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Campaign Miscellany

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 9:39 PM EDT

CAMPAIGN MISCELLANY....Here's a miscellaneous core dump of campaign stuff. Just some links and random thoughts, none of them especially pressing.

  1. The headline on the Washington Post's main campaign piece today is "Obama Campaign Vows Aggressive Response to GOP Attacks." And I have to say: that's a headline you really don't want to see. It makes you sound like a 98-pound weakling promising that next time you get bullied you're going to write a stern letter to the editor about it.

    Unfortunately, the reason for the headline is obvious: it's because David Plouffe sent an email to reporters this morning vowing an aggressive response to GOP attacks. That's really dumb. If you're going to attack, then attack. If you broadcast it beforehand you're practically hanging a sandwich board over your head announcing that the stuff you're planning to air next is just a political ploy and you don't really believe any of it. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

  2. Note the difference between this and the way Republicans act. No matter how dumb or revolting their attacks are, they spray 'em like they mean 'em — and reporters, who are intimidated by this kind of thing, react accordingly. Democrats should take note.

  3. In Slate today, Farhad Manjoo observes that John McCain is lying a lot in this campaign and that it's working. Then he explains why. So why isn't Obama lying a lot too? He doesn't have an answer for that.

  4. Maybe Chris Cilliza has the answer:

    Republicans have always — or at least for as long as the Fix memory lasts — adopted a realpolitik approach to political campaigns.

    That is, they use tactics that work — whether or not they are "fair". Republicans are, typically, far less concerned about the approval of newspaper editorial boards and the so called "eastern media elite" than their Democratic counterparts, a fact that allows them almost total freedom when it comes to how they conduct their campaigns.

    Democrats, on the other hand, always promise to play as down and dirty as Republicans but when the rubber hits the road tend to back off somewhat.

    That certainly seems to be the case today, anyway. Plouffe promised a more aggressive response and we got....an ad mocking McCain for not knowing how to use email. I bet that has them quaking in their boots over at RNC headquarters.

  5. OK, so what would a Republican-esque attack on McCain look like? Steve Benen half-jokingly suggests that Obama try to tar him as anti-Israel because he's vowed to end earmarks — and aid to Israel is technically funded as an earmark. But that won't work. Not because it's too moronic (I'm not sure we've plumbed those depths yet), but because every attack needs to start with a kernel of truth, and this one doesn't have it. There's just nothing plausible to hang it on.

  6. So what would work, smart guy? Beats me. Anyone who'd hire me as a campaign consultant would be an idiot. And my mind doesn't really work this way anyway. But if I had to take a guess, it would be a vicious attack on McCain's honor. It's character-based, there's much more than just a kernel of truth to hang it on, and it would put McCain on the defensive.

    I'd never do it because I'm a wimp. But I'll bet FDR or Bill Clinton could have figured out a way to make it work. Maybe Obama ought to head back to Harlem and have another chat with the Big Dog this weekend.

  7. Sure, sure, you say, that's all very clever. But what do I really think? Answer: I think E.J. Dionne has the right take:

    Here's the problem: Few voters know that Obama would cut the taxes of the vast majority of Americans by far more than McCain would. Few know Obama would guarantee everyone access to health care or that McCain's health plan might endanger coverage many already have. Few know that Obama has a coherent program to create new jobs through public investment in roads, bridges, transit, and green technologies.

    In short, few Americans know what (or whom) Obama is fighting for, because he isn't really telling them. And few know that McCain's economic plan is worse than President Bush's. As Jonathan Cohn points out in the New Republic, McCain would add $8.5 trillion in new debt over the next 10 years. It's McCain who should be on the defensive.

    It should not be hard for Obama to use crisp, punchy language to force the media and the voters to pay attention to the basic issue in this election: whether the country will slowly continue down a road to decline, or whether, to invoke a slogan from long ago, we can get the country moving again.

    Bottom line: Democrats aren't Republicans. Slamming McCain is fine, but I just don't think Obama can pull off the kind of Lee Atwater gutterball that the GOP specializes in. And if he can't do it with conviction, then he shouldn't do it. Instead, he should figure out a way to make his real message resonate with voters. If he does that with conviction, voters will respond just fine.

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The Newsweek Enquirer

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 8:39 PM EDT

Move over, McCain and Palin. The strangest bedfellows of this election season are the tabloids and the mainstream media. Check out this week's cover of Newsweek, featuring a gun-toting Sarah Palin:

palin-newsweek.jpg

And the National Enquirer online, featuring a gun-toting Sarah Palin:

palin2.jpg
enquirer-palin.gif

Logos aside, can you tell which photo treatment is which? Yes, the Enquirer broke the story of John Edwards' extramarital liaison before the MSM. It seems the mainstream media is now taking artistic cues from them as well as story ideas.

—Nikki Gloudeman

Actor's Racism on Fox Makes Even Anchors Squeamish

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 8:11 PM EDT

Brad Garrett, the 6'8" costar of Everbody Loves Raymond, apparently doesn't love everybody. Especially Fox anchor Steve Doocy. And black people. And lesbians.

In an after-show special from his appearance on Fox and Friends, Garrett managed to offend just about everyone on set with his "comedy," even the black cameraman, and the blonde make-up artist who had the audacity to act like a "proper white woman" when Garrett accused her of drinking on the job and having sex with the cameraman in a van.

Garrett's offensive tirade prompted Doocy to call the moment Fox's "most offensive interview ever" and tell Garrett that "I just don't appreciate you making fun of people in such a personal way. People who are total strangers not in the public eye." Doocy, by the way, slammed Obama for attending a "madrassa" and having the middle name Hussein. He's also been seriously misinformed about a number of issues, from the US Code to Sarah Palin being a foreign policy expert. But this latest incident makes me think a tiny, little bit better of him. Maybe defending his co-hosts and crew from racist, misogynist attacks is part of those "small-town values" Republicans are always talking about. Or maybe he just didn't like being upstaged.

Friday Cat Blogging - 12 September 2008

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 3:53 PM EDT

FRIDAY QUILTBLOGGING....The cats think they're the center of attention this Friday as usual, but today is actually Friday Quiltblogging. Marian (currently the president of the Smocking Arts Guild of America, by the way, and you should attend their annual convention in Atlanta this year if you enjoy that kind of thing) is a champion quilter, and although you've seen bits and snatches of this particular quilt before, today's photos show it in all its glory. Enjoy!

But this photo shoot was kind of weird. The pictures of Domino were all fine and I had plenty to choose from, but every single picture of Inkblot was out of focus except for the one you see here. Why? Does Inkblot have some magical focus-blocking powers? Did the quilt eventually figure out what I was doing and steal the focus in order to highlight itself? Does my camera not like white fur? Very mysterious.

UPDATE: Sarah Palin on cats.

Campaign Realpolitik

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 3:23 PM EDT

The McCain campaign has lied about the Bridge to Nowhere, Obama's tax plan, and his vice presidential pick's record on earmarks, attacked the media for not treating Sarah Palin with sufficient deference, and run a series of highly disturbing ads against Barack Obama that leave little doubt they are designed to play on racial fears and stereotypes. "Morally unfit" to be president, one commentator lambasted McCain, who had previously vowed to run an honorable campaign, and been the victim of such vicious smears himself during his unsuccessful 2000 Republican primary run against George W. Bush. If there were a referee, perhaps he could be implored to cry foul and make it stop. But, having lived through 2000 and 2004, it's also not so surprising to observers that this is the kind of campaign that McCain has chosen to run at the top of the GOP ticket. He's determined to do whatever it takes to win, and his party has used such tactics, and successfully, in the past.

So what about seeing the political campaign world as it really is, and not how candidates say they would like it to be? So suggests washingtonpost.com's political writer Chris Cillizza in this chat today:

St. Louis: Since you're so "in the know," I was wondering if you've heard from Republicans -- off the record, of course -- that they're surprised by McCain's campaign. His traditionally Republican campaign is smart -- they win -- but it also seems so out of character for the old McCain we knew in 2000. What are Republican insiders thoughts on this change?
Chris Cillizza: Hmm, was that "in the know" comment a shot at me?
If so, well played. Onto the question....
Republicans have always -- or at least for as long as the Fix memory lasts -- adopted a realpolitik approach to political campaigns.

Earmarks

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 3:17 PM EDT

EARMARKS....So now John McCain is flatly saying that Sarah Palin has never requested an earmark? That's just....confused.

Oops, sorry, confused is a code word for "old," so strike that. What I meant is that he's fibbing because he knows that a huge TV audience will hear what he said and that only about 1% of them will ever see or hear the correction.

But as long as we're on the subject, the infamous Bridge to Nowhere is a pretty good example of why this self-righteous nonsense about earmarks is so annoying. It's true that Congress killed the BtN, but this didn't save the American taxpayers a nickel. Sarah Palin just took the money and used it for other Alaska projects. And that's the way all earmarks work: they're simply ways of directing spending. The actual amount of spending is set elsewhere, and it doesn't usually change whether or not any of it is earmarked.

In other words, even aside from the fact that earmarks don't add up to an awful lot of money, killing them wouldn't appreciably change spending levels anyway. The real question is whether members of Congress should have some direct say in where money is spent in their states and districts, or whether federal bureaucrats should make all those decisions. There are actually pretty good arguments on both sides. The bureaucrats have a better sense of the big picture but members of Congress have a better sense of what local residents really care about. Bureaucrats are less likely to be corrupt but members of Congress are less likely to make decisions with only a shallow knowledge of local conditions. And both sides are probably about equally likely to waste money on idiotic boondoggles.

Personally, I don't care much about earmarks, but to the extent I do, these are the grounds for debate. Not total spending. If I had my way I'd simply set aside a fixed amount for earmarks in transportation and infrastructure bills (say, 2-3% of the total) and then sit back safe in the knowledge that local residents have some direct say in how local money is spent, but that the vast majority will be spent in ways that make sense on a larger regional/national basis. But I'm just dreaming.

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Quote of the Day - 9.12.08

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 2:01 PM EDT

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From McCain advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin, commenting on why he thinks Republicans continue to campaign manically on tax cuts even though it's plain that tax increases will be necessary in the near future:

"It's the brand. And you don't dilute the brand."

That's what the American auto industry thought too. It hasn't worked out so well for them.

The First Interview....Revisited

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 1:43 PM EDT

THE FIRST INTERVIEW....REVISITED....Ross Douthat on Sarah Palin:

I know that the people who've decided she's Monica Goodling with a shotgun aren't going to be persuaded by me on this point, but I think Palin really does have the potential to embody the kind of change the GOP desperately needs....But a vice-presidential run isn't the ideal place to develop that potential in the best of times, and a vice-presidential run under the tutelage of the McCain campaign is likely to produce a lot more of what we saw from Palin in her interview last night: Rigorously memorized, carefully regurgitated talking points, a determination to avoid making enormous gaffes, and not much else.

You may be shocked to hear that I sort of agree. I'm not a conservative, but if I were I'd probably find Palin an attractive template for the future of the party. Give her another few years to develop some serious views on non-Alaska issues (and maybe a Senate term to do it in), and she might become a very powerful presence in the party.

But right now? Underprepared hardly begins to describe her. It was late last night and I didn't explain in any detail why I found her Charlie Gibson interview so embarrassing, but the answer is simple: she wasn't even able to regurgitate the usual high school-level talking points that politicians thrive on. It was more like kindergarten level talking points. President Bush is ridding the world of Islamic extremism. Terrorists are hellbent on destroying our nation. We must do whatever it takes. We must not blink, Charlie. Terrorists are hellbent on destroying America. All options must be on the table. And that's why winning in Afghanistan is so important. Oh, and Iraq too. We have to win in Iraq and Afghanistan. The surge is great! We need a surge in Afghanistan.

This is like a parody of warblogs circa 2002. Somebody apparently told her that no matter what the question was, she only needed to parrot mindless bellicosities (but be sure to mention that war should be a last option!) and then move on. This is just not serious stuff. More here from James Fallows.

Pre-Palin, McCain Slammed Paltry Foreign Policy Cred of Mayors and Governors

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 1:36 PM EDT

This may be the best illustration of the cynicism of the Palin pick I've yet seen. In the primary, John McCain claimed Rudy Giuliani didn't have the foreign policy credentials to be president because he was "a mayor for a short period of time," and Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney didn't because each of them was "a governor for a short period of time."

If John McCain ever did interviews or press conferences, he might be asked about this apparent discrepancy.

By This Logic, Any East Coast Mayor Could Be John McCain's VP

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 1:04 PM EDT

If you've read any coverage of Sarah Palin's interview with ABC, you know that she is continuing to insist she has foreign policy credibility because you can "see" Russia from her state. Mike Tomasky takes the idea for a test run.

"Russia," as a political entity, isn't a bunch of rocks in Siberia. It's Moscow. We don't dispute that, right? Right.
So let's do a little experiment. How close is Juneau, Alaska's capital, to Moscow? It's 4,559.6 miles. Meanwhile, how close is, say, Boston, the capital of Massachusetts, to Moscow? It's 4,498.8 miles. (Distances calculated using this site.)
So there you have it. Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick is more geographically qualified to speak of matters Russian than Palin is. I wish someone would make this into a commercial. They'd never trot this argument out again.