2008 - %3, November

How an Obama Win Would Justify Years of Bush-bashing: A Personal Reflection

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 2:15 PM EST

I first posted this personal reflection at www.davidcorn.com....

This time it's personal.

Then again, it was personal in 2004.

In September 2003, I published a book immoderately titled, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception. Its contention was a simple one: that Bush had gone beyond the normal boundaries of presidential spin in using falsehoods and misrepresentations to skew the public discourse on many fronts: stems cells, global warming, tax policy, and, above all, the invasion of Iraq.

At the time, this was not--in certain circles--a well-received argument. Conservative pundits, pointing to my book and others that came out at the time (Al Franken's Lying Liars, Molly Ivins' Bushwhacked, written with Lou Dubose, and Joe Conason's Big Lies), declared a new phenomenon was at hand: rabid, irrational Bush hatred. MSM commentators, ever looking to reside within the comfortable, above-it-all middle, observed that the left was now mirroring the extreme rhetoric of the Limbaugh-crazy, Coulter-loving right. I noted some examples of this dismissive reax in a recent Mother Jones essay. The New York Times' Matt Bai, citing my book, wrote, "the new leftist screeds seem to solidify a rising political culture of incivility and overstatement." Conservative columnist David Brooks proclaimed that "the core threat to democracy is not in the White House, it's the haters themselves." (Yes, I was more dangerous than George W. Bush.) What few of these commentators of the center and right bothered to do was to evaluate the case I (and the others) had put forward. That is, to confront the facts I had presented. Their aim was to discredit the very idea of anyone going so far as to call the president of the United States a liar. And National Review editor Rich Lowry opined, "I don't think the public is going to buy the idea that [Bush is] a liar."

Lowry got it wrong. By Election Day 2004, polls showed that a slight majority believed that Bush was not honest and trustworthy. Still, Bush managed to best John Kerry in an election that was something of a referendum on Bush's first term. But that election came too early. Had it been held a year later--post-Katrina--any Dem would have thrashed Bush and Cheney at the polls. And now about seven out of ten disapprove of his presidency, and most of the public agrees with the premise that Bush deliberately misled American citizens about WMDs and the threat supposedly posed by Iraq. Bush is heading toward the door widely regarded as a failure: Iraq, Katrina, the financial meltdown. He has become the vanishing president. Hardly seen. Barely relevant.

Bush's style of politics, his policies, his political party--it's all been discredited. Whatever happens in the presidential race, the GOP is poised to take a beating in congressional races. He has led his party to ruin. The battle over the W. story has been won by his critics--at least in the short run. The view that Bush has been a dishonest president and bad for the United States has become the majority position in the United States. If John McCain somehow manages to win, it will be in spite of Bush.

Many presidents are elected as reactions to the previous president. George W. Bush's (faux) victory in 2000 was a reaction to the Bill Clinton soap opera. And a Barack Obama triumph would be the natural reaction to the W. years. Obama is the most progressive (or liberal) Democratic nominee since FDR ran for reelection. He is black (or biracial). He is an intellectual. He is no child of privilege. To sum up: he is the opposite of George W. Bush. Not only has Bush started two wars he couldn't finish, presided over a government that lost a major American city, and did little as a financial tsunami hit the nation; he has (I am guessing) created a yearning among many Americans for a non-Bush. And within the realm of conventional U.S. politics, Obama is about as non-Bush as it gets. No wonder Obama has a strong chance of becoming president. He spoke (endlessly) of change; he is an antidote to the Bush presidency.

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A Report From the Economy

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 1:57 PM EST

panic-button.jpg

Something called the Institute for Supply Management's factory index "plunged" to 38.9% in October. In an email, economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research tells us why this matters:

[The ISM index] is a pretty good measure of the direction of change in output in manufacturing. The current reading indicates that manufacturing output is falling sharply. That likely means many more layoffs and plant closings. It's pretty bad news.

The index, which used to be called the purchasing manager's index, is now at its lowest level since September of 1982. Numbers below 50% indicate that the economy is contracting. Newly minted economics Nobel winner Paul Krugman says the latest ISM number means "We need a government of national unity to deal with the economic crisis, starting at, oh, around 8:45 PM tomorrow."

Photo from flickr user zengrrl used under a Creative Commons license.


Three Seconds

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 1:49 PM EST

THREE SECONDS....Megan McArdle suggests that you be very, very careful if you're driving in Virginia:

I don't know about other parts of the country, but around here governments are partially dealing with their revenue shortfall by upping their traffic enforcement to outrageously persnickety levels; my sister got a ticket the other day for stopping at a stop sign for three seconds instead of the apparently requisite five. There were no other cars around — except for the cop who handed her a gigantic ticket.

Five seconds? Seriously?

