2008 - %3, August

Hurricane Gustav: Helping and Hurting Bush and McCain

| Sun Aug. 31, 2008 1:19 PM EDT

Hurricane Gustav is threatening the residents of New Orleans and the Gulf coast. It is also threatening the Republican convention in St. Paul, where John McCain will be nominated this week. Or is it helping McCain?

On Sunday afternoon, President Bush announced that due to the hurricane he would skip the GOP convention, where he and Dick Cheney were scheduled to speak on Monday night, and the McCain campaign said it would cancel most of the convention program for that day. (Cheney, too, is taking a pass on St. Paul.) Instead, Bush will head to Houston to be near hurricane rescue efforts. As if his presence there is going to matter. Bush is wisely not going to New Orleans, for a presidential visit there would surely disrupt rescue operations.

But is Bush's absence from St. Paul a win or loss for McCain? Certainly, he could do hurricane-like damage to the McCain campaign if a split-screen television shot on Monday night showed Bush addressing the GOP delegates and Gustav slamming into New Orleans. Any junior image-manipulator would know that such a thing must be avoided at all costs. Even without a hurricane, Bush's appearance at the McCain-fest in St. Paul could have been dicey. The Obama campaign is doing all it can to tie McCain to the most unpopular president in decades. No doubt, some of convention planners would have liked from the start to have a Bush-less program. But had they not invited the president, they would have created a major issue that would have dominated the convention. Now they can say, Thank God for the weather. And Bush has a good excuse for staying clear.

There is a cost. Hurricane Gustav is damn powerful reminder of Hurricane Katrina and the Bush administration's abject failure. So whether Bush is at the convention or not, the ghost of Katrina will hover over the proceedings--even if the convention planners get their thousands of delegates to eschew the parties and do volunteer work to help Gustav victims. Moreover, Gustav may rob media time and attention from the GOP effort to define--that is, delegitimize--Barack Obama. Fewer hours of convention equals fewer hours of Obama-bashing. And if there is a crisis under way, a hyper-partisan attack might seem untoward.

Gustav ought to be also a reminder of McCain's own failure to lead during the Katrina disaster. As Jonathan Stein noted in April (when McCain toured the hurricane-damaged areas of New Orleans):

But McCain's record on Hurricane Katrina suggests that he was part of the problem, not the solution. McCain was on Face the Nation on August 28, 2005, as Katrina gathered in the Gulf Coast. He said nothing about it. One day later, when Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, McCain was on a tarmac at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, greeting President Bush with a cake in celebration of McCain's 69th birthday. Three days later, with the levees already breached and New Orleans filling with water, McCain's office released a three-sentence statement urging Americans to support the victims of the hurricane.
Though McCain issued a statement the next week calling on Congress to make sacrifices in order to fund recovery efforts, he was quoted in The New Leader on September 1 cautioning against over-spending in support of Katrina's victims. "We also have to be concerned about future generations of Americans," he said. "We're going to end up with the highest deficit, probably, in the history of this country."

Here's a visual reminder:

20050829-5_p082905pm-0125-515h-1.jpg

It's a shot that ought to be circulated widely this week--whether or not Bush is in St. Paul.

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Quotes of the Day

| Sun Aug. 31, 2008 1:09 PM EDT

QUOTES OF THE DAY....George Bush on his former ambassador to the UN, neocon lunatic John Bolton:

"Let me just say from the outset that I don't consider Bolton credible."

I don't often agree with President Bush, but credit where it's due: when he's right, he's right. Next up is NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher, commenting on the number of high-profile no-shows for this week's Republican convention:

"It's probably easier to say who is attending."

But why? Hurricane Gustav? Campaigning duties? Nope: "The party brand is in tatters," said [a Republican] aide. "The president is highly unpopular. There doesn't seem to be much excitement around the candidate. And there's a real fear of being tagged with the Republican label and being seen with George Bush."

Palin's Governing Style

| Sun Aug. 31, 2008 12:51 PM EDT

PALIN'S GOVERNING STYLE....We all know that after she became governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin sold the executive jet on eBay and fired the chef at the governor's mansion. But how is she at actually governing? Here's Anchorage Daily News reporter Gregg Erickson:

It is clear that she has not paid much attention to the nitty-gritty unglamorous work of government, of gaining consensus, and making difficult compromises. She seems to be of the view that politics should be all rather simple....The Republican chair of the Alaska State House Finance budget subcommittee on Heath and Medicaid says he can't find anyone in Palin's executive office who cares about helping bring that budget under control. He is furious with her about that.

