Saturday, August 30, 2008

Top Ten Sarah Palin Scandals

And now, for those of you who want some vetting of this unknown person who's just been jetted into the national limelight, here are the top ten Sarah Palin scandals (and for a woman who's been in office for less than two years, it's an impressive list):

November 11th: Sarah Palin "Plows through doors" to attack "bloggers in their parent's basement."

November 5: This woman is still creating new scandals! McCain aides reveal "Hillbilly-gate" - Palin's family raided Neiman Marcus during the final weeks of the campaign, spending hundreds of thousands in RNC campaign funds. Yep, that was the "reform" McCain wanted to bring to Washington. 'Cause politicians just aren't looting from the public enough.

Oct 22: NEW scandals emerge.

The Scandals:

#10. Iron-Fistgate - Sarah Palin ruled her small town Wasilla with an iron fist. Can we say "female Dick Cheney"? Even conservative commentator David Brooks of the NY Times concedes that Palin does little to reassure voters about their biggest concern about McCain: that he just doesn't have the temperament to be President. And her speech at the convention reinforces that impression. Oh really, you say? Read today's NY Times article about her intimidation tacticts. Coming in at number ten since painting Palin as the "hero mayor of the small towns" opens up her small town history for scrutiny.

#9. Kidgate. Palin is staunchly anti-abortion and has a Down Syndrome child to prove it. Certainly making a choice to give birth to and raise such a child is courageous - and will be at least as appealing as Biden's personal backstory - but many women will wonder how she can decide to leave such a child while campaigning for the White House, and at her judgement to get pregnant in her mid-forties, after already having four children, knowing the risk of having a child with such a disease (or was this an example of what happens when right-to-lifers don't use contraception?). Many think that all this, combined with her membership in "Feminists for Life," an anti-abortion group, seems like she's exploiting a baby for ideology. This could turn most women off, although some Clinton aides see this scandal as sexist. Coming in at number nine as it's still getting play in the media, though down a bit given that there are other, more salient political scandals coming out, and Republicans are determined to turn this story into a feel-good plus, while whitewashing her anti-abortion background. (Sept 10: Regarding that: Andrew Sullivan argues that her decision to have Trig is a plus for Palin. Lucia de Vernai in the American Chronical argues that Palin's example of ditching Trig while she campaigns hurts women by being hypocritical about family values. My assessment: if this issue gets spun around baby Trig and the family, Palin will come out like a celebrity mom. If it focuses on Palin's views about abortion and women's roles, she'll be seen as out of the mainstream. But so far the former, not the latter, seems to be winning in the press.)

#8. Censorgate. She asked her town librarian if the library "could live with censorship of library books.” (Note that disputes that the librarian was fired. Wait...fact-checking factcheck, now it appears she DID fire the librarian, but then re-hired her after an outcry). Still, coming in at eight as it signals most succinctly to voters that she's the darling of the hard right. And this fired/not-fired fracas is just keeping it in the news.

#7. Mayberrygate: Palin fired the Wasilla police chief because he was trying to clean up drinking and concealed weapons in the town. Coming in at number seven because it's the delicious kind of small-town backdealing story that seems to be where this campaign will be headed.

#6. Hockeygate. The Hockey rink she built in Wasilla required raising taxes and sinking the town in debt. Can we say "George W. Bush"-style conservatism?

#5. Bricknergate. Palin's preacher invites a speaker to spew anti-semitic nonsense while she sits in the audience and listens. Also, her own church sounds as crazy as anything dished out by Obama's. Can we say Reverend Wright? Coming in at number five: this one has the potential to turn off crucial Jewish voters in the two key states of Ohio and Florida. If McCain loses either of those states, he's done.

#4. Bridge-to-Nowheregate. She was for it before she was against it. Coming in at number four since she brought it up again in her speech: this one will receive real press scrutiny. (Hey: and it's starting to, with Obama bringing it up today.)

#3. Porkgate - Palin lobbied Washington for frivolous funds. All this coming in at number three since it contradicts the whole Republican theme that this is a team of outside "reformers."

#2. Oilgate. She's vetoed legislation for wind and solar energy and is securely in the pockets of big oil (her husband works for British Petroleum). She's even willing to let polar bears die for oil. Coming in at number two because as Nate Silver points out, "taking on the oil industry" for Sarah Palin means getting them to drill more and cough up more scratch for Alaskans. This is a "put Alaska first" policy not a "put America first" policy. Since she's making Alaskan oil the centerpiece of her campaign, I expect to see a long piece on this in the New Yorker.

#1. Troopergate. She fired her public safety commissioner because he refused to fire a state trooper who was the ex-husband of her sister and engaged in a bitter custody battle. Can we say "Bush Administration"? Still number one because it's going to produce the biggest bang when reports are released in October.

Haven't heard about Troopergate? Want more on the deliciously "Northern Exposure Meets Nixon"-esque intricacies of the abuse-of-power scandal rocking sleepy Alaska? Read about it here.

So - what scandals didn't make the list?

Whinergate. She called Hillary Clinton a whiner. THIS is the candidate who's supposed to win over disgruntled Clinton supporters? Can we say "Phil Graham"? Falling off the list today since there are other, bigger things for Clinton supporters to dislike about her.

Junogate. I agree with Obama: family should be out of bounds. I think camp McCain has chastised the media enough...and there are enough other scandals...that this will effectively be put to bed.

Dairygate - Apparently she mismanaged a failing state-run dairy. This one seems a little bit obscure and hard to fact-check to me. Haven't seen much else about it.

Affairgate. National Enquirer breaks "story" she had an affair with her husband's business partner. But it's the National Enquirer. Let's wait till ABC picks up the story.

Cluelessgate. She sounds totally clueless talking about Iraq or foreign policy. After her speech at the convention, people will question this less (and team McCain is hiding her from the press to prep her with answers.)

Buchanangate. She was a big supporter of Pat Buchanan's 1996 rather hard-right, somewhat anti-semitic run for office. That ought to win over voters in Florida. However, this fact is now being denied by the McCain campaign, so this one will probably go away.

