Kevin Drum

Quote of the Day

| Sat Sep. 6, 2008 9:47 PM EDT

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Mark Allen, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau, on the duties of state governors:

"The role of the governor is to use the Guard to help the citizens of a state, as opposed to declaring war on a neighboring state."

That's certainly good to hear.

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A Prayer For Palin

| Sat Sep. 6, 2008 8:24 PM EDT

A PRAYER FOR PALIN....Ross Douthat enthusiastically recommends John Podhoretz's review of an article in the NYT today about Sarah Palin's religious beliefs:

Today, the New York Times published an article that, should it receive wide circulation (and it might, on the web), will do a great deal to harden evangelical attitudes against the supposed leftward swing [of younger evangelicals] — because it is an act of secular aggression against a believing Christian.

Headlined "In Palin's Life and Politics, Goal to Follow God's Will," the article has about it the wide-eyed wonder that anyone might actually be crazy enough to believe in a Creator Who still plays a role in human affairs.

OK, I read it. I detected no wide-eyed wonder at all. In fact, it struck me as an almost painfully straightforward look at Palin's church and her religious beliefs. There were no value judgments, no subtle word choices to suggest a point of view, and the authors even took pains to point out that Palin had changed churches a few years ago in order to attend one that was lower key and more discreet than her previous church. You might object to the article if you think that merely describing Palin's beliefs will automatically damage her — an odd belief for a social conservative to hold — or if you believe that religion has no place in politics — which would be even odder — but it's hard to see what other grounds there might be for grumbling about it. After all, religion plays a major role in American political culture; the Christian right is a powerful segment of the Republican Party base; other presidential candidates (Obama, Huckabee, Romney) have been put under the same microscope; faith is plainly a significant part of Palin's life; and her particular brand of Christianity is equally plainly a huge factor in her popularity within the GOP. It would be journalistic malpractice not to write a profile of Palin's religious views.

So what's going on here? Answer: it's yet another attempt to rally the troops by making up a fictitious (but plausible sounding!) narrative about coastal elites looking down their noses at them. This is something I expect we're going see a lot more of over the next couple of months.

UPDATE: Ross reconsiders. That's what makes him worth reading.

McCain on McCain

| Sat Sep. 6, 2008 2:32 PM EDT

McCAIN ON McCAIN....For a campaign that's tried to mock Barack Obama for being a little too full of himself, this week's GOP convention was remarkable for its virtual canonization of John McCain. That goes double for McCain himself, who seemingly spent an eternity Thursday night talking not about his vision for the country or his vision for the future, but about his vision of himself: his journey, his character, his life story, his selfless devotion to duty. John McCain's favorite subject, it turns out, is John McCain.

At least, that's how it seemed. But Hilzoy apparently has some friends with a little too much time on their hands, and one of them decided to quantify McCain's self-love for posterity. The results:

There were a total of 271 sentences in the speech [...] Of those 271 sentences, a remarkable 147 (54%) were devoted to telling us about John McCain himself: his past accomplishments ("I fought crooked deals in the Pentagon"), his qualifications for the job ("I know how the world works"), his family and childhood ("When I was five years old, a car pulled up in front of our house..."), his time as a POW ("On an October morning, in the Gulf of Tonkin..."), his patriotism ("My country saved me"), and so on. Another 8 sentences focused on Sarah Palin. This leaves only 116 sentences (43% of the speech) to discuss the topics that one might otherwise expect to constitute the majority of the speech: the state of the nation, his policy positions, future promises, differences between his positions and Obama's, and so on.

And Obama? A much more normal 15% about himself, with the rest about the country, his plans, comparisons with McCain, etc. Details at the link.

Great Moments in the Annals of Polling

| Sat Sep. 6, 2008 1:41 PM EDT

GREAT MOMENTS IN THE ANNALS OF POLLING....From a recent ABC News poll:

Eighty-five percent of Republicans view Palin favorably, and nearly nine in 10 approve of her selection as Sen. John McCain's running mate.

....Partisan lenses also color views of whether Palin has the necessary experience to serve as president if that became necessary and whether the news media have treated her fairly in her first week in the spotlight. Forty-two percent of all Americans think she is sufficiently prepared. Among Republicans, however, 74 percent believe she is, a figure that is more than three times higher than among Democrats.

Italics mine. If I'm reading this right, about 89% of Republicans approve of the Palin pick, but only 74% believe she's prepared to be president. This means that 15% of Republicans approve of their nominee choosing a running mate who's unprepared to succeed him if necessary. Analysis is left as an exercise for the reader.

Panic Time

| Sat Sep. 6, 2008 1:29 PM EDT

PANIC TIME....Is the McCain campaign scared to death that there might be more to Troopergate than Sarah Palin fessed up to during the ten or fifteen minutes of vetting they gave her last week? Oh my yes. And they're in full whirlwind mode trying to shut down the bipartisan investigation into her activities that's been underway in Alaska for the past couple of months — an investigation that Palin had earlier said she welcomed and would fully cooperate with because, you know, she had nothing to hide etc. etc.

Anyway, that's no longer operative. She's now got a lawyer, her husband has a lawyer, they've managed to get seven witnesses to refuse to testify, they've filed a motion of their own to gum up the works, and they've gotten their allies in the legislature to call for the investigation to be shut down. (It had gotten too "politicized" they said hilariously, after doing everything in their power to politicize it.)

Palin herself, of course, has nothing to say about this since she's currently being kept in a bunker somewhere. I wonder how long it's going to be before there are a dozen camera crews camped outside her house in Wasilla shouting questions at her as she ducks into her car every morning to drive to the office? As near as I can tell, that's the only thing that might finally embarrass the campaign into allowing her to speak without a teleprompter in front of her.

Convention Roundup

| Sat Sep. 6, 2008 1:09 PM EDT

CONVENTION ROUNDUP....During John McCain's speech on Thursday, he inexplicably spoke for part of the time in front of an image of Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood. Obviously this was meant to be Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and after radio silence for over 24 hours on how this screwup happened, hapless McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds offered up this howler:

"The changing image-screen was linked to the American thematics of the speech and the public school was simply part of it," Mr. Bounds said, adding that during the speech, Mr. McCain "called for public education reforms that empower parents and students before bureaucrats and labor unions."

Uh huh. These guys are just congenitally incapable of admitting a mistake, aren't they?

And speaking of screwups during the GOP convention, here's another one. The Navy gave permission for two SEALs to attend the convention on the condition that the Republican National Committee not try to exploit them politically (active duty members of the military aren't allowed to engage in partisan activity). So what happened? They wrote a speech exploiting them, and when they were called on it they made up a lie about it being an inadvertant ad-lib. Notice a pattern here?

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Palin and the Press

| Fri Sep. 5, 2008 7:04 PM EDT

PALIN AND THE PRESS....Judging from his public statements shortly after he announced Sarah Palin as his running mate, John McCain thought she had opposed the Bridge to Nowhere. She hadn't. He thought she had sold the state's executive jet on eBay and made a profit on it. On both counts, she didn't. He thought she had cut taxes as both mayor and governor. She hadn't. He apparently thought she had fully explained her part in pressuring the state police chief to fire her ex-brother-in-law. She hasn't. He thought she was an enemy of earmarks and federal pork. In fact, she was a pioneer of both. And now Marc Ambinder confirms that Palin is being kept deeply under wraps:

A senior McCain campaign official advises that, despite the gaggle of requests and pressure from the media, Gov. Sarah Palin won't submit to a formal interview anytime soon. She may take some questions from local news entities in Alaska, but until she's ready — and until she's comfortable — which might not be for a long while — the media will have to wait. The campaign believes it can effectively deal with the media's complaints, and their on-the-record response to all this will be: "Sarah Palin needs to spend time with the voters."

The McCain campaign is scared to death. They knew nothing about Palin before they announced her, they relied on a cursory vetting process that has turned out to be shot full of holes, they realize now that she has no settled views on any issue of national importance and could blurt out anything at any time, and they're terrified about what might crop up next. So they're keeping her in the deep freeze.

Will it work? I guess it's possible. If she does one or two friendly interviews it will prevent reporters from saying flatly that she "refuses to meet with the press," and the slightly more complicated explanation may be just complicated enough to keep voters from noticing what's going on. In a way, it's sort of a test of just how gullible the American public really is. Are they actually willing to vote for someone who's afraid to meet with Foreign Affairs, the New York Times, and Meet the Press? Will they accept a tissue-thin excuse about what big meanies they all are? We're about to find out.