That would be Republican Mike Hawker, who confirms his opinion of Palin to the LA Times:

"Her administration had the appearance of paying absolutely no attention to any of the rest of the unglamorous side of government," said Hawker, "whether it be dealing with human services, public services, highways, all the routine aspects."

And Democrats agree! Here's state senator Hollis French:

French faulted Palin for not helping the Legislature pass a bill to raise the benefits threshhold for children and pregnant women from 175% of the poverty level to 200%. (Most states set them at 200% to 250%.) "She said she wanted to help us raise it," French said, "but couldn't be bothered to do anything in the closing days of the Legislature, when she could have helped it through."

So in addition to not having much curiosity or interest in political affairs outside of Alaska, she apparently doesn't have much curiosity or interest in political affairs inside Alaska either. Sounds like the perfect successor to W. No wonder McCain fell in love with her.

The Latest From Iraq

| Sun Aug. 31, 2008 1:48 AM EDT

THE LATEST FROM IRAQ....Coming up for air from Palin-mania, I see that there are still other things going on in the rest of the world. For example:

At the "make-or-break" stage of talks with the U.S. on the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has swept aside his negotiating team and replaced it with three of his closest aides, a reshuffle that some Iraqi officials warn risks sabotaging the agreement....In disclosing the switch to the Los Angeles Times this weekend, a senior Iraqi official close to Maliki also suggested that the two sides remained deadlocked on key issues.

....The latest version of the agreement, which was read to The Times by the Maliki confidant, says all U.S. forces will leave Iraq by the end of 2011, unless Iraq requests otherwise. It also says the Americans will withdraw from cities in June 2009, unless the Iraqis ask them to stay.

The new wording is a departure from the White House's insistence on a conditions-based timeline for a pullout. Under the new language, Iraq, not the U.S. military, decides when the troops will leave. U.S. officials have gone back to Washington to consult on the language, the Maliki confidant said.

Read the whole thing to get the rest of the story. I continue to predict that an agreement will eventually be reached, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's more on Maliki's terms than on ours.

Palin Polls

| Sun Aug. 31, 2008 1:28 AM EDT

Editor and Publisher summarizes the first post-Palin polls:

Here's a finding from Gallup: Among Democratic women -- including those who may be disappointed that Hillary Clinton did not win the Democratic nomination -- 9% say Palin makes them more likely to support McCain, 15% less likely.
From Rasmussen: Some 38% of men said they were more likely to vote for McCain now, but only 32% of women. By a narrow 41% to 35% margin, men said she was not ready to be president -- but women soundly rejected her, 48% to 25%.
Only 9% of Obama supporters said they might be more likely to vote for McCain.
Overall, voters expressed a favorable impression of her by a 53/26 margin, but there was a severe gender gap on this: Men embraced her at 58% to 23%, while for women it was 48/30.
And by a 29/44 margin, men and women together, they do not believe that she is ready to be President.

Cynical

| Sun Aug. 31, 2008 12:53 AM EDT

CYNICAL....Tyler Cowen has more cautionary advice about attacks on Sarah Palin:

There is one biographical fact about Palin's life that the critics (Drum, DeLong, Yglesias, Klein, Sullivan and Kleiman are among the ones I read) are hardly touching upon. I mean her decision to have a Downs child instead of an abortion. This is the fact about her life and it will be viewed as such from now through November and perhaps beyond.

If only for this reason, she will be seen as a candidate who stands on principle. I don't think the critics are sufficiently appreciating how tired the American people are of candidates who say one thing and do another and who abandon their principles at the first provocation. This is a deep and very strong current and it runs through virtually every group of American political voters. Because of her decision to have a Downs child, many voters will not view Sarah Palin in a cynical light, no matter what the critics say. No story about firing a state trooper will break that seal.

But I think this misses the point. Most of the critics aren't accusing Palin of being cynical, they're accusing McCain of being cynical. Even conservatives see this. For example, conservative Rick Brookhiser: "Either McCain thinks the war on terror isn't serious, or he thinks the vice-presidency isn't." Or conservative David Frum: "The Palin choice looks cynical. The wires are showing." Or conservative Ramesh Ponnuru: "Can anyone say with a straight face that Palin would have gotten picked if she were a man?"