Superstitiongate. Not only is Palin anti-science, she wants to teach Creationism in schools. (Correction: says she is "open" to teaching Creationism along side evolution. Well, since Creationism is a religion, not a science, I find the "openness" to obfuscate science with religion pretty appalling. No wonder our country is falling behind.) However, since there are more Americans who would accept Creationism than censorship, Censorgate takes the list.

Sexual Scandalgate. She appointed a known sexual-harassment offender to office then had to fire him. But this hasn't gotten much pick up so far.

Secessiongate - Turns out Palin didn't belong to this anti-American organization promoting that Alaska secede from the union, even though her husband did.

Perdiemgate - Palin charged the state of Alaska for herself, her daughter, and her husband while working at home. I can see the point since she seems to be bilking the taxpayers for the most she can get. But there do seem to be reasonable things she was doing (i.e., attending NCAA basketball tournaments - hey, it's what governors do). As a small business person, I kind of sympathise with taking the per diem. It's not like she's as wealthy as John McCain, or anything. I think this may be a tempest in a teapot.

Rapetestgate - As Mayor of Wasilla, Palin had the police chief charge women for their own rape kit (up to $1,200). One to keep an eye on: if more comes of this, could move into the Top 10.

NEW! Gibsongate - in her first interview with Charlie Gibson, Palin sounds a bit out of it, saying we should go to war over Georgia and flubbing the Bush Doctrine question. Not only that, she blatantly lies to his face. But the press is treating her with kid gloves and giving her a pass (some even are trying to spin it as "a badge of honor" to not know anything about foreign policy). Or is this sexism? Is it 'cause she's a woman that she can get away with lying and doesn't need to know about foreign policy? (They wouldn't be saying this about Hillary, would they?)

Okay, I suppose based on reader comments I need to address Babyswicthgate - the idea that Bristol Palin is the actual mother of Trig, not Sarah Palin. Besides (to me) the "who cares" factor, I just don't see anything on the net that suggests that this is anything other than a rumor. So, I wouldn't call that a scandal (a scandal needs to involve an actual accusation based on fact). I'd call it a "conspiracy theory" (which is an idea someone is pulling something over on people, that gains traction based on circumstantial evidence). I do love conspiracy theories, but this is a page devoted to scandals. If you want more conspiracy theories, see my Top 10 Conspiracies for 2007, 2006, 2005, and 2004.

Also, regarding the reader's suggestion of Trackgate in comments below - I pretty much place all these in the same category as Junogate: fodder for the tabloids (no doubt, if McCain is elected, we'll have years of such fun), but not salient scandals about Palin herself. As Obama says: let's leave the kids out of this. Remember how Republicans (including McCain) vilified Chelsea Clinton? Obama has more class than McCain. And I pretty much think going there backfires on Democrats. However...if you are a scandal junky and just can't help yourself and want ALL the juicy scandals about the Palin family, The National Enquire sure isn't shy about going there.

As I've said, the hardest thing about this page is keeping it up to date....

And hey, a shout-out to my Republican friends who've made their way to this web page. I've got a couple of very special web links just for you: here...and here.

Original list from August 30th:

#10. Cluelessgate. She sounds totally clueless talking about Iraq or foreign policy.

#9. Censorgate. She asked her town librarian if the library "could live with censorship of library books.”

#8. Bridge-to-Nowheregate. She was for it before she was against it.

#7. Buchanangate. She was a big supporter of Pat Buchanan's 1996 rather hard-right, somewhat anti-semitic run for office. That ought to win over voters in Florida. (Update: this fact is now being denied by the McCain campaign. Until there's evidence one way or another we should probably remove this from the list in favor of Porkgate at #2 - see below.)

#6. Whinergate. She called Hillary Clinton a whiner. THIS is the candidate who's supposed to win over disgruntled Clinton supporters? Can we say "Phil Graham"?

#5. Kidgate. Not only is she staunchly anti-choice, she recently had a Down's Syndrome child. While making a choice to give birth to and raise such a child is certainly courageous - and will be at least as appealing as Biden's personal backstory - many women will wonder how she can decide to leave such a child while campaigning for the White House. And you have to wonder at her judgement to get pregnant in her mid-forties, after already having four children, knowing the risk of having a child with such a disease (or was this an example of what happens when right-to-lifers don't use contraception?) Won't all this, along with her membership in a notorious anti-choice organization called "Feminists for Life," seem like she's exploiting a baby for ideology, and turn most women off?

#4. Superstitiongate. Not only is Palin anti-science, she wants to teach Creationism in schools.

#3. Sexual Scandalgate. She appointed a known sexual-harassment offender to office then had to fire him.

#2. Oilgate. She's vetoed legislation for wind and solar energy and is securely in the pockets of big oil (her husband works for British Petroleum). She's even willing to let polar bears die for oil.

#1. Troopergate. She fired her public safety commissioner because he refused to fire a state trooper who was the ex-husband of her sister and engaged in a bitter custody battle. Can we say "Bush Administration"?

Troopergate, you say? Just you wait: Want more on the deliciously "Northern Exposure Meets Nixon"-esque intricacies of the abuse-of-power scandal rocking sleepy Alaska? Read about it here.

Choosing Palin: Gutsy or Reckless?

There are two different views starting to form about McCain choosing Palin.

On the one hand, there are those like Nate Silver, who agrees with me that Olympia Snowe would have far and away been the better game-changing choice, but who nevetheless sees this move as a bold, gutsy gamble to come from behind.

On the other, those like Andrew Sullivan agree with me that in chosing Palin, McCain exhibits recklessness, showing that he's putting an electoral gamble ahead of what's best for leading this country should he actually win the election.

In the end, I have to disagree with Nate. I don't see this move as "gutsy" at all. In fact, quite the opposite. It was almost as if McCain looked at all his choices and said, "who can I select that will offend the fewest people and possibly change the story from Obama's great convention?" My sense is that he gave it no more thought than that, as this candidate hasn't even been vetted (according to Andrew, McCain met her once. And for someone who's been in politics only a couple years, she's racked up quite an array of scandals.)