Friday Cat Blogging - 5 September 2008

| Fri Sep. 5, 2008 4:18 PM EDT

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....TGIF, my friends, TGIF.

As usual, though, Felis catus has lessons for us all. Things are not as bad as they seem. We can all get along. A good night's sleep — followed by a good day's sleep — will make the world seem brighter. The only culture war worth fighting is the one between Friskies and Fancy Feast.

Which reminds me: does the Palin family own any critters? Are they dog people or cat people? Do they own hamsters? A fish tank? Or what? Why has the liberal media let us down on probing into this critical question?

McCain's Character

| Fri Sep. 5, 2008 3:56 PM EDT

McCAIN'S CHARACTER....Mark Schmitt on John McCain:

The notable difference, not just in the speeches but in the entirety of the two conventions, was that it is McCain who stands alone. He is the one whose platform is his own personal melodrama, the moment of doubt and pain after which, "I was never the same again. I wasn't my own man anymore. I was my country's." He's the one whose introductory video declared that he "was chosen for this moment," and "the stars are aligned" for his victory. Who's the messiah, now?

Yep. McCain's speech, like the rest of the Republican convention, was an unremitting paean to the character of John McCain. That character is what McCain wants this entire campaign to be about, but only if he can do it on his own terms. Those terms, however, are worth a closer look.

McCain likes to present his past as past and his time in a prison camp as a transformative experience, but the fact is that his experience as a POW transformed nothing. In fact, it amplified his fundamental belief in his own self-righteousness, something he's used ever since as an unending justification for his worst impulses. He was 31 years old when he was captured by the North Vietnamese and 36 when he was released. When he was 43 he abandoned his injured wife for a younger woman and married into a fortune. When he was 51 he intervened with regulators on behalf of his pal Charles Keating and ended up enmeshed in the Keating Five scandal — a scandal he initially tried to blame on his wife when his role became public. When he was 61 he was amusing a partisan crowd with boorish jokes about Chelsea Clinton. When he was 64 he was pandering to Southern racism by refusing to condemn the confederate flag flying over South Carolina's statehouse.

And then there's the second part of this pattern: McCain's famous remorse. As Dan Schnur put it, "He is the best apologizer in politics." And so he is. His treatment of his first wife, he told Rick Warren a few weeks ago, was his "greatest moral failing." Intervening for Charles Keating, he eventually admitted, was "the wrong thing to do." His Chelsea joke was "stupid and cruel and insensitive." His handling of the confederate flag controversy was a "sacrifice of principle for personal ambition."

This year he's 72 but things are no different. Instead of running a decent and honorable campaign, he and his surrogates are reigniting a culture war he doesn't even believe in; relentlessly belittling and trivializing instead of addressing serious issues; repeatedly accusing his opponent of not caring about his country; stubbornly refusing to condemn even the vilest character assassinations; and finally choosing a manifestly unprepared and unvetted running mate in order to gain a momentary political advantage with a Christian right base that has never trusted him but that he needs to win the election. He's doing all this because, as his convention speech made clear, he believes he's on a higher mission. His character is what this campaign is about — or rather his own image of his character — and it's this belief in his own self-righteousness that allows him to justify his every action with a clear conscience. He has to win, you see, for the good of the country. He's the only man who can do it.

And that's the most dangerous attitude of all, because a person who believes that can talk himself into almost anything. And if it doesn't work out? He'll apologize later.

Russia Update

| Fri Sep. 5, 2008 2:20 PM EDT

RUSSIA UPDATE....Dan Drezner continues to track the price Russia is paying for its invasion of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It's worth paying attention to. As Dan says, "no one should be under any illusion that the regime is about to collapse or anything," but it hasn't been a freebie for Putin either. The whole affair also demonstrates another truism about foreign policy: not everything in the world requires an immediate and direct "response." It pleases guys like Bill Kristol and ratchets up the game of chicken, but sometimes playing a longer game can punish bad behavior a lot more safely and a lot more effectively.