2008 - %3, August

Likeability

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 1:31 PM EDT

LIKEABILITY....Dayo Olopade on Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer's speech last night:

Not only was Schweitzer's delivery emphatic and simple — his mien was entirely genuine, a reality only enhanced by his bolo tie. The governor, an irrigation specialist and practicing catholic, got the meat of these two identities across without being pedantic, speaking of a crucifix in his home and the environmental battles he fights as an executive with fluency.

....A quick Google investigation of the governor reveals an appearance at an American Prospect event in which he lays out the very case for casting him as a major face of the party in future: "[People] like what we Democrats do when we're elected — we just have to be more likeable when we're doing the things they like." And oh, was he. Beyond his endearing tics — the A-OK hand gestures, his refrences to "industry" — he got off some great jabs at McCain, and his hokey but effective pep-rally techniques were straight from the heartland.

This is something of a problem, isn't it? Yes, successful politicians all have to be likeable in one way or another (Richard Nixon is the exception who proves the rule), but this a particular kind of likeability that Dayo is talking about. It's the rural, jeans-wearing, brush-clearing, aw-shucks likeability of John McCain and George Bush and Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower. (And LBJ and Bill Clinton.) But if that's the only kind of genuinely acceptable likeability in presidential elections, then our list of electable candidates shrinks to about two or three per year.

I don't have any brilliant answer to this problem, and obviously a lot of people this year are hoping that Barack Obama's version of likeability turns out to be acceptable too. That said, I sort of wish liberals would stop buying into the Schweitzer-esque version of what's likeable and what's not. In the long run, it just kills us.

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New Poverty Data Induce Clinton Nostalgia

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 1:31 PM EDT

Hillary's speech last night at the Democratic convention wasn't the only event of the day to inspire a little nostalgia for the Clinton administration. A few hours earlier, the Census Bureau released its 2007 poverty and income report, a snapshot of the nation's economic well-being. The easy takeaway message might have been this: We never had it so good as we did in Bill Clinton's second term, when unemployment was low, poverty was low, and the rising tide was lifting all boats. The Census data for 2007 confirm that all future economic progress will be measured by whether the country can get back to the prosperity of 1999. Right now, the Bush administration can't even get the economy back to where it was during the 2001 recession.

According to the Census Bureau, child poverty, which hit a record low during the Clinton years, went up in 2007, and it's significantly higher than it was in 2001 (18 percent vs. 16.5 percent). Median income for working-age adults was lower last year than it was during the recession of 2001, and more people were uninsured, too. The numbers were especially grim given that they came at the end of six years of economic expansion. The data for 2008 are likely to be much, much worse.

The happy years of the Clinton administration notwithstanding, the data make clear that the country has made scant little progress in combating poverty since 1980. The percentage of children living in poverty today is 18 percent, slightly more than it was 28 years ago. The percentage of single moms living in poverty stands at 30 percent, almost exactly what it was in 1980. And the median income for black households in 2007 was $33,916. In 1980, it was $32,876. The poverty trends haven't gone unnoticed by the political class, however, on both sides of the aisle.

Norman Angell Lives

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 12:33 PM EDT

NORMAN ANGELL LIVES....Moscow's stock market is tanking, Poland is teaming up with the U.S. on missile defense, and Russia's neighbors are newly united in opposition to their erstwhile master. Dan Drezner comments:

So, in the end, the war has resulted in losers on all sides. Georgia has obviously lost through its aggressive behavior towards the breakaway provinces. The United States and Europe [have] lost because they clearly were not able to deter Russia in Georgia. Russia has gained the humiliation of Georgia, but is has lost in terms of its ability to raise capital and coordinate among its erstwhile allies, who seem to be juuuuust a bit nervous right now.

This is pretty much where I am too. On the surface, Russia looks newly resurgent and the West looks weak and divided. But these things don't play out in weeks, they play out in years: Abkhazia and South Ossetia will eventually be footnotes to history, but the long-term consequences of Russia's aggression are only starting to be felt. Russia flatly doesn't have the military power to handle more than one Georgia or Chechnya at a time, and as tempers cool and bluster fades, this is going to become increasingly clear. This in turn means that Russia's ability to intimidate its neighbors is going to fade too, and its economy, overly dependent as it is on oil and gas, is going to sputter. In the end, its invasion of Georgia, I suspect, will turn out to be either a wash or a net negative.

McCain and Ledbetter

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 11:44 AM EDT

McCAIN AND LEDBETTER....Listening to Hillary's speech last night, Marian turned to me and asked, "Does McCain really oppose equal pay for equal work?" It was a little complicated to try and answer that while the speech was still in progress, so I just mumbled something about his voting record and turned back to the TV. Ramesh Ponnuru, however, asks the question more precisely:

Hillary Clinton on McCain: "In 2008, he still thinks it's okay when women don't earn equal pay for equal work." Right: Opposing the Lily Ledbetter Act means approving of unequal pay for women. What a disgusting comment.

John Holbo answers:

But what's disgusting about it, from a conservative perspective? She seems to be making a point of being scrupulously accurate. In this context, saying 'it's okay' amounts to saying that the thing in question is maybe a little bad, but it doesn't matter much, so you needn't — therefore shouldn't — do anything about it. As in: 'do you need a band-aid for that?' 'No, it's ok.' A sense that unequal pay for women 'is ok', in this sense, is precisely the reason one would oppose the Lily Ledbetter Act.

Right. Ledbetter worked at Goodyear Tire for years, eventually discovered that she had been the victim of persistent wage discrimination, sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and then lost her case when the Supreme Court ruled that you can only bring wage discrimination cases within 180 days of the discrimination happening. Since practically no one ever finds out about this kind of thing within 180 days, it effectively gutted Title VII completely.

Now, one of the arguments legal conservatives made at the time was that even if you thought this was a strained, absurdly narrow reading of the law, it was a reading of a law. Since Congress can change laws, it's reasonable for the court to make cautious, narrow readings in statutory cases in the knowledge that they aren't necessarily preserving ancient prejudices in amber forever. Just change the law!

Which, needless to say, the Democratic congress tried to do. But Republicans made it a cause celebre, insisted the Republic would fall if victims of wage discrimination actually had reasonable recourse in the courts, and filibustered the attempt. John McCain supported the filibuster, which means that for all practical purposes, the Title VII ban on wage discrimination is a dead letter. It might as well not be on the books.

So: does McCain think it's OK to oppose equal pay for equal work? He sure doesn't seem to mind it much. He didn't propose any changes to the Ledbetter Act or work to make it more palatable to conservatives. He just opposed it (though, as usual, he skipped the actual vote). So now, if you're the victim of wage discrimination, you essentially have no recourse. And John McCain thinks that's fine.

Bush "Came Into Office on Third Base and Stole Second"

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 12:47 AM EDT

Second line of the night:

You know, it was once said of the first George Bush that he was born on third base and thought he'd hit a triple. Well, with the 22 million new jobs and the budget surplus Bill Clinton left behind, George W. Bush came into office on third base, and then he stole second.

—Ohio Governor Ted Strickland in a speech tonight at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado.

Quote of the Day

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 12:46 AM EDT

QUOTE OF THE DAY....It's a new day (barely), so I get a new quote. This one is from Jared Bernstein, after reading the Census Bureau income report that I blogged about earlier:

Trickle-down economics died yesterday morning at 10AM. The cause of death was a data release from the US Census Bureau, but trickle-down had been ailing from lack of empirical support for decades. Also known as "supply-side economics," trickle-down was the love child of Ronald Reagan, Arthur Laffer, and Jude Wanniski. It is survived by Larry Kudlow and Co., and the editorial page of the Wall St. Journal.

My earlier post on the subject is here.

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Hillary Clinton's Music Strikes a Minor Chord

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 12:16 AM EDT

mojo-photo-hillary.jpgWhile Senator Hillary Clinton's speech tonight at the Democratic National Convention in Denver struck an energetic, unifying tone, the music used in her tribute video and walk-on offered an interesting counterpoint. The video, narrated by Chelsea and played before her speech, kicked off brightly and energetically, with a couple of rock tracks that were considered edgy when they first came out but have since settled into the classic-rock pantheon. First we heard The Kinks' "You Really Got Me," which is based entirely around rising, pulsing major chords, in the upbeat "Louie Louie" style of the time. Then we segued into Lenny Kravitz' "Are You Gonna Go My Way," a track whose funky minor chords in the verses give way to celebratory major chords in the chorus. Next up, Tom Petty's "American Girl," whose chorus kicks off with major chords but then steps briefly into melancholy territory, with a few minor chords expressing a certain nostalgia.