That strikes me, as Andrew says, as quite reckless.

And again, the more and more I think about this pick, the more I have to say, why not Olympia Snowe? If McCain REALLY wanted to take a gutsy gamble, that would have been it. Yes, it would have blown up the convention. But that kind of internal drama would cause people to tune in after getting a bit tired of appointment viewing, and could have even led to better ratings than Obama received. McCain could have talked some pro-lifers into vouchesafing for them both and in the end, he could show the same kind of leadership of his party as Obama has.

That kind of standing up to the right wing I think would have not just put McCain ahead, it would have guaranteed the election for him. What have the Democrats done all week? Tied McCain to Bush - McBush, he's become. Palin does nothing to get out of that impression; in fact, with Palin's relationships to Big Oil and her cronyism scandles, it just reinforces that impression.

But Olympia Snowe would have signaled that McCain is his own man and the Democrats were wrong. It would have not just seemed a novelty pick but would have gotten the whores in the press to REALLY gush over the boldness of the Republican ticket. Even if the right-wing conservatives had stayed home, it would have won back the conservative Democrats and independants nervous about Obama's liberal roots. It would have allowed McCain to claim the mantle of being his own independent man, of creating history by putting a woman in the White House, and of being serious about tackling the country's issues. Palin only achieves one of those goals, and quite cynically, too.

And if he had chosen Snowe, the choice would seem *authentic*. McCain and Snowe worked together as part of the Gang of 14. He actually knows her. They have had very similar thoughts on policy. She would have actually SWUNG a Democratic state into his column and delivered another 4 electoral votes, and probably have delivered New Hampshire as well. And in states like Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina where the election is close and evengelicals might stay home, Snowe would appeal to women and conservative Democrats and he'd be able to have a decent fighting chance - to stay even at least, possibly pull ahead. There's no danger of losing states like Georgia or Alabama. Even if it alienated the base, on the electoral map, Snowe seems a no-brainer.

Perhaps, in the end, the biggest problem with Palin as a choice is that it seems totally *inauthentic*. A mere cynical (and not even well-though-out) ploy to do something novel. As I said before, it's not the VP themselves, but what it says about the candidate that counts. The one thing McCain had going for him over Obama was a feeling that many people had, correct or not, that he was more authentic. This choice squanders that. Now, if you ask me, he has nothing. He hasn't given the American public any credit for their intelligence. The public, typically, doesn't react well to that.

So the longer this choice sits with me, the more I think it's not just's stupid.

Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain Picks Token Woman: Will It Play?

McCain's gamble seems to be: bring over disaffected Hillary supporters by picking a woman.

Will this play? While Howard Wolfson gives it credence, I don't think so.

After thinking about Palin for two minutes more (about the same time she's been in office), it's clear to me this wasn't a smart move at all. Here's why:

If Hillary voters weren't satisfied with Sebelius, how will they gander Palin, who has about two minutes electoral experience and is in the pockets of big oil and staunchly anti-choice?

The real gutsy candidate who would have persuaded Hillary supporters was Olympia Snowe: a woman with genuine experience, a genuine female trailblazer (first female member of the Senate Armed Services Committee) who also is a supporter of woman's issues, the most popular Senator in congress, and moderate enough to appeal to independent voters. THAT would have been the choice of the maverick McCain of 2000.

But this is a McCain that's totally boxed in by the right wing of his party, who would have defected over a Snowe or Lieberman on the ticket. While Obama had the leadership and force it took to win over disaffected Hillary supporters, McCain has decided to totally cave to his right-wing critics. This is the equivalent of Obama selecting Hillary: an easy but seemingly "exciting" choice that plays well to the base but brings much peril.

Why? Because I think Hillary supporters will see this choice for what it is, cynical tokenism. Even some conservatives see Palin as a mere token. If you compare Palin to Snowe, you'll see the choice had nothing to do with selecting a qualified candidate. Palin was put on the ticket SOLELY for her gender and because she wouldn't alienate the Republican base. McCain had to go all the way to Alaska to dig up someone who fit this resume.

While some conservatives will see this as brilliant, I think over time, Palin will not wear well. She will have the opposite effect of Biden. While Biden produced initial disappointment and concern, his worth became evident in the convention and will be increased and evident each and every day, all the way into the the White House. Palin will have the opposite effect: an exciting short term jolt as "outside-the-beltway" but over time, starting with the convention - when her story seems a bit flat and the presentation a cynical feminist appeal - she will become a stone dragging the candidate down.

It's very interesting here. Democrats nominated the BEST candidate on the ticket, who happened to be African American, *despite* the liability he obviously brings. And that candidate, Obama, avoided the token choice of picking Hillary or some other woman merely to appeal to a constituency but instead chose an older white man over a woman because that was the *best* selection for the chemistry of his ticket.

What did McCain do? He chose a woman merely for tokenism, rather than picking his best selection. It really exemplifies that he's stuck in the thinking of the past, very 1980's. (Who was his best choice - after conceding that McCain doesn't have the leadership over his party to make a winning choice like Snowe or Lieberman work? Well, if he was going to cave to the right-wing, he should have caved with Pawlenty. More experience, better on the issues, unified the party, and better personal chemistry. Still a lightweight against Biden but would have made more sense being a heartbeat away from the Presidency.)

If the selection of VP is the most important clue we get to the candidate's thinking and abilities, well, Obama clearly outshines McCain on this one.

I think this issue will come to haunt the McCain campaign. Suddenly, Democrats look like the party of personal achievement, and Republicans look like the party of tokenism. It's a stunning reversal that in the year 2008 will not sit well with libertarian independents.

The Real Reason McCain Picked Palin

She was a star high school basketball player.

Looks like he's thinking the election will come down to a one-on-one on the b-ball court with team Obama.

McCain Picks Palin: Concedes Experience Meme

McCain jumps the selection box he was in by picking Alaska Governor Palin.

It's a clear pander to Hillary supporters: why pick Palin, who has only one year experience, less than Pawlenty? Because she's a woman and not pro-choice (like Snowe).

Talk about the clearest signal of identity politics. Interesting. Palin has no qualifications to be on the ticket other than she's a woman who opposes abortion. Why not Mary Matlin?

Nevertheless, I'd say this was probably McCain's smartest move. (Or is it? See my second thoughts on it here.) Won't alienate the base but gets to keep his "maverick" label (and keeps Romney out of the White House) while wooing the disgruntled Hillary PUMAs.

Just one problem. Biden will chew her up and spit her out. (Or is he counting on the fact that Biden won't be tough on a woman? Don't bet on that.) And this basically concedes the "experience" line of attack against Obama, since Palin has none. She certainly isn't ready Day 1 (and the likelihood that she'd need to be is a lot higher).

My bet is that this selection wasn't made until after Obama's speech. If Obama had given a lukewarm speech, not seemed Presidential, or given McCain a Dukakus moment, he'd have gone with Romney or Pawlenty. But Obama came off Presidential last night, got to seem historic, and got Hillary on board.

Need proof this was a last-minute pick? Palin is still in Alaska, not Ohio.

McCain must have calculated that the path to take now was to give up on the no-experience meme and co-opt Obama's message of change. And to do that while going after the PUMAs. Question is: did Obama's convention do all he needed to do to heal the party?

My suspicion is, Hillary supporters won't be swayed by Palin on the ticket. But McCain will use her to co-opt the "freshness" and "outsider" message of Obama. He's saying, the public will trust Republicans with that message more than Democrats. My guess: he'll get a bounce out of that. But not one as big as Obama's.

Obama's Acceptance Speech: Did It Work?

A lot will be written about the speech but let me just note some thoughts on its structure, which struck me as the most unique thing about Democratic Convention, Day Four.

A) The start of his speech was a real surprise. After all the talk of Obama staying "above the fray" of direct attacks - and after, I must say, two past Democratic nominee speeches that attempted higher rhetoric - he seemed as down and dirty as Biden. It came off as pure politics rather than the "uplift" I expected. My first thougth: won't this destroy his brand? Or was Obama calculating differently here? It was ballsy.

B) The second lap of the speech he modulated into a liteny of policy proposals. A kind of "chicken in every pot" speech that made me want to tune out. Again, people have asked for specifics, and these were specifics. But did we need Obama to recite the prescriptions? (Maybe we did....) But I had wanted soaring rhetoric from Obama, and this was far from it. This was the important, prosaic work of the speech.

C) Third lap of the speech: Obama stretches for bipartisan appeal, explains his "middle way." Doesn't shy away from including gays and lesbians or talking about tough issues like abortion. This is the Obama I fell in love with. He pulled me back in: yes, I thought. This is the real Obama.

D) Forth lap: invokes the spirit of MLK and JFK. This is the Obama that Republicans criticize as being "messianic." But I suppose why pick the anniversary of MLK's speech if you aren't going to make it explicit? A direct appeal to the historic candicacy here...actually, in a way, telling voters to vote for him BECAUSE he's black. I've not seen him do that before. Seemed audacious. But he kept saying, let's dare to be a little audacious. He was leading by example, here.

E) Fifth lap: here comes the soaring rhetoric. But now I'm impressed because I see how the themes of the speech (we all love America, America is about opportunity, we need to put government back into the hands of the people to solve problems) how these all weave through parts A, B, C, and D in different ways. So it's now clear what Obama has done: he's delivered a speech to the five audiences he needs to bring over. It's been carefully tailored and modulated to speak to each one.

A) speaks to the partisans and party regulars who feel Obama "needs to get mad to win." He must have seen that they were right: that unless he fought back, he would not seem tough enough. Here, all the pundits seemed to agree. So startling as it was, there's some truth to it. As friends have said, negative persuasion, studies show, works 30% better than positive persuasion. All Obama was doing here was acknowledging the truth of this science, which Democrats have ignored in the past at their peril.

B) speaks to the middle-class white Hillary supporters who rank the economy as the #1 issue and feel Obama needs to give them very specific chickens to put in their pots. (The parade of "ordinary voters" giving testimony also worked very well to elevate this theme to blue collar voters.) Definitely not my cup of tea, but hey, part B wasn't for me. It was for all those Hillary supporters yet to be convinced that Obama had something specific for them up his sleeve.

C) was for me: idealists, young people, independants and DNC Democrats motivated by Obama's call for a politics of the center that moves past cultural divides. We'd wondered recently if this Obama had disappeared, but he was there at part C to remind us that he hadn't.

D) was for the African Americans who are the base of his support to acknowledge the remarkable accomplishment of this nomination. If there was ever a time to make that acknowledgement, this was it - and since they are voting 95% for Obama, they deserved the nod.

And E? E was to reach back to all these constituencies and give them a theme that would unite them as one. And remarkably...I think it worked. E explained the way the apparent contradiction of an Obama of traditional Democratic policy proposals and post-culture-war comprimises, an Obama who acknowledges the historic nature of an African American candidate but also says the election "isn't about him," an Obama that demonstrated he could transform a culture of celebrity into a culture of public service, with himself as the respected spokesperson for a nation, how all those Obama's can be unified and resolved. He made it obvious that the Presidency is a tangle of contradictions that no man can explain away, but only a man with the immense oratoracle skills, and political sense, as he has, can inspire such diverse audiences to feel and act as one, for a common purpose.

It was a speech structured, in retrospect, much like the convention itself: prosaic at first, telling important constitutencies (such as Hillary supporters or blue-collar partisans) that he was behind them, then reaching across the isle and idealogical divide to expand the tent (while never failing to critize the other side's leaders), all while building to something majestic that finally soared with the themes of his candidacy.

