2008 - %3, August

No Power

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 10:48 AM EDT

NO POWER....The power is out in my neighborhood, so I'm breakfasting and blogging this morning at our local Panera Bakery. Anything going on in the world?

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Obama's Game Plan

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 1:29 AM EDT

OBAMA'S GAME PLAN....The always perceptive Mark Schmitt notes that in his speech tonight, Barack Obama unveiled a campaign strategy that depends on attacking John McCain's politics, not his character. This is risky, considering the success that George Bush had with character assassination four years ago:

But there's another lesson in George W. Bush's 2004 victory over Kerry by demolishing Kerry's personal reputation: It left Kerry's agenda untouched. As Bush discovered from the day after his 2005 inauguration, he had no mandate for conservative policies such as Social Security privatization because he had not run on them.

But if it succeeds, it will have the effect of giving the next president exactly what George W. Bush didn't have: A mandate. The voters will have rejected not just McCain, but the entire economic and foreign policy agenda of conservatism. And that's as important as winning the election, perhaps more important.

Absolutely right. Tonight Obama made a start on a campaign that's based not just on talking points (though there will be plenty of those), but on a sustained assault on modern conservatism and a sustained defense of modern liberalism.

But it was only a start. He needs to keep pressing both halves of that game plan, even if it means occasionally saying some hard things. If he takes a few chances and does that, though, he'll not only win, he'll win with a public behind him that's actively sold on a genuinely liberal agenda. This is why conservatives have so far been apoplectic about his speech tonight: if he continues down this road, and wins, they know that he'll leave movement conservatism in tatters. He is, at least potentially, the most dangerous politician they've ever faced.

Obama's Grand Speech: Reason for Hope

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 12:34 AM EDT

It was a historic speech on a historic night--in a remarkable setting. A crowd of tens of thousands of Americans, filling an entire stadium in the middle of the country, waved American flags and signs calling for "Change." Never in the nation's history had more Americans attended such an event. Never before had an African-American accepted the presidential nomination of a major party in the United States. And the speech of Barack Obama matched the moment.

He connected his own history--the history of a not-quite-ordinary American family--to the mythical promise of America. His rhetoric soared--as usual--but it was tethered to reality: in particular, the stark differences between how Obama would approach the challenges the nation now faces and how John McCain would do so. Obama laced his criticism of the Bush years and the possible McCain years with a dose of populism, which gave portions of the speech a sharp edge. And he brought his pitch for hope and change down to the ground with a succinct description of policy ideas he would work for as president.

Obama, as convention dictates, began with a high-minded theme: America is a land of promise, but, he declared, that promise--especially for hardworking Americans--is in jeopardy, placing the nation at a critical juncture. "These challenges are not all of government's making," he said. "But the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush. America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this." Given that polls show that at least seven out of ten Americans--maybe more--believe the country is on the wrong track and a similar number of Americans disapprove of Bush, his criticism was not at all radical.

In one of the more important passages, Obama, taking a populist turn, made the case that his opponent does not understand this:

Fox. Is. Amazing.

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 12:18 AM EDT

What can you do when you see something like this? Just bow in reverence, right?

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Update: Rumors on the internets say this is a fake...

Obama's Speech

| Thu Aug. 28, 2008 11:21 PM EDT

OBAMA'S SPEECH....That was a helluva speech, wasn't it? Damn. Here were my two favorite parts. First this:

It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it.

For over two decades, he's subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy — give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is — you're on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps — even if you don't have boots. You're on your own.

Well it's time for them to own their failure. It's time for us to change America.

Yes, yes, yes. Thank you. Don't just tie McCain to George Bush, tie him to Republican policies. And then explain, in direct, simple terms, why those policies have been failures. More like this, please.

Then there was this:

But what I will not do is suggest that the Senator takes his positions for political purposes. Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism.

The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America — they have served the United States of America.

So I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.

This is an iron fist in a velvet glove. Or is it a velvet fist in an iron glove? Whichever it is, he's calling out McCain in plain language not just for running a nasty, Rovian campaign, but for running a fundamentally unserious campaign. By tackling this head on, Obama has put a serious dent in McCain's ability to continue campaigning with dumb soundbites and too-cute-by-half innuendo. This isn't a teenager's campaign for junior high school student council, he was saying, it's a campaign for president of the United States and you're old enough to know that you should damn well treat it that way.

And then, there was the conclusion. I've always been pretty immune to that kind of soaring, but relatively content-free, oratory, but I was just spellbound. I honestly can't remember the last time that's happened. And I don't care what the talking heads insisted on jabbering about all day, the setting was perfect, the stage was perfect, Obama's cadences were perfect, and it was just about as good a political rallying cry as I've ever heard. John McCain looks very, very small right about now.