The primary criticism of Palin, conversely, is that we simply don't know much of anything about her. She has virtually no political track record; no settled views on much of anything other than God, guns, gays, and ANWR; and seemingly not even any interest in national or international issues before last Friday morning. She's just flatly not prepared for the job.

Now, I know that conservatives are gleefully pointing out that Obama supporters can hardly complain about someone else having a thin resume, but this is special pleading at best and sophistry at worst — or maybe just willful blindness. Not only does Obama have more relevant experience in fact, but after campaigning nonstop for the past 18 months he also has it in the eyes of the public. Palin just doesn't, and all the smart alec jokes in the world aren't going to change that.

That said, it's true that liberals need to be careful about being too rabid in their criticisms of Palin. She's appealing, sensible sounding, familiar, and tough enough to win a governor's race against entrenched opposition. Condescension toward her will not go over well. See M. LeBlanc for more on this.

And, of course, a caveat: my political instincts are no great shakes. Cynical choice or not, maybe Palin will beat the odds and not commit any monumental gaffes over the next couple of months. If she manages that, and to the extent that running mates make a difference in the first place, maybe her underlying character will be a net bonus for McCain. I don't think that will be the case, but if I'm wrong it wouldn't be the first time.

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Sarah Palin and Pretty, Experience Talk

| Sat Aug. 30, 2008 11:01 PM EDT

Stepping back from the "feminist for life," NRA-lifer, creationist, global-warming skeptic VP credentials for a sec, a few things are really annoying me about the Sarah Palin coverage. She's a woman, she's pretty, she's a mom with a gaggle of kids, and she's as green as DC politics gets. Though why do these descriptors get listed out as if they're stacked arguments toward the same end? Mitt Romney is pretty and has five kids, but if he had gotten the nom we wouldn't be referring to him as a looker with familial obligations, at least not when we're landing on his shortcomings. I know, people are doing so to point out the tokenism of McCain's pick, but it's frustrating how "beauty pageant good looks" and female are so often precursors to "don't know jack."

And the experience thing, sure, she's fresh out of Northern Exposure territory (Men in Trees for the millenial set), but slamming her lack of DC credentials is EXACTLY what the McCain team wants Dems to do. The first word out of the Obama camp yesterday? Palin has "zero foreign policy experience." Sorry, can't have it both ways. The counter-argument is, 'at least our presidential candidate does, and last time we checked the prez tops the ticket, meets with world leaders, and gets to hit the war button.' As we all know, the "zero foreign policy experience" phrase has been used for years now to describe Obama. Essentially the Republicans are putting experience back in play, and they're going to let the Dems keep it alive. As Palin's naivete is played up, rich material only beginning to be mined, it will, McCain hopes at least, make him the wise, experienced one, with Palin and Obama the pretty neophytes. Not a fair comparison by a longshot, but fair and nuance are not what the stretch run of presidential campaigns are known for. Palin's lack of fitness for the job will only help keep this dialogue in play. And the question McCain wants on people's minds when they enter the voting booth come November: Do you want experience in your president or your vice president?

Pretty ugly, I know.

Football!

| Sat Aug. 30, 2008 9:02 PM EDT

FOOTBALL!....I'll bet they don't talk college football much over on the main blog, do they? So let's take care of that right now. First up: Ohio State beat the mighty Youngstown State Penguins today 43-0. Meanwhile, 300 miles away, in a game with real teams playing on both sides of the ball, USC walloped Virginia 52-7. In two weeks the winners play in Los Angeles. I'll take the Trojans by a couple of touchdowns. Anyone care to disagree?

And hey — before you complain, this is better than yet another Sarah Palin thread, isn't it? Well? Isn't it?

Palin's Kids

| Sat Aug. 30, 2008 5:30 PM EDT

PALIN'S KIDS....MoJo's co-editor Monika Bauerlein is a little annoyed at some of the criticism being thrown Sarah Palin's way:

I have three kids, my youngest is three months older than Palin's, and that isn't stopping me from doing my job. Nor is it stopping Clara, my co-editor, who has a new baby....

Too many women have been patronized out of jobs they wanted with pseudo-considerate treacle like "I thought your priority right now was your family." It's happened to friends of mine; it's happened to me; if you have ovaries, chances are pretty good it has happened or will happen to you. That's the reality of living in post-women's lib America, and that's why one part of me is heartened by the Palin pick. People may find lots of reasons why she shouldn't be in the White House — but at least, having little kids didn't put her out of the running in the first place. And for that, I have to confess, I'm grateful to John McCain.