So yes, I agree with the pundits who will say it was a great speech, and an audatious and successful night to a convention that will, no doubt about it, give Obama his much needed bounce in the polls. It wasn't a speech filled with memorable lines or new ideas. But it was smart politics - smarter and braver, probably, than I would have dared, were it me. And he pulled it off. He should be richly rewarded for it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

God Hates Republicans

He must - he's sending a big hurricane to ruin their convention.

Here's what Gallup has to say about that:

"Also in the mix this year will be an act of nature; if Tropical Storm Gustav becomes a hurricane and makes landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast sometime on Tuesday, news coverage of the GOP convention will be diluted, and the impact of that situation (coming some three years after Hurricane Katrina) is impossible to predict."

It's not just any old way to ruin a Republican convention. It's deliciously ironic. A gift from the gods to the Democrats.... Karl Rove must be pissing in his pants.

Obama Bounces!

Here's today's Gallup tracking poll.

He's up by six points today...that's after being down by two points on Tuesday. From Tuesday to today, he's gained eight points.

Compare that to the average convention bounce of five to six points.

And keep in mind that there's a one-day lag on the polling. So this bounce reflects Hillary's speech on Tuesday, but not yet the Clinton/Kerry/Biden trifecta last night (or Obama's speech tonight). The eight point swing seems to be entirely made up of Clinton supporters coming on board.

That means there's upside for Obama to do terrifically better than the average convention bounce. And he's already significantly out-performing Kerry in 2004.

That doesn't mean Obama will keep the bounce - the Republican news will come in a few days, dampening it down. And it will take a couple weeks for everything to wash out in the polls. But we know now that stories about Obama sinking are erroneous: Obama still has the competitive edge, and this convention is helping big-time.

Biden's Bumbles: How they Help Obama

No doubt, this guy Biden gets a bit tongue-tied.

Two big flubs in his speech last night - calling McCain "George" (though that worked) and his line about Republicans taxing corporations (he meant tax cuts, and it didn't work).

But could this be yet another masterstroke from the Obama team?

I think it might - and if they could script the flubs, they would.

Here's how they work to Obama's advantage:

1. Contrast and defuse the claim that Obama is all polish. Biden is the non-polish that ruffs up the Obama patina.

2. Yes, as everyone has said, Biden talks to the blue-collar where Obama speaks the language of the post-grad. The blue collar don't need things expressed flawlessly: they get the point. Even when he's making a flub - maybe even more when he does - Biden's point is clear.

3. Allows Biden the opportunity to get in more off-the-cuff digs and have them hit home. A guy who sounds unscripted is more likely to be taken seriously.

4. Endear him to voters. The guy seems human, and a little nervous, like them. Add that to his emotional backstory, and he's the most easily humanized candidate in this campaign (a great contrast to the Robotic Romney, should he be the opponent).

5. Lowers expectations and fakes out the other side. Biden may flub a few lines, but he's on when he needs to be. His critique of McCain's foreign policy was eviscerating: and delivered flawlessly.

So if camp Obama tells Biden not to take any public speaking lessons, don't be surprised. His gaffes are a gift.

McCain's Second Fiddle: Convention Fatigue?

Republicans wanted to schedule their convention right after Democrats in order to suppress any "convention bounce."

Did they miscalculate?

The Olympics have been unusually popular, with Phelps beating records. The Democratic convention has been a true suspense, with a close primary and the party rallying after two long days of working it out, and a planned stadium rally tonight that will be debated for days.

What could Republicans offer to top that?

Party die-hards will savor their moment, and the press will eat up the manufactured controversies, but really - aren't you tired of appointment TV viewing by now and ready to have your regular evenings back?

I know I am...if I watch anything, it'll be out of loyalty to this blog. The "Four-Hour Work Week" says I should cut out all this reading and watching about news and pick up a good novel. Next week seems like a good time to try it out.

We already know what the Republican convention will offer: appeals to patriotism and war, swipes at Obama's experience and celebrity, McCain being red-faced and emphatic. Even a surprise pick like Lieberman wouldn't derail the script. The only potential surprise would be, will Bush show up, or will they hide him in a box and bury it under the levees in New Orleans? Either way, why watch it?

Could the Republicans have set themselves up to be embarrassed by a ratings flop? Will anyone care?

McCain's VP Selection Box: Leiberman, Romney, Pawlenty

Perhaps the most brilliant thing about choosing Biden as his VP: Obama's really put McCain into a selection box.

Biden had one liability: he wasn't Hillary. Republicans jumped on that. But he was a strong enough candidate, and the Clintons were savvy enough politicians, that that liability could be easily closed by the convention unity. Day 3 of the convention: the Clintons have brought their supporters on board, and Biden proves his worth. So Obama-Biden is ready to go, and Obama is able to have the best of both worlds on this one: a high-minded campaign complemented by a well-liked and respected attack-dog who connects with the key, swing constituency in this election.

McCain would love to have the same. But now, all his choices look problematic.

His best swing-constituency attack-dog pick - Joe Lieberman - would alienate the right-wing base. Unlike with Hillary supporters (who were signaled LONG in advance that their gal wasn't going to get it), it would take a while to repair the damage. That could be devastating.

The favorite of his Rovian strategists - Mitt Romney - would shore up McCain's economic credentials and bring needed finances. Strategically, this looks sound (and is his most likely choice). Romney could hold his own against Biden. But even though Romney doesn't alienate the base, he doesn't excite them, either. And the "Two White Rich Men" meme gives the Democrats good amo against the swing vote. And does McCain even want Romney hanging around the White House? The strategic pick here has no heart in it...and heart could be what this election turns on.

The outside-the-box up-and-comer pick, Pawlenty, can speak to middle-class voters as well as connect with the conservative base. So far, so good. But Biden would chew him up and spit him out. This is where Biden has boxed in McCain: Pawlenty would be the natural fall-back, but now looks hazardous. McCain may still decide that the VP debates don't matter (think Benson/Quale) and that he can take on Obama on his own. But this isn't a ride-the-coattails election. This is a change election being fought tooth and nail. He'll need the extra help from his VP. Is Pawlenty ready? Many think not. Especially comparing him to Biden. That undercuts McCain's big message about Obama, that he's not ready.

