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McCain's Fannie and Freddie Connections

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 5:01 PM EDT

mccain-microphone-250x200.jpg John McCain railed against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on the campaign trail today, saying that the CEOs that led the lenders to ruin "deserve nothing" and should have to pay back their severance packages. In an Wall Street Journal op-ed co-bylined by his vice presidential pick, Sarah Palin, McCain suggested bold reforms for Fannie and Freddie that would "terminate future lobbying, which was one of the primary contributors to this great debacle."

If that's the case, McCain should look first to his campaign staffers as the cause of that debacle. One of them was Fannie Mae's head of lobbying, and spread tens of millions of dollars around Washington in the form of lobbying contracts. A number of McCain staffers were on the receiving end of those contracts, collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars each from the lenders to rep their interests. And McCain's campaign manager served as president of a lobbying association that fought to protect Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae from the sort of regulation that McCain is now proposing.

In McCain's op-ed in the Journal, he and Palin wrote:

For years, Congress failed to act and it is deeply troubling that what we are seeing is an exercise in crisis management rather than sound planning, and at great cost to taxpayers.
We promise the American people that our administration will be different. We have long records of standing up to special interests…

But McCain's own campaign staffers are those special interests, a fact that casts doubt on both McCain's hiring judgment and his ability to pursue tough reforms of Fannie and Freddie.

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Educational Nationalism

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 2:59 PM EDT

EDUCATIONAL NATIONALISM....Kevin Carey quotes Barack Obama on education:

If we want to keep building the cars of the future here in America, we can't afford to see the number of PhDs in engineering climbing in China, South Korea, and Japan even as it's dropped here in America.

Carey isn't happy with the way Obama phrases this:

I'd like to see this and similar sentiments phrased so it's clear that more PhDs in China, South Korea, Japan, and elsewhere is a good thing that will help America in the long run. The world has many vexing problems and the more smart, well-educated people to solve them, the better. An expanded well-educated class in China and elsewhere will create new markets for the kind of high-value goods and services that America produces, and they'll make newer, better products that we'd like to buy. Perhaps most importantly, they'll improve the lives of people in those countries, which we should all care about.

This comes via Matt Yglesias, who finds this tic even more annoying than Carey does. But I wonder if we're all being a little too high-minded here?

Paul Glastris told me something interesting the other day. He said he had recently read every convention acceptance speech of the past few decades, and that successful candidates invariably framed a significant chunk of their message in nationalistic terms. Sometimes it was military nationalism, sometimes it was economic nationalism, but one way or another successful candidates always framed their message as us vs. them to at least some degree.

Obviously you can argue that this situation is unfortunate — and perhaps it is — but if that's what it takes, then that's what it takes. And Obama's formulation is certainly as benign a form of economic nationalism as you're likely to find. If that's what he needs to say in order to get Americans interested in serious improvements to our educational system, it's a pretty small price to pay.

Russia's Military

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 2:03 PM EDT

RUSSIA'S MILITARY....Eric Alterman's buddy, LTC Bob Bateman, suggests that Russia's upcoming "training mission" with Venezuela's navy shouldn't worry us too much:

Today the Russian Navy is a shell of its previous self. Someday that may change, but for now it seems they have only one small aircraft carrier (which would not even have that title in the US Navy, because it is too small), two "Battlecruisers," three Cruisers, 26 Destroyers, and 16 Frigates. It is unknown how many of these can do more than float while securely tied up at a pier....Of their once-vaunted (and frankly, feared) undersea capability there is also little left but a skeleton. At the end of the Cold War the Soviet Union could field some 170 submarines, many, if not most of them, nuclear powered. Today there are but fifty still in the inventory, and of that only 26 were operational as of 2006 according to open source reporting in Russia.

On the other hand, Russian airpower, which also fell on very hard times after 1991, has started to revive. But it's still a shell of its Cold War self too, which is yet another reason not to panic too strongly over recent events in Georgia. Putin's bluster aside, Russia's military capabilities these days are distinctly limited.