For that matter, where did this whole "three seconds at a stop sign" meme come from in the first place? As near as I can tell, both the Virginia and California vehicle codes require only a "complete stop," with no mention at all of having to wait a few seconds before you continue through the intersection. The law firm of Lawrynowicz and Associates agrees fervently ("Many people receive unfair and unjust Stop Sign tickets when they have obeyed the law completely. Why pay an unfair ticket and have your insurance rates raise when you can fight it and keep your record clean?") Is this whole thing a myth? A rule of thumb drilled into teenager by drivers ed teachers and never forgotten? Buried somewhere in the vehicle code where I couldn't find it? What's the deal?

Is The "Cell Phone Effect" Lowballing Obama's Numbers?

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 1:35 PM EST

Do pollsters who don't call cell phones make the election look closer than it actually is? Polling maven Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com thinks so. The traditional assumption is that young, cell-phone-only voters probably lean heavily toward Obama. It turns out that the four national polls that include cell phones in their samples are also the four polls that have him with the largest margins of victory. He charted it for you, too (after the jump):

Presidential Success

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 1:19 PM EST

PRESIDENTIAL SUCCESS....Matt Yglesias predicts a land office business after the election in op-eds warning Democrats not to get too full of themselves, but argues that analogies to Clinton's first couple of years are off base:

But that aside, I just think it's pretty blinkered to act as if the electorate has a deep commitment (or lack of commitment) to bipartisanship or some finely nuanced conception of moderation. Rather, voters tend to re-elect incumbents when things seem to be working out okay whereas they tend to punish incumbents — and those closely associated with incumbents — when things seem to be going poorly. What Democrats need to do if they want to prosper in 2010 and 2012 is deliver the goods. In other words, return the economy to prosperity, avoid terrible foreign affairs calamities, etc.

I think that's right. Obviously administrations need to pick their spots — in retrospect, leading off his first week in office with a proposal to allow gays in the military didn't do Clinton any good — but the key thing is to succeed, and then to get credit for succeeding. If the opposition is able to frame the terms of the debate, or if you allow the press to frame success with its usual idiotic "hundred days" narrative, you're behind the eight ball before you even start.

(Please, please, Senator Obama: make clear to the media that you aren't planning to change the shape of the country in your first hundred days. Please. It's long past time for this trope to be buried once and for all. Only one president in history has ever done this, and you won't be the second.)

So what would success look like? I've said this before, but I'd put my money on three things:

  • Withdrawal from Iraq. Sure, sure, Obama will leave a few "residual troops" in place. I get it. But it's time to get out.

  • Serious healthcare reform. Obviously I'd prefer reform even more serious than what Obama has proposed, but his plan is a good start if it doesn't get watered down too much.

  • Carbon pricing. Obama needs to pass a real energy plan that includes a version of cap-and-trade with teeth. (A carbon tax would also be fine, but I don't think that's politically feasible.) Price signals work, and increasing the price of carbon has to be the backbone of any attempt to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. We're already too late on this, and getting the rest of the world on board may take decades, but we have to start. We're condemning hundreds of millions of people to an early death if we don't.

So those are my big three: Iraq, healthcare, and carbon. Get something serous done on those issues, and Obama's administration will be a big success. Fail on them, and it's not clear to me that any combination of other new programs will be enough to salvage it.

Tomorrow

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 12:44 PM EST

TOMORROW....As near as I can tell, here's the state of the race. Obama is ahead by a lot, but (a) the Bradley effect might cost him a couple of points, (b) super-duper black turnout might help him by a point or so, (c) Palin-mania might help GOP turnout more than we expect, (d) Palin-phobia will increase Obama's share of the female vote, (e) independents are likely to break heavily for McCain, (f) a joyous Obama tsunami will add a point or two to the Dem column, (g) Joe the Plumber is making inroads among working class voters in swing states, but (h) Obama's ground game is awesome and adds hidden strength to his poll totals. Plus i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, and y.

Feh. This is a mug's game. None of the pundits know squat. The polls are what they are. Obama's ground operation has been in the planning stages for months and it's superb. As of today, pretty much everyone's mind is made up. Obama's going to win by 5-6 points (maybe more!), and tomorrow the most disastrous presidency in modern history will finally begin the shamefaced descent into the memory hole that it so richly deserves. I can't wait.

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Bankruptcy in China

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 12:26 PM EST

BANKRUPTCY IN CHINA....China's manufacturing decline has accelerated recently due to the global financial meltdown, but apparently China's provisions for corporate bankruptcy aren't quite as smooth as one might hope:

First, Tao Shoulong burned his company's financial books. He then sold his private golf club memberships and disposed of his Mercedes S-600 sedan.

And then he was gone. And just like that, China's biggest textile dye operation — with four factories, a campus the size of 31 football fields, 4,000 workers and debts of at least $200 million — was history.

....In recent weeks, there have been many fires, increasingly large-scale. In Zhejiang province, south of Shanghai, Ye [Hang] counted at least six major bankruptcies, including Jianglong; Feiyue Group, China's biggest sewing machine maker; and Zhejiang Yixin Pharmaceutical Co., among the largest in that industry.