Agreed. There are loads of reasons to criticize McCain's choice of Palin, and I suspect that as Alaskans start to weigh in we're going to uncover even more. But being the mother of five children isn't one of them. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to get a clue.

Sarah Palin and Taxes

| Sat Aug. 30, 2008 2:19 PM EDT

SARAH PALIN AND TAXES....Let's talk policy! And to make it even more interesting, let's talk tax policy!

So here's an interesting thing about Alaska governor Sarah Palin: she's a tax raiser. Last September she proposed a new state tax plan called ACES, and by November she had successfully pushed it through the Alaska legislature in a special session. ACES had two goals. First, it replaced a year-old plan called PPT that was mired in corruption and was widely distrusted. No problem there. Second, it was designed to increase revenue. PPT had raised revenues by $1 billion, but that was still less than everyone expected. So Palin's plan increased that by another $700 million.

But it gets even more interesting. ACES, of course, is a tax on the oil industry, since that's how the rugged individualists up north fund themselves. (In addition to massive infusions of federal cash, that is.) And it had three basic provisions:

  • An increase in the basic tax rate on oil company profits from 22.5% to 25%.

  • A windfall profits provision. When oil prices went over $50/barrel or so, the tax rate would rise 0.2% for each dollar.

  • A tax floor. If oil prices fell below about $40/barrel, oil companies would still have to pay 10% of the gross price of the crude they produce.

Palin was especially dedicated to the windfall profits provision, or "progressiveness," as she calls it. For example, here's an op-ed she wrote about how the various pieces of her plan work together:

Progressiveness is the additional share we capture when oil prices and profits are high. I chose to set the progressiveness knob [i.e., the windfall profits tax] at a relatively low level in exchange for more security when prices are low. We accomplished this through a gross tax floor at our legacy fields. If the Legislature chooses to discard that floor, then the knob on progressiveness needs to be set higher — to make sure we capture a more equitable share when prices are high and profits extraordinary.

In the end, the Alaska legislature took Palin's plan and ran with it. The final version twiddled the knobs and ended up producing not $700 million in additional revenue, but more like $2 billion or so. Palin proclaimed herself delighted with the result and said she had no problem with signing an even bigger tax increase than she had originally proposed: "When I rolled [ACES] out," she said after the final version passed, "I had said I was so anxious to work with lawmakers to make this even better."

Now here's the thing: as near as I can tell, Palin actually did a pretty decent job of working with a fractured state legislature to produce a new tax regime in a short period of time. But a tax hike is a tax hike. Here, for example, is the reaction of cranky conservative Anchorage talk show host Dan Fagan:

Most folks think the oil industry with its so-called obscene profits can absorb a 2 1/2 percent increase in taxes. But even the 2 1/2 percent rate increase the media focus on, represents a 10 percent hike in the 22.5 percent production tax. But there is so much more.

Here's what most who rely on the mainstream media for information would be surprised to know. The governor's tax represents a 400 percent increase in the amount of production taxes paid. Four hundred percent increase, not 2 1/2.

....But where the Palin money grab really affects future investment is with the marginal tax rate. At today's oil price, every new dollar the industry earns in our state, the government takes a mind-boggling 85 percent.

Etc. If Palin were a Democrat, this is the kind of jeremiad you'd be hearing from Rush Limbaugh and Grover Norquist, but instead of talk about looting American businesses and destroying incentives to invest, we get crickets. Norquist doesn't even mention taxes here and Limbaugh, who's been talking up Palin for a while, doesn't either. "Babies, guns, Jesus. Hot damn!" was his reaction yesterday.

So: one of the first things Palin did after she took office was to propose a big tax increase that included a windfall profits tax on the oil industry. I don't have a big problem with that, and I'm sure the McCain campaign will eventually treat us all to a blizzard of spin about why her tax increase wasn't really a tax increase. But facts are stubborn things, and somebody really ought to poke the conservative anti-tax intelligentsia a little harder about how they feel about this. Grover? Rush? Newt? Sean?

UPDATE: It turns out there's more! "Hockey mom" Sarah Palin, when she was mayor of Wasilla, was the prime advocate for a sales tax increase to fund a huge new sports complex there. What's more, she bungled the land acquisition, which meant the city ended up paying $1.7 million for the land instead of the planned $146,000. That's fiscal conservatism we can believe in!