Polar Bears Found Swimming 60 Miles Offshore

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 12:04 AM EDT

800px-Polar_bear_arctic.JPG

An aerial survey has recently found at least nine polar bears swimming in open water far off Alaska. One was at least 60 miles from shore. All could have difficulty making it back to land and are at risk of drowning, particularly if bad weather strikes.

"To find so many polar bears at sea at one time is extremely worrisome because it could be an indication that as the sea ice on which they live and hunt continues to melt, many more bears may be out there facing similar risk," said Geoff York, polar bear coordinator for the World Wildlife Fund. "Polar bears and their cubs are being forced to swim longer distances to find food and habitat."

The discovery of the nine bears at sea came as the US Minerals Management Service was conducting marine surveys in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in advance of potential offshore oil development. In May, the US Department of Interior listed polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. However, the state of Alaska has opposed the listing and has sued the federal government over its decision to list the bear.

Professor Richard Steiner of the University of Alaska's Marine Advisory Program said: "The bottom line here is that polar bears need sea ice, sea ice is decaying, and the bears are in very serious trouble. For any people who are still non-believers in global warming and the impacts it is having in the Arctic, this should answer their doubts once and for all."

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

A Clear Message from Hillary: It's About Obama, Not Me

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 11:49 PM EDT

The only question was this: would there be a hint of resentment or reluctance in her speech, any sign of holding back? But Hillary Clinton, on the second night of the Democratic convention and in a much-anticipated speech, offered a loud and clear message to her supporters: get behind Barack Obama. In the opening moments of her speech, she identified herself as a "a proud supporter of Barack Obama" and declared,

I haven't spent the past 35 years in the trenches advocating for children, campaigning for universal health care, helping parents balance work and family, and fighting for women's rights at home and around the world...to see another Republican in the White House.

No ambiguity there.

Prior to the speech, a parlor game for the politerati assembled in Denver was to trade gossip and rumors indicating that the Clintons might not be fully with the elect-Obama program. A prominent Obama supporter said she had heard that the Clinton speech would be "bad for us." A reporter said that he had heard that a top Clinton aide was trash-talking Obama to other reporters. This all fed the only narrative of conflict at the convention: the Clintons versus Obama. But right before the speech, Joe Lockhart, who was a press secretary for President Bill Clinton, said to me that Hillary Clinton would put this subplot to rest.

The Speeches Before Clinton: Warner Bad, Strickland Good, Schweitzer Awesome

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 11:43 PM EDT

schwzt_warner.jpg The relevance of the speeches that came before Hillary Clinton, who will surely get the lion's share of the coverage tonight and tomorrow, is mainly felt among insiders. Democratic Party officials and politicians get a look at how their peers perform on a national stage; the political press gets to see who deserves buzz in conversations about future stars.

That said, there were some genuinely interesting people at the podium tonight. Ted Strickland, the governor of Ohio, and Brian Schweitzer, the governor of Montana, were two such people. Unfortunately, Mark Warner, the former governor of Virginia and a current Senate candidate in that state, was not. Warner painted himself as a bizarro Obama. Both Warner and Obama came from hard-luck circumstances, both made themselves into superstars by working hard and taking advantage of the opportunities for advancement that only America affords. But Warner's meteoric rise was in business — he has made hundreds of millions through early investments in cell phones — while Obama's was in politics. And the speech was heavy on "Yes, We Can" enthusiasm. Warner was a pragmatic governor who worked frequently with Republicans in Virginia; he has stressed throughout his career that he cares about ideas that work, not ideas that originate on his side of the aisle. But for all this resonance with Obama and his story, the speech was underwhelming. It lacked a unifying theme and any rhetorical flourish or rhythm.

And that, ultimately, is why even though Warner likely has the same presidential ambitions as Obama, he would likely be a very different national leader. Obama leads through the sheer force of his personality. Warner has built his immense popularity in Virginia through being an extremely able technocrat. He's effective, not sexy.

Perhaps Warner was doomed from the start. He had the hardest task at the convention — deliver the keynote four years after Barack Obama delivered one of most memorable keynotes in recent political history, and on top of that, speak in the shadow of Hillary Clinton.