So the odds:
1. Romney
2. Pawlenty
3. Lieberman

But all of them bring lingering problems, where Biden has essentially sealed the deal.

Democratic Convention: Day Three Reactions

Ok, finally! Some meat served up with the vegetables and potatoes of the last couple days. It may not have been red meat, but it was fairly medium rare - about the rawest you'll see from Democrats, and which, as it happens, is pretty much the way I like it.

On Monday and Tuesday you had one memorable speech each; the rest was blather.

On Wednesday, you had three great speeches (Clinton, Kerry, and Biden) plus a number of pretty good supporting ones (Madeline Albright, Bo Biden, veteran Patrick Murphy and company). This is the convention I'd been hoping to see for the past three nights. Better late than never.

Let's review the great speeches:

Bill Clinton: Demonstrated, once again, that he's the best politician alive. Connected to the audience and spoke commandingly. Endorsed Obama's readiness to be commander in chief and put to bed that cannard. Made the point that most Presidents have been elected with no more experience - including himself. Reminded voters that Republicans have ruined the strong economy he left them. Couldn't have done a better job. Made clear that he's going to campaign for Obama, probably more than he was able to campaign for Kerry in 2004. Made clear why that will be an asset to the campaign.

John Kerry: Big surprise of the night. I was about to fast-forward past him but said, " this John Kerry laying into Rovian politics?" He was mesmerizing: strong, forceful, and on point. Everyone's reaction: why wasn't he like this in 2004? He'd learned something. Nice that he could share it. Nice way to remind people what a nasty campaign McCain is running. In a way, this speech redeams Days 1 and 2 by explaining a rationale: we just aren't as mean and desperate as the other team.

Joe Biden: Well, he did everything I was expecting of him. Had a few slips of the tongue, but they were almost endearing - you can tell this guy is so happy to be on the ticket that he's tongue tied. It's nice to see a politician who actually wants to be in the executive wing for a change. Plus, he made the critical points about McCain's foreign policy: it's reckless and ineffectual. Perhaps the only Democrat who could do that and seem at the same time authoritative and a man of the people. Best attack dog Obama could have chosen.

And yes, I did tear up at his personal story. The Obama team have been deft at being able to define Biden out of the gate. Too bad they weren't able to handle Obama's definition as well. But they've learned, and the Republicans will have a tough time tearing Biden down (we turned to Fox after his speech, and all the right-wing apparatchiks were apopeclitc with indignance - Biden actually *criticized* McCain...gasp! - and for once, they had no rebuttle other than stumbling around with a confusion of inneffectual talking points. If Biden puts even Fox anchors on the defensive, you know that both the Obama campaign and Biden's speech has delivered a knock out.)

All in all rating for Day 3: Solid A. (after a couple of weak B minuses for days 1 and 2.) If they had their choice of only one night for an A, aside from tomorrow, tonight was it: the foreign policy night was handled, if you ask me, just right - with due testimony, authority, and respect, but not cloyingly overdoing it as Kerry's convention did. And stacked with the best speeches of the convention. If the Democrats needed to do anything in their convention, other than have Obama move the country with a truly historic speech (which is what I expect from tomorrow), this was it: have a strong showing on foreign policy, tie McCain to Bush, and demostrate they are ready and able to make better decisions for the country than McCain/Rove.

In retrospect, the Hillary Clinton come-together on day two looks like it was necessary and healing in order to get to a great day 3 and 4. In that sense, it may have been worth it. Though it would have been nice to have gotten that out of the way on day 1.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hillary's Speech: Triangulating Brilliantly

There's lots of positive reax today about Hillary's speech - mostly praising her for "doing everything she needed to do" for Obama - even though she may not have corrected her harshest critiques about Obama. And yes, this was a party unity speech, not an Obama speech. And yes, I think it will help Obama, nevertheless.

But most of these questions miss the true significance of the moment. What was Hillary really trying to do with this speech? And did it work for her?

Look, everyone knows Hillary is saving herself for 2012, maybe 2016. The question isn't, did she do what she needed to for Obama - did she do what she needed to for 2012? The answer is an emphatic yes.

First point: if Hillary had shown anything less than an enthusiastic support of the candidate, her career would be over. No one likes a saboteur, and throwing any wrench into Obama's candidacy would have scuttled any chances of a national stage with the Democratic party. She needed to come off as not just a uniter - and she did a workmanlike and thorough fashion, addressing the problem of reluctant supporters head on and giving a convincing and enthusiastic endorsement. She also had to show people that she could personally rise above the bruising campaign, and convince supporters if she could do it, they could do it too, and that the choice for Obama was important. Her strategy in using the examples of real people, and saying that her campaign was about them, not her (a strategy lifted straight from Obama, by the way), did that brilliantly.

So she repaired relationships and convinced party elders that she cared about party more than personal ambition. Brilliant job, number one.

Next, she had to demonstrate that there were no hard feelings (Bill can have them, but not the future candidate). The way to do that was to lend her talents to the fight being staged by team Obama: to throw a few zingers McCains way. Without that, her speech would seem grudging, not sincere. The "No way, no how, no McCain" and the Twin Cities lines worked well - the best McCain zingers we've seen in the convention. But not so much that they would seem to overshadow the job of Biden, the VP. At the same time, she wanted to remind people that she was no light weight, she was a party powerhouse. Her job was to show she had the talent, but not overdo it, not audition for a slot already filled. In the end, even the Republicans were impressed, but she kept the zingers light and the analysis on point, even picking up Obama's theme of a "bottom up" campaign. Brilliant job, number two.