"Of these six, one [owner] committed suicide, one was detained by police, and the remaining four all escaped," he said. "I can imagine that in the future, there would be more such cases as a result of the chain reaction."

I don't especially want anyone committing suicide, but I confess that the thought of Wall Street executives in failed banks either being detained by the police or going to ground and hiding in terror holds a certain appeal. Is there any chance that the U.S. could import the Chinese method temporarily just for the financial industry?

Gun Manufacturer's President Asked to Resign Over Support for Obama

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 12:25 PM EST

Apparently supporting Barack Obama is enough to cost you your job if your job happens to involve making guns. When Dan Cooper, the co-founder and president of Montana-based Cooper Firearms, told reporters he supported Obama, he probably didn't expect he would be forced to resign. But an internet-fueled uproar and the threat of a boycott led to the Board of Directors asking for Cooper's resignation late last week. Hearing the story, Montana's Democratic governor, Brian Schweitzer (who also supports Obama) interrupted an elk-hunting trip to offer his help:

"I said, 'Look, I will support Cooper Firearms in their sales promotions. I will go to vendors. I will go state to state. I will help you sell the firearms, if you think the governor of Montana can help you close some deals,'" Schweitzer said.
The governor said Friday he will do what he can to help the company and its 40 employees overcome any lingering backlash.
"For the couple of weeks that lead up to an election, it's almost like Halloween, a lot of the goblins are out," Schweitzer said. "Things will cool down, they always will."

Cooper Firearms better hope "things cool down." Many gun dealers, including Cabela's and Sportsman's Warehouse, are already canceling orders after being threatened with boycotts. The canceled orders mean Cooper is now in very serious trouble: losing Cabela's and Sportsman's Warehouse, its two biggest accounts, could threaten the very existence of the 38-employee company. So it's no surprise that the company's board felt it had to ask Cooper to resign.

Gun owners, pushed along by the NRA, have leaned Republican for decades. Obviously they think that protecting their Second Amendment rights is very important. But the attack on Cooper seems like a big overreaction. Second Amendment activists just won a huge Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller, that will make it very hard to implement any meaningful restrictions on guns, no matter who is President. And Obama, for the record, has said he believes the constitution grants an individual right to bear arms. And even if Obama does secretly want to ban handguns, it seems highly unlikely that it would be anywhere near the top of his agenda. It's just too politically risky. Dan Cooper probably realized all this. But realizing that his Second Amendment rights are more than likely safe under an Obama administration will come as cold comfort to Cooper if his choice for President ends up costing 38 people their jobs.

Screwup in Syria

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 11:57 AM EST

SCREWUP IN SYRIA....The London Times reports that the American raid on Syria last week wasn't an encroachment of Syrian sovereignty after all. According to "sources in Washington," they say, the al-Qaeda commander targeted in the raid, Abu Ghadiya, "was feared by the Syrians as an agent of Islamic fundamentalism who was hostile to the secular regime in Damascus." So they gave the go-ahead for the U.S operation. But things didn't go as planned:

In the time-honoured tradition of covert US operations in the Middle East, this one seems to have gone spectacularly wrong. The Syrians, who had agreed to turn a blind eye to a supposedly quiet "snatch and grab" raid, could not keep the lid on a firefight in which so many people had died.

The operation should have been fast and bloodless. According to the sources, Syrian intelligence tipped off the Americans about Abu Ghadiya's whereabouts. US electronic intelligence then tracked his exact location, possibly by tracing his satellite telephone, and the helicopters were directed to him. They were supposed to kidnap him and take him to Iraq for questioning.

....It is not clear what went wrong, but it is believed that the helicopters were spotted by the militants on their final approach and a gun battle broke out. That is supported by an account from a local tribal leader, who said a rocket-propelled grenade had been launched from the compound at the helicopter. The firefight blew the cover on a supposedly covert operation.

As usual with these things, you can decide for yourself whether this report is believable. But it wouldn't surprise me if it turned out to be at least partially true.

Obama Brings the Hood to Montana

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 9:32 AM EST

A conservative white guy from the South canvasses for Obama and breaks my heart. From the Christian Science Monitor (via Andrew Sullivan):

At the Obama headquarters, we stood in a group to receive our instructions. I wasn't the oldest, but close, and the youngest was maybe in high school. I watched a campaign organizer match up a young black man who looked to be college age with a white guy about my age to canvas together. It should not have been a big thing, but the beauty of the image did not escape me.

Read the whole thing. It's beautiful.

In the same vein, WaPo's Wil Haygood went to Montana, where blacks are nearly non-existent, to see how these whitest of white folks are reacting to the thought of a black man as President.

Wil is an excellent, excellent writer (and a good friend) but I have to wonder how Montanans would have responded to a white reporter. Their comments sound a tad...careful to me. Not that they should be assumed to be Kluxers, but I just wonder. There are a few lovely images though: