me, I think.

I've been handed so many gut-ripping defeats in the last seven years (Yankees 2001, 2003, 2004; USC v. Vince Young, vs. UCLA 2006, vs. Stanford this year; Patriots v. Denver two years ago, Colts last year, Giants tonight) I believe I'm getting acclimated to the feeling.

Before the game, I pondered this thought: I made it to the age of 30 loving only one single team: Larry Bird's Celtics. (The nasty 1970s Yankees of Munson, Guidry and Reggie could be admired, but never, ever loved). Then, in the past 12 years, Torre's Yankees, the Jake Plummer/Pat Tillman Sun Devils, the Brady/Belichick Patriots, and Pete Carroll's Leinart/Bush/White/Cody/Tatupu Trojans.

Four teams loved in a single decade. (At one point, from 2002 through the Vince Bowl, the Patriots and Trojans combined for an astounding 111 straight games without a loss of lasting significance, defined as any loss ending all championship hopes.)

A harvest. A lifetime crammed into twelve years.

But two lessons learned along the way.

1. There will always be a price for caring.

2. It hurts more to lose than it feels good to win.

In the past dozen years, I have gone into for contests thinking, This is the game. I've made a pact with God: allow them this win, and the next two decades can hang themselves.

1997 Rose Bowl, and Jake Plummer's dream season.

2001 World Series Game 7, and the Yankees' quest for four straight World Series rings and canonization as the greatest team ever.

2006 Rose Bowl, and the quest for a Three-Pete.

Tonight's Game.

Result: 0-4.

Tonight's oddly enough, not as bad as I thought.

So maybe I'm getting used to it.

Which worries me, I guess.