Third, and perhaps most important: she DIDN'T correct her criticisms of Obama, particularly the commander in chief line. Some (not the Obama team, but certainly Republicans) gripe about this. But what would have happened if she had said, "you know, I said he wasn't ready to be commander in chief, but..." but what? "I was just exaggerating for the sake of my campaign." Well, then no one would ever believe a word from her again. "He's really grown in the two months since June and I think he's ready now." Oh - yeah, that's convincing. That would label her either a panderer and lacking serious judgement. No, there was nothing she COULD say about this and stay believable. To have corrected those criticisms would have undermined her own credibility as a politician. And perhaps would not have helped Obama much, either. So she decided to keep her dignity and wisely avoid the subject (how about leaving that to Biden, tomorrow). Brilliant move, number 3.

Four. Perhaps this was not a move so much as a performance, she gave the speech of her life. She was poised, forceful, commanding, sharp, jocular, and interesting. She demonstrated on the podium that she was ready to lead and speak to a nation. And she was ready to place a nation's interests ahead of her own. Brilliant reading...brilliant skill.

Finally: Hillary's problem before Obama was that she seemed to be convinced that the nomination was her brithright. Obama took her down a peg. And she learned that lessen well. In the tenor of the speech, in the emphasis on issues and party loyalty over personalities, in the rousing and moving rendition and recognition of her power over a huge segment of voters within the party, she rehabilitated that sentiment. No one will claim, now, that if she was nominated, she hadn't earned it herself. Brilliant, all the way.

Did it work? Well, as an ex-Clinton supporter who became an Obama supporter who had written her off for the past eight months, I'd be open now to considering her again when the time came around again. So I'd say yes, it worked brilliantly.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Democratic Convention: Day Two Reactions

Live blogging on Day Two waiting for Hillary's speech: Here's what's striking me about the Democratic convention:

1. Most of the speakers are pretty lame. Is it that the Obamas suck up all the rhetorical flourish in the party? I don't know...but how can you get your message out if even loyal Democrats feel like fast-forwarding?

2. The Democrats never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Talking about the Supreme Court: no mention that McCain would appoint justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. Talking about the economy: no mention that McCain wants to extend Bush-era tax cuts (this point has to be made by Charles Schumer in interviews; it's watered down on the podium to a "$1000 middle-class tax cut"). Talking about military families: no mention that Obama wants to refocus efforts on fighting terror in Afghanistan while McCain will keep tropps in Iraq forever. These are easy softball lobs and the softball just falls flat. How can we hit it out of the park if no one is willing to swing?

3. The Democrats have no thematic discipline. After two full days and Mark Warner's keynote, I still don't know what the theme of the convention is. For a while, there was a good chant: "Four More Months." Why not make that the theme of every speech? Because every speaker gets to have their four minutes of personal blah blah blah. They could be hammering home "Four More Months" or some other concise theme that would give voters focus. The Republicans do this every four years. Why can't the Democrats?

4. Yes, a lot of talk about "working together." Reaching across the isle is fine for the candidate and his wife. But it's the job of the party regulars to define the party differences with the opponent. Now, I'm not a huge believer in red meat. But I don't particularly savor meat burned to a kumbaya crisp. Couldn't we have at least a little pink in our meat?

5. Oh - here comes Brian Schweitzer. Finally, someone who can get some life into the crowd (he's kind of a Democratic version of Bush in 2000 before he became tongue tied). Hey, he should have opened this convention with that on Day 1. That's what this dowdy crowd has needed.

But here's what else is striking:

Michelle Obama is pretty amazing. After a big speech and great interview with Judy Rudruff, it's clear she's not only as talented as her husband, she'd be a brilliant first lady. As the convention goes on, it's becoming clearer and clearer that, with the possible exception of Hillary, Democrats have certainly nominated the most talented political family in their party.

Could the strategy of this convention be to make the Obamas look stellar compared to all the rest of the speakers? I don't know...I can only hope that works....

O-Biden's Negative Bounce

It looks like Biden's actually giving Obama a negative bounce.

It's reasonable to assume, I think, that these are Hillary supporters disappointed that Obama didn't select her. Looks like 1% of the populace is expressing this disappointment, here, switching their vote from Obama to McCain.

The good news in this is it's likely to be temporary. After Michelle Obama's heartfelt speech yesterday (including her tribute line to Hillary), Hillary's strong endorsement (we hope) tonight, and no doubt Biden's attack stance on Wednesday, those numbers will likely recover by the end of the week.

The bad news is it's going to suppress the "convention bounce," particularly going into the Republican convention next week. So if you subtract this two point loss expect by the weekend that Obama will be no more than three, maybe four points ahead. That, to me, would indicate a normal "convention bounce." The MSM, specifically CNN, will no doubt announce this as a "lower than normal convention bounce" but really, they've been awful in terms of interpreting the polls, so who can expect much out of them?

When those Hillary supporters see the Republicans next week, expect them to realize what's at stake and switch back to Obama. So I expect the same result at the Republican convention: a three-to-four point bounce, rather than the normal six.

Call this the Hillary Bounce Dampening Effect.

Monday, August 25, 2008

McCain's Cribs

Hey - I've just been handed the shot-list for MTV's brand-new series, "McCain's Cribs." They've already got ten episodes in the can. Here's episode number one.

Shot 1: House, Exterior:

Announcer: Welcome to "McCain's Cribs." Our first Crib is the luxurious McCain ranch in the resort town of Sedona. 16 bodacious acres of pure cowboy fantasy.

Shot 2: McCain at Door, welcoming:

McCain: "Come in, homeys. You caught me at a great moment. Just having the RNC over for buds and babes. Come in and check it out."

McCain leads crew inside.

Shot 3: McCain in Kitchen.

McCain: "Let's take a look at the kitchen. Let's see, what do we have here, in the fridge."

Shot: Open fridge, show stacks of American Cheese and Ensure.

McCain: "And this is one of the kitchen tables where you know, we have those kitchen table conversations. Okay, I think that's the kitchen, next room."

Shot 3: Hunting Room.

McCain: "Ok, in this room we have our Professional League pool table and poker desk..."

Interruption by production assistant, whispering in McCain's ear.

McCain: "Oh, ok, sorry, wrong house. This is the room that has to be labeled with what everything is because I can't remember. What is this room?"

Shot 4: Bedroom.