Gore's Speech: A Reminder of What's Missing

| Thu Aug. 28, 2008 9:42 PM EDT

There's been some talk among pundits and progressives that the Obama campaign could use a touch more populism--especially to reach those working-class voters (read: white working-class voters). So maybe the Democratic convention could have used someone talking like this:

My focus is on working families--people trying to make house payments and car payments, working overtime to save for college and do right by their kids. Whether you're in a suburb, or an inner-city. Whether you raise crops or drive hogs and cattle on a farm, drive a big rig on the Interstate, or drive e-commerce on the Internet… Whether you're starting out to raise your own family, or getting ready to retire after a lifetime of hard work

So often, powerful forces and powerful interests stand in your way, and the odds seemed stacked against you--even as you do what's right for you and your family.
How and what we do for all of you - the people who pay the taxes, bear the burdens, and live the American dream--that is the standard by which we should be judged.

That's a passage from Al Gore's feisty I-will-fight-for-you-against-powerful-interests acceptance speech at the 2000 convention. This time around, on the final night of the convention, Gore appeared at Invesco Field an hour before Barack Obama was scheduled to come out, and he spoke--no surprise--mostly about climate change. He was eloquent on the subject, as he usually is. He did take a whack at the oil and coal industries and "the forces of the status quo." But he sure did not tailor his remarks to the sort of voters he focused on in his 2000 speech.

Of course, it's not Gore's job to populist-ize the Obama campaign. That seems to be Joe Biden's mission. But Gore's speech on Thursday night--given the obvious comparison to his 2000 speech--was a reminder that something's been missing.

THIS JUST IN: Shortly after Gore spoke, the convention presented several working- or middle-class voters who explained why they were supporting Obama. One of them, Smith Barney, who lost his job in a Marian, Indiana, factory, had what was (so far) the best populist line of the night: "We need a president who puts Barney Smith before SmithBarney."

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Obama's Speech

| Thu Aug. 28, 2008 8:31 PM EDT

OBAMA'S SPEECH....Barack Obama's staff has released excerpts from his speech tonight. Here's a piece:

We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don't tell me that Democrats won't defend this country. Don't tell me that Democrats won't keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans — Democrats and Republicans — have built, and we are to restore that legacy.

....I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing so that America is once more the last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.

The rest is here. Some of it looks good, some looks a little too much like boilerplate to me — but it's obviously silly to try to judge before I hear the whole thing. More later.

Roundtable Review: Trouble the Water

| Thu Aug. 28, 2008 5:47 PM EDT

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A few days before Hurricane Katrina struck land in New Orleans three years ago Friday, 24-year-old rapper Kimberly Rivers Roberts bought a camcorder for $20 on the street. With her husband Scott, she started filming her neighbors—most of whom didn't have the means to leave—and their preparations to ride out the storm. She kept filming until the levees failed, even as the water rose and her friends sought safety in their attics. Two weeks later, Kim and Scott returned to document the destruction, and join some 20 friends in the back of a truck to begin the long trip to dry land. Kim and Scott's footage, along with archival materials including recovered recordings of 911 calls and video of inmates trapped in the Orleans Parish Prison, makes for a film that is at once journalistic and deeply personal.

Four MoJo staffers watched Trouble the Water Tuesday night and discussed it via Gchat Wednesday morning. Read the conversation here.

Core Inflation

| Thu Aug. 28, 2008 5:43 PM EDT

CORE INFLATION....Why does the Fed rely on a "core" inflation rate — one that excludes food and energy costs — when it sets monetary policy? Are they trying to pretend that food and energy, items that are more important to the middle class than to the rich, don't matter? Mark Thoma explains:

If the question is "what is today's inflation rate," the total inflation rate is the best measure. It's intended to measure the cost of living and there's no reason at all to strip anything out. It's only when we ask different questions that different measures are used.

Core inflation, it turns out, (a) does a better job of forecasting future inflation, (b) does a better job of estimating whether inflation is currently rising or falling, and (c) is the inflation target that best stabilizes the economy.

The core inflation rate you see in the news, the one that strips out food and energy, should be though of as a short-hand, quick measure of all three of these concepts. But in each case the Fed uses measures (formally or informally) designed to best satisfy these three functions. For example, when it forecasts future inflation, it uses a different concept of core inflation than it uses in setting policy.

In other words: no, the Fed isn't trying to pretend that food and energy inflation aren't important. They focus on core inflation because it's a better input to the technical models they use to guide monetary policy. Read the whole thing for the full explanation.

Veep Rumors

| Thu Aug. 28, 2008 5:11 PM EDT

VEEP RUMORS....Will John McCain announce (or "leak") his choice for vice president tonight during Barack Obama's acceptance speech? Obama communications chief Dan Pfeiffer is willing to bet he won't: "If they do it," he told Politico, "I will pay all of McCain's mortgages next month."

Yeah, sure he will. This is just more cheap talk from liberals. Everyone knows Cindy paid cash for all their homes.