The War Within

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 1:19 PM EDT

THE WAR WITHIN....Yesterday I linked to Derek Chollet's suggestion that Bob Woodward's The War Within was, counterintuitively, actually fairly sympathetic toward George Bush. Today, Tim Rutten reviews the book in the LA Times and says exactly the opposite:

Bush, in Woodward's view, is the worst kind of wartime president: controlling and disengaged, all at once. Worse, he frequently is not only detached from unpleasant or inconvenient facts but is also positively hostile to those who recite them. As Woodward reconstructs the last two years — in a stunning series of on-the-record interviews with participants — this willful blindness has spilled out of the White House and into the departments of Defense and State in a perfect maelstrom of dysfunction.

That certainly sounds more like the George Bush we've all come to know and love, but I suppose I really better read the book myself and see what Woodward has to say. I'm extremely unfond of Woodward's technique of reconstructing events and conversations based on reams and reams of anonymous and obviously self-serving interviews, but if The War Within is based mostly on on-the-record interviews it might go down a little easier. I'll start in on it tomorrow.

Palin Says McCain Doesn't "Run with the Washington Herd." Is It Jogging?

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 1:05 PM EDT

At a campaign rally this morning in Fairfax, Virginia, Sarah Palin declared of John McCain, "He doesn't run with the Washington herd."

That's sure not true, given that his campaign is managed (or stage-managed) by the old bulls of the Washington lobbying herd. And within what seemed seconds of Palin making this false statement, the Obama campaign sent me (and other reporters) a list of McCain's top aides who are former DC lobbyists:

The Nature of Existence

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 12:59 PM EDT

THE NATURE OF EXISTENCE...The Large Hadron Collider has been turned on and I'm still here. At least, I think I am. How about you?

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This Is How They Win

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 12:13 PM EDT

I just want to add a note to the blog post below, which points out that Republicans demonstrate a phony respect for the middle class during election season while, at all other times, supporting legislation works that works against the middle class's interest.

This is how they win elections. The Republican Party has, for years, pushed policies that support the very few. That's why they try to frame elections as questions of patriotism, of who respects and identifies with heartland Americans, of who called who a "pig." Because if elections were about whether voters got the most benefit from Democrats or Republican being in power, Democrats would win every time.

Dep't of Debunking: Democrats and Disrespect for the Working Class

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 11:37 AM EDT

Clive Crook over at the Atlantic is making a familiar point: Democrats don't win heartland votes because, despite advocating policies that would help middle-class voters in the middle of the country, they fundamentally do not respect the people in this demographic.

Every time a conservative makes this argument, there are two mandatory responses. First, Republicans kowtow to this demographic every four years only to win elections. When in office, they push policies that beat the daylights out of the middle class: tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations, anti-labor measures, free trade agreements, etc. And they oppose ideas that would benefit the middle class: expanded health care, more affordable higher education, green jobs programs, etc.

Using the middle class to gain power and then governing at the behest of the rich and powerful. Does that sound like respect to you?

Somebody Explain Feminism to Rick Santorum

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 11:16 AM EDT

It's about advancing the rights of all women, not the career of a single one. Especially not the career of one who would set all the others back.

Clearly, Ricky has never heard of the vagina litmus test.

The Hack Gap Revisited: "Lipstick on a Pig" Edition

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 10:14 AM EDT

When I saw the video clip of Meghan McCain saying, "No one knows what war is like other than my family" I knew that she meant to say "No one knows what war is like BETTER than my family." So I didn't write about it on our blog.

Then I saw that conservatives are actually acting outraged over this "lipstick on a pig" nonsense. And it smacked me in the face: the hack gap had struck again.

The hack gap is the difference between political observers and writers on the left and on the right. Those on the left (most, anyway) give the benefit of the doubt. They have a sense of shame. They are willing to consider the validity of something before running with it. And they don't try to disguise obviously phony outrage as genuine outrage.

As this "lipstick" thing illustrates (as well as any example you can find with five seconds of searching), the right doesn't operate the same way. And that's one of the reasons why it wins.

And let me add that I'm aware I occasionally complain in this space that the left doesn't play tough enough. And I'm aware that by not writing about the Meghan McCain clip, I would appear to be committing the sin for which I criticize others. But I'd like to believe you can get tough without being disingenuous. And besides, our readers would revolt if I treated an obvious verbal slip by a candidate's child as indicative of something more serious. The fact that Limbaugh's audience eats that sort of thing up doesn't necessarily mean ours does.

The takeaway? The left has two problems: a lack of hacks and a lack of a market for hacks.

Update: Mike Huckabee refuses to be a hack.