McCain: "This is where the magic happens...."

Producer: "What's this picture with you and Senator Graham?"

McCain: "He's my major homeboy, Holms."

Producer: "Really?"

McCain: "Fo shizzle my dizzle...."

Shot 5: Backyard barbeque.

McCain: "Ok, someone give me a spatula, these hamburgers need flipping. Hey, let's serve 'em just the way I like 'em - with plenty of raw meet. It's Karl Rove's special recipee."

Shot 6: McCain's Hot Tub.

McCain: "Ok my homeys. You've seen my crib. Now I'm going to chill in the tub with some of my favorite right-wing babes. So... get out....."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Biden: Obama's Delivery Man

So it looks like Biden wasn't a head-fake after all. My theory: on Monday, Obama had no idea whether he'd pick Biden, Bayh, or Kaine. The leak was a trial balloon. Biden generated the most heat, so Obama decided to go with him.

I've always liked Biden. In fact, I always would have chosen him for the top of the ticket, if he'd ever had been able to stage a campaign that could stay in the running long enough to still be on the ticket when he came to my state. That "plagiarism" scandal seems like little potatoes compared to today's gotcha's. There are probably a lot of voters who feel similarly. Now combine Biden with Obama's election machine and you've got a powerful ticket.

This will inevitably lead to the question of, shouldn't he BE the top of the ticket, with Obama as his running mate? Well, that might seem more natural (the Bush/Cheney paradigm might suggest we're used to the opposite, but it isn't the best exemplar of success). But the idea of Obama's speaking power and international popularity as President, while Biden serves as the at-home "Prime Minister," if you will, who handles Congress and gets things done, is very appealing.

There's only one person who would have been a better pick for Obama: Al Gore. But Gore was insulted when CNN asked the question: it's certainly not reasonable to expect he'd want that job for another eight years. So of people in the running, there was no better selection than Biden.

Here's why Biden was by far Obama's best choice:

1. Choosing Hillary was a no-win scenario. Even if the Clinton's had let themselves be vetted, and even if they had not seemed like they'd been campaigning for McCain these past months (two big disqualifiers), any unity created by Hillary would have been negated by questions of whether Obama was his own man. Did Hillary *force* the choice. If so, that would make Obama seem weak (where Biden makes him seem strong). Unfortunately, she only eliminated herself from consideration through the nature of the campaign she ran at the end. Yes, it would have been hard to reconcile a blast of Clinton past from the '90's with Obama's core brand, no matter what. But with a different Clinton end-game in the primaries, that hill could have been climbed.

2. Biden is a party favorite and, as everyone points out, a "fighter." If you're not going to have Hillary, he's the next best loyal Democrat with big-name recognition. His fight will ignite the troops and make them understand that Hillary isn't their only option for a traditional wonky partisan.

3. Does Biden's experience concede that Obama's is lacking (i.e., the immediate Republican attack response)? Well, if it does, it's certainly a moot issue now. The idea of these arguments isn't the arguments themselves: it's about whether voters feel comfortable that the team in Washington knows what it's doing. Biden is the one guy that the Obama team could send to Georgia without it seeming to be a political move: Biden actually has the ties to these places and the experience visiting them that defuses the Republican strategy of boxing in Obama for doing/not doing something. Biden can just do it, and the charge of politics rings hollow. This is exactly the same reason that Bush picked Cheney. It worked for Bush; it'll work for Obama. Voters just want reassurance. Biden's legitimacy makes him the most reassuring Democrat out there.

4. As Nate Silver says, VP's can't be counted on to deliver their home states any more. But a nationally recognized name like Biden can swing certain key districts (Florida, eastern Pennsylvania) where he's well known and liked. The blue collar background gives him the same patois as Bayh, but with less dissatisfaction from the netroots and better name recognition. Silver makes a convincing argument that no other choice delivers no more votes than Biden. He projects a 2% swing to Obama due to the selection. In a close race, that's decisive.

5. Should Obama have doubled-down with an outsider pick, like Kaine (or my preference, Schweitzer), as some have reportedly argued? That would have been an interesting strategy. But all evidence from August shows that it would be a losing strategy. The McCain line of attack is that Obama can't be trusted. Two Obama's doubly can't be trusted. McCain has removed Obama's natural advantage with this line of attack. Odd as it may seem, it's the insider pick, Biden, who is the game changer: you certainly can't make the don't trust the new-faced celebrity argument about Biden. You can, as the Republicans are doing, use ads of Biden attacking Obama's experience. Obama will run the same ad about Romney attacking McCain on the economy. Neither ad will be effective because voters don't care what they were saying then: they care that they've signed up to negate their earlier attacks. It's like showing a tape of two ball players dishing each other, then putting them in the same field: yeah, so what? They've got each other's back, now.

6. Biden's not just a great pick for the election, he's great for America. His thirty-five years of experience passing issues and dealing with foreign leaders will make him a key player on Obama's team, and his matter-of-fact style will offer dimension to the administration that will give it more depth than we've seen in decates; he's a down-to-earth complement to Obama's high-minded rhetoric.

7. But here's the key: What is Obama's key problem? Convincing voters that he can deliver on "change." People will soon see that Biden doesn't undercut that message: he reinforces it dramatically. Obama has to convince voters that if they vote for him, he'll deliver. To do that, he needs an Administration capable of negotiating the Washington labrynth. Look what happened to the Clinton's when they first arrived in DC: they bumped elbows and created resentments that haunt them to this day. Biden is the delivery man. His Senate experience is exactly what the Vice Presidency is all about. In terms of working congress to create a new health care system, energy independence, coherent foreign policy, Biden is the guy who will take Obama's rhetoric down the Hill and turn that into policy. Biden will grease the wheels for Obama's vision in a very important way, both through his direct but knowledgeable style, and through his connections with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. In terms of building out a powerful team that can deliver the President's ideals, Biden is a masterful start. Obama has the vision; what he needed in a VP was someone who could turn that vision into real policy. There is no Democrat who has the experience and the respect to do that better.